Recipe #17: Devil’s Food Layer Cake

As soon as I began this blog, I was excited to share it with my dear friend, Kathleen, in San Francisco.  If anyone in the world loves Tartine like I do, it’s her.  Dan and I would often go over to Kathleen and Brett’s place for dinner.  We’d all devour a loaf of Tartine bread before a meal, and would insist we’d all be happy if that was the entire meal.  When I shared the excitement about this new project of baking everything from the Tartine cookbook over the next year, Kathleen lamented that she wanted to bake something with me, but sadly, we were so far apart – the kind of sad that moves you to look up at the moon at the same time like Fievel Mousekewitz and his little mouse sister and sing...somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight, someone’s thinking of me…

When a trip to San Francisco arose, I gave Kathleen full reign to choose what she wanted to help bake.  ”Whatever the chocolatey cake is.”  And so, that’s the route we took, and the first thing I did when I arrived.  Well, I guess the second thing.  We hit up In-N-Out between the airport and her place.

If you were to ever make such a cake, you might be surprised thinking, “Wow.  That’s a lot of cocoa and sugar.”  But c’mon, you’re baking a chocolate cake.  Of course there’s a lot of those things. 

Sifting dry ingredients with a fine mesh sieve. 

Perfect cake batter, if I do say so myself.

At this point the cakes went into the oven.  This is probably the most daunting moment as a baker, when you’ve put a good amount of effort into something, and you know that you’ve only completed a fraction of the full task at hand.  We still needed to make caramel, chocolate ganache, cut the cakes into appropriate layers, spread the layers, let it chill in the refrigerator, bake the crumbs for the crumb coating, and then crumb coat the cake. 

I’d made the caramel before (for that amazing banana cream pie!), which should mean making it a second time would be old hat.  The act of catching up with a friend in person, though, may have hindered my attention to detail.  The lemon juice was added prematurely.  Maybe this affected the outcome?  Maybe it didn’t boil quite long enough? Regardless, it tasted delicious, but just not like it did the first time I made it.

As long as you read the directions, and have two pots, caramel is quite easy to make.  

If we really wanted our cake to look like it convincingly came out of the Tartine bakery, we would have been a little more precise when cutting the layers, and we’d trim the sides once the layers were put together.  Instead, we dangerously used the sharp knife to trim not-so-even layers, and laughed hysterically while Kathleen’s husband, Brett, took hundreds (yes, no exaggeration there) of pictures of us at work.  

Kathleen at the helm, making chocolate ganache.  Yet another very simple thing to whip up that screams, “I’m fancy!”

Between each layer of unevenly cut cake, lies caramel and ganache.  

I’d never made a crumb coating for a cake.  It makes sense, though.  Nothing goes to waste!  You trim the cake then bake the trimmed portions so they’re these delicious crunchy crumbs.  You’re supposed to put the crumbs through a sieve, but it was after ten o’clock at night and we just really wanted it to be finished so we could eat it!

While it doesn’t look exactly like the pristine cakes you find at the actual bakery, this cake tasted really good.  We all ate our slices late at night, giving our own kitchen notes and tweaks for the next time we make this cake.  A major consensus: more ganache and caramel.  We did have a lot left over, which should have been a sign at the time to slap it on the cake.  Their adorable little daughter gets a slice packed in her lunch today, Brett and Kathleen probably had some for breakfast, and now I am off to Four Barrel (where Brett works!) to go laugh with them about last night’s cake-making adventures.

The most perfect pairing.