Old-Fashioned Cooking: Devil’s Food Cake


In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Chocolate History

You can thank the Olmecs and Aztecs for chocolate. Cacao trees are native to Mesomerica, and when the Cortez and his Spaniards got there in 1519, the natives had been drinking the stuff for better than 2,000 years. It was unsweetened, which was probably why they called it “bitter water.” Chocolate remained primarily a drink, especially once sugar and milk were added to make hot cocoa. It wasn’t until the process of grinding the cacao beans was perfected in 1764 that the powder could be used for other foods. Once the mechanical extraction method was perfected in 1828, chocolate as we know it today became more widely available. Then, in 1879, Rodolphe Lindt came up with a process called conching that meant chocolate could be smoothly almagamated with cake batters.

Chocolate Cakes

Chocolate cake became the rage in the late 1880s and Devil’s Food Cake showed up in a recipe book in 1902. Nobody seems to know where the name came from. Since Angel Food Cake predated it and is the antithesis in texture, color and flavor, it may have been a play on the first name. Or it could be because it’s sinfully delicious. It is distinguished from “regular” chocolate cake by its deeper color (more chocolate in the batter). The liquid is coffee, water or a mix, rather than milk. Additional baking soda may be added, which deepens the color. There are two versions; one is made with melted chocolate and one with cocoa. While the original recipe with cocoa called for vegetable oil, I prefer melted butter in both cakes. Hubby and I differ in opinion as to whether to use nuts in cake or frosting – he likes them in both, I don’t like them in either. If you choose to put them in the cake, chop fine and add them just before you put the batter in the pans.

Devil’s Food Cake (1902)

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 4 ounces of chocolate
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 3 cups of pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of baking powder

Put in a double boiler four ounces of chocolate and a half pint of milk; cook until smooth and thick. Set aside to cool. Beat a half cup of butter to a cream; add gradually one and a half cups of sugar and the yolks of four eggs; beat until light and smooth. Then add the cool chocolate mixture and three cups of pastry flour, with which you have sifted two teaspoonfuls of baking powder. Beat thoroughly for at least five minutes; then stir in the well-beaten whites of the eggs. Bake in three or four layers. Put the layers together with soft icing, to which you have added a cup of chopped nuts. The success of this cake depends upon the flour used. — Sarah Tyson Rorer. “Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book”. 1902. Page 619. The original recipe has a typo and was published that way, calling for ½ cup milk. Don’t try it – makes the cake dry and heavy.

Devil’s Food Cake (1905)

  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 1/3 boiling water, coffee or a mixture
  • 2 1/3 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. oil
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt

Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat 2 (8 or 9x 2 inch) cake pans with butter. Flour buttered pans or line bottoms with waxed paper. Put cocoa powder and boiling water in a medium bowl and stir until smooth. When cool, add the next 4 ingredients. Beat with mixer on medium speed until blended. On low speed, add flour, baking soda and salt. Beat until smooth (batter will be thin). Divide between the pans. Bake 45-55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run knife around edges of cake, invert onto rack, remove paper and cool completely. Turn the cakes right-side-up and trim tops if necessary. Place 1 layer (top-side-down) on a plate. Spread with 1 cup of frosting. Cover the cake with second layer (top-side-down) and cover top and sides with remaining frosting.

Devil’s Food Frosting

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 11/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 3 c. confectioner’s sugar
  • 6 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/2c. heavy whipping cream

Beat butter and vanilla in a large bowl with mixer on medium speed until creamy. Reduce to low and beat in 1/2 c. sugar, then melted chocolate. Alternate beating in remaining sugar and 1/2 c. cream. Increase speed to medium and beat, adding more cream if necessary, until spreadable.

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