I don’t make cakes terribly often. My wife and I love eating them, but it can take a bit of work, and given how infrequently I make them, the two of us never tire of a good chocolate cake (not that you’ve ever noticed, right?) And since its been a while, here we are again…another chocolate cake, as if anyone could possibly ever get too much chocolate cake.
Now after you get past how evenly I layered my cake (fine, no slice for you, then!), the richness of it can begin to sink in. I went with an old favorite for the cake part: devil’s food. Aside from being chocolatey, it has a really dark, complex taste about it that I always enjoy. Of course, since I’ve made devil’s food cake before, I thought I’d keep things interesting by changing the other components of the cake. In between each layer of cake is a praline buttercream (as in caramelized hazelnut flavored buttercream. I know, control yourself!), inspired by a delicious Daring Baker’s challenge a while back. Outside, the cake is enrobed with a very silky sheet of ganache, the recipe for which which came from one of my favorite bakers.
Altogether, the cake was really rich and seductive to eat (maybe I’m easily seduced?). The praline buttercream was fantastic–I could have eaten it by the bowl full if I had a cardiologist nearby to repair the damage. It wasn’t in your face forward, but still incredibly rich and it brought a great hazelnut essence to the cake (which was a nice complement to the devil’s food) which leaves a wonderful aftertaste. The ganache was also a nice finish–aside from the smooth exterior, it has just the right amount of chocolatey punch and richness that the cake needs to bring it all together. I guess it goes without saying that we enjoyed this cake immensely.
- Devil’s Food Cake
- 2.5 cups flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) butter
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 1.5 cups buttermilk
- Praline Buttercream
- ~1/3 cup praline paste (I promised you I’d use it all up)
- 4 egg whites
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1.5 cups (3 sticks) butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 9 oz bitter/semi-sweet chocolate chunks
- 1 1/8 cup heavy cream
- 1.5 Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Devil’s Food Cake
We’ll begin by making the cake since it’ll need time to cool down.
Let the butter warm up to room temperature (figure 30-60 minutes out of the fridge). Cream it with the paddle in the bowl of a stand mixer before beating in the brown sugar, followed by the vanilla extract and eggs (do each one at a time until totally incorporated).
Mix all of the remaining dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add a third of the dry mix into the butter mixture, and once that’s mixed in, add half of the buttermilk. Repeat this process: third of dry, half of the buttermilk, and the final third of dry batter. Mix only as much as is necessary to get a homogenous batter.
In a greased and parchment paper lined cake pan, add half of the batter. If you have two cake pans, get them both into action. If not, save half of your batter–you’ll just have to re-use your one pan. Give the pan a good shake to ensure there’s no big air bubbles trapped inside as this is kind of a thick batter.
Finally, bake this at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean through the center. Let this cool down for a few minutes before you gently run a knife around the edges of the cake pan to prevent any edges from sticking. Carefully invert the pan to remove the cake, peel off the parchment, and let it cool down for an hour or so.
With the cake baked and cooling down, now onto the buttercream. Be warned, if you don’t have any sort of electric mixer, you better have some serious endurance. Begin by whisking the egg whites on high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer until they get foamy and enter the soft peak stage (so if you pull the whisk out, you get somewhat formed peaks and tufts of egg white, but it collapses on itself).
Once you get this far, set the bowl up over a pot of gently simmering water (a double boiler), ensuring that the bowl containing your egg whites is not actually touching the water (switch bowls if you need to). This is where I switched from my stand mixer to my old trusty hand mixer (since putting the stand mixer on a stovetop seems like an interesting maneuver). Keep whisking the egg whites, slowly adding the sugar over the course of a minute. Pay careful attention during all of this–you want to cook the egg whites without it scrambling and taking on a chunky texture.
Keep on beating the eggs for about 2-3 minutes (~120°F) and ensure that the sugar is dissolved (the egg whites shouldn’t feel grainy). It should look kind of marshmallowy.
And now, I went back to the stand mixer (so you’re done with the heat/double boiler). Continue to beat the marshmallowy meringue on medium-high speed for about 5-7 minutes as it cools down. Look at how incredibly thick it gets. If you liked marshmallows as a kid, this is a heavenly step right here. Anywho, set this aside for now.
While all of this is going on, you had all of the butter out of the fridge coming to room temperature, right (for like 30-60 minutes)? Good. In a clean mixing bowl, cream the butter (yes, its a lot) with the paddle attachment for a good minute or so until its nice and smooth. The way I see it, this won’t be clogging your arteries, so much as lubricating them. See? Buttercream is good for you!
Now, drop the mixing speed to low-medium and add the meringue in roughly 1-2 tablespoons at a time over the course of a minute. Splash in the vanilla extract, let it mix for another 30 seconds, and you’re done. Transfer this to the fridge for 10-15 minutes before you try to do anything with it (or you’ll melt the butter!).
Now the buttercream you made is just a plain old buttercream. To give it the praline flavor, we need praline paste. I’ve covered making this before and its quite simple. Toast the (shelled) hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Then rub the hell out of them to shed as much papery coating off as you can. In a saucepan, melt the sugar down into caramel (figure 10 minutes of medium-high heat) without stirring. Once totally caramel in color, drop the heat to low and add the hazelnuts in and give things a stir so all the nuts get coated.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and carefully pour the contents of the pan out onto the paper so that its spread out a bit. Give this some time to cool down, as right now, you’d get a very nice burn touching that. Once cool, grind this down into a powder in your food processor and store in an airtight container. Don’t refrigerate the leftovers.
Now to work it into the buttercream. Using your mixer, beat half of the buttercream into the praline paste. Finally, add the remaining buttercream and beat it briefly on medium low speed for as little as is necessary. Now let the buttercream rest in the fridge. Unbelt your pants and lick your fingers and bowls clean–buttercream is good stuff!
Ganache is a simple thing to make. The real variation from one recipe to the next is actually quite small, but the difference in the end result can be remarkable. For instance, you could make it frosting-like or a bit firmer. In this case, the ganache is a bit thinner–more glaze-like. This allows it to settle on the cake quite nicely–almost giving a perfectly smooth, shiny surface on your cake, free of any errant tufts or blemishes. Gravity does the work for you.
So before gravity, time for you to do your part. Put the chocolate chunks in a bowl. Warm the honey and cream in a saucepan on low heat until it gently boils, at which point, you should pour it over the chocolate. Don’t touch anything for a minute and then give things a stir until the chocolate melts nicely into the cream.
Stir in the vanilla extract. Let this cool down a bit more towards room temperature as things are a bit too liquidy for you to work with right now (if you cheat and put it in the fridge, just keep an eye on things–if you leave it in too long, it will firm up and won’t be spreadable!).
Finally, time to bring all of these components together.
At this point, we have two cakes baked. With a long serrated knife, carefully cut each of these in half using a gentle sawing motion (so that you have four layers total). Do your best to keep things even and level or things will look funny later…like in my photos. Be careful handling these layers so that they don’t fall apart–I used my two widest spatulas. Worst case, use buttercream like glue to repair any damage later. Nobody will be upset about getting extra, and if they are, more cake for you.
With your layers cut, spread buttercream as evenly as you can on three of the layers. Do your best to keep things level and don’t spread the buttercream right up to the edge of the cake since it will spread itself a bit more once you stack things. On that note, carefully stack the buttercreamed layers of cake followed by the uncreamed cake. Don’t worry if things get messy on the outside. Just smooth it out a bit.
With the cake all stacked and the ganache ready to go, pour some ganache on top of the cake. Spread it in a circular motion from the center of the cake outwards and let it dribble over the edge of the cake. Repeat this process, smoothing out the side of the cake as necessary (you’ll find you won’t have to fuss over the very top of the cake though as that will in all likelihood, pretty much smooth itself out rather nicely). If the ganache pours too freely, give it some more time in the fridge since it won’t do you much good if it just pools at the base of the cake rather than clinging to the sides.
Now that everything is put together, let your cake rest in the fridge so it can settle in a bit. Finally, carefully cut yourself a slice and enjoy!