Whenever an American friend in Paris has a birthday, I invariably offer to make the cake for the big fête. Not that there’s a lack of great bakeries in Paris, but Americans always seem to crave the same thing: a big, tall, all-American chocolate cake with an overabundance of swirls and swoops of chocolate frosting.
And who am I to deny them?
And what better to make than a dark, moist Devil’s Food Cake with thick, shiny ganache swirled all over the top and smoothed around the sides?
This Devil’s Food Cake is a happy compromise between those richer, flourless kind of chocolate cakes which would be too intense and inelegant stacked one on top of the other, and those jumbo, three-tiered extravaganzas which might shock a few folks around here with its all-American excess.
(Although the Rice Krispy Treats I made a couple of weeks ago were quite a hit. I tried to explain their cultural appeal to my Parisian friends, but decided just to them do the ambassador work themselves. I’m willing to let someone else carry the cross-cultural mantle around here for a while.)
This one has the heft and smoothness of a larger cake without scaring anyone anyway, and will appease everyone with it’s on-the-spot dark chocolate flavor. It’s delicate crumb is perfect when paired with a scoop of homemade ice cream or a pour of super-cold crème anglaise, but it’s also sturdy enough to weather a trip across the Paris, since if you remember, I don’t have very good luck carrying cakes on the métro amongst devil-may-care Parisians.
So if you see me on the métro schlepping a birthday cake, please take pity on me and “Bougez votre cul, svp!” (Move your ass, please!)
I used a bar of Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate that a guest brought for me which I was saving for something special, and I like convincing disbelieving Europeans that fine American chocolate does exist. But for the cake itself, I stuck with the home team and used lovely, deep-dark Valrhona cocoa powder.
For you non-Americans out there, sorry, but the recipe isn’t in metrics since while making this cake, I found the one glaring flaw with the metric system: What to do when your scale goes haywire?
When I flipped the switch on mine, it decided to start blinking and flashing and doing all sorts of goofy things, and since it was after 8pm, there was nowhere I could go to get a new battery. Luckily the batteries in my measuring cups had some life left in them so I called them into service. (Here’s a converter if you non-Americans want to make a go of it.)
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if you’re not a pro at decorating cakes. I was visiting Gayle’s Bakery, a terrific bakery in Capitola, south of San Francisco, where they brought me into a room that was magnificently-equipped—and was off-limits to everyone but their highly-revered cake decorators. They told me, “We treat our decorators very nicely.”
If you’re not a pro, don’t worry: this frosting is forgivable and can take quite a bit of back-and-forthing from a spatula-wielding novice. And if you want to get fancy, you can pipe it as well…and you don’t even need a special room to do it in.
Devil’s Food Cake
one 9-inch cake
There’s a certain amount of discussion about when to use natural vs Dutch-process cocoa powder, which I explain in my chocolate book, if you’re interested in the details, but I’ve made this cake with both kinds of cocoa powder and no one’s refused a slice cake made with either.
I make the frosting with water, since I think the cake is plenty rich as it is. But if you want a creamier frosting, using cream in place of the water.
For the cake:
- 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1½ cups cake flour (not self-rising)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup strong coffee (or water)
- ½ cup whole or low-fat milk
For the ganache frosting:
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup water (or cream)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1. Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.
3. To make the cake layers, sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.
4. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. (If using a standing electric mixer, stop the mixer as necessary to scrape down the sides to be sure everything is getting mixed in.)
5. Mix together the coffee and milk. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, the add the coffee and milk. Finally stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.
6. Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.
7. To make the frosting, melt the chopped chocolate with the water (or cream) in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally until melted. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.
8. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk them into the chocolate until completely melted and the ganache is smooth. Cool until spreadable, which may take about 1 hour at room temperature.
To frost the cake:
Run a knife around the inside of each of the cakes which will help release them from the pans. Tilt one cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper from the bottom and invert it back onto a cake plate. Spread a good-sized layer of icing over the top. Top with the second cake layer and spread the top and sides with the remaining icing as decoratively as you want.
Storage: Cake is best the day it is made, although it’s fine the next day. Store at room temperature under a cake dome. Just be sure to keep cake out of the sun in the meantime.