Black-Bottom Devil’s Food Cake

August 30, 2013

My department’s annual family picnic/potluck this year held contests for best appetizer, best side dish, best dessert, and most creative use of Jello (lol), so naturally I had to enter! My coworkers told me I wasn’t allowed to sign up for best side dish or best appetizer since they were each making one of those, which left me with either dessert or Jello. Jello seemed like a bit of a cop-out, so dessert it was! (Though I also made some Jello just for fun.) I was determined to win this thing, so I set out to find a dessert that would fit the following criteria:

  1. Many servings – since this was a department-wide picnic with family members included, there were going to be a lot of people in attendance. I wasn’t aiming to feed every single one of them, but I couldn’t very well make a small 9-inch square cake that serves 6 people.
  2. Attractive – sure, nectarine crisp is delicious and it would be easy to double the recipe, but it’s not very pretty.
  3. Impressive – no drop cookies; too easy.
  4. Slightly unusual – plain chocolate or vanilla cake is pretty and tasty but boring, and I didn’t want to get too weird either (parsnip cake with cream-cheese-ginger frosting?)

This four-layer chocolate cake from Bon Appetit Desserts fit all four of my criteria. The recipe said that the cake serves 12, and at a potluck people aren’t generally going to be taking large pieces because they’ll want to try other desserts too. Layer cakes tend to automatically be attractive and impressive, especially when decorated nicely. And finally, this cake’s top layer held a secret cream cheese filling (ala black bottom cupcakes), giving it some variety in texture and flavor. Perfect!

So yeah, I won. :) $25 gift card to Wegmans! Which my coworkers promptly told me I had to use to buy more ingredients to make them another dessert. Which is probably a pretty accurate assessment of what it will be used for! :)

Black-bottom devil's food cake

The cake can be baked and assembled up to 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and keep refrigerated. Let cake stand at room temperature 2 hours before serving.

Serves 12 to 16



  • 2  cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1¾  cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4  cup natural (not Dutch-processed) unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2  teaspoons baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 1  cup buttermilk
  • 1  cup strong coffee, room temperature
  • 1/2  cup vegetable oil
  • 2  large eggs

Cheesecake topping

  • 4  ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2  tablespoons sugar
  • 1  large egg
  • 1  tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2  cup mini semisweet chocolate chips


  • 1¼  cups canned evaporated milk
  • 2  12-ounce packages semisweet chocolate chips
  • 10  ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • Mini semisweet chocolate chips, for decoration (optional)


  1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1½-inch-high sides. Line pan bottoms with marchment paper. Whisk sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add buttermilk, coffee, oil, and eggs and whisk until smooth. Divide batter between prepared pans.
  2. For the cheesecake topping: Beat cream cheese and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Beat in egg, then flour. Spoon topping over batter in 1 pan (topping will not cover batter completely). Sprinkle mini chocolate chips over topping.
  3. Place cakes in oven. Bake plain cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Bake topping-covered cake until center springs back when lightly touch, about 35 minutes. Cool cakes completely in pans on racks, then freeze cakes 3 hours.
  4. For the icing: Bring evaporated milk to boil in heavy medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Add chocolate chips and stir until melted and smooth. Cool completely.
  5. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in chocolate mixture.
  6. Assemble the cake: Cut around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out onto work surface. Peel off parchment. Using long serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally in half. Set 1 plain cake later on platter. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second plain cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third plain cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with cake layer containing cheesecake topping. Spread top and sides with 1 2/3 cups icing (there will be icing left over). Decorate top with a border of mini chocolate chips, or if desired, pipe rosettes with leftover icing atop cake. Refrigerate until cake is slightly chilled and icing sets, at least 30 minutes.


  1. Love that name of that cake – thanks for sharing it!!!!

    • Glad you like it! It was so yummy; really moist and so much chocolate flavor! Definitely on my make-again list. :)

  2. I used to make this cake every year for my sister when she lived at home. 13 years later I am making it for her daughter to take home from college for a surprise party! One problem: have triple checked that I measured everything correctly(and I did) and used the correct size pans, but the cakes ran over ALOT in my oven during baking. Any clues?

  3. So, I forgot to put the cheesecake layer on top of the cake layer. I ended up cooking it separately in muffin tins then spreading the little cheesecakes in between the layers of the cake and icing it on the outside with the chocolate icing. I’ll let you know tomorrow how it tastes!

    • I’m sure it will still turn out great. :) The cheesecake filling stuff is pretty moist, so it should end up sticking to the layers in between. I look forward to hearing how you like it!

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