Time Travel Kitchen

Devil’s Food Cake with Coffee Frosting, a 1930’s Recipe.

If there was a Devil Dog in my lunch box when I was a kid, I was happy. There were a lot of friends who were Twinkie fans, but I was firmly in the ‘give me all the chocolate’ camp.

Manufactured in Brooklyn by Drake’s in 1926, these snack cakes, still popular today, were my introduction to Devil’s Food Cake — a favorite.

Devil’s Food Cake has been around in the U.S. since at least 1900 and it was named during a period when fancy labels were assigned to cakes and desserts.

Words like ‘decadent’ and ‘sinful’ and ‘devilishly good’ have consistently been associated with the cake’s tender texture and rich chocolate flavor.

The first printed recipe was published in 1902 in Mrs. Rorer’s New Cookbook: A Manuel of Housekeeping.

Thank you, Mrs. Rorer:

I made a later recipe, one from the 1933 General Foods Cookbook All About Home Baking, (Third Edition, 1936).

I’ve found a lot of recipes I like in it and thank Reily Foods Company for their permission to reprint the recipes here.

The recipe uses unsweetened chocolate squares rather than cocoa powder and baking soda which gives the cake a rich, mahogany color by raising the pH level. Science!

I asked some friends and family what frosting they’d like and the unanimous decision (including my vote) was Coffee Frosting, so I’ve included both that recipe and the Caramel Frosting recipe if you’d like to try that one, too.

I added some dark, bittersweet chocolate shards on top of the cake to dress it up a bit which went well with the coffee frosting and added some texture.

My notes are below each recipe, so here we go!

  1. Sift flour before measuring out the 2 cups, add the baking soda and then sift once more. You don’t need to sift it again.

  2. To melt chocolate: use a double boiler or bring a small amount of water to a simmer in a pot. Turn it off and place a stainless bowl or other heat-proof bowl and sit it on top of the pot. Do not let the bowl touch the water. Still gently with spatula until chocolate is melted.

  3. This recipe calls for 3 squares of unsweetened chocolate (use whatever brand you like) which is equivalent to 3 ounces. Baker’s chocolate is divided into quarter ounce pieces, so you’ll need 12 of them if you use that brand.

  4. I only had dark brown sugar on hand (which contains more molasses and has a more robust flavor than light brown sugar) but either is fine for this recipe. I’m trying it again with light brown sugar when I get some, there will probably be a slight change in texture, I’ll let you know.

  5. My cakes were done in 20 minutes, so check with a toothpick at that point and continue baking unless the toothpick comes out clean.

Coffee Frosting (I love that in 1933 this was considered an unusual frosting!)

Some notes on the Coffee Frosting:

  1. It is delicious!

  2. If you like a lot of frosting on your cake, double this recipe. I had just enough for a thin amount between layers and a bit more frosting on top. If you want to ice the whole cake, you definitely need more.

  3. I made espresso and added 4 tablespoons. This is a sweet frosting on top of a delicious sweet cake, and I wanted a little bitter for balance. The flavors together were great.

If you want to try the Caramel Frosting here’s the recipe, let me know how it goes:

With all the chocolate and coffee flavors this week, I’m reminded of a cake my Grandmother used to buy at the famous Ebinger’s Bakery in Brooklyn which first opened in Flatbush in 1898.

While their Chocolate Blackout Cake was probably the most popular, she was a fan of the Yellow Cake with Mocha Buttercream Frosting.

When Ebinger’s closed, their recipes stayed locked away, so I’ll do my best to recreate it as I remember it back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Thanks for traveling along and see you next week when I share how it went making my version of the Ebinger’s Mocha Buttercream Cake, along with the adapted recipe.

Have a great weekend!


photos: Jolene

Sources and Credits:

Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer, Mrs. Rorer’s New Cookbook, A Manuel of Housekeeping, Arnold & Company, 1902, Philadelphia.

General Foods Corporation, All About Home Baking, 1933, New York.


Reily Food Company maker of SwansDown®️Cake Flour