Devil’s Food Cake With Black Pepper Buttercream

Like all the best devil’s food cakes, this six-layer beauty has a deeply fudgy flavor and a light and feathery texture. In between the tender cake layers, a black pepper and vanilla buttercream creates a soft and creamy contrast to the dense fudge frosting on the top and sides. With six layers and two frostings, this cake is definitely a project, but one well worth making if you want to impress. And you can make it in stages. The frostings can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature and briefly beat with an electric mixer before assembling the cake. The cake layers themselves can be baked a day ahead. Store them, well-wrapped, at room temperature.


For the cake

  • 10 tablespoons/140 grams unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pans
  • cup/70 grams unsweetened natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder, more for pans
  • ¾ cup/180 milliliters whole milk
  • 2 cups/200 grams cake flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons/10 grams baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon/3 grams baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon/3 grams kosher salt, more as needed
  • 1 ¾ cups/350 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract

For the buttercream

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  • Large pinch kosher salt
  • 3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons/365 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
  • 1 teaspoon/5 grams coarsely ground black pepper

For the fudge frosting

  • 1 ½ cups/300 grams granulated sugar
  • 1 cup/240 milliliters heavy cream
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 6 ounces/170 grams unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 8 tablespoons/112 grams unsalted butter, diced
  • 2 teaspoons/10 milliliters vanilla extract
  • Nutritional Information
    • Nutritional analysis per serving (10 servings)

      1342 calories; 98 grams fat; 61 grams saturated fat; 3 grams trans fat; 26 grams monounsaturated fat; 3 grams polyunsaturated fat; 112 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams dietary fiber; 87 grams sugars; 10 grams protein; 296 milligrams cholesterol; 554 milligrams sodium

    • Note: Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available data.

10 servings


  1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 (8-inch) round baking pans, line the bottoms of each with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper. Use a little cocoa powder to coat the insides of the pans, rotating pans so the cocoa comes up the sides, then tap out excess.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and 2/3 cup boiling water. Whisk in milk. In a separate bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, until incorporated. Beat in vanilla. With the mixer running on low speed, beat in a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half the cocoa mixture. Add remaining portions, alternating between two mixtures. Beat until smooth.
  4. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans. Bake until the centers of the cakes are firm to the touch, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes; turn them out onto the rack to cool completely. (Peel off parchment paper if it sticks to the cakes.)
  5. Make the buttercream: Fill a medium pot halfway with water (or use a double-boiler) and bring to a simmer. In a heatproof bowl that fits over pot, whisk together egg whites, sugar and salt. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar dissolves and mixture reaches 140 degrees on a candy or instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes.
  6. Using an electric mixer, whip until completely cooled and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in butter a little at a time, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. Beat in vanilla bean seeds and pepper.
  7. Using a serrated knife, slice each cake in half horizontally. Place one bottom layer on a large platter or cake stand. Top evenly with a thin layer of buttercream. Repeat, alternating between cake and frosting, ending with a layer of cake. Cover cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare fudge frosting. (Cake can rest in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.)
  8. Make the frosting: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, heavy cream and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Stir in chocolate, butter and vanilla until smooth. Set bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice. Use a hand mixer or an immersion blender with the whisk attachment to whip until mixture is thick and cool, about 5 minutes. Spread frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
  • Measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.

2 1/2 hours

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