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Way back in 2000, Tish Boyle collaborated with Clark Irey to write Diner Desserts, an homage to those classic desserts found in diners across the country. You know, by the cash register there is glass case with rotating shelves piled high with the cakes and pies you know you want. I actually have never ever eaten one. Not once. Too much guilt.

But, for Easter, I decided to dispense with guilt and made Tish’s Devil’s Food Cake. It is dense, heavy and moist. The combination of buttermilk and coffee, ¾ cup of coffee, makes the cake deliciously tender. Do take the cake out of the oven when that toothpick comes out almost clean. It can be a little dirty. This is far from a dry cake.

In Tish’s version, the two layers are separated by chocolate filling and the outside of the cake is slathered in fluffy white frosting. I had a different agenda, reflected in the picture you see. I had two competing recipes for vanilla buttercream and I wanted to have “buttercream face off.” I did, and you’ll see the results tomorrow. It’s okay: both are winners.

Real Devil’s Food Cake takes a bit of time and lots of buttermilk. You can’t get this richness out of a box.

Oh, the crumbs in the picture? Gee, I did Photoshop out the worst ones. This cake does NOT cut cleanly. So, on the plate, it may not look picture perfect. But, in your mouth, it is.

Devil’s Food Cake with Fluffy White Frosting

Yield: 10 servings [that’s 5 people with seconds]


For the cake:

  • 2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups cake flour
  • 1 ¼ cups unsweetened non-alkalized cocoa powder
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large whole eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk
  • ¾ cup strongly brewed coffee, cooled

For the rich chocolate filling:

  • 9 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the fluffy white frosting:

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. To make the devil’s food cake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the sugar, cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir together the dry ingredients with a whisk and set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the whole eggs and the egg yolk until combined. Whisk in the vanilla and the melted butter. Whisk in the buttermilk and coffee. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.
  4. Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges of the cakes pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto racks and cool completely.
  5. To make the rich chocolate filling, place the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream until it comes to a gentle boil. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, to allow the chocolate to melt. Stir the mixture until it is smooth, and the chocolate is completely melted. Stir in the vanilla extract.
  6. Set the bowl containing the chocolate mixture into a larger bowl of ice water and stir the mixture constantly for about 5 minutes, or until it is a spreadable consistency. Remove the bowl of filling from the ice water and set aside until ready to fill the cake.
  7. To make the fluffy white frosting, in a large, deep bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, water and cream of tartar. With a handheld electric mixer, beat the mixture until foamy, about 1 minute.
  8. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Beat constantly on low speed until the mixture reaches 160°F, about 7 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat, add the vanilla, and beat the frosting on high speed until it holds stiff peaks, about 7 minutes.
  9. To assemble the cake, using a long, serrated knife, cut each cake layer in half horizontally. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on a serving plate and scrape a generous ½ cup of the rich chocolate filling onto it. Spread the filling evenly over the layer. Repeat two times with additional layers, then top with the last cake layer.
  10. Using a large offset metal spatula, spread the fluffy white frosting first around the sides, then over the top of the cake, piling it up in dramatic swirls. Serve the cake immediately, or refrigerate and bring to room temperature before serving.

Source: Diner Desserts by Tish Boyle and Clark Irey [Chronicle, 2000]

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for 1/30th second at ISO‑1250