Devil's Food Cake with Vanilla-Almond Buttercream

When I was a kid, I always thought that the worst part about growing up would be having to give up summer. Not even just giving up the fact of having summers off (because by the time I hit high school I was working through the summers anyway), but just the magic of summer. How everything seems to happen over the summer, and how everything that does happen over the summer always seems a thousand times more excellent because it’s bathed in sunshine and tank tops and pool water.

And then I grew up and almost across the board, every summer of my adult life has been awesome.

But since moving to Scotland, it’s a little easier to forget this: the weather stays more or less the same year-round, and it’s never properly hot. Plus, despite the fact that this city sits on the water, it’s literally never warm enough to even put your toes in, much less go for a dip. So I forget how awesome the summer is until it sneaks up on me, year after year, just like this one has managed to.

But you know what’s great about letting the summer sneak up on me? When it finally rolls around, it’s awesome. Here’s what the next month-and-a-half look like Chez Cowan: interviews for a new job as my contract is up in mid-July, then a week in Barcelona with my bestie. When I get home from Spain, I’ll have houseguests waiting for me who arrive while I’m away, then the day after they depart is Judson’s birthday party. The next day Holtzmann gets spayed (not exciting except that we’re hoping it will help her outgrow some of her annoying puppy habits), then it’s Judson’s actual birthday, my last day of work and then we head to the US for two weeks of sun and sand in my hometown at the Florida beach. When we get back, the Edinburgh Fringe will be in full swing and I’ll be ready to hit the ground running on whatever my next gig is. It’s nearly as busy as last summer’s new job-Highlands-Amsterdam-Tokyo-Mont St. Michel-Athens-Paris madness, and I can’t wait.

But the part I’m most excited about, in case I glossed over it a little too much there, is seeing my bestie in Spain. Emily and I regularly go two years at a time without seeing each other, but it never gets any easier to do and it never gets any less special when we reunite. I’ve never been to Barcelona so I’ve been counting down the days for ages now and I cannot wait to catch up with her there. Also, Emily owns and runs a wildly successful and super awesome bakery in California, so of course whenever I think of her I also think of cake.

Enter Judson and his co-worker’s birthday, and I had the perfect excuse to mix up a pretty awesome triple layer chocolate cake on which to practice my (still relatively new) frosting skills to occupy my time before I leave for Spain at the crack of dawn on Thursday.* I’m super proud of this cake and really disappointed that I don’t have a picture of the interior to show you as it was quickly dispatched out of my kitchen as soon as I finished it, but I have a crowdsourced opinion that it was stellar and I have my own personal knowledge of how far my frosting/piping skills have come to tell you that this is the prettiest cake I ever made (a record I hope to soon break, given that Judson’s birthday is rapidly approaching).

The cake is ‘devil’s food,’ but I’m putting that in inverted commas because, well, it’s not like any devil’s food I’ve ever tasted. Maybe devil’s food meant something different in the 1950s, maybe my cocoa wasn’t dark enough or maybe the recipe just didn’t come out the way it was supposed to, but this cake was so light in colour that before I sliced it, Judson thought it was white cake. Don't fear, though, it still tastes incredibly rich and chocolatey, just maybe a bit more caramel-y and a little less fudgy than I would have anticipated. I went a little over the top with the filling and frosting because I was in a celebratory kind of mood, but you could use the filling as listed below and leave the cake 'naked' for a more chocolate-on-chocolate version, or you could cut the frosting recipe in half for a more reasonable amount of frosting. But really, you should make it as below for the next celebration you attend. It's delicious, classic, and, really, who doesn't love chocolate cake?

*Thursday, as you may or may not be aware, is the longest day of the year. Which means that even though I’ll be up at 4am to catch my flight, the sun will have been up for nearly an hour before I wake up.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. I had a blast making this cake, and was so pleased when it turned out to be as tasty as it looks. Make this for a party and you'll cement your invite to every party until 2018.

Two years ago: Peach-Apricot Pie

the recipe:

Devil's Food Cake with White Chocolate Ganache and Vanilla-Almond Buttercream

the directions:

Preheat oven to 170C/350F & line two 9” layer pans with parchment on bottom.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside.
In saucepan, whisk together cocoa, egg yolk and 1 c milk.
Simmer, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened (mixture should coat a rubber spatula), then set aside to cool slightly.
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and beat well until smooth.
Blend in cocoa mixture (this will melt the butter mixture and will make a batter that is very liquid).
Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with remaining ½ c milk, then beat until smooth.
Add vanilla and stir to combine.
Pour into prepared pans and bake 20-25 minutes until a wooden pick in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely, then fill with this recipe and frost.


Cream butter until light and very fluffy.
Add powdered sugar and blend until smooth.
Add cream, salt, vanilla and almond extract and blend until smooth and very soft.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 c flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp cocoa
1 egg yolk + 2 eggs
1 ½ c milk, divided
½ c butter, softened
2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

the filling:

½ recipe white chocolate ganache buttercream from this recipe

the frosting:

4 c powdered sugar
1 c butter, softened
3 tsp cream
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract

Notes: I doubled this recipe to have four layers so I could reserve one for me to taste-test before Judson took the 3-layer cake to work. Made as above, your cake will only deliver two layers and will thus be slightly shorter than my finished, triple-layer version.