The Pantry: Dark Chocolate Decadence

Caveat:  This cake is to die for, and this post almost killed me.

When I asked my husband what kind of dessert he wanted for our 10th wedding anniversary dinner, without any hesitation, he responded, “Chocolate cake.”  The thing was that I’d never made a chocolate cake in any way other than out of the box, and I didn’t want this cake to come from a box.  I’m weird that way, I know.  But I like to cook, so whaddaya gonna do?

I knew I wanted something impressive, and eventually I found myself flipping through a dessert cookbook from the local library—Bill Yosses’  A Perfect Finish.  It was there that I found his recipe for “Red Eye Devil’s Food Cake.”*    I was sold.  However, I didn’t want to put it together in quite the same way he did, so I did what we all do—I adapted.

The only part of this cake that is completely mine is the mocha buttercream frosting that I put between some of the layers.  I’ve linked to Yosses’ recipe below, so that you can get the specifics on making and baking instructions for the original cake and ganache.

That said, here goes.  It’s a long and involved process, but if you are looking for the ultimate chocolate indulgence, and you have a special occasion coming up, this is certainly what you want to make.  Or better yet, have someone make it for you.

I must tell you that when I first read Bill Yosses’ cookbook, I said to my husband, “If we ever get the chance, I want to eat wherever this guy,” emphatically waving the cookbook under my husband’s nose, “makes dessert!”  This morning I found out that Bill Yosses is currently the White House’s executive pastry chef.  Heh.  Somehow, I think I won’t be eating one of his desserts anytime in the near future.

(Yay!  An excuse to bust out an old DC photo from our trip.)

Somehow, knowing that, I don’t feel quite as bad that my version wasn’t as beautifully decorated as his.

Yeah.  You so want to try this cake.

Dark Chocolate Decadence

The Cake: Bill Yosses’ Red Eye Devil’s Food Cake


3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups strong brewed coffee

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature


Making the Cake:

Since I wanted this cake to be as perfect as as I could possibly make it, I didn’t just go with what was in the pantry.  I bought a new bags and containers of flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  Completely unnecessary, I’m sure, but I did it anyway.  I have to say, though,  the King Arthur flour I bought has to be the lightest, softest flour that I have ever used in my life.  I may have been converted from my die-hard White Lily days.

Anyway.  I started the baking process by measuring (just scoop and level style– I didn’t do anything fancy) and sifting my dry ingredients.  My sifter was a little small, so I had to work with the flour mixture a little bit at a time.   And don’t worry.  I didn’t add any pretzels into the mix.

Once I’d sifted the dry stuff, I set to work on creaming the butter and sugar, then mixing in the eggs.  Truth is, the mixture shouldn’t be that crumbly.  I didn’t let the butter soften enough, and I just dumped the butter and sugar together at once instead of whipping the butter up first, then adding the sugar.  I was sort of impatient.  Sort of.  I’m not a baking expert, so I’m sure this caused all sorts of ill-effects for the cake in the end, but I didn’t notice anything amiss.  I added the eggs one at a time, and the batter smoothed itself out nicely.

While sifting up  dry ingredients and creaming butter and sugar, I brewed some coffee and mixed it with a cup of cocoa powder.  The recipe in the book only called for 8 ounces of strongly brewed coffee, while the website called for 16 ounces.  I went with 16.  I also didn’t want to add just plain old coffee, so I settled on a hazlenut cream.  Nutella anyone?   Oh, and I went for decaf.

I let the coffee-cocoa cool down to room temperature while I added half of the sifted flour mixture to the butter-batter.  Then I slowly poured the coffee-cocoa into the batter.  The smell.  Oh.My.Goodness.  It was…Oh.My.Goodness.

After adding the coffee mixture, I mixed in the remainder of the flour mixture.  When I was done, it was like light, fluffy pudding.

I’m totally convinced that this was due to the flour.  I’ll have to use some in another recipe to make sure, but it had to be the flour.

Then I lined 2 pans with cooking spray, parchment paper, and more cooking spray, and I baked ’em for the suggested times at the suggested temperatures (see Yosses’ recipe* for more information on that).

Once everything was baked properly and my house smelled like a coffeehouse minus the hipsters, I let the cakes cool.  Then I removed them from their pans, peeled off the parment paper, and let them cool some more.  Ultimately they ended up wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and were placed in a plastic tub I had left over from some Christmas cookies sent to us this winter.

It was the only thing I could think of that would keep them from accidentally being crushed by little hands that shove things into the refrigerator willy-nilly.  Why yes, I am talking about myself.  What, you thought my children would do those things?  Perish the thought.

Then I got to breathe.

I’m not kidding.

This cake is absolutely divine, but it was a little labor intensive.  Though, if I’m going to be completely honest here, dealing with the photos and writing it all up is proving to take more time than actually making the cake did.

Have I ever mentioned how impatient I am?  Surely, I have.  Well, that was the worst part.  The waiting.  I had to wait for the cakes to bake.  Wait for the cakes to cool.  Wait for the ganache to set.  Wait for the ganache to cool.  Wait for the ganache to reset.  Wait, wait, wait, wait wait.

There was a lot of waiting.

Moving on.

The next morning, I realized that I own no fancy cake decorating equipment, so  I stole the bottom of my springform pan, made a parchment circle and stuck that on the pan instead of using a cardboard round.

That done, it was time to split this puppy into layers.  The recommendation of the recipe: 4 layers.  My experience?  I got each large layer split into 3 sections that were a little more than 1/4 of an inch each after all was said and done.

I have no earthly idea how he managed 4.  If I were to guess, though, I’d say that’s why he’s the Executive Pastry Chef at the White House and I am not.  Well, that and about a billion other reasons–like the fact that I completely lack patience and do things like eat my lima beans from a can and enjoy gauche food from the 1960’s (ambrosia, anyone?).    Take that Top Chef Masters.  Okay.  So, I digress.  Did I mention that I’m writing this at 3 am?  Writing time is hard to come by sometimes.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.  Time for the ganache.

Bill Yossen’s Chocolate Ganache:

14 ounces coarsely chopped extra bitter chocolate 70% cacao

3 cups heavy cream

I will tell you that this stuff was easy to make, and I didn’t use the 70% cacao because, well, I couldn’t find any at our local box store.  I went with Ghirardelli’s  60% bittersweet.  It turned out to be rich enough.  Dark enough to appease me.  I regulary like the stuff in the *80-90% range.  However, it was also appealing to the littluns’ that ate with us.

The ganache was super simple, and you can find how to make it anywhere.  I just brought the cream to a bare boil, and I chopped up the chocolate while I waited.

Then I poured the hot cream over the chocolate, let it sit for a few minutes,

and then stirred.   Note to you, my lovely, lovely people…don’t use a whisk to stir the chocolate.

Use a fork.  It’ll be easier that way.  I promise.

This is what hot cocoa on crack would look like.  Uhhh.  And for clarification, that IS powdered sugar in the bowl back there.

Once the ganache was done, I worked on the yummy Mocha Frosting part.

The original recipe called for simply filling each layer with chocolate ganache.  This, of course, wasn’t enough for me.  I’d seen pictures of multi-layered cakes with different types of frosting between each layer, and I knew that was where it was at.  What to do?  Well, there was coffee already in the cake, why not stick some in the frosting, too?  I mean, what could it hurt?  So I made up a small batch– no reason to overdo things– of mocha buttercream.

Here’s the skinny…uhhh, the lowdown, yeah…

My Mocha Buttercream Frosting


½ cup butter, softened

1-2 cups confectioner’s sugar, divided

1 tsp instant coffee granules

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tbsp chocolate ganache**


In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip butter on high speed until smooth and fluffy.

Slowly add 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar, then the coffee granules and vanilla extract.

Once that is combined,

add the chocolate ganache.

Then, a little bit at a time, add the remaining confectioner’s sugar.  I used almost all of the two cups, but it’s really a matter of taste.

And you really should taste it.  Preferably on a piece of the cake that you’ve shaved off from the layers to, uh, make it even.

**I used the ganache because I was making a recipe that had ganache.  If you aren’t, I see no reason that you couldn’t just use room temperature hot fudge sauce or even chocolate syrup.

Now I had to put it all back together again.

With the layering, you must understand that  my idea was to do cake, ganache, frosting, cake, ganache, frosting, and so forth.  That didn’t work.  My ganache just mixed with my frosting…mostly because I am impatient and I didn’t want to cool the ganache just yet.  What does that mean?

Well, it meant that I did cake, weird hybrid of ganache and mocha frosting, cake, mocha, cake, ganache, cake, mocha, cake, mocha, and then cake.  It worked, and ended up looking sort of pretty.

Then I slathered the whole thing in warm ganache and stuck it in the fridge.  Isn’t it lop-sidedly lovely?  Like my makeshift rotating cake stand?  We’re first class here in the Spell Kitchen.  Yes, we are.  My confidence was starting to wane a little at this point.  Just a little.

Okay.  A lot.  My confidence was waning a lot.

The cake went on a domed pedastal, and I prayed the condensation wouldn’t destroy the chocolate– it didn’t– and the ganache got a layer of plastic wrap.  Then I called the whole thing a day and vowed to never look at, smell, or taste chocolate again.

The next day…three days…it took me three days…

I decorated.

I have to tell you that as I was running this marathon of a cake making session, I was feeling pretty good about the pictures and how things were turning out.  I was planning for this entry… of course, I didn’t know then that it’d be a million words long and take me more than a week to write… and I was hoping for some shots of an elegant confection that would make everyone drool like Pavlov’s pooch.  That is, until I got to this point.  Then I was convinced that I’d get a primetime shot at being featured on the Cake Wrecks website.

Obviously, I have a lot to learn about decorating.

I took the chilled ganache, dumped it in the mixer, and whipped it until it was light and fluffy.

It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!

It looks pretty awful, doesn’t it?

I pulled that cake out of the fridge and went after it.  It was not good.  I covered it.  I was very unhappy.

Then I remembered a trick I picked up somewhere about dipping the pastry knife in hot water to melt the icing to make it smooth.  So I ran some water through the coffee pot, dumped it in a mug, and set to work.

It worked.  Sort of.

So, I thought, I’ll pipe something pretty around the edges.  So I did.

Then I piped more.

Then chocolate started pouring all over my floor because the ganache had melted in my hands.

Then my cake started to melt…and to slide.

This was not at all what I had planned.

I threw it all back into the fridge and came back to it a little while later, and I finished.  If it looked bad…eh…it’d still taste good.  Besides.  I didn’t go to culinary school and I’m not baking for world-class dignitaries.  Right?

I finished icing it, and I topped it with shaved chocolate from the remainder of the baking bars.  I think it was at this point that I had stopped testing the icing and the frosting, and the cake pieces, and the bits of chocolate.  By now, I’d vowed never to eat chocolate again.  Not like that vow would last, but at that moment I meant for it to last forever.  I’ve since renounced.

So anyway, I stuck it in all back in the fridge, praying, as I put the domed cover back on the cake stand, that I wouldn’t smush all of my hard work.  Work that already looked smushed and didn’t need any more…ahem…help.

Later that day, I removed it from the fridge and we devored it that night.  Surprisingly enough, it looked better than it had before.  Maybe it was the shaved chocolate on top.  Maybe it was the company.  Maybe it was my perspective.  Maybe it was the fact that the guests only saw it once it had been sliced and served.  Or maybe it was the wine.  Who knows?

It looked beautiful and tasted even better.

I promise it’s the same cake as that melted, poorly decorated thing you saw above.

See the awful piping job?  Doesn’t look so bad as a slice.

It’s also amazing what a sheet and an old lace curtain can do to hide the rest of the house–and a cat who knows he’s not supposed to be on the table.

It’s all about perspective.

Bless you if you managed to read all of that.

Over and out.

For now.

Yield: 16 slices that were probably 3,000 calories a spoonful (Just kidding.  I really don’t know how many calories they were, and I don’t wanna know, so keep it to yourself.)


*For detailed instructions on how to make the cake and ganache, please find yourself a copy of Bill Yosses’ book, The Perfect Finish.  This is not a paid advertisement; Bill Yosses doesn’t know or care who I am– though I wouldn’t mind if he did.  Maybe he’d make me that “Apple ‘Conversation'” or some of those “Orange Spiced Doughnuts” he shows off in his book.   In any event, you’re looking for his recipe for “Red Eye Devil’s Food Cake.”  If you don’t want to pick up the book, you can currently find the recipes online the Leite’s Culinaria website:


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