We needed a cake. After all, when someone has a birthday, he or she needs a cake. So, we looked around for a cake recipe for which we already had all the ingredients, and found one of Dorie Greenspan’s creations: The Devil’s White-Out Cake. It looked perfect, so perfect that it’s on the cover of her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. We were sold.
Now, we’re actually going to post the recipe for the cake and assembly today, and we’ll follow up with a separate post for the frosting tomorrow. We do that because the frosting is one that you’ll want to use again and again, and it’ll be easier to refer to it as a separate post. If you can’t wait, the recipe is all over the web, so you’ll be sure to find it. Or, perhaps it will be enough to know that the suggested frosting is a basic White Mountain Frosting, and that pretty much any nice light fluffy frosting will do (such as Fluffy Buttercream).
Makes one three-layer 8-inch cake.
Yes, always use unsalted butter for baking; no one like the surprise of biting into a salty cake. Use a high-quality chocolate and cocoa, ideally the best you can get, because it does make a difference; we happen to use Callebaut chocolates and Valrhona cocoa, both of which we find excellent-tasting. For vanilla, you want to use pure vanilla extract, it’s worth it, and, remember about the eggs: happy hens produce the best eggs! Finally, for cakes, when the instructions say room temperature, they mean room temperature. It is not optional.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en Place. We cannot recommend this strongly enough for a cake, and you might as well do it, since you need to wait until the butter, eggs, and buttermilk are room temperature, anyway. So, get all your ducks in a row. That means: first, measure out the buttermilk, then butter your two cake pans, flour them, and then line the bottom with a circle of wax paper or parchment. Next, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Feel free to give them a couple of siftings; if you just took the butter out of the fridge, you’ll have a couple of hours before it’s room temperature. Finished sifting? Good, melt the 2 ounces of chocolate in a small bowl, by microwaving it in 30-second increments at half power. Once melted, let’s move on to the chopped chocolate. We started with chocolate chips and chopped them. Finally, measure out the sugars into a small bowl. Whew! Take a break while everything warms.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Center a rack.
Beat butter. Drop the 10 tablespoons of butter into a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on medium until the butter is soft and creamy. It should get creamy within 30 seconds to a minute; if not, your butter might not be warm enough. Wait a while longer for it to warm and try again. You need the butter room temperature for it to cream properly.
Beat in sugar. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed for a full 3 minutes, maybe even a little longer. The sharp crystals of the sugar are whipping air into the butter so you’ll have a light cake, and this can only happen with warm butter and time. So take your time here.
Add eggs. Add one of the eggs and beat on medium speed for a full minute. Add the next one and beat on medium speed for a full minute. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, add the third egg, and, yes, beat on medium speed for a full minute. The batter may look as if it’s curdled at this stage. That’s okay, keep on with the instructions and everything will come together.
Add vanilla. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the vanilla.
Add melted chocolate. Now you can reduce the mixer to low and beat in that melted chocolate. If somehow, someway, a little bit of chocolate gets into your mouth, well, that’s one of the hazards of baking.
Add flour and buttermilk. But do NOT just dump them in; we need to do this in three additions. So, add about 1/3 of the flour/cocoa mixture, beat that on low until it’s just incorporated, then add half of the buttermilk, and beat until just incorporated. Now, do that again; add about 1/3 of the flour/cocoa mixture, beat in, add remaining buttermilk, beat in, and finish up by scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating in the remaining flour/cocoa mixture. You should have a very stiff batter at this point, just about the consistency of frosting.
Add boiling water. Again with the mixer on low, start beating in the boiling water. We had to add this slowly to reduce splashing. The batter will go from seemingly too thick to seemingly too thin, but forge ahead, it’ll be okay. Once the water is mixed in you can remove the bowl from the mixer.
Add chopped chocolate. Using a spatula, stir in the chopped chocolate. While you’re there, it won’t hurt to scrape the bottom of the bowl in case there are any ingredients not yet incorporated.
Divide between pans. Pour equal amounts of batter into each pan. We find it really handy to use a scale for this, but you can just eye it up, too. After all, people made cakes long before the advent of digital kitchen scales.
Bake. Slide the pans into the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when touched lightly and a small sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Don’t be surprised if the tops of the cake end up cracked; frosting will cover that.
Cool. Remove the pans to a rack and let cool 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake. Remove paper on the bottom and place the cake, right side up, on the rack to cool completely before assembling.
Slice cake. Using a long serrated knife, slice each cake in half horizontally into two rounds. Take care with this to make the slice level since they will be used for the three layers of your cake. Wait, you just made four layers; what happens to the fourth?
Crumble cake. Pick out the top cake round that looks the worst, and, with a fork, crumble it into a bowl. These crumbles are used to decorate your cake at the end.
Prepare cake plate. Find a nice cake plate, and, using four strips of waxed paper or parchment (we used foil in a pinch), cover the edges of a cake plate. This allows you to be pretty messy when applying frosting and crumbles, while keeping a nice clean plate. Great tip, huh?
Place bottom layer. Take the bottom layer and place it, cut side up, on top of the strips and center it on the cake plate. Make sure it’s centered, because it will be hard to change later. Spread a layer of frosting on the top. We had a lot of frosting and could make a layer about 1/2-inch thick. If you use a nice fluffy light frosting this won’t end up too sickly sweet.
Place next layer. Take the remaining bottom round, place it on top of the frosting, and gently press it into place. Make sure to center it on the previous layer so you don’t end up with the leaning tower of cake. Spread another layer of frosting.
Place last layer. Take the remaining top round and place it cut side down on the cake. Press it in gently, and frost the top, then the sides. Since this cake is coated with crumbs at the end, don’t worry if a few crumbs get into the frosting.
Press in crumbs. We always find it difficult to press crumbs into the sides of a cake, but, starting with the top, press in those cake crumbs you made, then press crumbs into the sides.
Refrigerate. Put the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes so the frosting can stiffen up just a bit, then carefully slide out those strips of paper that were keeping the plate clean.
Sing Happy Birthday. If it’s for a birthday party, feel free to sing if you wish. If not, just enjoy.
This is a pretty good cake, nice and chocolatey, but we have two problems with it. We really don’t think the finely chopped chocolate chips do anything to help the cake (possibly we didn’t chop them finely enough). In fact, it is sometimes a bit distracting to bite into one of the larger pieces. Next time, we think we would just melt extra chocolate and mix it into the batter. The other, and we’ve had this happen with other cake recipes from Dorie Greenspan, is that the cakes collapse quite a bit once removed from the oven. It’s still a light cake, though, so maybe that’s expected. It’s likely that we need to work on our technique (oh, poor us, have to make and eat more cake), but we’re just not sure. Ultimately, we ended up with layers that were about 1/2-inch thick. Acceptable, yes, but not ideal. So, we give this cake just four stars.