Dessert has been a little pie-centric lately, so it was time for something different: cake. Rather than hitting up the bakery, I wanted to make my wife’s birthday cake myself for a change, and I knew chocolate had to be the focus. That’s still pretty open-ended, but I thought a good compromise between birthday cake and a heavy, rich chocolate cake (like a torte) was a traditional Devil’s Food Cake with a rich, fudge frosting.
The cake is delicious, semi-airy chocolate with a dense, rich, decadent frosting and filling (and rich in adjectives!). The cake itself is stacked two layers high and combines ingredients for a traditional, light batter with some darker flavors, like cocoa powder and dark brown sugar. The frosting is a fudge-like mixture of cream and some high quality dark chocolate for some real richness with the curious tang of sour cream. The combination: a happy birthday girl (success! ) And I feel stupid for not ever having realized this until now, but did you know that Devil’s food cake is the counter to angel cake, given how diametrically opposed they are? News to me–I always just thought it was a bad pun on how tempting the cake is (well, I suppose that still holds true, too).
- 2.5 cups all purpose flour (cake or some other, lighter flour is preferrable)
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup (so 1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 1.5 cups buttermilk
- 12 oz chocolate (I used an equal mix of bittersweet, semisweet, and milk chocolates)
- 1.75 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- dash of salt
Before you get started, butter the bottom and sides of your round pans. Then, cut out a piece of parchment paper for each so that it fits the bottom of the pan well. Stick it in place and butter that as well. Dust lightly with flour and set this aside. You do all of this so that the cake comes out of the pan very easily later because it would be a sad state of affairs if your baked cake stuck to the bottom and split in half when you tried to remove it. Pulling off a sheet of paper is much easier.
Now is a good time to preheat your oven to 350?F. In a large bowl, sift your flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sifting doesn’t mean just mix together–shake it through a sieve or some fine surface to get things as finely mixed as possible. This will help make your cake light and airy.
In a larger bowl, add your butter (which should be at close to room temperature, like all of your dairy ingredients). Using a mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until it gets nice and creamy. This step alone gets a lot of air into your cake later.
This begins the slow process or adding in everything else one at a time and beating it in so that it gets mixed together really well. This doesn’t mean beat the hell out of the batter–just to mix each ingredient in just to the point of completely integrating it into the mixture and then stop. Overmixing will undo all of your butter creaming efforts and deflate your batter, freeing all of the air you worked in earlier.
So with that warning, now, add in some (not all) of your brown sugar and beat it in well. Do this in three or so batches, adding in and mixing well. You should have a somewhat goopy, fluffy brown sugar mix. So next up: your vanilla extract. Add it and beat it in.
Now for the eggs. Add each egg one at a time and then beat the mixture well. Things should lighten in color and become much creamier.
Now for an opportunity to make a bigger mess than you might already have. Its time to incorporate the dry sifted ingredients with your batter, so it would be a good idea to use the mixer on a slower speed now (or else you’ll just finely dust your kitchen with flour and cocoa powder). So add about a third of your dry ingredients into the wet bowl and mix well. Then, pour in half of your buttermilk and mix well. Now another third of dry, mix, remaining buttermilk, mix, and finally, the last of the dry. Beat everything well so that you have a creamy, homogenous cake batter.
Pour half of your batter into each round pan and stir gently and give a little shake to get any major air bubbles out of there (you won’t get them all, so just go for the big ones). Bake these for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean through the center. Take these out and let them cool off for about fifteen minutes. Gently and carefully, use a knife around the edges to break the cake free from the pan. Then, just as carefully, flip the pans over to get the cake out on a clean surface (a wire rack is ideal, and I need to buy one already). Carefully peel off the parchment paper and let these guys cool off some more while you prepare the frosting.
The frosting is very simple to make and very rich. You probably noticed that chocolate makes up the better part of the frosting. So it follows that if you use cheap, junky chocolate, you’re going to get equally cheap, junky frosting, so use some good chocolate here (e.g. one of those 70% pure cocoa type of chocolates, such as Lindt). Depending on your audience, you might opt to use nothing but bittersweet chocolate, but I chose to use a mixture of bittersweet, semi-sweet, and milk chocolate.
Now if you have a double boiler, set that up. If you don’t (like me), get about an inch of water boiling in a saucepan, then drop the temperature down to medium to simmer the water, and put a heat-proof bowl on top. The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the water–it should just form a seal with your pan and be somewhat close to the water.
Mix the chocolate and the heavy cream in the bowl and whisk these as the chocolate gradually melts down. Do not cover and do not let the underlying water boil. Moisture getting into your chocolate or excessive, fast rising heat will stiffen the chocolate and do bad things, hence the indirect, gradual heat of double boiling. The chocolate should slowly start to melt down so whisk it into the cream as it does. Keep this going until the chocolate and cream are well blended and then remove from heat.
Let this cool off for a few minutes. Then, add in the sour cream and salt and whisk until blended. I know sour cream sounds like a strange addition, but it adds a really nice, subtle tang and body to the final frosting without tasting like sour cream–trust me, its a very good thing. Cool for a little while longer and whisk again once or twice just to fluff it up some more.
At this point, ideally you’ve let your cake and your frosting cool off sufficiently (in case you can’t tell from my photo, I didn’t 😉 ). Now, take one half of your cake, parchment side up, and put it on your intended serving plate. If it doesn’t seem like the cake is quite flat, you can carefully edge it off with a serrated knife. I’m no presentation perfectionist, so I was happier having more cake rather than a prettier cake. 😉
Spread no more than a third of your frosting on top of this. This will be your filling.
Then, place your other cake half on top of this, parchment side up. Now, coat the entire thing with the rest of your frosting. Decorate it up if that’s your thing (clearly not mine 😉 ).
Clean the edges of your serving plate, lick your fingers, and cut a slice…