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
- ⅔ 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
Note: Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available data.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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