Chocolate and fudgy, frosted with malted cream and hazelnut praline topping, this cake is stupidly good.
Devil’s food cake with hazelnut praline from Ottolenghi is dark as hell, sweet as sin and beautiful as the devil himself. It is quite time-consuming to make and requires considerable effort plus a food processor or a blender, but the result is stunning.
Suffice to say, it looks like this is now going to be the ever-requested cake by my family and close friends for all the birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and special occasions.
Yotam Ottolenghi delivers: however much you might shy from those famously long lists of ingredients, this is sensible. After all, it’s a gateau with filling, frosting and topping. Hardly a three-ingredient job.
What is devil’s food cake?
You must give it to the Americans: they can come up with excellent cake names (when they don’t call them pies). Red velvet – what a wonderful and apt moniker! Gooey butter cake follows suit. Hummingbird cake is a little ambiguous but still sounds awesome.
Devil’s food is as dark, chocolatey and fudgy as you might expect. Angel’s food, its antithesis, is light, airy and pale. Even though I like it, the wise Latin phrase springs to mind: Video meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor. In (totally) rough translation, darkness has more pulling power. Good old Ovid.
The cake: so simple and so good
So, devil’s food is precisely what Ottolenghi picked for the cake base. The mix needs no mixer to make, just a spatula. The liquid in devil’s food is usually water or milk, but Yotam advises to use kefir and very hot coffee.
Kefir is more and more popular these days but plain buttermilk will be also good to use, and it is what makes the cake extra moist. While the coffee wonderfully enhances and boosts chocolate flavour.
That fudgy, rich base is filled and frosted with mascarpone cream and topped with hazelnut praline.
What is praline?
It is a tough nut to make but absolutely, gloriously worth it. ‘Nut’ is intentional there as praline is made from nuts or almonds, toasted and fossilized in melted sugar.
It can subsequently be broken up into decorative or texturizing brittle. It can be blitzed to a powder used to sprinkle, decorate, add flavour or texture. Or it can be processed further until the nut oils are released and the mixture turns, magically, into paste, a kind of sweet nut or almond butter.
It is one hell of a job though, I must warn. The caramel made with melted sugar sets instantly so hard, you have to work very quickly. Your blender or food processor better be sturdy – it takes some welly to pulverise praline, let alone turn it into goo.
Thus, a couple of tips I learned the hard way: it’s better to roughly chop the nuts before toasting and stirring into the caramel.
The caramel should be only-just melted, or it will be dead solid too soon.
And it’s handy to crush the praline with a rolling pin first, before whizzing it in a machine.
Still, all of the above will invariably make an unbelievable mess all over your kitchen.
All worth it.
Devilishly good frosting
The mascarpone cream is simply whipped double cream boosted and tangified by a quantity of mascarpone. But the unusual ingredient, Ovaltine or Horlicks depending where you are versus the Atlantic, makes it taste out of this world.
A caramel flavour to uplift the praline and the comforting warmth of malty taste makes the cake a work of art.
It’s rich and sumptuous without being overbearing; it’s rich without getting sickly and it is show-stoppingly impressive, without belonging to those look-pretty-taste-meh cakes that rule the Instagram.
More chocolate cake recipes
Classically luxurious, my black forest gateau recipe uses fresh cherries and pillowy whipped cream filling.
I call this ‘life changing chocolate cake’: rich and fudgy, with apricot jam filling and chocolate ganache on top.
Pound cake comes in a chocolate version too: chocolate pound cake with crunchy crumble.
More Ottolenghi sweet recipes
My favourite Ottolenghi dessert is raspberry meringue roulade. I have no idea how long it keeps because mine has never survived a day.
Ottolenghi take on teacakes is not quite what you expect to see – more like gorgeous individual lemon and almond mini cakes.
Yotam’s approach to making meringues is a very good method: adding red hot sugar in bulk to egg whites, like in my flavoured meringue recipe.