Celebrate the Academy Awards with this elegant red wine chocolate cake with blackberry buttercream

Pastry chef Meghan McGarry expertly pairs chocolate with one ingredient inspired by the red carpet: wine

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published February 8, 2020 5:42PM (EST)

 (Courtesy Meghan McGarry / Buttercream Blondie)
(Courtesy Meghan McGarry / Buttercream Blondie)

From the designer gowns and tuxedos, to the priceless jewels, to the gold awards, elegance defines the Academy Awards. Dessert follows the same rules as fashion when it comes to true elegance: refined simplicity. It's not about endless layers and fancy fillings. It's about the flavor you construct for the palette. 

If you're like pastry chef Meghan McGarry, one of the best ways to celebrate the real Super Bowl this Sunday is by inviting friends over for a viewing party. You don't have to be a star on the red carpet to live up the biggest night in show business. You can pour wine and snack on chocolate in the comfort of your own home. Or better yet: Why not combine both in a cake?

The story behind the dress cake

The cake McGarry will serve at her Academy Awards party this year was inspired by an Instagram post. A few years ago, the fashion designer Lorie Goldstein posted a collage of sketches from an Oscars collaboration she did with the Los Angeles Times. Goldstein drew gowns she wanted to see nominees wear, and one was a cascading dress of peach ruffles.

"When I saw it, I instantly thought to myself, 'Could I pipe that in buttercream?'" McGarry recalls.

That begs the question: Who would this cake artist want to see wearing her cake?

"I'm so totally convinced that Lady Gaga would wear this," the pastry chef tells Salon. "She's worn wearable meats. So why not a buttercream dress?"



Elegance of flavor, achieved 

Everyone's favorite dessert is chocolate, which is the foundation of McGarry's flavor-filled cake. It's expertly paired with an ingredient inspired by the red carpet: wine. 

"I mixed cabernet into the batter, and I chose one with undertones of blackberry and cherry," McGarry says of the profile. "A cabernet adds a boldness of flavor to the cake  just like some of the fashion choices on the carpet."

If you already follow the pastry chef on social media, you will know that she doesn't hold back when it comes to adding liquors to her desserts. To choose a wine, follow her simple rule: If you would drink it, throw it in the mixer.

McGarry's cake is accented by a buttercream frosting made from a fresh blackberry compote, which is far easier to make than it sounds. Simple cook down blackberries on your stove with a little bit of sugar until they get syrupy before adding it to the buttercream in your stand mixer.

"The red wine I picked has undertones of blackberries, tying all of the flavors together," McGarry explains. 



Yes, you can make this at home 

McGarry conceived her cake for a girl's night in, which is all about comfort. That means it doesn't require days of prep work.

"I really wanted something easy, and I didn't want to make an entire layer cake," McGarry says of her inspiration. "Elegance is about simplicity, and I wanted other people to know that if you're hosting a last-minute Oscars party, Galentine's or just because it's Sunday, you can totally do this."

The pastry chef's creation is a snack cake, which is baked in a 9x13 pan. That means no layering is required. Even better, the simple batter can all be made in one bowl, making clean up a breeze. Yes, this cake almost does the work for you, McGarry points out.

Stop right now if you're thinking, "I'm an at-home chef, so I'm not sure if I can pipe those ruffles." You have options.

"I always tell people that the biggest thing is to get out of your own way. Like wearing a dress on a red carpet, baking is all about confidence," McGarry says. "I'm a professional, but I do the same thing at times. I had this dress in my head, and yet I stood and stared at my cake for a good ten minutes before I started piping."

If you do want to try your hand at designing a dress, McGarry recommends using a petal tip to pipe ruffles. Otherwise, skip the gown altogether and simply spread a single layer of frosting across the top of your cake. Metallic sprinkles around the edges are all you need to kick up the elegance a notch.


Recipe: Red Wine Chocolate Cake


  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. espresso powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup red wine - I used Cabernet


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13-inch pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Spray once more and set aside.
  2. Add cocoa powder, flour, sugar, espresso powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda to the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low speed to combine ingredients.
  3. Add eggs, vegetable oil, milk and vanilla extract, and mix on low speed to combine ingredients. Increase speed to medium low and mix for about 1 minute, until batter is smooth.

You're not done yet! Click here to access the remainder of the recipe. And don't forget to follow @ButtercreamBlondie on Instagram for more ways to flirt with your desserts!

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Academy Awards Buttercream Blondie Cakes Chocolate Food Meghan Mcgarry Oscars Recipes Red Wine