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Originally published Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 6:04 AM

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Recipe: Devil’s Food Cake with Black Pepper Buttercream


Serves 10

This cake has two frostings, a mildly spiced vanilla bean and black-pepper-speckled buttercream to fill the layers, and a whipped fudge frosting to smooth over the top and sides. If that seems like too much to manage, you could choose either one and just double the quantity.

For the cake:

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pans

2 / 3 cup unsweetened natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder, more for pans

¾ cup whole milk

2 cups cake flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed

1¾ cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the buttercream:

5 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

Large pinch kosher salt

3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise, seeds scraped

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

For the fudge frosting:

1½ cups sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Pinch kosher salt

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Make the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three (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 one 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 placed over pot (it should fit tightly on top), whisk together egg whites, sugar and salt. Cook, whisking constantly, until sugar dissolves and mixture reaches 140 degrees on a candy or instant-read thermometer, about five minutes.

6. Using an electric mixer, whip until completely cooled and thick, about five 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 cake. Cover cake loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare fudge frosting. (Cake can rest in refrigerator for up to one 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 five 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 five minutes. Spread frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

— Melissa Clark, The New York Times

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