- I made Ina Garten’s devil cake from her cookbook Cooking for Jeffrey.
- The celebrity chef paired the rich chocolate cake with a meringue frosting that was difficult to make.
- I can’t say I made the prettiest version of the cake, but it tasted amazing.
When my oldest daughter was 2, she went through a particularly rough sleep regression. My husband and I tried everything—noise machines, blackout curtains, endless hours of rocking.
One night when we were at our wits end, we noticed that she seemed soothed by the amazing tune of the Food Network theme song “Barefoot Contessa.” And so began our family’s obsession with the show’s star, Ina Garten.
Soon after, as a birthday present for my daughter, I bought us both tickets to a live Q&A hosted by Garten to promote her cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. I was sure my daughter would be the youngest guest in attendance, but we were thrilled nonetheless.
At the end of the presentation, the famous chef opened the floor for questions from the audience. I eagerly asked Garten to share the best beginner recipe for my daughter and I to make together. She paused, thought for a moment, and replied, “My devil cake would be great. She is to die for.”
I’ve made dozens of Garten recipes over the years, but I’ve never tried this cake yet. My daughter is now almost 9 so we decided it was time to change that.
The recipe, which is from her cookbook Cooking for Geoffrey, looked like a basic chocolate cake with a hot coffee kick and a buttercream and meringue frosting.
I had never made buttercream meringues before, but I have made countless frostings in my life. I naively thought it couldn’t be that hard.
Although I tried to stick to the recipe, I used instant coffee instead of espresso, which saved time and didn’t seem to affect the taste.
My kids all had a turn mixing and measuring the batter ingredients and we were all in good spirits when the double cakes went into the oven.
Unfortunately, this is where things took a turn for the worse.
My assumptions about the frosting being easy to make were horribly wrong. Meringue Buttercream required boiling sugar, a candy thermometer, and tons of room temperature butter.
I moved my kids into the family room, carefully stood by the stove and waited for my sugar and water mixture to boil. The recipe said it should reach exactly 240 degrees Fahrenheit, so I held my candy thermometer and watched.
Unfortunately, the pan I chose wasn’t deep enough to keep the mixture from bubbling. As I scraped hot melted sugar off my electric stove, I scrambled for a bigger pot. After finding one and continuing to cook, I attempted to crack and separate six eggs into a separate bowl between temperature checks.
Finally, the syrup reached 240 F.
Next I beat the eggs and cream of tartar.
The recipe calls for the syrup to be added in a steady stream and whipped on high speed for an hour. I double checked the recipe three times to make sure I didn’t get it wrong, but it wasn’t.
I had to whip the frosting on high speed for an hour to make sure the syrup was properly tempered.
After the first 10 minutes of yelling at my kids over the sound of the mixer, I finally got fed up and moved it to the hallway closet. Funny maybe, but at least I could hear myself think.
After the hour was up, I dropped six sticks of butter into the frosting (2 tablespoons at a time) along with the vanilla and coffee liqueur. I didn’t have Kahlua, so we used Trader Joe’s Cold Liqueur instead.
Finally – finally – the frosting was done, the cakes cooled and I started assembling them.
The cake ended up looking a bit rustic – not the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, but not terrible either.
My blood pressure was at an all-time high, my stove was covered in hardened sugar, and my entire kitchen was a mess. But after all these years I was proud of myself for finishing the cake.
I invited my daughters friends to try a slice with us. As soon as they took their first bites, they were smitten.
I told them there was coffee in both the cake and the frosting and they didn’t believe me. They couldn’t taste it and liked it just the same.
After our friends left, I was still in a bad mood from the long roast. But do you know what cures almost any bad mood? Piece of chocolate cake.
I settled in with a cup of coffee and a generous slice. After my first bite, I finally understood.
It may have been a ridiculous amount of work to make—and not at all the beginner’s recipe it was advertised to be—but the cake was, in fact, “to die for,” as Garten had promised all those years ago.