Black Devils Food Cake (Black Midnight Cake)

A deep, chocolatey modern take on an old-school recipe

A deep, chocolatey, modern take on an old-school recipe

It’s hard to say which is my favorite:  deep, dark chocolate cake with vanilla frosting or tender, intensely vanilla cake with rich, dark chocolate frosting.  I guess I lean toward vanilla cake while my John is all about chocolate cake.  So yin and yang – we really do complete each other!  Since my baby loves chocolate cake with vanilla frosting so much I am always on the hunt for a “new and improved” chocolate cake (he has declared my vanilla frosting perfection so innovations on that front are NOT appreciated!).  If there is a chocolate cake in any new cookbook I get, I bake it and he lets me know if it’s the new “it” chocolate cake or if it gets the dreaded “meh”.  Our favorite “modern” recipe is Ina Garten’s Chocolate Buttercream Cake, with a few tweaks of my own.  One thing I learned from Ina is to always add a little coffee “something” (espresso powder, brewed coffee, coffee extract – whichever is most appropriate) to a chocolate recipe.  If you add just the right amount, you won’t perceive a distinct coffee flavor, but the “chocolate-ness” of the finished product will be enhanced.

Since I am cooking my way through the 1950’s edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, I naturally had to try the Black Devil’s Food Cake (Black Midnight Cake).  I assumed since this cookbook was born out of wartime rationing for mid 20th century tastebuds that this cake would have at best a fairly mild chocolate flavor.  I made the cake using ¼ cup each of two cocoa products (instead of the ½ cup regular cocoa called for), I substituted hot brewed coffee for the water, and I used ½ butter in place of all shortening (most of the BCPCB recipes that call for shortening specify that you can use ½ butter, so I do).  The cake turned out moist, tender and Oreo-dark with a bold chocolate flavor to match.  Here’s the recipe, sized for a 9″ square cake, with my additions/changes marked by an asterisk (*)

  • ¼ cup* Hershey’s cocoa (see note below)
  • ¼ cup* King Arthur Black Cocoa* (an intensely flavored Dutch process cocoa)
  • OR ½ cup good quality Dutch process cocoa in place of the regular and black cocoas
  • 1 cup hot, brewed coffee*
  • ¼ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla*
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 and grease & flour a 9″ square baking pan.  Whisk together hot coffee and cocoas and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.  Cream shortening, butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat until thoroughly combined, and then blend in the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  With the mixer on low alternately add the coffee and flour mixtures to the creamed butter, beginning with the coffee and ending with the flour (add ½ the coffee and blend, then ½ the flour, then the remaining coffee, and finally the remaining flour).  After the last addition of flour blend just until almost combined.  Finish blending the batter by hand with a spatula to ensure cake will be tender (overbeating cake batters can develop the gluten in the flour, resulting in tough, rubbery cakes).  Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  Cool in pan 10 minutes and then turn cake out onto cooling rack.  Cool completely before frosting.  I’ll post my recipe for “Buttercream” frosting in a separate post.

Note on cocoa:  I specify Hershey’s cocoa because it won the cocoa taste test at America’s Test Kitchens, and because I’ve used it for ages and it’s wonderful.  If you only have regular cocoa (not Dutch process), that is fine – you will just need to use plain water instead of the coffee or the cake will not rise properly.  For an explanation of why, check out this EXCELLENT primer on the different types of cocoa and how to use them.

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