Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the middle position. Lightly grease the bottom (not the sides) of three 8-inch cake pans with baking spray and then cover them with parchment rounds. Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Sift in the cocoa powder and whisk until the dry ingredients are evenly combined. In a separate small bowl, combine the half & half and vanilla extract.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on low speed for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing each egg to incorporate before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer still on low speed, swiftly alternate between adding the dry and liquid ingredients over the course of a minute. Scrape down the sides well, making sure to reach the bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.
Distribute the batter evenly between the 3 prepared cake pans, using a spatula to even out the tops.
Bake until the a toothpick comes out of the center of each cake clean, approximately 30-35 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pan before removing.
Prepare the buttercream:
Place the sugar and water in saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Turn the heat on high and cover.
While the sugar syrup is heating up, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until a soft peak forms, then turn down the speed to medium.
Once the sugar syrup is simmering, remove the cover from the pan and turn the heat down slightly to medium high. Cook the syrup for 5 minutes and then slowly and carefully pour it down the side of the mixing bowl into the meringue while the machine is still mixing. Add the syrup very slowly to avoid scrambling the eggs.
Once the syrup is added, turn the mixer back up to high and allow the meringue to cool as it whips. This can take up to 20 minutes.
Once the meringue has cooled to room temperature, slowly add the butter one piece at a time. The meringue will deflate slightly.
Once all of the butter is incorporated, slowly drizzle in the malted milk mixture until the frosting is evenly combined.
Assemble the cake:
Place the first layer of cake on a revolving cake stand and remove the parchment paper. Placing a cardboard round below the cake is optional but will make transporting the cake easier after it is assembled.
Spread approximately one cup of buttercream on the cake and spread it around evenly with an offset spatula. Add more buttercream as needed to reached the desired thickness. Repeat with the second and third layer (don't forget to remove the parchment each time). Use an offset spatula to apply a thin layer of frosting to the side and top of the cake. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set this first layer of buttercream. Cover the entire cake with a final layer of frosting. Top with chopped malted milk balls.
Cake is best when served at room temperature.
Please use a kitchen scale to weigh your flour when making this cake!