devil’s food cake

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Forgive me.

My mother watched a lot of soaps when I was growing up.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

What I’m trying to say is, time is marching on and I’m officially older now than I was when I wrote my last post.

About two weeks ago I celebrated my birthday.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Those of you who’ve been reading along with me for a bit probably know that I look at my birthday as an excuse to make a big ass fancy layer cake.
I’ve heard it all before about how I’m not “supposed to” bake my own birthday cake, but the fact of the matter is that I enjoy baking a good cake almost as much as I enjoy eating one. A grocery store birthday cake pales in comparison to what I can bake myself, and I’d rather bake my own cake than shell out good money for something I’m not going to love.

I bake so many bundt cakes around here that I also relish the opportunity to go all out with sky high layers of cake stacked up with fillings and icings and glazes and decorations and candles, so that kind of seals the deal for me. I bake my own birthday cake, and I like it. So there.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

You’ll also know, if you’ve been reading along with me for a while, that I have a tendency to get inside my own head and overthink things. Like seriously overthink things.

To that end, I’ll be the first to confess that I’ve been planning this cake for at least 6 months. Initially I was thinking about posting this cake, or at least a version of it, around Christmas. When that didn’t work out I thought I’d make it for Russell’s birthday in January. That didn’t end up happening either, so I’ve been sitting on the idea ever since.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

My initial thought was a high contrast black and white cake with layers of deep dark chocolate cake, bright white icing, and glossy dark chocolate ganache. In some circles on the internet this contrasting black on white on black cake is called a “Tuxedo Cake”. Considering my name is Tux, I was all over that business.

Thing is, something magical happened along the way that made me rethink the white in my “tuxedo”.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few months ago some friends came to visit us, one of whom happens to be from England and also happened to be celebrating a birthday while he was here. Before his wife finished the sentence, “Tomorrow’s his birth…”, I was in the kitchen preheating the oven.

They were out of the house a lot while they were here, off doing the tourist circuit, and since I didn’t know exactly when they’d be around I opted for cupcakes rather than a big formal layer cake. Since I was baking cupcakes, and since our friend is British, I wanted to go for a kind of American kid’s birthday party theme.
I decided to reimagine my funfetti cake recipe as cupcakes, but wanted to skip the American buttercream frosting and go for something a bit more subtle and a bit less sugary. I thought I’d adapt the mascarpone icing from the gingersnap icebox cake I made last December, but add some strawberries to it to make it fit better with the funfetti cake.
(Have I mentioned that I have a tendency to overthink things sometimes?)

To concentrate the flavor of the strawberries and make them less watery I decided to cook them down a bit with some sugar before mixing them into the icing.
At first I worried that I’d cooked the strawberries too long and was disappointed that they ended up tasting kind of jammy rather than super fresh like I’d hoped, but I forged ahead anyway and once I’d mixed them into the mascarpone and whipped cream…
HOLY SHIT.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Where do I begin?

This icing basically tastes like the freshest, creamiest strawberry ice cream you’ve ever had, but with the texture of fluffy whipped cream. It’s stable enough to be used as a cake icing as well, and just sweet enough to bring out the sweetness of the strawberries without being overly sugary or cloying.

After one bite, all of my big birthday cake plans changed.

My black and white tuxedo cake would be getting a chichi pink makeover.

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

As much as I’d like to, you can’t have an entire birthday party and serve nothing but cake, so with the cake as the pièce de résistance we decided to have a barbecue. An amazing sustainably sourced organic butcher recently opened near us, so we got a bunch of homemade bratwurst for the grill and called the whole shindig a “sausage party”.

Still on our German kick after our recent trip to Berlin, we went all out with German potato salad, and gurkensalit (cucumber salad), sauerkraut, and whole grain german mustard. I even drank beer for the night! (I usually stick to wine or whiskey).

The food was a huge hit, and while the bratwurst put up a good fight trying to be the star of the (sausage) party, my foppish pink tuxedo cake definitely stole the show!

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

The tender layers of devil’s food cake are nothing less than super rich and incredibly moist slices of dark chocolate heaven. The strawberry mascarpone icing is ethereally fluffy and impossibly creamy, and even though the strawberries are cooked down, the icing tastes bright and fresh and summery. The dark chocolate ganache is velvety and perfectly rich and bittersweet, with a lovely glossy finish thanks to a touch of honey.

To top it all off and make it feel even fancier and ever-so-slightly gaudy, I added some white candy beads in varying sizes to the top of the shiny dark ganache. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but why on earth wouldn’t you want to?

chocolate tuxedo cake with strawberry mascarpone icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Tuxedo Cake with Strawberry Mascarpone Icing and Glossy Ganache

  • Servings: 16 to 24-ish
  • Print
Devil’s Food Cake
adapted from Brooklyn Homemaker
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder (I used Double Dutch Process)
1 1/2 cups hot water (or hot brewed coffee for a richer flavor)
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour.
Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water (or coffee) until smooth and set aside.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
Beat melted butter, oil, and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low.
Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.
To achieve a perfectly flat, professional looking cake, you’ll want to slice the very tops of the cakes off to make each layer completely flat and level. You can do this using a very sharp bread knife, or a cake leveler.

If you’re not assembling cakes right away, individually wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap to prevent drying. Layers can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two, or frozen (wrapped in plastic wrap first, then aluminum foil) for up to two weeks.

Simple Syrup: (optional)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Combine both ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Strawberry Mascarpone Icing:
1 lb ripe strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 oz mascarpone cheese
pinch of salt

Hull and finely chop strawberries and place in a medium saucepan with sugar. Stir to combine and once the strawberries begin to give off liquid, transfer pan to the stovetop over medium high heat. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce to a low boil. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy and reduced by about half.
Transfer to a heatproof bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely cool. You can place it in the freezer if you’re in a hurry, but stir often and don’t let it actually freeze.
If preferred, you can substitute 1 1/2 cups good quality store bought strawberry jam to save yourself some time.

Whip cream with a mixer on high just until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla, salt, mascarpone, and strawberry mixture and beat until well combined and mixture stiffens back up. This should only take about 30 to 60 seconds. Don’t over mix or the mascarpone can become grainy. If you’re not using your icing right away you can store it in the refrigerator, but you may want to whip it for another 30 seconds just before icing the cake.

Glossy Ganache Drizzle:
4 oz good quality dark chocolate (60% works well)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
pinch salt

Chop chocolate into small, easily melted pieces and place in a heat proof bowl.
Heat heavy cream, honey, & salt in a small saucepan just until it comes to a light boil, and immediately pour directly over chocolate. Wait 2 to 3 minutes before stirring until completely smooth and melted and free of lumps. If the mixture seems very hot still it may melt the icing as you pour it so wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly. Do not let it get too cool or it will not drizzle nicely and may look messy.

*Do not make the ganache until the cake is completely iced and ready to decorate.

Decorations: (optional)
Various sizes of white candy beads, including:
white sixlets
white candy pearls (sometimes called dragees)
white nonpareils

Assemble cake: 
Place the first cake layer on an 8″ cardboard cake round, serving plate, or cake stand. Using a cake round will make it easier to ice and decorate, especially if you have a revolving turntable for decorating (I use a lazy suzan, but you can also just spin your plate or cake stand while you work).

Using a squeeze bottle or pastry brush, evenly distribute 2 or 3 tablespoons of simple syrup over the top of the cake layer. This step isn’t completely necessary but helps ensure the cake stays incredibly moist. It’s especially helpful if you’re using cake you stored in the fridge or freezer for a few days, or if you plan to wait a day or two before serving the cake.

Once the syrup has absorbed into the cake, place about 2 cups or so of icing on the first layer and spread it smooth and even using an icing spatula. It’s okay if it spreads out past the edge of the cake layer a bit. Add the next layer of cake, looking from directly over the top and from eye level at the cake to make sure each layer is directly one above the other, rotating the cake to be certain. Repeat with the simple syrup and icing again, then add the third and final layer and repeat again. Using the same amount of icing as before, start with the top of the cake but spread the icing thinner and work some of it down the sides of the cake to completely cover the whole cake in a thin, smooth, even coat of icing. This first layer of icing is called the crumb coat, and it seals the cake and keeps crumbs from being visible in the outer layer of icing.

Place the cake in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to help set the icing and firm up the cake.
After 30 minutes top the cake with about 3 to 4 cups more icing and spread it over the whole cake the same way you did the crumb coat. Start by smoothing the top and slowly work the icing down the sides to cover the cake completely. Try to get the icing as completely smooth as possible with straight sides and a flat, level top. You may have some icing left over, and I couldn’t blame you if you ate some of it with a spoon. Refrigerate the cake again for another 30 minutes (or up to a day).

Make your ganache just before you’re ready to remove the cake from the fridge.

I find it easier to get an even, professional looking drizzle by slowly pouring the ganache just around the outer edge of the top of the cake, while slowing rotating the cake. Once you’re happy with the amount of drizzle coming down the sides, use the remaining ganache to fill in the center of the top of the cake, smoothing it flat with a clean icing spatula before the ganache sets.

If you’d like to add decorations to the top of the cake, be sure to add them before the ganache sets. I used a mix a mix of multiple sizes of white candy beads, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of each, starting with the largest size and finishing with the smallest.

This cake will keep well in a cake saver at room temperature for a day or two if the weather is not too hot or humid. Otherwise, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

If refrigerating, bring cake to room temperature at least an hour before serving.

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brooklyn blackout cake

I recently went upstate to help my mom out with her new house, and while I was home I took a break to go visit my grandparents.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

My grandfather is a man of few words, and usually contributes little more to dinner table chats than some talk about his vegetable garden. One topic that always gets him talking a blue streak though, is World War II. I don’t know about you, but I think war-time stories are actually pretty fascinating, so when the conversation turned to what life was like for he and his family back then, I was thrilled.

My grandfather was born in Germany in a farming community where he and his family worked building homes and barns for the neighboring farmers. During the war when food was rationed, items like sugar, chocolate, & coffee became rare luxuries that were extremely hard to come by for civilians. Fortunately, my grandfather had family living in the US who would send care packages with items they could trade with their neighbors to help them get by. When my grandfather was fourteen years old his father refused to join the nazi party and was sent away to work in a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt. This left my grandfather, the oldest child in a large family, in charge. He told me that real coffee was so hard to come by, and in such high demand, that their local butcher once traded them 150 lbs of beef for just one pound of coffee! They grew a lot of their own vegetables, but didn’t usually get to eat much meat, so those coffee care packages meant more to their family than most of us can even understand. After the war my grandfather and many of his siblings moved to the US and settled in upstate New York, where I grew up.

When I heard Grandpa’s story, it reminded me of another story from World War II that I recently read about, the story of the Brooklyn Blackout Cake. I’ve actually been thinking about making this cake and sharing the story with you for a while now, but until my visit home I hadn’t had the inspiration I needed to take on this iconic cake.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

A mix of dutch-process and ultra-dutch black cocoa

In the U.S., just as in Germany, food was being rationed during the war and items like sugar, coffee, & chocolate were hard to come by. Chocolate was especially in short supply because much of what was produced at that time was reserved for the war effort and sent to the front. In Brooklyn, the Rockwood chocolate factory was so busy making chocolate for the war that they became the second-largest chocolate maker in the country, second only to Hershey’s. Rockwood’s government contracts made up so much of their business in fact, that about a decade or so after the war ended and the contracts expired, the company went out of business.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, only a few blocks from the chocolate factory, were surrounded by the constant smell of chocolate drifting over from Rockwood, which was a huge tease since they had such limited access to chocolate bars. At the peak of the war, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the most important naval warship building yards in the U.S., and employed over 70,000 people working in shifts 24 hours a day. The navy yard was so important to the war effort that enemy U-boats would sneak through the waters around New York hoping to sink some of the completed ships as they sailed out.

Battleships usually left the yard at night under the cover of darkness, but New York’s bright lights served as an accidental backdrop to the black silhouette of moving ships. After a few tankers were sunk in New York Harbor in January of 1942, the Civilian Defense Corps decided action needed to be taken to protect the ships. Temporary blackout drills were common in European cities to protect them from air raids, but in June 1942 much of New York, especially Brooklyn, went through a permanent ‘dim-out’ that lasted through to the end of the war. City lights were turned off, windows were covered with heavy material, and vehicles drove at night without headlights or street lamps, all to make sure no light could be seen from enemy U-boats. Even the lights of Time’s Square and the Coney Island amusement park went dark through the war. 

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

During Brooklyn’s blackout era, there was another chocolate confection maker near the Navy Yard, and this one was open to the public. Ebinger’s Bakery opened their first store in 1898 and soon swelled to a baking institution with 54 locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens. They made all of their treats from scratch daily, and gave their shops an air of authenticity by hiring shop girls with German accents. Before the war they were selling a pudding-filled three-tiered dark chocolate cake, but when the Civilian Defense Corps instituted their lights out policy, Ebinger’s decided to name their cake the “Brooklyn Blackout Cake” to show their support for the city they called home. Whether it was the deep dark chocolate-on-chocolate flavor, or their close proximity to the Navy Yard where workers were constantly smelling chocolate they couldn’t have, the cake was a huge hit. The name stuck well after the war and the cake became an iconic confection, well-known all over the country even though the Ebinger’s chain never left New York. 

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Unfortunately, a few decades later, Ebinger’s fell victim to a consumer obsession with diets and health, poor business management, and the country’s fascination with convenient supermarket shopping. The short shelf life and unhealthy ingredients in their home-baked treats couldn’t compete, and Ebinger’s went out of business on August 27, 1972. Their secret family recipes were never released, and though many have tried to replicate them, no one knows the exact details of those original recipes.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since they went bust more than a decade before I was born, I’ve never actually tasted a genuine Ebinger’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake. If you’re looking for the real, true, authentic recipe, you’ve come to the wrong place. Many bakeries and blogs have tried their best to come up with a close approximation, but since I’ve never tasted the real thing, I decided I was within my rights to take some liberties.
According to food historian Molly O’Neill, a true Brooklyn Blackout Cake consists of “…three layers of devil’s food cake sandwiching a dark chocolate pudding with chocolate frosting and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs.” I followed her guideline, but went ahead and used my own recipes for the three components.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I used my favorite recipe for Devil’s Food Cake but, in place of natural cocoa, I substituted a mix of dutch-process cocoa and ultra-dutched black cocoa to give the cake a deep dark “blackout” flavor. If you’re not familiar with black cocoa, it’s what’s used in Oreos to give them their iconic dark chocolate flavor. It can sometimes be a bit overpowering in a cake though, so I mixed it with dutch-process cocoa to mellow it out a bit. The end result is an impossibly chocolatey cake that is literally black in color. If you don’t have or can’t find black cocoa (available here), feel free to just use dutch-process cocoa. I’m positive you’ll have amazing results either way. 

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

For the pudding filling, I decided to add some espresso powder to deepen the chocolate flavor, and to bring a bit of coffee into the cake that I was inspired to bake by my grandfather’s story. If you’re not a coffee fan you could leave it out, but together with the other components, you get just a subtle hint of coffee that backs up the dark chocolatiness of the rest of the cake. To top it all off, I iced the cake with a thick, rich dark chocolate ganache. Then I covered the sides of the cake with crumbs while leaving most of the top clean to show off a swirled design in the icing.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

When making a layer cake, especially one consisting of more than two layers, I think it’s really important to level each layer of cake before assembly. I think it makes for a much more professional looking, impressive, and beautiful cake. I also like that you get an opportunity to taste the cake before serving to be certain no mistakes were made. Luckily, in this recipe, the excess cake gets put to good use too.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

To be perfectly honest, this cake is a LOT of work. Ebinger’s was making this in commercial production bakeries with lots of help, but making this yourself is a bit of an undertaking. If you’re up for the challenge though, the end result is unbelievably delicious, incredibly moist, and outrageously chocolatey. If you are as big of a fan of chocolate as I am, you’ll go crazy for this cake.

the rich, dark history of brooklyn blackout cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Brooklyn Blackout Cake


Black Devil’s Food Cake
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
3/4 cups dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 cups ultra-dutched black cocoa powder *see note
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour. Whisk together cocoa powders and hot water until smooth.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Beat oil and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.

*if you don’t have (or can’t find) black cocoa, you can just use all dutch-process instead (for a total of 1 1/2 cups cocoa)

Chocolate Pudding Filling

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1-1/2 cups whole milk
3 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small heavy saucepan, mix sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder and salt. Whisk in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate until melted. Transfer to a bowl; stir in vanilla. Cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Press plastic wrap onto surface of pudding. Refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours or until cold.

Chocolate Ganache Icing

1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz good dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat cream, sugar, and salt over medium heat until just on the verge of boiling. Place chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl and pour hot cream over it making sure all chocolate is submerged. Let sit for 2 or 3 minutes, and whisk until completely smooth and incorporated. Add vanilla and whisk well. Cover and cool until thick and spreadable. You can try to speed this up in the refrigerator, but check it frequently and be careful not to let it get too cold or it won’t be spreadable.

To assemble cake, make sure all layers, filling & icing are cool or cold. Remove the domed tops of the cake layers with a cake leveler or sharp bread knife. With clean hands, crumble up reserved cake domes into fine, relatively even crumbs, and reserve for decorating use. Place one layer on a cake plate, serving plate, or cake board. Evenly spread half of the pudding over the first layer. Top with another layer and remaining pudding. Top with third layer.

With an icing spatula, spread a thin layer of ganache over top and sides of cake, trying not to squish the pudding out from between the layers. This should take about 1/3 of your ganache. Be sure to fill in any gaps between layers and make the sides and top smooth and flat as possible. This thin layer of icing is referred to as the “crumb coat” and is meant to seal in any crumbs so they’re not seen in your final layer of icing. Refrigerate cake for 15 minutes. Spread most (or all) of remaining ganache evenly over top and sides of cake, trying to get as smooth a surface as possible. If desired, reserve some ganache for piped decoration, otherwise, slather it all on. Press the crumbs against sides of the cake until the sides are well covered. You can decorate the top with a swirl design using a small icing spatula, leave it flat and smooth, pipe a border or design, or cover the top with more crumbs.

This cake is at it’s best the day it’s baked, but can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. If refrigerated, it will need to come up to room temperature before serving.

conversation heart mini cakes

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that most people either love or hate. Usually you hate it when you’re single, and suddenly appreciate it when you’re in a relationship. Growing up gay in a small town in upstate New York, for most of my life I was on the team against this holiday. Once I started dating I began to like it, but even then usually thought of Valentine’s Day as an excuse for restaurants to pack as many couples as possible into a tight space and charge a small fortune for a “prix fixe” menu. After a bottle (or two) of cheap champagne and several courses of dinner, I was usually done for the night, and that was that. Now that I’m married and don’t have to try so hard to impress my dates or seal the deal or whatever it is people do on Valentine’s day, I finally have a new appreciation for it. My husband Russell and I usually skip the over-priced meals and crowds and try to re-create the date experience at home. We like to use this holiday as an excuse to brighten our home with fresh-cut flowers, cook a nice meal, drink some wine and, of course, buy some chocolates. My favorite part of this holiday was, is, and always will be the chocolates.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

This day hasn’t always been all about chocolates and flowers though. Valentine’s Day has its roots in ancient Rome, and the holiday’s two namesakes were Roman saints who both shared the name Valentine. Though there are some rumors, there is no evidence linking either saint to the romantic ideas people have about the holiday today. Back then this holiday was strictly about martyrdom and religious beliefs. It wasn’t until the medieval era, when the tradition of courtly love flourished in the spring, that people started tying Saint Valentine’s Day to romance and love.  Men would pick spring flowers and write love songs to try to woo their fair maidens, but even then sugar was a precious commodity in Europe, so candy wasn’t yet a part of the experience.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

It wasn’t until the 1800s that the British chocolate manufacturer Cadbury started marketing chocolate candies for Valentine’s Day. Before then, chocolate was usually consumed as a hot beverage. When Cadbury made some improvements to its chocolate manufacturing technique they were left with an excess of cocoa butter. It was then that they started to produce a wide array of their “eating chocolate” and recognized Valentine’s Day as a marketing opportunity. Richard Cadbury started designing and selling ornate decorated boxes filled with an assortment of his new chocolate candies.  Victorians were already in the practice of showering each other with cards and gifts for Valentine’s Day, and Cadbury’s chocolate boxes were a wild hit. Within a few decades these elaborately decorated boxes were everywhere, and their popularity continued to grow until governments started rationing sugar during World War II. By then the idea of candy, chocolate, and heart-shaped everything was deeply tied to Valentine’s day, and continues to be today.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another Valentine’s Day confection that roots back to Victorian England is the conversation heart. The English had a tradition of writing phrases and sayings on small pieces of paper embeded inside of small colored sugar candies. The Victorians took this fashion even further by creating “conversation lozenges”, which came in various sizes and shapes, and were common all year round. Some of the more common phrases on them included “Can you Polka?” and “How do you flirt?”, but they were even sometimes used as marketing tools with the names of businesses written on them. In 1866 a device was invented to imprint the phrases into the candies rather than hand writing them, and in 1901 the Necco company, makers of Necco wafers, starting cutting their conversation lozenges into heart shapes and marketing them as Valentine’s Day “Sweethearts”. For decades some of the most popular phrases on conversation hearts were “Be mine”, “Kiss Me”, and “I’m Yours”. In the 1990s the company decided to update some of their phrases and retire others, introducing new phrases like “Email Me”, “Hot Stuff”, and Russell’s favorite, “Fax Me”.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemakerconversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was trying to decide on a dessert to make for Russell on Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be really fun to try combining these two traditions. I’m not really a fan of real conversation hearts, but I am a big fan of chocolate! So, prepare to have your mind blown, I decided to make conversation hearts made of chocolate! Boom. Rather than trying to make tiny hearts out of real chocolate I decided that little chocolate cakes were where it’s at.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemakerconversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

I started with my favorite recipe for Devil’s Food Cake from Russell’s birthday, but decided to ice them with a traditional American buttercream. For fancy layer cakes I’m usually a bigger fan of meringue buttercream because American buttercream tends to be too sweet and have a slightly gritty texture, but I thought it was the clear choice for these cakes. Since they’re so cutesy and retro, and since they’re the size of large cupcakes, I thought this old school classic would be the perfect complement. I baked three 9-inch layers of Devil’s Food Cake and used a 4-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out twelve Devil’s Food hearts. Then I filled, stacked, and iced the hearts to make 6 mini heart layer cakes. To make the cakes look just like traditional conversation hearts, I chose pastel tones for my icing and piped on phrases in red.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Not only are they completely adorable, they’re totally delicious. Super moist, tender & chocolatey cakes covered with rich sweet & creamy icing. Heaven. The recipe below makes 6 cakes, which each feed 2 people at least, so they’re perfect for a party. If you wanted to just make 2 heart cakes you could cut hearts from one layer and freeze the other two layers of cake for another use. If wrapped good and tight in plastic, these cake layers should keep for up to a month in the freezer.

I really hope you give these a try. They might be a little advanced for beginners, but if you are a confident crumb-coater and can pipe a straight line, I promise you can handle it.

conversation heart mini cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Conversation Heart Mini Cakes

  • Servings: makes six 2-layer 4-inch heart cakes, serves 12ish
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Devil’s Food Cake

butter and flour for pans
2 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour. Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water until smooth.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Beat oil and sugar together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.

Classic American Buttercream
just enough for six 4″ heart cakes

2 cups unsalted butter (4 sticks or 1 pound), room temperature
6-8 cups confectioners sugar, SIFTED
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4-6 tablespoons milk

Beat butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Add first six cups of confectioners sugar, one cup at a time, with your mixer on the lowest speed until the sugar has been incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 4 tablespoons of milk and beat on high for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add remaining sugar, a cup at a time. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add remaining milk 1 tablespoons at a time. For these hearts you want the icing fairly stiff.

Assemble the heart cakes

Wrap each 9″ cake layer in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or over night. Level each layer with a sharp bread knife or cake leveler, and using a 4″ heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut four hearts out of each layer, giving you 12 hearts. Keep the heart cut-outs cold in the refrigerator while you’re working on each cake.

Divide your icing into 7 bowls. You’ll need about a cup of icing for each of the six cakes, and about 1/2 a cup of icing for the seventh bowl which you’ll use for the writing. Color the writing icing bright red, and then color each of the 6 remaining bowls whichever colors you prefer. Keep in mind that conversation hearts come in pastels so go easy on the food coloring. Fit a piping bag with a medium writing tip, I used a Wilton #7 , and fill the bag with your 1/2 cup of red icing. I used CK Products gel colors (available here) to avoid thinning out the icing. A little goes a long way, so use sparingly.

Working with one color at a time, spread about 1/4 cup of icing on the top of one heart cut-out and layer with another cut-out. Using another 1/4 cup of icing spread a thin layer to cover sides and top of the cake. This is called the crumb coat, and since these cakes are cut-outs they produce a lot of crumbs. This step is very important if you don’t want visible crumbs in your icing. Once your cake is completely crumb coated, refrigerate while you work on remaining five cakes. Repeat until all 6 cakes are crumb coated and each has refrigerated for a minimum of 30 minutes or more.

Working with the same color the cake was crumb coated with, ice each cake with remaining 1/2 cup of icing. Use a small offset icing spatula to get a nice smooth finished surface. Once iced, write your favorite conversation heart phrase on top with red icing. Repeat with remaining five cakes. Take pictures and show your friends, family, co-workers, first grade teachers, and college RAs.

Devil’s Food Cake with Heavenly Marshmallow Icing

I mentioned in my last post that we recently celebrated Russell’s birthday with a night out on the town with friends. We did dinner, drinks and merriment over the weekend, but his actual birthday was on a Monday so that night we stayed in and made dinner. Later in the evening we invited a friend over to help us eat some cake and drink champagne.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell loves all things 80s. The tackier and more out-there, the better. He appreciates 80s music, pop culture, art, celebrities, you name it, so for his birthday I wanted to go all out and bring that era back for him. I went crazy with hot pink animal print wrapping paper, black satin ribbon, expensive champagne, and hot pink candles. Of course I had to have a cake to put those candles into, and there’s something about Devil’s Food Cake that just screams 80s to me. To be honest, I’m not even really sure why. I was 7 years old when the 80s came to a close, so I don’t really remember all that much of it, but the 80s were all about excess and Devils’s Food Cake is certainly a more-is-more kind of cake.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

This cake calls for natural cocoa instead of dutch process. Dutch process cocoa has a deep dark intensely chocolatey flavor, but natural cocoa has a subtler, warmer taste that reads more “cocoa” than chocolate. I don’t know if that makes sense, but try to think of the difference between a dark chocolate bar or flourless chocolate cake and the taste of hot cocoa or plain chocolate ice cream. So, while this type of cocoa is warmer and less in-your-face, a full cup and a half of it goes into the mix to make sure this cake is supremely chocolatey and really screams “Devil’s Food Cake!”

Much like the red velvet cake I made a while ago, this recipe also calls for cake flour to ensure a light and tender crumb, and uses buttermilk to help add moisture and give the cake a very subtle tanginess that really helps the cocoa feel richer and more complex. There’s also a bit of brown sugar that helps the cake keep moist and adds just a bit of dark caramel-y depth. Yum.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I decided to pair this cake with a fluffy marshmallow icing, which was not only delicious, but also absolutely gorgeous. This beautiful tall cake covered in white marshmallowy roses was a real stunner. It was just as impressive when sliced with the perfect white icing in sharp contrast against the dark interior of the cake.  The recipe provided below will make enough icing to fill the cake and cover it with a generous layer of icing, but if you want to decorate it in the rosette design I used, you’ll need to multiply the recipe by 1.5.  I used an Ateco 824 tip, but any large open star tip will work. If you are using a stiffer icing, you could also use a closed star tip.

I am absolutely no pro when it comes to working with piping bags and tips, but this design was quite easy to do. I have shaky hands so small delicate piping is difficult for me, but this design is little more than large swirls repeated over and over. After filling and crumb coating the cake, I basically started with one swirl in the center of the top of the cake, with two rows of swirls wrapping around the one in the center. Any small spaces that weren’t covered by the swirls were filled by a dab with the piping bag. The top of the cake is easier to do than the sides, so I think starting there lets you get the hang of it before you try to do the design vertically. On the sides I did three rows, starting at the top and working my way down. Having a lazy susan or turntable really makes this job a gazillion times easier.

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve already said this, but this cake has such a great chocolatey cocoa flavor. It’s spongy and light and airy and moist and amazing. I’m gushing. Traditionally Devil’s Food Cake is paired with a rich chocolate buttercream, but I really think that the cake is already so chocolatey that chocolate icing would be overkill. This marshmallow icing is perfectly light and fluffy and not at all heavy and it pairs perfectly with this cake. Instead of competing with the cake or weighing it down and making it too rich, it lets the cake take center stage. Since it’s made with little more than egg whites and sugar, the icing is also fat-free, so you know, bonus.

I will admit that the icing is a bit fussy to make but I think it is totally worth it. I wouldn’t recommend trying this without a stand mixer, I think a hand-held mixer would make a mess. I also think a candy thermometer would help a lot, but I actually didn’t use one.
If you don’t want all the fuss of the marshmallow icing, but don’t want chocolate on chocolate overkill, I’d suggest a nice traditional vanilla buttercream.

Now, go butter those cake pans and preheat that oven!

devil's food cake with heavenly marshmallow icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Devil's Food Cake with Heavenly Marshmallow Icing

Devil’s Food Cake
makes three 8-inch layers

butter and flour for pans
1 1/2 cups unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, butter paper, and dust pans with flour. Whisk together cocoa powder and hot water until smooth.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Beat oil and sugars together on medium-low speed until combined.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla and cocoa mixture. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with buttermilk and beginning and ending with flour. Beat until just combined.
Divide batter between pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack, peel off parchment, and let cool completely.

Heavenly Marshmallow Icing:
recipe from Cake Duchess

1 cup of granulated sugar (not confectioners sugar)
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/3 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan, bring the 1/3 cup of water, sugar, cream of tartar to a boil. Do not stir the sugar mixture as it will cause the sugar to crystallize. Boil until you have thick clear bubbles ( should only take about 5 minutes and reads a temperature of 245 F). Be very careful not to let the mixture caramelize.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. With the mixer on medium high, slowly and very carefully add the sugar syrup in a thin steady stream, beating for a total of 7 minutes.  Be careful not to burn yourself with the hot sugar syrup, and be careful not to add too much at once. At the last minute, mix in the vanilla.
To assemble the cake, level the layers with a sharp serrated knife or cake leveler. Spread a layer of icing between each layer of cake, and then spread a thin layer of icing on top and sides of cake to seal in crumbs. Finish by spreading (or piping) another layer of icing on top and sides and decorate as desired. For the rosette design I made on this cake I multiplied the icing recipe by 1.5, but 1 recipe is plenty for icing regularly.