20th century, baking, dessert, family, settlement cookbook, summer

Devil’s cake no. 1

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday! I turned 27, just a few weeks after this blog turned 2. In between melting in the 90-degree heat and dashing through torrential rainstorms (yes, it was an eventful day, weather-wise), I enjoyed a pastry from my favorite bakery, assembled a Settlement birthday cake, and tried out a new restaurant with Josh. I can now say definitively that lots of food-related activities make for one delicious birthday.

Now, let’s get serious about this birthday cake. My father loves buying cake. And I mean, he loves it. He buys decorated cakes (vanilla or yellow, with buttercream frosting) from Giant Eagle for every occasion he can think of: birthdays, Mother’s Day, the Fourth of July…you name it, he celebrates it. Once my dad even bought a cake to celebrate my birthday when I wasn’t even going to be home on the occasion. You get the picture: my family can be depended upon to have a bit of store-bought cake hanging out in the freezer at any given time.

However, I haven’t enjoyed Giant Eagle cake since middle school. I’m not sure why, but for some reason the frosting and consistency of the cake just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve tried a few different solutions, like cherry pie (to which my dad cried, “but it’s not a real birthday without cake!”), and a marble cake in the hopes that chocolate would be tastier (our dog pulled it off the counter and ate it). Somewhere down the line I gave up and decided that making my own cake would be the easiest solution. But I haven’t found the perfect recipe yet.

This year, I tried a recipe from The “Settlement” Cook Book, partly to kill two birds with one baking pan. It wasn’t a total success; devil’s food cake from 1903 is decidedly less chocolatey than our modern-day palates would like, and the method of making the frosting felt very old-fashioned. But it’s still tasty, and a perfectly fine way to celebrate another birthday.

Devil’s Cake No. 1
(from The “Settlement” Cook Book)

for the cake:
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 tbsp water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg yolk (reserve the white for the frosting)
2 cups flour

for the frosting:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 egg white, beaten
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla

To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two 8-inch round pans and set aside.

In a small pan over low heat, melt the chocolate, water, and sugar together, stirring until dissolved. Add the butter and stir until blended. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a separate, large bowl, combine the buttermilk, baking soda, and egg yolk, beating well to blend. Add the cooled chocolate and beat well. In a few strokes, add the flour until just combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

To make the frosting:
Heat the water in a small pan over medium heat until just boiling, then add the sugar and stir. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, heat the mixture slowly without stirring to the boiling point. Let syrup cook until it forms a thread when drizzled from a spoon, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until well-blended.

When the syrup is ready, quickly add the cream of tartar to the egg white and beat to combine with a fork or whisk. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate syrup and beat well. Add vanilla and beat again. Let the mixture cool, placing in the fridge if necessary.

When ready to frost, stir the frosting once more. Turn one cake out onto a plate and frost evenly, then place the other cake on top. Spread remaining frosting with a knife or spoon.


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