Feeling devilish this Halloween season? Make this soul-satisfying chocolate cake, which is tender, moist and perfect for layering and serving in thick wedges. It’s a sure way to bring a smile to anyone’s face — even if they’re wearing a mask!
Devil’s Food Layer Cake
For the batter:
3/4 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) natural cocoa powder
2/3 cup (5 fl. oz./160 ml.) boiling water
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml.) buttermilk
1 3/4 cups (9 oz./280 g.) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (8 oz./250 g.) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz./105 g.) firmly packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Vanilla Meringue Buttercream (recipe follows)
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Butter two 9-by-2-inch (23-by-5-cm.) round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour.
In a bowl, whisk the cocoa powder into the boiling water. Let cool to lukewarm, then whisk in the buttermilk. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla along with the final egg. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions alternatively with the cocoa-buttermilk mixture in 2 additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat just until combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until the cakes are puffed and slightly springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, 22-25 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
To frost the cake, place one layer, bottom side up, on a flat serving plate. Peel off the paper. Using a frosting spatula, spread evenly with about a third of the buttercream. Invert the other layer, bottom side up, onto the frosted layer and peel off the paper. Spread a very thin layer of the buttercream on the top and sides of the cake (this is your crumb coat, and will ensure that you have a pretty cake free of chocolate crumbs.) Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes, then frost with the remaining buttercream. You can leave the cake out for a few hours before serving as long as it’s not a super hot day; otherwise, refrigerate the cake until about an hour before serving. Let it come to room temperature before cutting into big, fat wedges.
Vanilla Meringue Buttercream
The buttercream comes together quickly, so have all your ingredients measured and at the ready. Don’t worry — making this seems intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s really quite fun. You will need a candy thermometer. A stand mixer is best.
9 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (4 oz./125 g.) plus 1 2/3 cup (13 oz./410 g.) sugar
2 tsp. corn syrup
3 cups (1 1/2 lb./750 g.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy. Continuing to beat, start adding the 1/2 cup sugar in a very slow, steady stream. When the egg whites are at medium peak, turn the mixer to low speed to continue stirring the meringue while you boil the sugar syrup.
In a saucepan, stir together the 1 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml.) water. Add the corn syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan occasionally at first until the sugar is dissolved. Fit the pan with a candy thermometer and boil until the syrup reaches 245°F (118°C) or the “firm-ball” stage. Immediately return the mixer to high speed and whip the whites to firm peaks, just a few seconds more. Turn the mixer to medium speed and very carefully, in a steady stream, pour the sugar syrup into the meringue, trying your best not to let the syrup touch the sides of the bowl or the whip. Continue beating the meringue on medium-low speed until the mixture cools down a bit, about 15-20 minutes. It will expand.
When the bottom of the bowl is nearly room temperature, slowly start adding the butter in pieces. Once all the butter has been added, turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the mixture is creamy. At first, it will look chunky and as if it has separated, but keep whipping until the buttercream becomes smooth and lustrous. Add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Use right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day; bring to room temperature before using. Makes more than enough to frost a double layer cake or 12-18 cupcakes.
Find more irresistible baked treats in our cookbook Home Baked Comfort by Kim Laidlaw.