Devil’s Food Cake with Chocolate Buttercream

birthday marquee

Nathaniel requested an insane cake for his birthday party.

He didn’t say “devil’s food cake”, but he knew exactly what he wanted. “A chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting, and I want layers, and I want it shaped like a rectangle.”

Layered rectangles? It’s not like we invited 50 kids to this thing, I think we’ll have fewer than fifteen, even with Juliet’s little friends coming along. (We’re having the party at our local movie theater.)

The party was supposed to be weeks ago, but we had to move it because of the storm, and now I say it’s another mixed blessing because (a) it took me about 5 hours to make this crazy thing; and (b) we actually have room in the fridge for it. Plus I will admit to a certain small joy every time I walk up towards our house and see the lights on through the windows.

I pored through Pinterest, I Googled, I read reviews, I investigated ingredients, and I ended up this: The Only Chocolate Cake Recipe You’ll Ever Need (Devil’s Food). The frosting, I decided, would come from somewhere else, but the reviews of this cake were unanimously terrific and it seemed like a good place to start. Devil’s food indeed!

I sprayed a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray, and got to work. First step was sifting together all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli).

sifting dry ingredients

Once that was done I realized I had forgotten to sift the white sugar with it. D’oh.

adding white sugar

Given that, I thought whisking it might compensate. I had a trusty helper nearby who loves to whisk almost as much as I do. She takes it very seriously. You can tell because the tongue comes up when she’s focusing.

Juliet whisking

good job, Juliet

Good job, Juliet.

Next I added oil, milk, and hot coffee, which Dave graciously brewed for me. A cup of each.

beating in wet ingredients

It looked pretty good. It was time to add the eggs. Juliet wanted to crack them, so I gave her a separate bowl to avoid having shells in the batter. She poured each egg into the bowl as it was done.

Juliet adding egg

I added the vanilla, and mixed. It started to look and smell like something right out of Willy Wonka’s factory.


Juliet, meanwhile, was stacking the non-delicate ingredients. (She now knows to stay away from my fancy vanilla.)

Juliet stack love

I poured the batter into the pan, grateful for the warning on the recipe that the batter would be runny. It was. That made it easy, though.

batter in pan

Forty-five minutes later, we had cake.


side view

I looked up some methods for slicing this cake in half so I could create layers from it, but Dave and Nathaniel lobbied and begged and suggested and cajoled me into the idea that we needed TWO of those cakes, piled up on top of each other. Dave kept bringing up the storm, saying that Nathaniel got hosed on his birthday, and Nathaniel just kept looking at me with those pleading, adorable blue eyes of his, and finally I caved.

batter for cake two

two cakes

So now, two huge cakes. Next: frosting. I found a recipe that looked irresistable, so I decided that doubling it was the way to go. No baking here, so no chemistry to worry about.

I will confess, right now, that I have never really melted chocolate before. I’ve created a drizzle out of chocolate chips in the microwave, but I’m pretty sure I had Dave do that for me. The oven is my friend but sometimes the stovetop intimidates me. But I decided to do it anyway. If I can’t melt chocolate, I can’t move on to the next stage in my baking evolution. I’m a baker! I can melt chocolate. (But just to make sure I watched a few videos on my iPad of OTHER people melting chocolate.)

I chopped it up into pieces, and created a double boiler with a small pot and one of my favorite glass bowls.

double boiler

I stirred it and watched it melt. It was a rewarding process.

starting to melt

more melty

more melty

almost done

And a little while later… (with different lighting, clearly)

melted chocolate

It sat there, cooling, while I got the other ingredients together.

I used the whisk attachments on my mixer, and whipped the butter for a while.

whipping butter

Once I got to what I assumed was the desired texture, I added the powdered sugar. There sure was a lot of it.

added sugar

The vanilla went in after that, and then, the glorious melted chocolate. It all mixed in beautifully.

chocolate frosting

It tasted like a sweet chocolate pillow, like something you fantasize about when someone says the words “chocolate” and “buttercream”. It was amazing. Magical, almost.

Next up, I tackled the cakes themselves. One of them lost a chunk out of the middle when I took it off the rack, so I added frosting to compensate.

started frosting

Then Dave helped me slide the other one carefully on top of it.


I started to frost it. I got two and a half sides done before I ran out of frosting.

almost frosted

And so I melted some more chocolate, now that I was a pro. I made another batch of frosting, finished up the sides, and added a little flourish on top, then slid it onto a cookie sheet and hoisted it into the fridge.

cake in fridge

It stayed there overnight, and I hauled it out shortly before the party. Dave had to walk with it all the way there and by the end of our ten-minute walk I could hear the strain in his voice. It’s heavy.

We got to the theater, with Nathaniel’s name on the marquee.


So fun! While the kids were all inside watching Rio, I started writing on the cake. Of course, I got distracted, and realized I’d written HAPPY BIRTHAY, and then had to squeeze the D in after the fact. D’oh.

devil's food cake with letter added

Nobody seemed to mind. Nathaniel happily blew out the candles.

Nathaniel blowing out the candles

I think the cake was a hit. The layers were so thick that even cutting a tiny piece meant a gigantic portion.

devil's food cake cut

The kids gobbled, the adults raved, and I had to agree, I’d found some great recipes and they combined perfectly. Later I asked Nathaniel if this was what he was imagining when he described the cake he wanted me to make, and the answer was a very definite yes.




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