Devil’s Food Cake Recipe

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?

The Icing On The Cake

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?

Before The Fall

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.

Spreading

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.

53 comments

  • Funny, today is my birthday, and I just pulled a Devils Food Cake out of the oven, that my husband made for me this morning! We used cocoa powder from Joel Durand in Saint Remy de Provence (www.chocolat-durand.com), don’t know if it’s Dutch-process or not. Can’t wait to take a break from this big day of bottling our wine to have a slice at lunch time! It will be interesting to see what our French friends think of this oh so American indulgence!

  • lagramiere: I think all cocoa powder in Europe is Dutch-processed. I’ve never seen any that wasn’t. (You can check; sometimes the ingredients will list an alkalizing agent to neutralize acidity, but not always.)

    You’re lucky to live near Joël Durand—his chocolates are great. (You can now get them in Paris at La Grande Épicerie.)

  • David!
    Great looking cake, but most important: where the heck are you finding Rice Krispies in Paris these days???? None of the standard grocery stores seem to have them anymore (Franprix, Monoprix, G20 etc…). I’ve been on the hunt for well over a year.
    This is a first-time comment for me (I’m shy) but I’ve been enjoying your blog for ages. Thanks for it all!

  • What a wonderful cake !

  • How sad that my birthday is six months away!

    Can this double as a cake for la rentrée?

    Or for August 7, perhaps?

  • Looks delicious. I’m always in search of good chocolate cake recipes, they are not always easy to find. I recently made your black bottomed cupcakes and they were a great success. Have you ever tried making them into a cake?

    Now I just need to find a big group of people to eat a Devil’s Food Cake, or else I’m in danger of eating the whole thing.

  • David,
    This cake looks amazing. I have to share also that I made your salted butter caramel ice cream recently, and WOW. The thought of a scoop of that melting over this cake makes me happier than I can possibly put into words.

  • David,
    In France, what would be considered a non self-rising flour? (Not that I would know about that in the States either.) I’ve never made a cake from scratch before, but this one is really tempting, and i definitely never ever see anything like this in France. I have started craving some real american-ness lately…and a side note about rice krispies…i’ve found them before in Carrefour, but i don’t know if you’d have to get out of Paris to find one of those.

  • I normally hate cakes like this– I’m not a fan of frosting, and I like my cake to be dense and moist and not sugary. But for some reason yours looks appealing and I must say I could go for a slice right now.

  • The chocolate ganache frosting on that cake makes me want a piece so badly! I usually don’t like devil’s food, but I don’t think I’ve tasted it done right. I should try this out! Oh, and I second Meg, my birthday was just over a month ago, so Happy August 7th! :)

  • Kate: I forgot where I get them, but it was definitely in France. They’re the same Rice Krispie’s we know and love, except the Marshmallow Treat wasn’t on the side of the box!

    Caroline: With my failing eyesight, I thought you said this cake looks “appalling“, and my feelings were hurt. This cake isn’t sweet or sugary, since it was intended for my French friends. If they loved it, you might too!

    Meg: I think in terms of birthday cakes, half-years count as well. (My birthday falls right after Christmas…so I’d love to have a party, and a cake, around…say….June.) Sorry Hillary, I don’t know if that applies to month-ago birthdays…

    Amy: I don’t think they have self-rising flour in France. If they do, it’s most likely a British import since it’s used primarily for scones and biscuits, which ain’t exactly French. ; )

  • Hi David,
    Gosh I’ve been reading you here for one and half year now, but I never wrote a comment. That said, I do enjoy a lot of your delicious and funny posts. I’m not a cook, but I’m a gourmande…so I appreciate too much of anything food related, esp. good ones of course :-)

    I need to ask you a question unrelated to your post here. Since you’re a food expert, I know you’d give me a good advice or at least would point me to a right direction. I’d like to learn how to cook (I have good sense of tastes, am organized, cook with intuitions and whatever resources/ingredients available at home). I use rarely recipes…I like simple good meals.

    I started searching for cooking schools for gourmandes around where I live, Antibes, South of France. I’ve been once to Alain Llorca resto “Moulin de Mougins” to watch a cooking demo that lasts for 2hrs, but there’s no hands-on experience. It’s like that for all the other menu-related cooking demos they have. I like the hands-on. Then I checked there’s Lenotre in Cannes, but so far there are no classes available in Fall and Winter…at least not posted yet this month. I don’t know where to go…don’t know any other names…All cooking schools are in Paris, it seems like. I’m at a lost…where can I go? Could you give me a suggestion? Thanks David :-)

    Ok…let me stop here and not take more of your time now. Good luck and Bravo for your new book. Thanks again.

  • Speaking of cakes, ever since I’ve been making ice cream from your cookbook, I’ve really wanted to make an ice cream cake, but I can’t figure out how to make cake layers for it that won’t freeze solid. I know that a lot of ice cream cakes just don’t use any cake layers, but I think the ones that have cake too are better. Any suggestions?

  • ummm, where do you get rice crispies???

  • ok, lesson learned: i need to read the posts BEFORE I post.

  • The photos and your description really got me. I read the recipe and had no choice but to make it after I realized I had all the ingredients on hand. I just pulled the cake out of the oven and am starting on the frosting. Then I get the phone call that we’re having a surprise house guest in a couple hours – he’s from France and loves chocolate. You saved the day…..Thanks!

  • My birthday is on the 19th, and the beau was wondering what kind of cake I wanted. Now he knows. I think I’ll make this cake my standard thing to take to a dinner party in the fall when I’m asked to bring dessert. Thanks for the recipe!

  • I first discovered ganache while working at an organic bakery at a yoga institute in upstate new york. i haven’t looked back since. Its time to get me a sifter, and a big ol bowl a milk! I’m ready to bake myself a cake.

    B
    Hand to Mouth

  • How much hot weather minus direct sunlight can the ganache take? Every year the local fair holds a cake auction and I always make a cake for it. It’s next week and we are in the midst of an unrelenting heatwave. Can your frosting take a few hours at 85 degrees, or should I just settle for making a German Chocolate cake with its non-perishable frosting?

  • That cake is heavenly! It is next on my list of baking indulgences. Now I just have to get my husband to make the vanilla ice cream!

  • Dana: You can help keep the layers from freezing-rock solid by brushing them on both sides with a compatible liquor (Cognac, brandy, rum, etc…) preferably 40 proof, since alcohol doesn’t freeze.

    If you avoid alcohol, heat about 1 part sugar or honey to 2 to 3 parts water until sugar dissolves. (Try to use the minimum amount of water, to taste, since the more sugar, the better to keep the cake soft.) Cool, then brush generously on both sides of cake layers.

    Linda: 85 degrees? That’s just asking for trouble, my dear. I’d lean towards German Chocolate Cake and wait for cooler weather.

    Hiya Maya: I did a round-up of cooking schools in Paris here. Hand-on classes are the best and you can learn more in a class that lasts a couple of days or a week rather than just an afternoon. I’ve been to professional schools here and they’re not really geared towards everyday cooks, so I would look with that in mind.

    Although you’re not a fan of cooking with recipes, I found I learned a lot reading books with basic, but helpful information. (I love reading cookbooks!) And try cooking something new one in a while, which is a great way to learn something or a new technique. Some favorite cookbooks are Mastering The Art of French Cooking, The Zuni Cookbook (not basic, but the recipes are pretty easy and her explanations of techniques are unbeatable), and The French Farmhouse Cookbook, which I refer to around here a lot but is very useful no matter where one lives.

    Lastly, if you live in France, you’ll find the butchers, fromagers, and other people who sell food very helpful with advice and tips on cooking. Vendors are good about doling out advice…after all, they’re the experts!

  • Thanks David! :-) I’ll look into those books you recommend, and you’re right about taking advantage of good quality produce we have here all over France. I should be talking more with those experts in the market…(It’s just unfortunate that the Antibes’ Marche Provencal is so much geared towards tourists than locals…very few of the products are locals actually).

    Bof…Anyways, any plans to go this way…Cote d’Azur? :-) Let me know…Thanks again, David. Ciao.

  • Slurp, slurp (the sound of me licking the icing off my screen). Great photos, David!

  • Oh well on the birthday thing, thought it was worth a try :)

  • Speaking of ganache… Have you ever soaked fruit in alcohol and then glazed with ganache? I was thinking about trying it with pineapple and cointreau. I’m hesitant the alcohol will get to the chocolate before I do.

    And yes I confer, that cake looks finger licking good.

  • What a beautiful cake! And thank you for sharing the recipe.

  • “Swoops and swirls” is just what I needed to get my mouth watering for a good chocolate cake…Going to a cookout this weekend, just might make this cake! merci!

  • I made this into cupcakes tonight for a friend’s birthday and they are so fabulous. I used Scharffen Berger cocoa powder for the cake and the chocolate flavor is spot on. I had to add my thanks for the recipe.

  • OMG, if that’s not food porn, I don’t know what is. And at the risk of fostering cultural misunderstanding, I have to say that I simply don’t get Rice Krispie squares. American friends over here used to bring them to every BBQ we invited them to and I remain mystified…

  • It looks very very good in spite of being chocolate. Birthday cake was the first thing I missed after being here for a few months. The whole subject was redolent of my culture being ripped out of me, but I hadn’t even brought cake tins with me. Upon confessing in public, an American friend sent me two tins. I proceeded to make America in Umbria.

    For me they aren’t so much for birthdays, but I was once instructed by an American girl that if one were depressed, birthday cake and champagne would fix it. It seemed to work. You don’t need any embarrassing candles, you can scoop off any flowers for yourself, and you can eat the various parts together or in any order. Try that with an anti-depressive pill.

    So this cake seems more like a celebration cake of perhaps finding a congenial honey, or the exact hat you want, or even drowning out the loss of either.

  • Is that what is refered to as a butter ganache? I’ve never made one, I’ve only used heavy cream. How do they differ in taste?

  • hi David,
    since it was my first time to try one of your recipes, i’d say it was a very happy experience. your Devil’s Food Cake is awesome! i gladly shared generous slices of it to my friend & her gramdma, to my sisters, and to my mom. i can’t wait to try more of your fab & yummy recipes. thank you for sharing.

  • I am looking for a chocolate cake for two tiered wedding cake for 30 person. I’m living in Belgium and do you think this Devil Food cake recipe will suit there taste? they love something like flourless choco cakes or any suggestions for the European taste? The wedding will be on September 15. Thanks.

  • I am looking for a chocolate cake for two tiered wedding cake for 30 person. I’m living in Belgium and do you think this Devil Food cake recipe will suit there taste? they love something like flourless choco cakes or any suggestions for the European taste? The wedding will be on September 15. Thanks.

  • Hi David,
    My husband made this for my birthday on Sunday. It was very good. But I’m not sure he did it right: the cake was not too dry but had a lot of crumbiness. And the ganache dried (did not look moist like yours) so that when we cut it, it kind of fell off the cake.
    Where did he go wrong?? (This is what you get when you let someone else make your birthday cake!!)

  • Hi Lesley: You could make the icing with heavy cream instead of water, which would make it creamier. But since I like to pile it on, I opted for water.

  • Ah, good idea. Thank you for the tip! I enjoyed it again last night with my girlfriends and they DEVOURED it…I gave them all your Web site address!

  • I just made this cake for a friend.. but I found it too sweet for my liking.
    Replacing the milk with curd makes it lighter.

  • Thanks for the recipe David! I made this for my friends birthday.. and she LOVED it. Everyone who ate it, couldnt stop raving about it till the next day. Wonderful!

  • David–(as you know) this recipe is amazing! I brought it to a small gathering (6 people) yesterday and every person had THREE helpings each!! Usually at gatherings I end up with leftovers. But it was all gone within a few hours. Wow! It was so fluffy and moist!
    I plan to make this cake as cupcakes sometime because it’s such a great tasting cake… but I do not have experience with altering recipes for different types of pans. Should i just reduce the cook time, or the temperature as well? Any tips would be much appreciated!

  • David, You are a truly talented chef and baker- every recipe you post sounds wonderful and the ones I actually attempt never disappoint. I made this cake for my daughter’s first birthday party and it was a hit! My only trouble was with the frosting- it was so runny it would have just slid off the cake! I had to mix in probably 1/2 to 3/4 cups of powdered sugar to make it work. I used chocolate chips; they were a good quality chocolate, but I’m thinking if I had used a bar of chocolate it may have made for better frosting. Do you agree? I also made your German chocolate cake for my husband’s birthday last year, and had the same problem with the chocolate part of the frosting. Everything else about the cake was delicious, but again I had to add a lot of powdered sugar to make the frosting work. Do you have any suggestions for my future attempts at these frostings? I really appreciate your time!

  • Hi Sarah: I’m glad you like the cake but am not sure why your frosting(s) are too runny. Since it’s happening in both of the recipes, perhaps it’s your chocolate.

    I never use chips in a recipe, since they can be sludgy when melted. For recipes that I write, I use a mid-brand Barry-Callebaut chocolate, similar to Guittard or Ghiradelli.

  • hi! i’ve got a question about the frosting. I was hoping to use it for decorating a buche de noel but then i saw the comment that with water it might possibly dry up and stuff but you said something about preferring to pile it onand so water was ideal… what do you mean…? =X how’d the batch you made in the picture remain so moist looking?

    please and thank you!!!

  • Yes, you can use this frosting for almost any cake, including a bûche de Noël.

  • Great cake. Made it for New Year’s Eve dinner for four and had plenty of leftovers. Nice and moist.

    I own a cookbook collection, but didn’t have all the ingredients on hand for any choco cake I could find…. until I found yours. Thanks!

    By the way, I spread cranberry-orange jam between the layers of the cake and that added some redness and tartness – yum! I did this to keep it moist without overloading the choco ganache. I am not too much of a sweet tooth to go all out on the ganache….

    Thanks!

  • Is there any other cake apart from this on your website that uses cocoa and not semi sweet chocolate?

  • Hi there,
    I am English and live in Paris.
    I have been looking for a decent Devil’s Food Cake recipe for a long time, because it brings back memories of the cake that my dear Aunt Jane used to bake for me and my friends in Jersey. We stuffed ourselves silly with this wonderful rich dark chocolate cake until we positively could not move!
    Then we usually had to bicycle round the island a few times to recover.
    Just found your recipe, and I have to say that you know it is going to be very very good when you are doing the final mix of the dry ingredients in the bowl, and then you smell it cooking in the oven. I’m in my office and I can smell it from here. Yummeeee!
    I’m excited, and making the chocolate covering while the two cake layers are cooling down.
    This was a test to see if it was as good as it looked on your website, and now, ladies and gentlemen, fellow gastronauts, I am going to make a huge triple layer one for my friend in Nantes for her birthday, next weekend.
    Hopefully this will send her into space and then……..
    Well done, this is a triumph for all those naughty naughty things we love to cook and adore to eat, but know that we should not.
    I am going to be a very very naughty boy!!! :)

  • is this chocolate cake recipe good for cupcakes as well? THANKS~!!

  • Hey This looks great I just wondering if you have any cake recipes that I can send and ship across the Atlantic?? Boyfriends Birthday and I just wanted to make it special by sending him a cake. let me know thanks!!

  • David!! Thanks so much for this recipe. I made it yesterday and all my friends
    Loved it. They even wAnted me to pack sone for them :) Karma to you for sharing.

  • hey david…. I for one am craving a good devils food cake but I don’t seem to have any cake flour on me right now..and since I live in the middle of nowhere in the UAE , I doubt i’lll get any in time to satisfy these horridly devilish cravings…. is all purpose good enough?

    You can use the substitution here for cake flour vs all purpose flour. Happy baking! -dl

  • Hi, can i put this cake in the fridge? I live in India, and it impossible to leave it outside. I absolutely love your blog!! I am a tv journalist, but want nothing more than to bake professionally … One day :-)

  • I don’t recommend refrigerating cakes since it can dry them out. But if that’s your only option, give it a try!