Recipe: Lion Cake (Chocolate Birthday Cake)

I made this cake for Leith for his 2nd birthday and he loved it. It was quite simple to make and very impressive…to a 2 year-old who has a passion for lions.



  • 1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 – 1 ¼ cups hot water


  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 pound (3 2/3 cups) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk (optional)



  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Butter cake pan(s) – either 2 8″ round pans or one shaped pan, depending on how old the birthday celebrator is. Butter pan(s) and dust with cocoa, tapping out extra.
  2. Whisk together cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar into bowl of an electric mixer. Slowly beat in oil, buttermilk, vanilla, eggs, and hot water (don’t let the mixture get to runny with the addition of the water) one at a time. Beat (on low) until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour batter into pan(s). Bake 55 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  4. Let cakes cool in pan(s) on wire racks, 20 minutes, before inverting to remove. Cool completely on racks.
  5. Frost (if baked in a shaped cake pan) any outlines with a small-holed tip (#3 or #5) and then fill in each section with stars (with a small star tip).


  1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth.
  2. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar; beat until smooth. If too thick to pipe or spread, beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk.

Recipe Origin:

Based on a Martha Stewart recipe.