Chocolate layer cake, what's not to love? It's a wholly original American creation and a truly classic confection. As a celebratory dessert, we're practically programmed to see it lit up with candles at birthday parties, but rarely seem to order it as an everyday sweet. The three layers of cake and frosting version that we all know and love didn't really become a standard in homes or bakeries until the 1930s; ready-to-make mixes were introduced nationally in the mid '40s, widening the appeal. And then in 1948 the first stand-alone chocolate cake mix hit the shelves, instantly becoming a top-seller. But you don't need to bake an entire cake (from scratch or a box) to indulge.
To make our 10 best list, the cake and frosting had to be chocolate and available by the piece. For that reason, a few of this town's best bakeries (Lark, Short Cake and Valerie Confections, where you have to buy a whole cake to take a bite) weren't considered. Nor were chains - although we can recommend the version at The Cheesecake Factory, if you're so inclined. Our nation's favorite cake truly is best when freshly-made and served at room temperature. The ideal crumb is moist, the frosting rich and creamy - and utterly chocolatey. Check out ten of the very best.
10. Sweet Lady Jane
This incredibly popular treat should be the first choice for anyone who wants a touch of cake along with her frosting. The enormous slice is more than seven inches tall and cut five inches across at the wide end. It has three layers of sweet, dry cake with a dense Callabaut chocolate buttercream that's paved on thicker than the cake itself. The whole colossal thing is dipped in a layer of bright chocolate ganache and served ice cold. If there's such a thing as hearty cake, this is it. 8360 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 653-7145.
There are myriad cakes and pies to choose from at Alcove, but what you want to zero in on is the devil's food cake. The dark chocolate, whipped cream and fudge frosting dessert has a slight tang to it, thanks to some sour cream cleverly worked into the mix. There's a sharp note of cocoa and a lingering scent of vanilla that lures you in before the wham-bam of silky chocolate soothes your palate. Paired with some of their excellent coffee, this may be that breakfast cake you're been looking for. 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 644-0100.
For this vegan slice, made without the usual trappings of milk and butter, the talented pastry staff at the Mid-City Erewhon market have created a cake that truly satisfies. What it may be lacking in moistness - which is just a fact with vegan cakes - it more than makes up for with markedly intense chocolate flavor and lushness. Made with organic, unsweetened cocoa and evaporated cane juice, it's a stunning looking slice that more than passes muster. 7660 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 937-0777.
7. Bea's Bakery
This deli-style stalwart is wide-eyed-kid cake at its finest. The loose wedge of milk chocolate cake with a fluffy layer of whipped cream is topped with a solid ganache - and the all-important maraschino cherry has been the same since the bakery opened more than 50 years ago. It's light and airy and has a level of throw-back sweetness that conjures up Kodachrome memories of party hats and confetti. 18450 Clark St., Tarzana; (818) 344-0100.
This remarkably dense cake is crafted with care by expert hands. Using Cordillera fair trade-certified chocolate, it has subtle hints of spice and burnt sugar that elevate without being cloying. Like everything else in the picturesque pastry case, this is a perfectly turned-out version of a classic. Opting to use milk chocolate frosting lightens the overall richness and helps break up the tight cake layers. While we think of darker chocolate as being for more adult palates, there's nothing childish about this towering slice. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 806-6464.
5. Red Bread
Red Bread baker Rose Lawrence faithfully uses all organic ingredients, including TCHO chocolate and house-made raspberry jam as the filling for her ganache-glazed chocolate cake. This rustic beauty can be ordered by the piece in her store-front bakery in Culver City, or they'll transport it by electric bike if you're smart enough to live in their delivery zone. The unfussy cake is rich with butter, yet slightly crumbly. The chocolate itself has subtle hints of toasted nuts and roasted barley, making the cold glass (or to be exact, jelly jar) of raw milk it's served with a perfect foil. Knowing it was made with the utmost concern for where the ingredients came from (the eggs and milk are local) makes it that much sweeter.
The Wicked chocolate cake is a chocolate addict's buttercream dream come true. There are four layers of fudge cake, dark and light chocolate frosting, ganache - and chocolate curls for a touch of flair. Be forewarned: This gorgeous, tender cake is by far the sweetest on this list. In fact, the words sugar bomb come to mind. But don't let that deter you; in fact, it's the selling point here. Order a piece with a cup of espresso or coffee and dig in. 10868 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 287-0699.
Pastry chef Na Young Ma creates intriguing pastries and confections at her insanely popular Atwater Village bakery that are sophisticated yet approachable. The lovely chocolate cherry cake is simple and a nice, manageable size. It has a soft crumb and a few plump, sweet and sour cherries thrown in for good measure and balance. The chocolate itself is redolent with caramel and roasted malt flavors that sing. It's not always in the case, so call ahead and check if its available. 3156 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 664-8633.
The Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake served in this grand space is a tower of deep, dark temptation that hits all the right notes. According to chef Walter Manzke, his wife pastry chef Margarita Manzke, originally created this onyx-colored "grandma style" cake (we wish our grandmother could bake like that) for their restaurant Wildflower in the Philippines. It was immensely popular there and they thought it would be cool to bring it here and see if it would work in a more fine-dining setting. (It sells out every day.) Using dark Valrhona chocolate and the ingredient-addition du jour, salted caramel, it's a moist and tender cake. The treat is available whole, by the slice in their bakery or as a dessert served with milk eau de vie (pear eau de vie and whole milk) in the restaurant. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 361-6115.
Milk is an utterly charming, old-fashioned bakery with a fiercely loyal local clientele who often form lines in front of the display case full of pretty treats. Situated in a chic deco building on the corner of Beverly and Poinsettia since 2007, they've been drawing people in with their 3X Chocolate Cake from day one. The cake - available whole or by the slice - is as dark as a starless night with a crumb that's tender and not too sweet, but sweet enough. The swirls of frosting reflect a glossy shine from the rich butter and cream. It's a worthy indulgence. 7290 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 939-6455.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
See also: 10 Best Red Velvet Cakes in Los Angeles
For more chocolate cake pictures, make sure to check out our gallery on Flickr.