SAVEUR Recipe #9: Aunt Fan’s Devil’s Food Cake

I am never making a cake ever again. That’s what I was saying after putting the three cake pans of batter into the oven. Holy Mother of God! Can cake be any more demanding and nitpicky overloaded with steps? Well? Can it?

Then I cooled it, iced it, and decorated it and damn did it look good! My first one! It’s like what women say about not remembering labor pains once the baby pops out. I don’t believe that. I still remember the pain of making this cake before it popped out of my oven. But I’m not saying never ever again to cake anymore. I will say that whoever I do make it for has to be pretty damn special, like I love them special. Maybe even more than that because I love myself and I will never make a cake for myself.

So who knows. This could be my first and my last.


Aunt Fan’s Devil’s Food Cake & Mrs. Milman’s Chocolate Icing (Cake part adapted from SAVEUR and icing part adapted from Martha Stewart)
Serves 1 to 10

12 tbps (plus 1-1/2 tbsp for greasing pans) butter, softened
2-1/4 tsp baking soda
2-1/2 cups flour, sifted
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups light brown sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 cup buttermilk
8 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
24 ounces Nestle semisweet chocolate morsels
4 cups whipping cream

To make the icing: (Do this one day before putting the cake together.)

There was a lot of reviews for this recipe and some insisted, quite angrily sometimes, it was a bum recipe while others swore by it. After reading through about a couple dozen, there were some recurring suggestions to ensure that the icing came out. One is to stir over low heat for longer than the suggested 20-25 minutes. The other was to not use the corn syrup at all. In fact, Mrs. Milman, the icing’s namesake, doesn’t use it so I’m not sure why it’s even in Martha’s recipe. Also, the reining consensus was to let the icing set overnight in the metal pot it’s cooked in, no transfer into a metal bowl necessary.


So start by placing chocolate morsels and cream in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until combined and thickened, for 35 minutes. Because I can’t think of anything more tedious and standing in front of a stove stirring the same damn pot of whatever for 35 minutes, I stipped on the Old Fashioned I made for the Friday Cocktail series.

After 35 minutes, increase the heat to medium low and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes more. Remove pan from heat and leave in room temperature for 30 minutes. Cover and leave it fridge over night.

The next day just before using, take it out of the fridge and let it sit in room temperature for a couple of hours so that it comes to room temperature. Stir with a spatula, and ice the cakes! (Instructions follow below.)

To make the cakes:

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Grease three 8″ round cake pans with 1 tbsp of the butter and line with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the rounds and set aside.

Chop the chocolate and melt it in a metal bowl over simmering water until smooth and leave over hot water while going on with the next steps.

Stir together the baking soda and 1⁄4 cup boiling water (measure 1/4 cup of water into a coffee cup and microwave til it’s boiling, about 2 to 4 minutes depending on power of the microwave) in a small bowl and set aside. Or just add the baking soda into the microwave-boiled water and set aside.

Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine butter and the brown sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition. Working in 3 batches, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beating briefly after each addition.

Add the baking soda mixture (stir before adding) and chocolate and stir to make a smooth batter.

Divide the batter between prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35–40 minutes. Set the cake pans on a rack to let cool.

Note: I completely forgot to use the vanilla pictured above. The original recipe didn’t call for it but I thought it would add a nice fragrance. Turns out I didn’t need it at all.

Icing the cake:

The following instructions are adapted from this great video about how to ice a cake from AllRecipes.com:

Now for this particular recipe, the simple syrup is entirely unnecessary. I actually made it (1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup water stirred and brought to boil for 1 minute and allowed to cool to room temperature) but the cakes were sufficiently moist from the recipe and the butter on the cake pans that no additional moisture was necessary.

Take out the icing from the fridge so that it warms to room temperature. Trying to ice a cake with cold frosting makes it harder to spread and can tear the cake.

Cut parchment paper into a circle so that it’s about 9 inches in diameter and place on cake plate cut several thick strip of parchement and lay them on top of the round paper. These pieces will catch swipes or drops of icing that you can easily whisk away by pulling the paper out once the cake is iced.

I decided to have a layer of parchment between my cake and the cake plate because my cake plate is made of wood and would absorb the oil from the cake. If yours is glass than skip that step entirely.

Lay down the one layer of cake and using a serrated knife cut along the top surface to level the cake.

Put a big dollop icing on top and place the second layer of cake, repeating the previous step. After adding the final layer and leveling the top, cover the entire cake with a thin layer of crumb icing. Don’t worry if cake crumbs mix with the icing; that’s the point of this layer. You’ll add the second and final layer of icing on top of this one so that the icing on the finished cake looks smooth.

Put the crumb frosted cake in the fridge for 30 minutes so that the crumb layer of frosting hardens.

Add the rest of the frosting to your cake and smooth out or make it look like waves of icing. Smooth is probably better if you plan to do the next step and write on the cake.

To decorate the cake with a message:

In a small bowl, make a simple vanilla icing by combining 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, 1 tbsp of soft butter, 1 tsp of vanilla and 2 tsp of water. I used simple syrup instead of water since I made a batch of it to ice the cake but ended up not using it at all. So why not.

Blend together til smooth using a soup spoon and then scoop it into one corner of a Zip Lock bag. Snip a small hole in the corner and write away! Like “Happy Birthday, Laura!”

Photo courtesy of Laura. Taken with an iPhone 4S. Those things are the bomb.

For more photos, go to Flickr.

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