Devil’s Food Cake & Italian Meringue Icing

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A couple of weeks ago we were celebrating some very special birthdays so I decided to bake a cake for this festive occasion.  I was inspired by an article I read in a magazine a couple of months ago.  My mouth was watering as I read through the article, so as soon as I saw an opportunity I decided to try it.

This cake has a velvety, creamy, bittersweet chocolate filling sandwiched between two fluffy and moist layers. I was delighted by the texture of the cake… it wasn’t dry and overbearing, it was soft and luscious!  The lightly salted filling creates a beautiful contrast against the rich cake, and this is nicely balanced by the silky, soft meringue icing

This recipe is composed of three stages: the cake, the filling, and the icing. The filling should be made first, as it needs to chill and set in the fridge to get the proper consistency. It can be done the night before and let chill overnight.  I, however, did it all in the same day (I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting a whole night to eat the cake!).  I started with the filling, then continued with the baking.  While the cake was chilling, I prepared the Italian meringue.

For the detailed recipe

This recipe was adapted from the one featured in “S+P”. BON APPÉTIT: Volume 56, Number 9 The Restaurant Issue/ Sept 2011

Stage 1: The Filling
100 g of bittersweet chocolate (65-70% cacao), chopped or coin shaped
–I like using Valrhona chocolate feve 68% or 70%, which I can get at my local market
1 c. + 1 Tblsp heavy cream
1/2 c. crème fraîche
1 tsp of unflavored gelatin
2 Tblsp sugar, divided
3 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt

2 Medium bowls, 1 small bowl (to separate the eggs, place yolks in a medium bowl)
Fine strainer
saucepan or small pot
small cup
wooden spoon (I love using wooden spoons!)
plastic wrap

In a medium bowl combine the chocolate and the salt. In a small cup mix the gelatin and 1 Tblsp of heavy cream. Let stand for 10 min.

In a small pot combine the cream  and  1 Tblsp of sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to a simmer.  Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar in another medium bowl and whisk.

While constantly whisking, gradually add a bit of the hot cream to the egg yolk mixture in a stream. Once the temperature of the egg yolk mixture has increased, keep adding the hot cream (this is called tempering).  Remember to whisk constantly, we don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs or curds! Return the mixture to the small pot and cook over medium heat, stirring with a spoon, until it thickens (about 5 minutes).  To test if it’s thick enough trace your finger on the back of the spoon, if it leaves a path on the back of the spoon you are ready to remove it from heat!
Add the gelatin to the hot mixture and dissolve thoroughly.  Place the strainer on top of the bowl containing the chocolate and strain the hot mixture into it. Stir the mixture slowly until even and smooth.  Incorporate the crème fraîche, and whisk until well blended.  Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the filling, and chill (this will prevent a hard layer from forming at the top of the mixture while it chills).  Chill for at least 1.5hrs  (or overnight).

Stage 2: The Cake
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 egg white
1/2 c. + 2 Tblsp of lukewarm water
1 c. + 2 Tblsp of all purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 c. dark brown sugar, packed
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1/2 c. yogurt +2 Tblsp of milk, mixed
1 Tblsp of ground coffee (espresso beans)
1/4 tsp (pinch) of salt

Two 9 inch-diameter cake pans
parchment paper
2 Medium bowls, 1 Large bowl
fine-mesh strainer or sieve
wooden spoon (or electric mixer, I rarely use one)
spatula and/or decorating spatula

Preheat the oven to 350° F (about 177°C).  Use 1/4 of the stick of butter to coat the entire inside of the two 9-inch cake pans, and line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.  To get perfectly sized parchment paper rounds, I place the the bottom of the cake pans on a piece of parchment paper and then trace it with a knife. I like to coat the top of the parchment paper with butter too.

In a medium bowl sift the cocoa powder, and carefully whisk in the egg and egg white. Don’t worry if the mixture looks tough! Carefully incorporate the lukewarm water, and whisk until smooth.  In another medium bowl sift the the flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  In a large bowl combine the sugar, butter, and salt. Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon (or electric mixer) until smooth. Add vanilla and mix well. Gradually combine the cocoa and butter mixture.

Alternating between the two, add the flour (in 3 additions) and the yogurt-milk mixture (in 2 additions); begin and end with the dry ingredients. Occasionally scraping down the sides. Fold in the ground coffee beans. Divide the batter among the pans and make sure the top is smooth.  I like to tap the pans once or twice to get rid of any air bubbles.
Bake the cakes for about 18-20 minutes, insert a tester in the center and make sure it comes out clean.  Once it is done, set the pans on a wire rack and let cool for 10 min.  Invert the cakes onto the wire rack, remove the pans, and let them cool completely.

Once the cake is cool place one layer on a flat plate.  Remove the filling from the fridge and stir to loosen it.  With the aid of a decorating spatula, evenly spread about 1 1/2 cup of the filling on the cake. Carefully place the second layer on top.  Chill the cake for at least one hour.

Stage 3: The Icing- Italian Meringue
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 c. sugar, divided
1/2 c. water
1 pinch salt
1/4 tsp of vanilla pulp (optional)

small saucepan or pot
large bowl
whisk (electric mixer)
Candy thermometer
decorating spatula

We are almost done! So feel proud of yourself if you’ve gotten this far!
Simple syrup: In a small pot or saucepan mix 1/2 c. of water and sugar (reserve 1 Tblsp of sugar for later use). Stir over medium-low heat until all the sugar is dissolved. Once dissolved, increase the heat and let boil without stirring for about 10-15 minutes (until the candy thermometer reads 240° F, if you do not have a candy thermometer use a timer for the allotted time, just make sure it does not change color).

While the simple syrup is being made, beat the egg whites until frothy. Gradually add the rest of the sugar and salt, while stirring constantly, until stiff peaks.  Remove the hot syrup from the heat.

Now here comes the tricky part, adding the syrup to the egg whites. Since I do not have a stand alone mixer, I have to be either a very efficient multitasker, or ask someone for help.  Whether I’m doing it by myself, or getting someone’s help, I like to place a damp rag under my bowl to prevent it from moving (Helpful Tip!).
Gradually, drizzle the hot syrup down the side of the bowl while beating constantly. We don’t want to loose any volume so we have to beat steadily for about 20 minutes, or until the whites are stiff and cool (hence the need for help!). Add the vanilla and mix well.

Remove the chilled cake from the fridge and scoop the icing onto the cake and smooth with a spatula. Using your decorating spatula, or a butter knife, create swirls on the top of the cake. Chill for 1 hour or overnight.

I suggest you let it stand at room temperature 20-40 minutes before serving (depending on how long it was chilled for).
The cake can be covered and stored in the fridge.  It tastes great fresh and even better the day after! When chilled overnight the coffee flavor intensifies and infuses the layers of cake… it’s delicious! But don’t just take my word for it, try it!

Thank you so much for reading!

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