Devil's Food Cake (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

It’s hard to believe that Devil’s Food Cake, or any chocolate cake for that matter, is a relatively recent invention. Recipes for cakes incorporating chocolate as an ingredient did not begin to appear until the late-19th century. Prior to, a mention of chocolate with cake tended to mean a cake to be served with chocolate.

Interestingly enough, some food historians believe that Caroline’s passage in Victorian Cakes makes the first mention of Devil’s Food subscribed to a specific time period. In the case of Caroline’s book, the “dark and sinful” cake made it’s appearance on their Sunday evening tea table sometime in the later part of the 1880’s.

Thanks for its introduction to the Campion household must be given to Caroline’s older sister, Maud. “Aunt Sophie used to fear Maud was vain, but then she had the only naturally curly hair in the family. . . . Surely with such hair, Maud’s vanity was excusable.”

Considered the “socially inclined” sister, Maud made frequent visits from house to house gathering gossip, trends, and recipes. It was from one such visit, specifically to The Waterman’s, that she returned with the recipe for Devil’s Food.

The finished cake, three layers tall and covered in billowy white icing, was a hit with the Campions, even their selective Father. His reaction to another Waterman recipe had been “enough to bring tears of disappointment and mortification to Maud.” That cake: Angel Cake. As for Devil’s Food, says Caroline, “Secretly, I have always thought its name appealed to him.”

Devil’s Food Cake with “Piquant” Boiled Icing
Recipe adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three 8” round cake pans.

In what ever way you prefer, melt:
3 squares (3 ounces) unsweetend baking chocolate
and set aside to cool slightly

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
313 g (2 ½ c) flour
1 scant tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt

and set aside.

Whisk together:
240 g (1 c) sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

and set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together:
½ c unsalted butter, softened
400 g (2 c) sugar

until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat in 
5 eggs, one at a time

Don’t forget to stop and scrape the sides!

Once all of the eggs are in, beat the batter on medium speed for 1 minute.

Turn the mixer to low and alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry. Stop when there are still a few streaks of flour left and fold by hand until all is incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. Put into the oven and bake for 25-30 min. or until the cake test comes back clean. Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing the cakes to racks to cool completely.

“Piquant” Boiled Icing
Adapted from this recipe on Serious Eats

“The Waterman’s receipt called for a thick boiled icing made pleasantly piquant with a few drops of citric acid. But citric acid sounded dangerous to Maud . . . so [she] used lemon juice, sparingly and judiciously, and the result was perfect.” I happened to have citric acid (purchased through King Arthur Flour, so I went with that, but feel free to substitute lemon juice (1 tsp). That said, I really enjoyed the addition of the citric acid. The tartness cut the sweet without adding additional flavor. I highly recommend!

Put 1 c water and ½ c sugar in a small saucepan set over high heat, and cook until the mixture registers 240 degrees.

In the meantime, whip 4 room-temperature egg whites high until it holds soft peaks.

Once you’ve reached 240, and with the mixer running on high, slowly and carefully pour the hot sugar into the egg whites. Whip for 30 seconds, then add in 1 tsp. powdered citric acid. Continue to whip (it. Whip it good.) until it’s a nice and spreadable yet sturdy, beautiful and billowy concoction.

An aside, I actually made this cake twice. The first time I took the 3 squares of chocolate too literally and ended up using about 3/4 an ounce of chocolate. Needless to say, that's not terribly devilish. Above shows slices of both.