Deposit-Your-Soul-Here Devil’s Food Cake
Last night, I managed to type the following: “I’m looking forward to an early retirement this evening, having just concluded Mr. H’s annual birthday dinner, Steak Hamilton and Cheesy Potatoes,” then immediately succumbed to the food coma induced by filet mignon, sauteed mushrooms, twice-baked potatoes, and a deliciously sneaky Muscat contributed by the couple, which made for a difficult bed-extraction this morning. But it was the rich, moist, chocolate cake that did me in; elastic pants were donned within seconds of our friends’ departure. Breaking a cardinal rule, I made a new cake for company. How could I act so irresponsibly when Mr. H’s birthday cake was at stake? I’ve had the 1960’s recipe for Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food Cake for as long as I can remember, and I’ve started assembling the mise en place to make it on countless occasions. However, while I keep a laudable stock of baking ingredients in my pantry, I’m repeatedly foiled by the buttermilk. Yesterday, I remembered the recipe’s existence before a scheduled trip to the market, and I trust Betty more than I do myself.
It was, as expected, hellishly good. By far the heaviest cake I’ve created, forehead-tingle commenced within a record two bites, and though the double-dark buttercream frosting lent an adult depth, Billy the Kid cookie-monstered his slice with standard enthusiastic vigor. It was indeed a truly happy birthday for us all.
Above: Remains of the Cake
1-3/4 C flour
1 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 C buttermilk
1/2 C shortening
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tsp vanilla
Set your oven to 350 and grease and flour two 9″ cake pans. In a large bowl (preferably that of a stand mixer), cream together the shortening and sugar until fluffy, then cream in the brown sugar until the color’s consistent. Beat in the eggs and vanilla by hand until the batter’s smooth and airy. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and stir the dry ingredients in while slowly pouring in the buttermilk. Give the whole thing a rigorous beating before stirring in the chocolate.
Stick the bowl under the mixer or get out your hand-held, and beat on high until it looks smooth and delicious, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the batter into the pans and pay close attention to leveling for this one. Bake them side by side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes (give or take 5, until a wooden-pick inserted into the center comes out clean, duh), but give each pan a 180-degree turn half-way through. Let the layers sit in the pan for 5 minutes before running a knife around the perimeters, then turn them out onto wire racks to cool.
The outsides of the layers harden quickly, so a soon as they’re barely warm, seal them with the following non-optional frosting.
2 C powdered sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/3 C butter
1 tsp vanilla
Melt the butter and chocolate over low heat in a medium saucepan, stirring frequently to prevent the chocolate from burning. Once melted, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Proceed to stir in the sugar in half-cup increments, and accompany each addition with 1 tbsp of water. Add more water as needed throughout the process, but no more than 1 tbsp at a time, lest your frosting turn into icing. Once you’ve incorporated all the sugar, the frosting will probably look a little greasy. That means you need to add more water and beat it as vigorously as you can. You can grab the hand-held if you don’t do a lot of baking and it’s killing you, but you’ll wind up sacrificing the love. I don’t have a slightly more muscular right upper-arm for no reason.
After you frost your cake, let it stand uncovered for a half hour to let the shell set, then cover it up until you don’t have anywhere to be for the rest of the day. I felt awful for so gastric-ly incapacitating the Hamiltons, as they had an hour of driving ahead of them, but as someone who enjoyed the option of passing out quickly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the evening.