Thursday, March 27, 2014

Devil's Food Cake With Caramel, A La Tartine Bakery

Sometimes words fail to convey the enormity of a situation.  In the case of the alluring Devil’s Food Cake from Tartine Bakery, I’ll let this photo speak for itself.


This recipe knocks it out of the park each time. I made it twice within a week earlier this month, and it provoked similar reactions on both occasions.  Forks crashed onto plates.  Knees buckled. Gasps of surprise mingled with moans of delight. I had people already coming back for seconds as I was still slicing up the cake—a wild pleading look in their eyes as they extended their plates towards me—long before I’d had a chance to try a forkful myself, much less grab my camera.  Everyone gobbled up this chocolate madness so enthusiastically at both parties that only a modest wedge remained for its close-up.

I’d call that a home run.

I first experienced this cake several years ago at the justifiably famed Tartine Bakery during my annual San Francisco pilgrimage.  It was so compelling and crave-worthy, standing out even amidst all of the other confectionary beauties in the bakery's impressive display cases.  I was exceedingly grateful that Tartine had published the recipe in their cookbook, and I immediately baked a version of it myself upon my return home.

Devil's Food Cake in upper left corner, Tartine Bakery, SF on 8/27/10

The dark chocolate butter cake, sliced horizontally into four thin layers, is not overly sweet and has a beautiful texture.  It is moist but with good enough structure to support a modest-yet-rich layer of salted caramel spread over each layer.  This in turn is topped with a thin smear of bittersweet ganache, and the entire cake is enveloped in this dark ganache.  A generous sprinkling of toasted cake crumbs creates a velvety finish, similar to a Brooklyn Blackout Cake. 

In a feat of culinary magic, the caramel intensifies the deep cocoa quality, somehow making it taste more insistently chocolaty than if the cake had merely been filled and frosted with chocolate alone.

It is the perfect marriage between salty and sweet, achieving an excellent balance of tender cake with just a hint of gooey caramel inside. And I love the contrast of silky ganache with the subtle crunch of toasted cake crumbs.

This chocoholic’s fantasy is a seriously indulgent cake that inspires superlatives and gushing praise from those who are lucky enough to experience it.  It has become legendary amongst certain circles of my friends, with many declaring it the best cake they’ve ever tasted.  In fact, one friend still talked so rhapsodically about this devil’s food cake years after she’d first tasted it, so much so that her relatives commissioned me to make it for her baby shower this month.  (See the previous post for fun cake decorating ideas!)

Yes, it’s a bit labor-intensive, but you will score major points and have considerable bargaining power after you make this for your loved ones.  A cake so indulgent and ridiculous, it will make you roar with delight and beg for more.  It will haunt your dreams. It might be worth making a deal with the devil, just to have another slice.

One Year Ago: Houston's Kale Salad With Peanut Vinaigrette (my most popular post ever!)
Two Years Ago: Guinness Gingerbread Cake
Three Years Ago: Carla Hall's Asparagus Soup
Five Years Ago: Radish Canapes With Avocado

Adapted slightly from the recipe in Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson

I have tweaked the recipe just a bit from the original, decreasing the amount of sugar in the cake, adjusting the proportions for the ganache and specifying a dark bittersweet chocolate for the ganache rather than a semi-sweet one.  I find the original recipe’s caramel too sweet for my taste, so I’ve replaced a bit of corn syrup with a touch of honey and turned this into a salted caramel with a generous teaspoon of sea salt.  I think it contrasts beautifully with the darkness of the chocolate cake and ganache.  This cake tastes best at room temperature.

Note: You can adorn the cake simply with the chocolate ganache, but I love it with a fine dusting of finely ground chocolate crumbs made from the cake trimmings.

For the cake:
1 – ¾ cups all-purpose flour
4 – ½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 – ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 – 1/3 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 – ¼ cups buttermilk, well-shaken

For the caramel:
2/3 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 - ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter, diced

For the ganache:
20 ounces bittersweet chocolate (between 66% and 70% cocoa content), chopped
2 – ½  cups heavy cream

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans, tapping out the excess flour.  Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit exactly.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed till light and fluffy.  (You can also do this with a hand-held electric mixer, which may take just a little bit longer.) Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat till light-colored and well incorporated.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops with your spatula.  Bake for about 45 minutes, switching the position of the pans midway through the baking time.  The cakes are done when the top springs back when lightly pressed and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Transfer the pans to a cooling rack and let the cakes cool completely in their pans.

When the cakes have cooled, turn them out onto the baking rack and remove the parchment paper from the bottoms.  Use a serrated knife to slice off the domed part of the cake to make the tops flat.  If you are decorating the cake with the crumbs (see the Note above), reserve these slices for the decoration.

Prepare the cake crumbs (if using):
Preheat the oven to 250°.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. 

Break these reserved slices into several pieces and place them on the prepared baking sheet.  Toast the cake slices till they have dried out, about 1 hour, turning the pieces over once halfway through the baking time.

Let cool completely, then pulverize the toasted cake pieces in a food processor or blender until they become fine crumbs.  Set aside.

Make the caramel:
Measure the cream into a glass-measuring cup and stir in the vanilla.  Keep the cream nearby as you make the caramel.

Combine the sugar, water, salt and honey in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.  Let it cook, undisturbed, until the sugar begins to caramelize to a deep amber color, which will take between 5 to 8 minutes.  (Watch it very carefully as it can go from golden to totally burnt if you’re not looking.)  

When the caramel reaches a dark amber color, pull the pan off the heat and immediately pour in the cream very carefully.  The mixture will bubble quite vigorously at first.  Whisk the mixture until it is smooth, then stir in the lemon juice.  Let it stand for 10 minutes, and then whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Continue to whisk periodically as it cools.

Make the ganache:
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a large heatproof mixing bowl.  Heat the cream in a small heavy saucepan just before it comes to a boil.  Immediately pour the cream over the chopped chocolate, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 5 minutes, letting the hot cream melt the chocolate.  Remove the plastic wrap and gently stir in concentric circles with a heatproof rubber spatula, until all the cream and chocolate are incorporated into a silky smooth ganache. Set aside.

Assemble the cake:
Using a serrated knife carefully cut each cake layer horizontally in two to make four thin layers of cake in total.  Place the bottom layer on a serving platter, and arrange four strips of wax around the cake to protect your serving plate from any dribbles of chocolate or caramel that might drip down onto it.

Use an offset spatula (or your favorite butter knife) to spread a thin layer of caramel evenly over the first layer, about 3+ tablespoons worth.  Top this with a very thin layer of the soft chocolate ganache, spreading very carefully over the caramel.  Top with a second cake layer, followed by another thin layer of caramel and topped with chocolate ganache.  Repeat with a third layer of cake, caramel and ganache.  Top with the fourth cake layer, then refrigerate until the cake seems firm, about 1 to 2 hours.  Leave the remaining ganache at room temperature until you’re ready to finish the cake.

Remove the cake from the fridge.  Frost the cake with the rest of the ganache, using an offset spatula to thinly coat the top and sides. 

If you are coating the cake with the toasted crumbs, make sure the ganache is still soft enough so the crumbs will stick. (If it has hardened, use a kitchen torch—or even a hair dryer!—to soften it slightly, or put the whole cake in a warm oven for 10 seconds or so until the chocolate ganache looks shiny.)  Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of the cake, then tilt and turn the cake so that they fall down over the sides.  I propped up my cake platter about an inch with a folded tea towel so that the cake was slightly angled, and then I spooned crumbs onto the sides, using my cupped palm to gently press them into the sides.  I continued around the cake this way, carefully turning the platter until I had covered all the sides of the cake with the crumbs.

Serve the cake at room temperature.  This is an extremely rich cake, and you can easily get 12 to 16 servings from it, possibly more if you cut very thin slices.

To store the cake, cover it tightly with a cake dome and keep it in a cool place for up to 4 days, no refrigeration necessary.  


AAA said...

I really appreciate the photos and step-by-step, Louise. I can't wait to try this cake. J.A. saw me looking at the post and said "OMG, THAT is the cake she made for my birthday and it is to DIE for. That sealed it….. I gotta try this recipe! Thank you!

Ihjaz Ahmad said...

Oh my goodness, this looks delicious! I’m definitely making this! thanks for sharing!

Rachel Page said...

Oh boy - this looks amazing! I can't wait to try it.

Mike W said...

Hello! I've made the Tartine devil's food cake twice, both times directly as written in the book. Both times it fell in the center. Not horribly, but enough to make me wonder about the recipe's proportions. Using the information in Bakewise by Shirley Corriher, it looks like the sugar content is at the very high end of what might be workable. Did you experience similar problems, and is this why you reduced the sugar?


Matt said...

Thanks. I was looking for an amazing chocolate cake to experiment with layers of coconut. This one will work great.

Anonymous said...

I just love it! I'll try it on my dad's birthday.

I've got only one question... for the caramel: what "cream" are your talking about?
(sorry i'm Foreigner so we don't have those different creams here)

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

This cake is delicious and elegant! Very nice textured cake! Although the ganache and caramel were room temperature, I had a lot of leaking down the sides of the cake, so much so that I was concerned there would be none left in the layers! After it was refrigerated for a few hours I was able to spackle it back up the sides before the final ganache layer was applied. Next time I will refrigerate the caramel and the ganache until it is much thicker and does not run.