My Favorite Devil’s Food Layer Cake

Sunday May 31, 2015

Another winner out of the old McCall’s Cookbook I have been making since about 1980 that I learned from my mother. It is so perfect a cake, I have never had to make another recipe for devil’s food. Devil’s food cake is a moist, airy, rich chocolate layer cake and is considered a counterpart to the trinity of basic white butter cake and yellow butter layer cakes. I have used the recipe for wedding cakes as well as birthday layer cakes, so it is well tested. It also makes great cupcakes.

The first known recipe for Devil’s Food Cake in the U.S. dates back to 1905, and it’s called Devil’s Food Cake not only because of the inclusion of real chocolate in the recipe, but because the baking soda causes the chocolate to raise the pH level of the batter and makes the cake a deeper and darker, almost mahogany color. The use of hot, or boiling water as the cake’s main liquid, rather than milk, is also a common difference from a regular chocolate cake.

The cake is usually paired with a rich chocolate frosting and considered “sinful” even before the anti carb/sugar revolution this last decade. I give you a choice of chocolate frostings. The fluffy frosting with the base of marshmallow creme is rather sweet, but a rave from home cooks as well as professional bakers since it comes together so fast. The bittersweet version is a more traditional powdered sugar and butter frosting and filling. Use a good unsweetened cocoa such as Sharffen Berger, Hershey’s, or Valhrona for a spectacular flavor. Both make about 3 1/2 cups, enough for 1 layer cake.

Makes two 8- or 9-inch layers, 8 to 10 servings.


  • 3 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup boiling water

Instant Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 7-ounce jar Marshmallow Fluff or other marshmallow creme
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, melted in the top of a double boiler and cooled

Simple Bittersweet Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (measure by spooning the cocoa into the measuring cup, then leveling off the top. Do not pack down.)
  • 4 tablespoons hot prepared coffee with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract added, cooled to room temperature (can be fresh brewed, leftover heated in the microwave, or instant espresso powder)


Line two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with parchment, spray with butter-flavored vegetable cooking spray, and dust with flour.  Preheat the oven to 350º.

Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.  Melt and then set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  In the work bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time until smooth. On low speed, add the flour mixture alternately in three additions with the vanilla, buttermilk, and chocolate; beat 30 seconds until smooth. On low speed beat in the boiling water; batter will be thin.

Divide the batter between the 2 cake pans and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pans 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack and cool completely before frosting.

To make the Instant Fluffy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, beat the butter on high speed with an electric mixer until smooth, 1 minute.  On low speed, beat in the marshmallow creme in three additions.  Beat in the vanilla and cooled melted chocolate.  The frosting needs to be used immediately, so do not make it until the cake layers have completely cooled.

To make the Simple Bittersweet Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, beat the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth, 1 minute. Sift the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa through a strainer to remove any lumps. On very low speed, beat the powdered sugar and cocoa powder by increments into the softened butter alternately with the coffee until fluffy. Mix on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, or until fluffy. Continue beating until well blended, thick and creamy, scraping down the sides as needed. If the buttercream frosting is warm or too thin to hold up the top cake layer without oozing out the sides, place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill to desired spreading consistency. It will firm up in 30 to 60 minutes.

To assemble, place a dab of frosting in the center of a cake plate to steady the cake.  Place one layer, flat side up, on the cake platter.  With a metal spatula, spread with 1/2 cup frosting. I slip strips of waxed paper or parchment under the edges of the cake before frosting the sides in order to keep the plate clean and frosting-free. Arrange the second layer on top, rounded side up. Ice the tops and sides of the cake with all of the remaining frosting. Smooth the frosting on the sides of the cake. Gently slide the strips of parchment out from under the cake and retouch as needed. Chill in the refrigerator until the frosting has firmed. Store at room temperature under a cake dome for the day, after that in the refrigerator. Because the frosting contains butter, it is best to store uneaten cake in the refrigerator.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipes and make them your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Your Comments

3 comments Comments Feed
  1. lisa 01/09/2010 at 1:21 am

    I just baked this cake. The frosting was great and so easy! I much prefer it over any confectioners sugar frosting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Beth 01/09/2010 at 11:40 pm

    There are never enough alternatives to the old confectioners sugar frosting…enjoy! Beth.

Leave a Reply