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Devil's Food Cake with Black Pepper Boiled Icing

Crunchy roasted cocoa nibs give this cake an unforgettable texture; pepper-flecked icing adds a slightly punchy finish. The recipe comes from chef Kierin Baldwin of New York's The Dutch restaurant.

  • Yield: Makes one 9-inch round layer cake
Devil's Food Cake with Black Pepper Boiled Icing

Source: The Martha Stewart Show


For the filling

  • 3 1/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 to 64 percent cacao), chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream, divided
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche

For the cake

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cups packed dark-brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa nibs
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground espresso beans


  1. Make the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine chocolate and salt; set aside. Place 1 tablespoon heavy cream in a small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over cream and let stand until softened, about 10 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, place remaining 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and remaining tablespoon sugar. Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into egg mixture. Return cream mixture to saucepan and place over medium heat; cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

  3. Stir gelatin mixture into cream mixture. Strain gelatin mixture into bowl with chocolate mixture; let stand 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. Whisk in creme fraiche. Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat filling until well combined, about 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down on the surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer to refrigerator and let chill overnight.

  4. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment-paper rounds; set aside.

  5. Sift cocoa powder into a medium bowl; whisk in egg and egg white. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water; continue whisking until smooth. Set aside. In another medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda and baking powder; set aside.

  6. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt, until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Gradually beat cocoa mixture into butter mixture. Add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with buttermilk, and mixing well after each addition. Fold in cocoa nibs and ground espresso.

  7. Divide batter evenly among prepared cake pans; smooth tops. Transfer to oven and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool completely before inverting cakes onto wire racks. At this point, cakes can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 1 day. Transfer cake layers to freezer; freeze until firm before frosting.

  8. Assemble: Place Chocolate Crumb Base on a cake plate; using an adjustable cake ring as a guide, top with 1 layer of cake. Stir filling to loosen and spread half (about 1 cup) over layer; top with a second layer, followed by remaining filling. Top with remaining layer of cake. Transfer to refrigerator and let chill for 1 hour.

  9. Spoon icing over top of cake; smooth over top and sides, swirling decoratively. If desired, use a kitchen torch to brulee frosting in several spots. Cake can be served immediately or covered with a cake dome and kept chilled for up to 1 day; let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Reviews (11)

  • PFCMCL 5 Sep, 2012

    Does this frosting require a crumb coat???

  • star0mia 20 Aug, 2012

    You had me with moist looks like my dream cake and I'm sending the recipe to a baker friend of mine ASAP!
    I can taste it already. Thanks

  • LeighWeber 18 Aug, 2012

    Have to admit being disappointed with this one. The layers are more brownie like than cake like. I should have realized they would be when I saw only a 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder. Couple that will a filling that is overly chocolate and it wasn't up to what I think of Martha Stewart standards. Typically, I find her recipes to be excellent but this one didn't measure up.

  • PFCMCL 18 Aug, 2012

    Right when Kierin stars icing the cake, she starts giving away another tip, but Martha interrupted her. I think she says " We're going to put kind of a crumb coat". If that's what she says, would she refrigerate the cake after the crumb coat and then finish it up with the rest of the icing? Does this icing harden a little when refrigerated? Can the rest of the icing sit at room temperature while the cake with the crumb coat chills? I hope somebody can help; I really want to try making this cake

  • JudyRose 18 Aug, 2012

    I watched this being made on Martha's program on Martha Stewart Living. It looks terrific. The pepper and geleatin make it unique. I am making it for our home, today, for guests who will arrive for a very special event at which my husband is being honored. It looks and sounds like a fit for my chocoholic hubby.

  • BelleH 11 Oct, 2011

    I cannot find out how to print this recipe. Any one have a suggestion.

  • pfales 29 Sep, 2011

    The print button is off to your left.

  • pfales 29 Sep, 2011

    I copy the recipe on the computer and keep a file in organized folders. This way, I do not have to print it out at all. Just work off the computer. Works well.

  • elysee 27 Sep, 2011

    I agree with carolcooks. I miss the pink link. Way too many steps to get what you need to print out.

  • carolcooks 27 Sep, 2011

    What happen to the print link. It is a waste of ink to print everything on the screen. I thought Martha was more incline to do thing in a green way.

  • nikkiwong 27 Sep, 2011

    Best Chocolate Cake I ever had!!! Yum!!

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