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? It’s delicate crumb is perfect when paired with a scoop of homemade ice cream or a pour of super-cold crème anglaise, should you desire either, 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 carrying (and protecting) a birthday cake, please take pity on me and “Bougez votre cul, svp!” (“Move your backside, please!”)
If you’re not a pro at decorating cakes, no reason to be discouraged. 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.
Devil’s Food 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
1 1/2 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup strong coffee, or water
1/2 cup whole or low-fat milk
For the ganache frosting:
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water, or cream
3/4 cup (1 1/2 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.
To make the cake layers
3. 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.
To make the frosting
7. 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.