Circus Birthday and a Three-Tier Chocolate Cake

Audrey's 3 tier Chocolate CakeThis past weekend we celebrated Desmond’s fourth birthday. We had a Circus/Carnival theme in mind, so I adapted our favourite chocolate cake to reflect the theme. We host our birthday parties at home, but this time around I think we might have taken on a little too much for our small house. Let’s just say that 14 kids under the age of six running around your house creates a lot of chaos and a high level of noise. Both hubby and I were exhausted and our house still looks like a bomb exploded! Hosting a winter birthday is always tricky, so next time we might have to consider a community centre.

But, the cake didn’t disappoint. It’s my recurring favourite – light and fluffy, deep chocolate flavour and adaptable to any icing you like. We opted for vanilla icing to accommodate the circus train and circus animals.Audrey's 3 tier Chocolate CakeAlong with the cake we served popcorn, animal crackers, sugar cookies, red Kool-Aid, licorice and each kid got a foam clown nose. Decorations were simple: a bunch of balloons, bunting and a table cloth.I had intended to ice my cake with scallops all along the side, but I ran out of icing twice, so I opted for a simple design.Audrey's 3 tier Chocolate CakeAudrey's 3 tier Chocolate CakeAudrey's 3 tier Chocolate CakeAudrey's 3 tier Chocolate Cake

Three Tier Chocolate Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart)

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Yield: 3 layers if using 8 inch pans


  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper, and butter paper. Dust the pans with cocoa; tap out extra.
  2. Sift cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar into bowl. Beat in oil, buttermilk, vanilla, eggs, and hot water one at a time, using a mixer set at low. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. The batter will be quite liquid.
  3. Pour batter into pans. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.
  4. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks, 20 minutes, before inverting to remove. Discard paper. Cool completely on racks, top side up..
  5. Frost with icing of choice

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