Devil of a Cake

State Fair

Long, long ago in a midwest far, far away...

GUESTS: Miss Ellie Ellison
             Judges #1 & #2
             Newspaper Reporter
             Male Spectator
             Female Spectator
             Prudence Pendergrass
             Demon (aka Devil)

[set in the late 19th to early 20th century]




ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's time to announce the grand prize winner in the big cake bake-off. For the fifth year in a row, the winner is Miss Ellie Ellison! [spectators applaud]
JUDGE #1: Well, Miss Ellie, you've done it again.
REPORTER: Miss Ellie, care to share your secrets with our readers?
ELLIE ELLISON: Oh, it's just a simple angel food cake. Nothing fancy, really.
JUDGE #2: This cake is fit for angels, and you can quote me.
J #1: So light.
J #2: So sweet. So ...
BOTH JUDGES: ... divine.
R: Miss Ellie, can I trouble you outside for a photo. It's for the paper.
EE: A photo, for the paper, of me? If you insist. [they exit]
PRUDENCE PENDERGRASS: [to herself] Every year I bake my best chocolate cake, and every year, that little Miss Ellie McPerfect steals my ribbon. Why I'd do anything just to beat her once.
DEMON: [entering] What was that Missy?
PP: Why I said I'd do anything to bake a cake to beat Ellie's angel food cake.
D: Oh, angels, wretched creatures, all those feathers. Perhaps I could interest you in a particular favorite recipe of mine?
PP: Recipe?
D: Oh yes.
PP: Show me.
D: Oh, this way, my dear.

A Cook Hungry for a Ribbon
A Demon Hungry for a Soul.
One Year Later...

ANNOUNCER: "And this year's big cake winner is Prudence Pendergrass."
J #2: Miss Prudence, your cake is so decadent ...
J #1: So delicious. So ...
BOTH JUDGES: ... delectable.
R: Miss Prudence, what do you call that cake?
PP: Why, devil's food, of course.
D: Not to mention ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

The Kitchen

    Do I really believe that the deep, moist, chocolatey cake known as "devil's food" was really handed over to a jealous cook in exchange for her immortal soul? Probably not. I mean, the moniker "devil's food," is simply a testament to the cake's sinfully rich nature, jet black chocolatey soul, and the fact that it is diametrically opposed to the angel food cake, which is neither rich, nor chocolatey, nor sinful.
    By today's standards, however, most devil's food cakes aren't either. Which is why the devil has take refuge in box cakes packed with highly specialized industrial components, assembled via scientifically calculated formulae.

D: Oh-oh, you're just jealous. Now you know if you want your own cake mix, we can make it happen. I've helped plenty of others, hmm?
AB: You sound like my agent. No, I will not succumb to the siren song of the box as long as the shining light of science can deliver the dark, dense delight that I desire.
D: Whatever. [leaves]
AB: Whatever.

    Let's begin by examining a once-popular recipe, shall we?

    Passed around like the flu from 1953 to 1954, this devil's food recipe was obviously written by someone attempting to just shoehorn chocolate into an existing layer cake recipe. Notice the use of solid chocolate, solid fat, and milk. It's assembled via the creaming method, wherein the solid fat and sugar are beaten together, before the dry and wet components are added. Curious. It will indeed, make a cake, but will it be moist, dark and chocolatey?

Marie's Devils Food Cake

1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
2 squares chocolate
4 eggs

Cream butter with 1 cup sugar.
Beat yolks lightly and add one cup
of sugar. Mix to butter mixture. Add
milk and flour in two portions.
Melt and add chocolate then baking powder. Beat and fold egg whites last.
Bake in three layers. Put together with white
or chocolate icing.

[AB and the Demon are eating the cake]

AB: I think not.
D: I'm not eating any more of that. Not worth the calories. [exits]

    I have to say I agree with him. Both the parts list and the procedure are fatally flawed. We can do better from scratch.

    [at the oven] First, position a rack in the middle of an oven set for 325 degrees.

325 Degrees

    [at the counter] Then, prep your pan. Although layers are certainly nice, to me devil's food means a rectangle. So lube up [with cooking spray] a 13" x9" baking pan, and then layer it with one sheet of parchment paper, and then go ahead and lube that up as well, because the batter to come is going to be sticky stuff indeed.

Unlike wax paper, parchment paper is impregnated
with heat resistant silicone.

The Kitchen

    All right, time to face the software, starting with the defining element of this cake, which, of course, is chocolate. Now, if you remember, the early recipe that we were examining calls for solid baking chocolate, unsweetened, which I am going to exchange for cocoa powder. Why? I mean, they're both born of the same seed, right? Well that's completely true. The cocoa seeds are, of course, aged and hulled, resulting in cocoa nibs, which are ground to produce cocoa liquorno booze therewhich is solidified into, of course, baking chocolate.

    Now there's nothing wrong with this stuff, but over 60 percent of this mass is a nearly flavorless fat called cocoa butter, which is solid at room temperature. And this cake just doesn't need that. Luckily, there is a solution.


    If the cocoa liquor in question is placed into a press like the one invented by Dutchman Conrad [Johannes] van Houten in 1828, and perfected in my garage just last week, the cocoa solids and butter can be separated from each other, all right. Now here is the cocoa butter, which I'll sell to the cosmetics industry. Here is natural cocoa powder, which is reddish brown, rather acidic, and kind of fruity tasting, to tell you the truth. And, it's not very easily dissolved in water, a fact which distressed old man van Houten, because he'd gone to all this trouble just for a cup of cocoa.
Wisely hypothesizing that the issue was acidity, he treated a bunch of nibs with an alkaline solution before pressing, thus inventing Dutch process cocoa which does disperse in water. What's important, noticeDutch process cocoa is much darker than regular cocoa, and in baked goods it tastes more chocolatey because the acidic, fruity compounds have been subdued.

Prior to cocoa powder, the Aztecs ground cacao beans to
create a grainy, bitter chocolate drink.

    All right, we have settled on a best devil's food cocoa powder for the job, but if we really want to maximize the flavor, we should bloom it prior to building the batter in a cup of boiling water. Now it may seem like an odd step, but keep in mind that cocoa is a bean, like coffee. You have to brew coffee, don't you? 4 Ounces Dutch Process
1 Cup Boiling Water
    All right, let's take a look at the rest of the original software. It called for two and a half cups of all-purpose flour. That would certainly make a strong cake. But if we want a tender, moist cake, we would be better served by substituting part of that with cake flour, which is lower in protein, and also more absorbent, due to the chlorine used for bleaching. So I'm going to go with four ounces of cake flour, and only five and a half of all-purpose. 4 Ounces Cake Flower +
5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour

    Leavening: the original cake called for four teaspoons of baking powder. Keep in mind that's a balanced combination of baking soda and tartaric acid. A base and an acid, which, when wet, give up considerable amounts of carbon dioxide. By seeing this in the recipe, we know there are no other acidic ingredients involved. That may change, so we'll come back.

    As for the fat, butter! Tasty stuff, yes, but its not especially moist, seeing as how it's solid at room temperature. If deep, dark moisture is requiredand we know it iswe would be better off replacing that with plain old vegetable oil, which isn't technically moist, but it certainly plays moist in the mouth. 1 Cup Vegetable Oil
    All right, with butter out of the way, it means we're not going to need the creaming method, so we can dump some of this sugar. I'm going to replace two cups of white sugar with just 10.5 ounces by weight of dark brown sugar, which is actually more hygroscopic, or water-loving, because of the molasses that coats it, and of course, that will also heighten the chocolate flavor. 10 Ounces Dark Brown

    Next up, a cup of the classic American cake liquid was called for, milk. But you know what? It actually covers up, crushes chocolatey goodness. So we are going to trade it for water, which, just so happens to already be down with the cocoa powder.

    All right, that brings us to eggs. The original called for four whole eggs, and yes, we do need some eggs. They provide a lot of structure. But we don't need whole, because whites are drying agents, so I'm going to go with two whole and two yolks. 2 Whole Eggs +
2 Egg Yolks
    Now let's see. As far as flavorants, the original called for vanilla, a teaspoon. I don't think we need it, but I do think that we need half a teaspoon of kosher salt to enhance the chocolatey-ness. And I think, to up the flavor a little more, four and a half ounces of full-fat sour cream, which will also deliver a pleasant, acidic twang. tsp. Kosher Salt
4 Ounces Sour Cream
    All right! Acids. Now that there is an acidic ingredient, we can go back to the leavening, we can dump the baking powder, and go with just one teaspoon of baking soda. Which, if my calculations are correct, will give us the balance of acid and base that we need for optimum CO2 release and leavening. 1 tsp. Baking Soda

    Now since we have rid ourselves of the solid butter, we don't need the creaming method anymore. In fact, we will assemble via the muffin method, which means all the liquids will go into one bowl, all the drys will go into another, and then, we'll visit the mixer.
    Actually, we'll visit the mixer right now. Just install the paddle attachment, beat the dry ingredients to combine, and then slowly work in the wet team until you have a nice, smooth batter. It shouldn't take more than 30 to 40 seconds tops. There, perfect. And if it has a few lumps in it, eh, nothing wrong with that. [pours the batter into the prepared pan]
    [at the oven] Move the batter to the prepped pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cake feels springy, and reaches an internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
Meanwhile, frosting!
    Most American cakes are either dressed in a boiled seven-minute frosting, or some form of butter cream, the main ingredients of which are typically butter and powdered sugar. Now the sugar is fine enough to dissolve in the small amount of water found in the butter, and it contains cornstarch, which helps to keep the frosting stable. It is, essentially an emulsion after all.

    Now since it easily integrates with fats, this is the perfect vehicle for a solid chocolate to join the party. Now I know I said not to use it in the cake, but we want the cake moist and tender. The frosting, however, needs to be a little on the stiff side, or it'll just ooze right off the side of the cake, and that is never good eats. So we are going to go with three ounces of semi-sweet chocolate morsels. 3 Ounces Semi-Sweet
    Chocolate Chip

    [at the microwave] Although cook time will depend on make and model, I would plan on a minute and a half on high to melt, and then cool for ten.

    [at the standing mixer] Meanwhile, start with five and a half ounces of unsalted butter at room temperature in the work bowl of your stand mixer, and add an ounce of mayonnaise to that. Slap on the paddle, and beat on high for three to four minutes, or until fluffy. Now the mayo is important, because it's an emulsion. It can help to keep our frosting smooth. And since it's soft, even at refrigerator temperatures, it can help to keep our frosting soft in the fridge as well. 5 Ounces Unsalted Butter
1 Ounce Mayonnaise

    Now when that is creamy, drop the speed to low, and introduce the chocolate. Now it's pretty thick stuff, even though it's melted, so it's going to take a few minutes to work into the lighter mixture. There you go.

    Now here comes eight ounces of powdered sugar. We're going to do this in three to four additions. Because if you dump it in all at once and turn on the machine, you'll just fill the kitchen with white powder. So, slowly work it in, a batch at a time. There's the second one. And I always use a paper plate for this. It's easier than trying to dose it out straight from a bowl. There. Again, on low speed. 8 Ounces Powdered Sugar
    When the final batch goes in, add just a pinch of kosher salt. I always use that when I'm using chocolate. Once this final batch is worked in, then go ahead and put the spurs to the mixer, and beat it on high for two to three minutes, until the frosting looks pretty much like that [shows]. Perfect. Light in color, so we've got plenty of air in it. Creamy, chocolatey, delicious. Pinch of Kosher Salt

    [at the table with a completed frosted cake] There we have it, kids, Devil's food cake. Dark, decadent, and devilishly delicious. [AB is about to cut into the cake, when he is stopped by the Demon, bearing a fork]

D: Hey! [takes a bite] Mmmm. Devil of a cake, if I say so myself.
AB: And so we see once again, that good eats triumphs over evil.
D: Oh, bother.

Some early devil's food cake recipes called for unorthodox additions such as mashed potatoes, cinnamon, and cloves.

State Fair

Remember our little scene from before?

REPORTER: Miss Prudence, what do you call that cake?
PP: Why, devil's food, of course.
EE: Oh, just you wait, precious Prudence. Come next year, I'll beat your devil's cake. Somehow, someway, I'll crush you!
D: [strolls in and whispers into her ear, they exit]

Fast Forward 1 Year

J #1: Well, Miss Ellie, you're back on top.
J #2: And then some.
R: Miss Ellie, what do you call this magnificent creation?
EE: Well, I call it, Red Devil's Cake.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Government Agent

    A chocolately cake, yet red. Did Miss Ellie trade her soul for cakey black magic? Of course not, despite what he told her, the answer is a simple matter of scientific detail.

D: And I am so into details.
AB: Yes, of course.

    Trading out Dutch processed cocoa for natural cocoa, and upping the acidity of the batter with both buttermilk and vinegar affects anthocyanin compounds in the cocoa, a family of antioxidant pigments also found in red cabbage.
    Now, as you may recall from an earlier episode, red cabbage boiled in water with baking soda tends to turn bluish, while cooking the same cabbage with an acid keeps it bright red. The same effect, granted on a smaller scale, works in a cocoa-flavored cake, turning what was once dark, dark red.
    Of course, red velvet cake is more refined. It has a finer tooth than devil's food. So we're going to go back to using butter, and therefore the creaming method, and we're also going to add a bit of vanilla. Other than that, it's very close to the same cake. Let's bake!

    Ten and a half ounces of brown sugar go into the bowl, along with four ounces of butter. Now, we need the fat to be plastic enough for the sugar to be able to punch little holes in it. That's where the actual texture of the cake comes from, and that is relative to temperature. So you may want to actually use a thermometer to make sure you are, eh we'll say, between 68 and 72 degrees. Remember if the butter is much warmer than that, the batter will not cream properly. So that goes in with the sugar, and cream this with the paddle attachment for about two minutes on medium. 10 Ounces Brown Sugar
4 Ounces Unsalted Butter

    Now while that's working, we can prep our pans. I have here two nine-inch aluminum cake pans. They will need parchment liners. To produce perfect rounds, we employ the fan-fold method. It's pretty simple. Two sheets, folded over halfways, fold that over again to create quarters, and then fold diagonally, and then again diagonally, and then measure from the center of the pan, and snip with scissors. Lube up the pans and apply the perfect rounds. There.

    Now we return to the batter. The creaming is pretty much done, so kill the speed, and scrape down the sides, because it will definitely crawl up. Add two large eggs, and then slowly return the speed to medium until the eggs are fully integrated. 2 Large Eggs
    Now, in the meantime we will turn our attention to the dry goods. Bring together five and a half ounces of all-purpose flour, four ounces, about a cup, of cake flour, one-half ounce of natural cocoa, a teaspoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon of kosher salt. There. Now just whisk that to combine and to break up any clumps. 5 Ounces All-Purpose Flour
4 Ounces Cake Flour
Ounce Natural Cocoa
1 tsp. Baking Soda
tsp. Kosher Salt

    All right, meanwhile over at the mixer side, it would seem that the eggs have thoroughly integrated, so kill the mixer, and go ahead and scrape down the bowl one more time, just to make sure all the butter and sugar is off the side.

    Now we turn our attention to the wet works. In a fresh, clean bowl combine one cup of low-fat buttermilk with a tablespoon of white vinegar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and ... 1 Cup Low-Fat Buttermilk
1 Tbs. White Vinegar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

...  red liquid food coloring. Now I know some folks think that this stuff is ...

D: ... evil.

But the federal government says that it's ...

GOVERNMENT AGENT: ... perfectly fine.

Despite claims that it can make kids do the ...

YOUNG GIRL: [but speaks in the Demon's voice] ... darndest things, emphasis on darned.

    I say if you want your red velvet cake red, you're going to have to use a full ounce of the stuff. And well, I think that's okay, as long as you don't eat the stuff, you know, every single day. Of course, if you don't want to risk it, just leave the food coloring out. Your cake will still taste great, and it'll be red ... ish.

    So the entire one ounce of red food coloring goes into the buttermilk combo, whisk to combine, and do it carefully. That's why I'm wearing a red sweater, by the way. 1 Fluid Ounce Red Food

Beets were once used as both a sweetener and a colorant in red velvet cake.

The Kitchen

    The red velvet cake batter continues. The sugar, butter, egg mixture goes back onto low speed. Now we're going to introduce the dry and wet goods, alternating. It's going to be three doses of the dry, and two of the wet. So here's the first of the dry, the first of the wet, the second of the dry, a little neater this time, and the second of the wet, and then finally, the third addition of dry goods. And let that mix until it is bright crimson and smooth.
    All right, time to pan up. The best way to do this is to use a scale. I am going to measure one pound, two ounces into each pan.

    [at the oven] Ah, the oven's still at 325, excellent. So, load up on the same middle rack with at least an inch in between the pans, and we're shooting for a final, internal temperature of 205. It's going to take 30 to 35 minutes. And be sure to spin the pans around midway, if your oven has a history of uneven performance. Meanwhile, frosting.

325 Degrees

    [at the refrigerator] When a New York dairyman, name of William Lawrence, invented a spreadable mild cheese containing at least 33 percent milk fat, and not more than 55 percent moisture, called cream cheese, back in 1872, he had no idea that he was saving southern cake baking. But he was, because, unlike butter, which melts at a relatively low temperature, cream cheese can hold its own shape until it reaches well above 250 degrees. That means that butter cream-style frostings can be prepared and kept in hot summer months. Two southern specialties are still strongly associated with cream cheese frosting. One, the carrot cake, and two, red velvet. You'll need 12 ounces, that's a block and a half, and make sure it's never been frozen, because that will result in a rather runny, repulsive texture.

    [at the stand mixer] Allow the cream cheese to come to room temp before introducing it to the work bowl of your mixer, along with three ounces, not quite a stick, of unsalted butter, also at room temp. Slap on your paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed until it just is nice and smooth and blended. If they're at room temp, it shouldn't be more than about a minute. Then add a pinch of kosher salt, and a teaspoon and a half of vanilla extract. There. 12 Ounces Cream Cheese,
    Room Temperature
3 Ounces Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature

Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

    Now when that is worked in, drop the speed to its lowest setting, and very slowly add 13.5 ounces of powdered sugar. Again, go slow here, or it will fly all over the room. Now when it's thoroughly combined, it should be nice and smooth, just like this. 13 Ounces Powdered Sugar

    [at the refrigerator] Chill to firm for 30 minutes before attempting to apply. If you need to store it in here longer than that, you're going to have to re-spin it before applying to the cake.
    [back at the oven, removes the cakes]
    [at the table frosting the cake] Ah, and that, my friends is red velvet cake. A holiday classic by virtue of the pleasing juxtaposition of red and white. Very stylish for Valentine's Day as well. Notice, please, that once the cake layers have cooled, I split them and then stack with frosting, leaving the sides unadorned so that the red shows through. But hey, that's just how I roll. Hey...

D: [barges in] Sorry, but you've got to give the devil his due.
AB: [barges back in] Not on Good Eats we don't. See you next time.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 11/29/2011