How is devil's food cake different from chocolate cake, if at all?

A culinary question from a web tv visitor: how is Devil's Food cake different than ordinary chocolate cake, if at all?

The multitude of recipe variations which fall under the Devilís Food aegis indeed represent a subset of the vast category "chocolate cake". Itís the same question as, say, "how is felis cattus domesticus different from a Bengal Tiger?" They share characteristics which place them in the same family, but have characteristics which make them unique.

In the case of devilís food cake, itís simple food chemistry that makes the difference. Before I respond to the question at hand, however, I feel the urge to digress.

Let me tell you, I had to do a lot of digging around for this one, especially as I wanted to anticipate further questions about origins and such. Thirty or forty cookbooks later, I found the truly awesome American Century Cookbook, by Jean Anderson. Although she is unwilling to take a stand on the reason for this rich dessertís name, she certainly did her homework on its pedigree.

Anderson mentions a colleague who saw a reference to devilís food cake in a reminiscence written in the 1880s or 1890s, but canít produce the evidence. Andersonís own research turned up vastly different recipes in two American cookbooks published in 1902. Devilís food cake appears with regularity in cookbooks beyond that date, so itís safe to assume that it is an American concoction originating at the turn of the century. Anderson documents some mighty bizarre variations on this culinary theme, the weirdest of which calls for mashed potatoes. Yum. My own search revealed a devilís food cake recipe involving tomatoes. Double yum.

So, anyway, what makes this cake unique in the pantheon of chocolate cakes? I shall let Susan G. Purdy explain. Her analysis in the encyclopedic cookery book, A Piece Of Cake seems to be the most lucid. To wit:

The very rich taste of the cake is not, as I suspected, the reason for the devilish reference; it is the reddish-brown color of the cake itself. The characteristically reddish color is caused by the baking soda used to neutralize the natural acidity of chocolate and at the same time leaven the cake. Baking soda has the effect of reddening and darkening certain types of cocoa.

There you go. To paraphrase DuPont, without chemistry, dessert itself would be impossible!

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