Plus how it’s different from regular ol’ chocolate cake.
With its intense chocolate flavor and fluffy texture, devil’s food cake comes by its name naturally: it is so good it’s got to be sinful. It first graced American dining tables in the late 1800s and has been a mainstay of celebrations and sweet tooths since. Here’s everything you need to know about the cocoa-rich confection with the sinister appellation.
Meet The Expert
Mignon Francois, Founder and CEO of The Cupcake Collection in Nashville, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana
What Is Devil’s Food Cake?
They say the devil is in the details, but when it comes to devil’s food cake recipes, the details aren’t exactly cut and dry. No one devil’s food cake recipe is quite like the other, but you can expect any cake with the name “devil’s food” to be especially rich, deeply chocolatey, moist, and fluffy.
Ingredients In Devil’s Food Cake
As far as ingredients go, just about every devil’s food cake recipe calls for the following:
Cocoa powder: It has a more concentrated chocolate flavor than unsweetened chocolate and it helps make devil’s food cake particularly chocolatey. As far as whether you should use natural cocoa powder or Dutch-process cocoa powder which is less acidic, follow the recipe recommendation, since they’re not exactly interchangeable.
More baking soda than a typical chocolate cake: This makes the cake exceptionally fluffy because baking soda is a leavening agent.
Sour cream: It has a higher fat content than milk, which means you’ll get a moist, rich, and tender cake. The acid in sour cream also helps activate the baking soda for a fluffy result.
Water instead of milk: Similar to milk chocolate versus dark chocolate, milk can dull the intensity of chocolate, while using water does not.
Coffee: Adding coffee to baked goods can intensify sweet flavors, making the chocolate in devil’s food taste even more pronounced, and dull bitter flavors.
What Does Devil’s Food Cake Taste Like?
“Devil’s food cake was always something that I avoided because I didn’t want to be eating the food of the devil,” says Mignon Francois with a laugh. Francois is the founder and CEO of The Cupcake Collection, an award-winning bakery with locations in Nashville and New Orleans and ships nationwide. “But as I got older, I realized it was more about the flavor than the name. Devil’s food cake is one of the richest, most chocolatey pieces of cake that you will ever experience.”
In the canon of chocolate desserts, devil’s food cake has a reputation for being the most decadent, thanks to its rich ingredients like unsweetened cocoa powder, coffee, and sour cream. It tastes intensely chocolatey and is light, fluffy, and moist.
The Best Frosting For Devil’s Food Cake
Devil’s food cake was traditionally topped with a seven-minute frosting, also known as boiled frosting, which tastes like meringue-meets-marshmallow spread. Over the years, the classic cake has been finished with just about every icing under the sun, but we’re partial to a homemade buttercream frosting, ganache, or glaze, or a combination of these decadent options as in our impressive (but sneaky–it’s made with a box mix!) Devil’s Food Cake with Salted Peanut Butter Frosting and Ganache.
For Francois, it’s got to be ganache. “Being from New Orleans, I’ve seen a lot of chocolate cakes with white icing on top,” she says. “But to me, the best frosting would be a chocolate ganache. You want [your devil’s food cake] to be like seven layers of chocolate with a fudgy center in between every layer.” Francois notes the visual appeal ganache provides as well. Devil’s food cake should look especially enticing, and ganache will balance the color of the cake, she says. “You’ll have a really deep, almost black chocolate cake, sitting against some ganache, which is a lighter deep chocolate.”
Related: 25 Heavenly Chocolate Cakes To Make For Any Occasion
Why Is It Called Devil’s Food Cake?
Devil’s food cake emerged as a popular dessert at the turn of the 20th century as chocolate became more available and affordable to home bakers. By most accounts, devil’s food cake gets its name by way of being sinfully delicious thanks to its robust chocolate flavor. “A long, long time ago, they were notorious for coming up with dramatic names for things, just like cupcakes were named because it was a cup of this, a cup of that to make the recipe,” Francois says. “So devil’s food cake was named because it was sinfully delicious. To have something so awesomely tasty and chocolatey must be sinful.”
Some origin stories note the color of the cake inspired the dark moniker: When baking soda, which devil’s food cake has more of than most other cakes, neutralizes the acid in cocoa powder, the cocoa turns darker. Devil’s food cake was also considered to be the opposite of another popular cake at the time, angel food. Other accounts claim that shredded beets were once added to the cake to make it moist and sweet, and lent a red, devilish hue.
The first recipe for devil’s food cake was printed in 1902 in Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book by Sarah Rorer, who was considered America’s first dietitian and was an editor at Ladies Home Journal. By the 1950s, devil’s food cake was one of Betty Crocker’s top-selling boxed cake mixes.
Related: What Makes a Food "Deviled"?
The Difference Between Devil’s Food Cake And Chocolate Cake
In general, devil’s food cakes will have a deeper chocolate flavor because they’re made with cocoa powder, and will be fluffier than other chocolate cakes, due to the higher amount of baking soda. Traditional chocolate cake is made with melted chocolate versus cocoa powder, for a less intense chocolate flavor, and milk, cream, and butter for a denser and heavier result.
The Difference Between Devil’s Food Cake And Red Velvet Cake
You may have heard the rumor that red velvet cake is just devil’s food with red food coloring. And while the cakes have similarities – and it’s true that today’s red velvet cakes can use one or even two(!) bottles of red food coloring – they are different cakes. Like devil’s food cake, red velvet has a bit of a murky history that’s quite fascinating. Both cakes are made with cocoa powder (although red velvet often uses much less), but the liquid ingredients are typically different. While devil’s food cake usually uses water, sour cream, or coffee, red velvet cake usually contains vinegar or buttermilk. Red velvet cakes end up being creamier and denser than devil’s food due to these differences.
Related: 25 Classic Cakes Everyone Should Bake At Least Once
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