Let’s be clear on this right off the bat: I’m a cook, not a baker. A regular chef, not a pastry chef. With that said, I have to brag a little about this cake I made last weekend to celebrate my dad’s birthday: Devil’s Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting.
It’s certainly not the most beautiful cake in the world. I described it to my friend Cathy, who indeed is a brilliant pastry chef at a Chicago restaurant, as a tasty homemade cake that looked like it was trying to be professional but didn’t quite make it. My sister vehemently disagreed, saying: “it looks so professional, like I could’ve bought it at Jewel.”
And I rest my case.
Despite the haphazard decorating, this cake really was delicious. I don’t often make cakes – usually I stick with cupcakes or pies or things like that. But for some reason I was inspired to make a three-layer cake, and no, two layers would simply not suffice.
Back to the cake. It’s a chocolate devil’s food cake similar to the one I used for the homemade Hostess cupcakes. However, this recipe was adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion (only major change was using 1/2 cup strong coffee in place of 1/2 cup milk – you don’t taste the coffee, it is there to enhance the chocolate) and yields the perfect amount of batter for three eight-inch round cakes.
The most exciting part of the cake was the frosting: a malt chocolate frosting adapted from Chocolate Cake: 150 Recipes from Simple to Sublime. I went with malt because it’s a flavor my dad loves – I don’t think he’s ever gone to a Cubs game without ordering a Frosty Malt cup. But it was also rich and chocolately, thus appealing to another family member who tried to talk me out of the malt.
I won’t go so far as to say this was a difficult project, just a bit time-consuming. But I made it easier by baking the cakes the night before and then decorating them in the morning. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature, then wrap well in plastic and refrigerate. It also helps to pop them in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes before using.
Stay tuned for the recipe on cake balls, a great way to use leftover trimmed cake and frosting!
Devil’s Food Cake with Malt Chocolate Frosting – makes a 3-layer cake
Devil’s Food Cake, adapted from “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion”
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans and set aside.
Place the room temperature butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until well-combined. Now add the salt, baking soda and vanilla extract and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder. Set aside.
Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, allowing each egg to become fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Slowly blend in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 cup milk. Then add another 1/3 flour and the remaining milk. Finally, add the remaining flour, then the coffee. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.
Divide the batter evenly between the greased cake pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350F or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and cool for 10 minutes, then release the cake from the pans. Allow to cool completely.
Freeze the cakes 15 to 30 minutes before using.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Stir gently to dissolve sugar, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Malt Chocolate Frosting, adapted from “Chocolate Cake: 150 Recipes from Simple to Sublime”
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 to 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup malted milk powder
2/3 cup milk
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder over the butter, then beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Add the malted milk powder and the milk. Continue beating until well-blended. Adjust taste and consistency by adding sugar, malt powder or milk if necessary.
To assemble the cake:
Remove the cake layers from the freezer and unwrap. Set the cake on a cake stand or cardboard round. Use a long serrated knife to even out the top of each cake so they’re all flat.
Now, set a teaspoon of frosting on the center of the cake board and place one layer of cake over it. Arrange pieces of parchment paper just beneath the cake to cover the exposed cake board. Use a pastry brush to liberally coat the top of the cake with simple syrup, then smooth a thick, even layer of frosting over the top so that it is just peaking over the edges.
Set the next cake layer on top of the frosting so the sides line-up. Coat with simple syrup and frosting, then repeat with the final layer.
Once all the layers have been stacked and frosted, use your spatula (I prefer an off-set spatula) to lightly coat the top and sides of the cake with an even layer of frosting, being sure to fill any open spaces you may have previously missed. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Now it’s time to make the cake look good! Either continue to use the offset spatula to add more frosting to the top and sides of the cake, or put the frosting in a pastry bag to pipe designs. I chose to do a combination, first creating a thick, even layer of frosting over the entire cake, then using a pastry comb to create lines around the sides, and finally using a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip to add design to the top and base of the cake.