Recipe adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King.
Considered a “reaction to Angel Food,” recipes for this popular chocolate cake start to appear early in the twentieth century, though it seems to have been enjoyed for a few decade prior. In Victorian Cakes, the 1946 memoir about her childhood in 1880s Chicago, Caroline B. King (née Campion) writes that the “dark and sinful” cake made its appearance on their Sunday evening tea table sometime in the later part of the 1880s.
Credit for its introduction to the Campion household belongs to Maud, one of Caroline’s four sisters. Considered the “socially inclined” one, Maud made frequent visits from house to house, gathering gossip, trends, and recipes. It was from one such visit, specifically to The Waterman Family, that she returned with the recipe for Devil’s Food.
The finished cake, three layers tall and covered in billowy white icing, was a hit with the Campions, even their selective father. His reaction to another Waterman recipe had been “enough to bring tears of disappointment and mortification to Maud.” That cake: Angel Cake. As for Devil’s Food, says Caroline, “Secretly, I have always thought its name appealed to him.”
The icing is the same boiled icing as in Malinda Russell’s Gold Cake, with the addition of citric acid (I haven’t seen another recipe that calls for this ingredient, so I can only assume it was a homebaker quirk of the time). “The Waterman’s receipt called for a thick boiled icing made pleasantly piquant with a few drops of citric acid. But citric acid sounded dangerous to Maud... so [she] used lemon juice, sparingly and judiciously, and the result was perfect.” I happened to have citric acid so I went with that, but feel free to substitute lemon juice (1 teaspoon). That said, I enjoyed the addition of the citric acid (though unusual), as the tartness cut the sweetness without adding additional flavor. —Jessica Reed