Roman’s Holy Communion Cake

communioncakeMy nephew Roman made his first Holy Communion yesterday, a huge rite of passage for young Catholic kids. When I was little, I remember “playing communion” with Nilla wafers, and I recall my own first communion very well. I have the dress and veil I wore in a cedar chest in my bedroom, along with other family heirloom garments like my grandmother’s wedding dress and my grandpap’s Navy sailor suit.

Roman requested a chocolate cake with chocolate icing for his communion celebration, and the look on his face when he first saw it was priceless. He got an enormous piece, of course.

I’ve made this cake in cupcake form before, and adapted the recipe for two 8-inch rounds here. This would also make at least 24 cupcakes, or a 9 x 13 sheet cake.


Dark Chocolate Cake

  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups water

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Vanilla Buttercream (for accents)

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Scant 1 cup powdered sugar
  • About 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon


For the cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment, and spray a second time.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Make three wells; place vinegar in one, vanilla in the second, and vegetable oil in the third. Add water and stir very well to combine; the batter will bubble up just slightly as the ingredients come together. Your batter will be fairly thin, but should be mostly lump-free.

Divide batter evenly between the pans. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to over-bake; the sides of these cakes set up pretty quickly and can burn if you let them go too long.

Remove cakes from oven and carefully run a knife around each edge to loosen them from their pans if they’ve stuck at all. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes in the pans, then carefully flip out onto wire racks (removing the parchment for each cake bottom) to cool completely.

For the frostings

To make the chocolate buttercream frosting, in a large bowl, sift together powdered sugar and cocoa powder and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute; add salt and beat another 30 seconds.

Add powdered sugar and cocoa and beat on low speed to incorporate as much sugar into the butter as you can.  I cover my mixing bowl with a kitchen towel during this step to prevent a sugar storm.

Add three tablespoons milk and two teaspoons vanilla extract; beat for three minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and add the final teaspoon vanilla extract, then beat for another minute.

To make the vanilla buttercream frosting, in a medium bowl, sift powdered sugar and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute; add salt and beat another 30 seconds.

Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed to incorporate as much sugar into the butter as you can.

Add 1 tablespoon milk and the vanilla; beat for three minutes. Add remaining milk a half-tablespoon at a time to reach a consistency that can be easily piped.

To assemble and decorate

Flip one cake upside-down onto your cake plate; spread a medium-thin layer of frosting on top. Carefully place your second cake on top of the first layer and frost the top, then the sides.

Fit a piping bag with your desired tip; pipe decorations as you like. I decorated Roman’s cake pretty simply, with his name, a top border that looked a bit like rosary beads, and crosses on the sides.

RomanHCHere, Roman marvels at his cake (and did not lick it). 


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