Gaboon Viper Cake

My husband has an incredible fear of snakes, second only to our friend Ashley's fear of snakes.     Interestingly, he enjoyed teaching our daughters random facts about snakes when they were young girls.  Just ask either of my daughters, who by the way, absolutely adore their father.  One snake in particular stands out, the gaboon viper snake.  He was on point about the snake having the longest fangs, and the highest venom yield of any venomous snake.  He explained that if he ever saw one he would make sure to warn the girls.  Our daughters weren't aware of the fact that gaboon vipers were found in rainforests and sub-Saharan Africa, not Texas where we lived at the time.  There were times when our daughters wouldn't come inside while playing in the backyard.  That's when Skip would say 'Girls, I think I see a gaboon viper in the backyard'.  Without fail, they would come running inside. If you know Skip and the relationship he has with his daughers, you'll see the humor in this story.

Which brings me to the part about Skip's Gaboon Viper Birthday Cake.   The girls loved creating their dad's birthday cake.  For years they would excitedly say, " Let's make dad a gaboon viper birthday cake."  I would bake and assemble a chocolate cake with buttercream and dripping in ganache.  The girls created the gaboon viper snake out of sliced almonds with a few embellishments. And by embellishments I mean a chocolate dot for an eye and some scattered edible gold leaf.   Family and friends often requested the cake, and it became known as the gaboon viper cake.


Gaboon Viper Cake

Servings: 16


1 cup butter, softened

2 cups loosely packed light brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 ¼ cup strong coffee

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup cocoa powder

3 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cup sour cream


18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3 Tablespoons vanilla extract

6 cups powdered sugar


5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Embellishment (optional)

Edible gold leaf 

sliced almonds



1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat three 9-inch round baking pans with non-stick spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to cream butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar.  Add the eggs, one at a time until combined.  Add the coffee and vanilla extract and mix until combined.  

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Add to the creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beating well after each addition.  

4. Scrape batter into prepared pans.  Bake until center of each cake is firm to the touch and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-40 minutes.  Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 


1. In a microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate for 1 minute.   Give the chocolate chunks and melted chocolate  a quick stir and microwave in 15-30 second intervals, stirring briskly in between intervals until the chocolate is completely melted. Microwaves vary, but I usually melt the chocolate in a 1 minute interval followed by a 30 second interval.  I then stir briskly to melt the small chocolate pieces that remain.  Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and vanilla until combined.  Add the melted chocolate and beat on medium speed until combined.  Add the powdered sugar and beat on medium speed until combined.  Increase to high speed and beat until light and creamy, 1-2 minutes. 

Cake Assembly

1. Place 1 cake layer, bottom side up, on a cake board.  Using an offset spatula, spread 1 cup of buttercream over the cake, spreading to edges.  Place spatula under a stream of  hot tap water, as needed, to warm the spatula and easily spread the buttercream with all cake layers.

2. Place another cake layer, bottom side up, on top and spread 1 cup of butter cream over the cake, spreading to edges.

3. Place the last cake layer, bottom side up, on top and spread buttercream on top and sides of cake.  Place in refrigerator while you make the ganache. 


1. Place chocolate in a heatproof measuring cup with a pour spout.  

2. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy whipping cream to a boil and immediately pour over chocolate.  Let sit for 1 minute.  Stir gently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy.  

3. Remove cake from refrigerator and place on wire rack that is set on a rimmed baking sheet to catch the drips of ganache.  Pour the ganache in the center, working outward in a circular pattern until pouring along the outer edge of the top.  Use an offset spatula to evenly spread the ganache on top and help it drip down the side. Pour any remaining ganache along the top edge and use the spatula to help it drip down the side. Let sit at room temperature until set, about 1 hour.  

Embellishment (optional)

1. Gently remove a piece of  gold leaf from package or container.  Lightly place it on the set ganache and lightly press down.  Repeat until desired design is complete.  

2. Place sliced almonds flat in an overlapping serpentine pattern until desired pattern is complete.  Place one slice upright for the snake head.  Use a toothpick dipped in ganache to create an eye.  

Do Ahead: Cake can be assembled one day ahead.  Refrigerate uncovered.

Cake layers can be baked 3 days ahead. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate.  The wrapped layers can be placed in resealable frozen bags and frozen up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before using.

The buttercream can be made 3 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate, or freeze up to 1 month.  Bring to room temperature and beat again before using.