My favorite story illustrating the inventiveness of fans making requests comes from a Violent Femmes concert. The Violent Femmes made famous a number of songs suggestive or outright sexual in nature. But then they became Born Again Christians and had a hard time loosening up at the few shows they played since this transformation.

One night, after informing the crowd that they would not only not play said famous songs, but they would stop playing altogether if the crowd didn’t quiet down, a paper cup landed on stage. Attached to the cup was a plain string.

Do you remember this sound science experiment from elementary school?

A fan deep within the crowd held the other cup. Into it they whispered a request. Through the string was sent the quietest of questions.

Flattered and wowed by the silly, practical, respectful inventiveness of the method, the Violent Femmes played a song they would never have otherwise.

To this end I bring you a recipe, at the bequest of one Eggbeater reader; a chocolate cake for all occasions. I think she was asking for the sister cake to the best yellow cake ever, but this one came to mind.

Devil’s Food Cake relies on some very particular science for all that it is and will become. A chocolate cake of deep blackness, moist light crumb and chocolaty perfume, is actually devoid of chocolate proper. It is said that the infamous Red Velvet Cake is really Devil’s Food Cake before cocoa was very good. *For this reason, and others soon to be explained, it is of utmost importance that you use alkalized, European cocoa when making this cake. The all natural stuff will produce something that will not be able to be called cake. (It will not rise.)

As I have explained before in other posts about particular recipes, baking is a science reliant upon knowing exactly what role each ingredient plays to create the outcome, the final performance. Devil’s Food Cake is about the reaction between acid (cocoa, buttermilk, baking soda, coffee) leaveners (baking soda, baking powder) and heat (temp of the coffee and oven.) The structure, albeit bare and tender, comes from cake flour and the whites in the eggs. Richness is added to the cocoa with butter, a few extra yolks add fat without more butter, which would weigh down the rise.

A little known fact: cocoa has no flavor, no perfume, until introduced to a heat source.

And without further words I give you,


1 C Sugar
12 Tablespoons Cocoa*
3/4 Cup Cake flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 each Egg
2 each Egg Yolks
1/2 Cup Hot Coffee
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
5 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, cubed
Splash Vanilla Extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F Place oven rack in middle of oven.
2. Butter and flour 9″ round cake pan or individual ramekins. If you have parchment paper, cut out a circle and place on bottom of buttered pan. Butter and flour over parchment, if using.
3. In one big bowl sift cocoa, sugar, cake flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add salt to this, whisk to achieve a uniform mixture, and create a “well” in center.
4. Brew coffee, measure and drop cubed butter in hot liquid, whisk to melt and combine. (Do not let mixture cool too much.)
5. Pour cracked egg and yolks into well, whisk briefly. Pour in coffee-melted butter mixture, whisk briefly, pour in buttermilk and then whisk thoroughly to incorporate all dries. Attempt to eliminate any lumps. Add splash of vanilla extract.
6. Batter will be very loose, pourable.
7. Pour batter into prepared baking vessel(s) and set on a baking pan. (This insures heat will be better distributed than if you just put the cake pan directly on the rack of the oven.) Set first timer for 20 minutes. At the 20 minute mark, turn pan around, and set timer for another 10-15 minutes. (If you choose not to turn pan around it will most probably rise lopsided.) **Cake is done when skewer or sharp knife inserted in middle comes out clean and/or when sides pull away from pan and middle bounces back to the touch.
8. Cool cake pan on cooling rack until room temperature. Turn cake out to cool more or serve.

**I don’t like to say how long a cake will take to bake. It depends on your oven, how long it needs to preheat, how hot your kitchen is, and the weight/material of your cooking vessel(s).

Because Devil’s Food Cake is very chocolatey, but almost as light as Angel Food Cake, it can stand to be served with much richer items like ice cream, ganache or mousse. For a foolproof chocolate frosting click here.

Devil’s Food Cake tastes good the day it’s made, but if you can muster the will power, this recipe tastes even better the next day or a few days later, refigerated. It’s the only cake I know that gets better with cold and age. The crumb is denser after a few days in the icebox, but nonetheless delicious.

Devil’s Food Cake 9 April,2008Shuna Fish Lydon

  • Amy Sherman

    This recipe is tortuous during Passover! But thanks for explaining red velvet cake, I never got why a whole bottle of food coloring was added to the batter.

    p.s. I’m glad I saw the Violent Femmes back when they were still heathens. They weren’t quite devilishly good but fun nonetheless.

  • shuna fish lydon


    Yes, sorry. A commenter on eggbeater told me this morning:
    “Reform Jews will break Passover on Monday evening April 9, 2007. Israeli, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews will break Passover on Tuesday evening, April 10, 2007.”

    Well soon, my dear, soon…

  • ~M

    Actually, Israel breaks Passover a day earlier than everywhere else (with the notable exception of Rosh Hashannah (Jewish New Year), Israel celebrates one day less of many holidays). You can see here a list of the end dates for in Israel versus outside of Israel.

    Shuna: Do you have any experience with gluten-free flours? If so, I would like to hear about it! Thanks!

  • Anita

    Hmm, I have some buttermilk sitting in the fridge that needs a recipe. 😀

  • shuna fish lydon


    thanks for the clarification on Passover in Israel.

    As for gluten free baking I am far from an expert. Try searching around the sites of these two prolific writers,


    Good luck!

  • joanna

    This has been the birthday cake of the month le my cake-eating circle of friends And my sister made it last night for my bro-in-law’s bday tomorrow. She made it purposefully ahead of time, per your comments on how much better it is on the 2nd or 3rd day. Just wanted to let you know the recipe did NOT fall upon deaf ears – we’ve been getting a good deal of mileage out of it up here. Thanks for answering my request!lexi

  • tastegoblet

    I made these twice alrede in the space of one week! Thanks for sharing a lovely recipe.. I love that the cake is not too sweet, which means I can pair it with richer, sweeter frostings without worry.

  • Gara

    I just wanted to add another emphatic “Thank you!” for sharing this recipe. I’ve made this at least 6 or 8 times now for birthdays and other occasions, to rave reviews everytime. For the amazing wow factor this cake brings, it’s pretty easy to make! Thanks for sharing it!


Shuna Fish Lydon

Shuna fish Lydon was whisked and baked in San Francisco but served and eaten in New York City. She’s had a 16 year tumultuous love affair with professional cooking and has BFA in photography from CCAC.

Working with and for some of the best chefs in NYC and California, Shuna’s resume reads like the who’s who of cooking today. She identifies as a fruit-inspired pastry chef and calls the many local farmers’ markets her muse.

Currently “at large,” Shuna spends her time teaching baking and knife skills classes, consulting at local restaurants and writing for a number of outlets about deliciousness.

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