Our Step-by-Step Guide to Making the Ultimate Devil's Food Cake

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Photo: Yuki Sugiura

Our test kitchen takes you through making their most devilish, chocolatey recipe yet.

01 of 09
devil's food cake on cake pedestal
Yuki Sugiura

Desserts rarely rouse such fiery debate as the devil's food cake does. Some say it was created in response to angel food cake while others insist the name was inspired by the red pigments in cocoa powder. Bakers don't even agree on the ingredients and proportions needed to create its strikingly intense flavor and velvety texture. But one thing is for sure: You've got to bake enough for everyone, lest all hell break loose.

A good devil's food cake, like the one we're making here, is as decadently dark and tempting—some might say sinful—as its name implies. The cake emerged in the early 1900s when chocolate cakes were coming into their own, baking chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder had become readily available and affordable. Several cookbooks of this period contained recipes for devil's food cake. It soon became a favorite.

Consult different cookbooks and websites or talk to your baker friends, and you'll find some sources assert devil's food cake must use sour cream in the batter, others demand coffee, and other still say that melted chocolate should be used in addition to the essential cocoa powder to create a richer chocolate flavor. What is generally agreed upon is that devil's food cake is delightfully dark and chocolatey, a filled and frosted two-layer cake. What it's filled and frosted with is also not generally agreed on. We are team Swiss Meringue Chocolate Buttercream but there is also team fluffy white Seven-Minute Icing, and team super chocolate who go with a deep ganache as the finishing touch.

What's not a matter of contention is just how delicious a slice of devil's food cake is. Follow this recipe and you're sure to agree.

02 of 09

Prepare the Pans and Ingredients

devils food cake process mixing ingredients
Yuki Sugiura

Preheat oven to 325°F degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment rounds; butter parchment.

Stir together 1 cup boiling water, 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, and 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (3/4 cup) in a bowl. Let cool 10 minutes.

Whisk together 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt in another bowl.

03 of 09

Make the Batter

mixing ingredients in stand mixer
Yuki Sugiura

In a mixing bowl, beat 3 sticks of room temperature unsalted butter with 2 cups packed light-brown sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in 4 large eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, then chocolate mixture. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture in two additions, alternating with 1 cup sour cream, until just combined.

04 of 09

Transfer to Pans and Bake

devils food cake process adding mix to pan
Yuki Sugiura

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, smoothing tops with an offset spatula. Bake until a tester inserted in centers comes out with moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes.

05 of 09

Trim Tops

trimming cooked cake
Yuki Sugiura

Let cakes cool in pans on a wire rack 20 minutes. Turn out onto rack, top-sides up; let cool completely. With a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes so they are level.

06 of 09

Sandwich Frosting with Layers

spreading frosting between cake layers
Yuki Sugiura

Line the edges of a cake stand or plate with strips of parchment. Place one cake layer on stand, trimmed-side up, and spread 1 1/2 cups Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream evenly over top. Top with remaining cake layer, trimmed-side down.

07 of 09

Frost the Cake

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
Yuki Sugiura

Spread a thin layer of buttercream over top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes (this ensures a crumb-free finish). Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides.

Your cake can be stored in refrigerator up to one day; bring to room temperature before serving.

08 of 09

Alternate Frostings

7 min white frosting stand mixer
Johnny Miller

Just as with the recipe, there is no single standard frosting for a devil's food cake. Rich in chocolate flavor without being diabolically sweet, our Swiss meringue buttercream—which touts the same balance of taste and texture—pairs nicely with this cake.

If you prefer a sweeter, fluffier frosting, try Seven-Minute Frosting. For a purely chocolate finish, go for our Whipped Chocolate Ganache.

09 of 09

Cut a Slice—or Three

sliced devils food cake pieces
Yuki Sugiura

Be sure to use a serrated knife to cut even slices of your devilish cake.

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