Beth had never had a cake with this many layers before moving to South Georgia. Around there, it’s known as twelve-layer chocolate cake, or seventeen-layer—almost a point of pride to see how many thin little layers you can get out of the recipe! At first glance, this cake screams, “Don’t try this at home” because three layers is pretty much my limit. But Beth’s friend Gail, who is known in those parts for her delicious food, shared her mother’s recipe with us. Gail says that the older ladies in her community used to cook these layers one at a time on a cast-iron griddle. She’s made it “easy” for us with 9-inch cake pans, so with her directions even I can bake a multilayer (twelve? thirteen? fifteen?) chocolate torte!
Make the cake glaze before baking the cake layers. In a large saucepan, melt ¾ cup of the butter and mix it with the melted chocolate and 4½ cups of the sugar. Stir in the evaporated milk, 2 teaspoons of the vanilla, and the instant coffee. Cook the glaze over medium-high heat until it boils. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Remove the glaze from the heat. When cooled a bit, return to low heat as needed, as the glaze must be warm to spread on the cake layers.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour at least four 9-inch cake pans (see Note).
Cream the remaining 1 cup butter and remaining 2½ cups sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition just until blended. Mix the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla with the milk and add alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with flour. Put a very thin layer of batter—about 7 tablespoons—in each pan, shaking the pans to distribute the batter to the edges. Bake the layers for 11 to 13 minutes. Remove the layers from the pans and frost immediately with the warm icing. Bake all of the remaining batter in this manner, building layers. You should be able to get 12 layers from this recipe.
Borrow pans from friends if you can in order to bake this special cake. You will be able to work quickly by having layers ready to bake while you frost the baked ones. If the idea of all these layers is too much for you, divide the batter evenly into three cake pans. It tastes great, no matter how many layers you make.