On Tuesday it was my brother’s 12th birthday. I wanted to make him something special to celebrate the milestone, and at the same time use the opportunity to try out a new recipe. I don’t really love cake. I mean, why have crumbly cake when you can have silky lemon tart or molten chocolate fondants? But I was inspired by the four-layer Devil’s Food Cake recipe in Jill O’Connor’s Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth. The photos of the cake made my mouth water. And like I said, I don’t even like cake.
The only thing I didn’t like about the recipe was that it calls for buttercream frosting. I’m not a fan of buttercream; I think it just tastes like a mouthful of fatty butter. So I went on a hunt for the ultimate frosting. That same week on Masterchef, Nigella Lawson featured and the contestants attempted her Devil’s Food Cake. I found Nigella’s recipe and decided on using this version in place of the buttercream; it looked much more chocolatey and would be perfect.
However, when it came down to making the frosting, I found it much too dark and buttery so I added in lots of milk chocolate to the dark, and made 1.5 times the amount of frosting to accommodate the four layers of Jill O’Connor’s cake compared to Nigellas two. Also, when the frosting cooled it looked very flat, so I whipped it in a stand mixer. In the end, the frosting turned out to be my own creation, and it was delicious; perfect in frosting-texture and chocolate-taste.
The recipe is quite long but don’t let that deter you; the results are delicious. You will need to make the frosting first to give it time to cool, and make sure it is thick before you whip it. Also let the cakes cool completely before you frost them. Enjoy!
Whipped Chocolate Frosting
45g dark brown sugar
250g unsalted butter, cubed
300g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
200-250g milk chocolate, chopped (to taste)
Put the water, sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium heat to melt. When the mixture begins to bubble, take the pan off the heat and add in all the chocolate, swirling the pan so all the chocolate hits the heat. Leave for a minute to allow chocolate to melt before whisking by hand till smooth and glossy.
Leave the frosting in its pan on your counter, coming back to it and whisking it every so often while you make your cake. If you need to speed up the cooling process, put it in the fridge but remember to come back to it and whisk it now and again.
Once your cakes are out of the oven and cooling, and the frosting is completely cool, put it in the stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment for about 3 minutes until it is thick, creamy, fluffy and perfect for frosting your cake.
Devil’s Food Cake
1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp instant coffee powder
100g semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
120g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cup cake flour (or 1 3/4 cup plain flour and 4 tbsp corn flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease and line two 9-inch spring-form cake pans with baking paper.
In a large bowl, place the cocoa powder, coffee and chocolate. Pour over the boiling water and stir until the chocolate is melted and mixture is cool. Stir in the vanilla. Once the mixture cools, stir in the buttermilk.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter and oil together until light and fluffy. Add both the sugars and beat until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt on to a sheet of baking paper. Add one third of the flour to the cake batter and beat on a low speed for a few seconds, just until combined. Then beat in half the chocolate-buttermilk mixture, again beating for just a few seconds until combined. Do the same with another one third of the flour mixture, and again with the last of the chocolate-buttermilk mix. Finally, fold in the final third of the flour mixture by hand, using a rubber spatula, just until no streaks of flour remain.
Divide the batter between prepared cake pans and spread evenly. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the caked comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes (this took me about 45 minutes, but I used 8 1/2 inch cake pans). Take the cakes out of the oven and let them cool about 10 minutes before inverting the cakes out of the pans and onto wire racks, peeling off the baking paper. Let them cool completely before frosting.
Assembling the cake
Halve each cake horizontally using a long serrated knife, for a total of 4 layers of cake. I find it helps to use a ruler to measure the center of the cake and mark that point with a slit of your knife all around the edge. It creates a guide, so you can work your way around, slicing through the cake knowing that your cakes will be even. Just remember to keep your knife level.
Place one layer cut-side up and top with 1 cup of the Whipped Chocolate Frosting, spreading it evenly. Continue stacking the cake, spreading 1 cup of frosting between each layer and placing the top layer cut-side down. In the center layer of my cake, I added three crushed up Digestive biscuits to the frosting. It just broke up the chocolately smooshiness of the cake and gave it some crunch. You could also add chopped roasted nuts like almonds or hazelnuts or maybe some crushed up honeycomb, or nothing at all! Its up to you, but the Digestives were delicious.
Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining Whipped Chocolate Frosting, and give the frosting a few decorative swirls of your knife. Cut into wedges and enjoy! Serves 10 to 12.