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It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
Growing up, I often stayed with my grandparents during the summer, and I always dreaded sifting through the child-repellent snacks that filled their pantry: Horehound Candy Drops and Circus Peanuts were among the least offensive to be found there, but it was all made worse by their proximity to a supply of Red Man chewing tobacco. That is to say, my deeply Southern grandparents loved "old people" snacks and habits. Thank heavens for my one reprieve: Chocolate Zingers.
I still love Chocolate Zingers, and not only for nostalgic reasons, but because they have everything I want in a snack cake. It’s hard for me to imagine anything better than devil's food cake with rich cream filling and a thick stripe of chocolate frosting on top. This homemade version is similar to the original, except it is infinitely softer and fresher for not having made the journey from a factory, to warehouse, to grocery store.
With the near-demise of Hostess, bakeware manufactures have been quick to produce snack cake pans for the home baker, but you’ll get by just fine with an 8 x 8-inch brownie pan, which is what I used for this recipe.
Makes 12 cakes
For the devil's food cakes:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup hot coffee
For the cream filling and chocolate frosting:
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter, softened, divided
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1 pinch salt
To get started, you’ll need to grease the pan well, then combine the butter, sugar, eggs, cocoa, baking soda, vanilla extract, and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat in flour and sour cream, then add the hot coffee and mix until a smooth batter forms. Spread the batter into the baking pan as evenly as possible. Preheat the oven to 350º F and bake for 45 minutes, the chill the cake in the freezer until firm. This will help each cake retain a crisp shape when you cut into it to add the filling.
While you wait for the cake to chill, prepare the frosting and filling. I’ll admit, sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I substitute ready-made marshmallow fluff for the filling, but if you’re looking for authenticity, then this cream filling is a close approximation to the real thing.
To make the cream filling, whisk together the milk and flour in a small saucepan until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency, then transfer the mixture to a shallow dish and refrigerate until it cools completely. Once cool, whip the mixture with the softened butter and the granulated sugar for about five minutes, until it becomes fluffy. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract, then beat the mixture until well-combined. Transfer the filling to a piping bag or zip-top bag with the corner snipped.
When the cake is chilled, cut it into twelve snack cakes by making three evenly-spaced cuts in one direction, then four perpendicular cuts. These snack cakes end up being slightly larger than the original, but I doubt there will be many complaints. Use a serrated knife to cut a slit lengthwise on top of each snack cake, taking care not to cut all the way through.
Fill the cake with the cream filling until it bulges slightly, then pinch the cake together slightly so that a little of the filling squeezes out the top.
To make the chocolate frosting for the top, place the cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar, and butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat them until combined. Beat in chocolate syrup, vanilla extract, and salt, then transfer the frosting to a piping bag. A number 789 cake tip icer makes an authentic frosting stripe on top, but if you don’t have one, spread the icing on with an offset spatula then run the tines of a fork through the icing to create the characteristic ridges.
Store the cakes in an airtight container for up to two days -- if they last that long!
Photos by Heather Baird