I’ve lived in Austin off and on for the past thirty years. My wife’s a Texas native. Our current home is Portland, Oregon, where—as you may have read—the barbecue’s not bad at all. But whenever we get back to Texas, brisket’s always a priority (along with breakfast tacos, Whataburger, and cream gravy).

Truth Barbeque in Brenham has been on our smoked meat wish list since it placed tenth on the Texas Monthly list in 2017, just two years after opening. But due to a death in her family, my wife, Susan Elizabeth Shepard, wound up getting there without me first. Susan’s Uncle Chuck absolutely would have expected her to side-trip for amazing barbecue on the way home from his funeral. And while she came back to Oregon suitably impressed with all the meats and sides at Truth, she also couldn’t stop talking about the Triple Chocolate Cake.

In this, she’s not alone. Truth, which opened a second, larger Houston location in January of 2019, might be the only joint in Texas where customers who show up later in the day don’t mind hearing that the meat is gone.

“Some people come in, and even if we don’t have barbecue, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s okay,’ ” says owner and Pitmaster Leonard Botello IV. “ ‘I can just get cake.’ ” Also common: realizing there is no way you have room for dessert after filling up on brisket, sausage, corn pudding and mac and cheese . . . but there’s also no way you can leave without trying the cake. So you get a slice to go.

The cake’s cult following predates Truth, as Botello’s father, Leonard III, and his mother, Janel, ran Cafe Annice, a beloved restaurant in Lake Jackson, for years. There, family-favorite desserts that began with Janel’s own mother became restaurant favorites. When Botello IV decided to get into barbecue, with his parents helping out, he knew there would be cake.

“The cakes were a special thing that my mother had always done,” he says. “I always liked them, and everybody else always liked them. So I just really wanted that to be a part of [Truth]. A lot of people at barbecue restaurants have pies and banana pudding. I thought it would be a little more unique.”

In addition to the triple chocolate cake, you might find Italian cream, German chocolate, hummingbird, tres leches, strawberry, carrot, and the best-seller, banana caramel. All have three layers and all are as classic as you might find in a roadside diner, but with pastry-chef decadence.

Since her visit to Brenham, my wife has fantasized out loud about the next time she would eat Truth’s cake. At the time, we figured we’d be back in Texas soon enough. Perhaps in March, for South by Southwest. Or in May, before the weather got too hot. Or, worst case, in October, for college football and the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Now, of course, we’re not sure when a lengthy trip to Texas might be in the cards. And since the 2020 Texas Monthly BBQ Fest is itself a stay-at-home event, this seemed like a good time to try and bake the cake ourselves. (Truth’s festival special, in case you’re wondering, is the mouth-watering Truth CenTEX Dog, a pepper jack chorizo sausage served on a buttered bun, with bacon, house-made relish, jalapeños, and picked mustard seed.) Lucky for us (and you), Botello was happy to oblige, while also scaling down the recipe for eight-inch cake pans—but you’ll still need three. Eat it with whatever barbecue you might be picking up this weekend. Or do as Botello IV himself does, and have it as an evening snack with a glass of red wine.

Truth Barbeque’s Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake recipe

Truth Barbeque’s Triple-Layer Chocolate Cake

Leonard Botello IV shares a longtime family recipe that’s become a staple at the Houston joint.


  • 3 eight-inch cake pans


Chocolate icing

  • cups butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • cups Ghirardelli cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 7 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup milk

Chocolate cake

  • butter, for greasing the pan
  • cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • cups Ghirardelli cocoa powder
  • teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • teaspoons espresso powder
  • 1 cup boiling water


Make the icing:

  • In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese. Add cocoa powder and vanilla extract; mix on low.
  • Next, add powdered sugar ½ cup at a time. 
  • While mixing in the powdered sugar, add milk until the icing reaches desired consistency. To thicken consistency, you can also place the icing in the refrigerator while the cake bakes.

Make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter three 8-inch cake pans. Dust cake pans with flour and set to the side.
  • In a stand mixer, add cocoa powder, salt, granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix on low.
  • Meanwhile, add the instant espresso to a cup of boiling water.
  • While mixer is on low, add vanilla, whipping cream, oil, and eggs, followed by the espresso and water mixture, and continue to beat until fully mixed. This process will take up to 4 minutes. Once the batter is smooth, distribute the mixture into the 3 floured pans. 
  • Place pans in the oven and bake for 30–40 minutes. To check for doneness, stick the center of a cake with a cake tester or toothpick and make sure it comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for up to an hour.
  • Once cakes are done cooling, trim the cakes to make sure all layers are the same (do not throw away excess pieces—they are a great snack!). Once you finish trimming your layers to your liking, it’s time to ice, slice, and enjoy!