Moist chocolate cake is frosted with an easy, fluffy buttercream and topped with a chocolate nest for this festive Easter dessert. The nest is made from fried rice vermicelli, lightly salted and coated in chocolate for a crispy treat.
Heat the oil to 375ºF in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Line an 8-inch diameter bowl with plastic wrap leaving some overhang. Line another medium bowl with paper towels. Separate the vermicelli bundles lengthwise into 1-inch-wide sections. (It’s okay if some noodles break off, you may still use them.) Drop one bunch into the oil; the noodles will immediately puff and the oil will bubble vigorously. Cook for 10 to 15 seconds, until the oil stops bubbling and the vermicelli are crisp. Using a spider or mesh strainer, transfer the noodles to the paper towel-lined bowl and immediately sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat. When the temperature returns to 375 drop another bunch in. Repeat the frying process until all of the vermicelli, including any loose or broken pieces are cooked. Set the fried vermicelli aside.
Heat the chocolate in a small microwavable bowl in the microwave until melted, about 2 minutes, pausing every 30 seconds to stir with a rubber spatula. Remove the paper towels from the bowl of vermicelli and discard. Scrape the melted chocolate into the bowl of vermicelli. Wearing latex gloves, use your hands to toss the vermicelli with the chocolate until the noodles are completely coated and sticky. Gently press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the plastic lined bowl leaving the edges uneven and ragged to resemble a bird’s nest. Chill the nest in the bowl until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the sugar, beating until the mixture is light and smooth, about 4 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and beat on medium, 1 minute more. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Combine the milk with 1 1/4 cups water in a small saucepan, bring just to a boil and remove from the heat.
With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, until it is incorporated. Turn off the mixer, then carefully pour the hot liquid into the batter and combine by hand with a whisk until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Lightly tap each pan on the counter to settle the batter.
Bake until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and the centers spring back when touched lightly, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife or small spatula around the edges of the pan, turn out the cake layers and place on the rack to cool completely.
Beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until just combined. Add the vanilla extract and increase the speed to medium-high, beating until fluffy and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in 2 tablespoons milk and the food coloring, if using, to make a pastel shade. Continue beating until light and spreadable, 2 minutes. If the frosting seems too stiff, add the remaining tablespoon of milk.
To assemble: Place 1 cake layer right-side up on a cake stand or flat plate and top with 1 cup of frosting. Using a large offset spatula, spread the icing evenly over the layer to the edges. Place the other layer, on top. Evenly spread half of the remaining frosting over the top, leaving a small off-center mound to place the nest on. Spread the remaining frosting around the sides of the cake in a swirly pattern. Lift the chocolate nest from the bowl by the plastic-wrap overhang. Peel off the plastic and discard. Place the nest on the top of the cake on the mound of frosting and fill with candy coated eggs.