The Death Cake

The Death Cake

This is probably the best chocolate cake you will ever get to eat anywhere, ever. It is so good and so deadly that we named it after the Empire's evil engine of destruction in the first Star Wars movie, The Death Star. The Death Cake is based on recipes from The Joy of Cooking, but we have made a few minor changes here and there. The cake itself is the Devil's Food Cake Cockaigne. Cockaigne was an imaginary land of paradise, but in the 19th century, the Land of Cockaigne referred to London. The filling is the Quick Orange Icing, and the icing, the thick outer protective sheath. is the Fudge Cockaigne Icing.

The entire cake, when assembled, weighs 3,000 pounds (almost 1,400 kilograms), and has been known to suck small planetaries with unstable orbits into its outer fudge layer from which they can only be removed with a silver fork. In fact, this cake is so good, it is only safe to cut it with a silver cake server and to eat it with a silver fork. There is a general small craft advisory in effect whenever the cake is being served.

The cake also has psychic properties. It is extremely tempting to finish the cake in a single sitting. though this is not advisable. Not all furniture is industrial grade, and despite cake's sheer deliciousness, there are limits to what the human body can absorb. On several occasions we have made such an attempt at self restraint, or perhaps self protection.

The very first time we made this cake, we intentionally restricted ourselves to eating only half of it on the first day. That night, however, the cake cried out to us. I remembered having a strange dream about wandering in a darkened hallway with a voice crying out, barely audible. As I made my way down the darkened hall, the cry grew louder and more distinct. It was the cake. I awoke with a start. I was in our unlit hallway, making my way to the refrigerator. I could still hear its dreamlike voice.

I was not the only one called. Both of us were in the hallway. The cake had called out to both of us. There was nothing else to do. We cracked open a bottle of Piper Heidseck Brut and brought out the cake.

The next time the cake cried out we were less surprised. Its voice punctured a dreamy sleep, slowly rising in tone. I woke up on my feet, approaching the door. Foreknowledge let me grab my bathrobe, but I had no choice but to respond to the cake's siren call. The cake did not last the night.

You too will be amazed by this cake's siren call. You may or may not have your Steven King moment, depending on your ability to resist eating the entire monster at once.


Set up a double boiler. Start melting 4 ounces of unsweetened baker's chocolate. When the chocolate is more or less melted, add 1 cup of light brown sugar and 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream cut with 1/4 cup of water.

Separate three eggs. Pop one yolk into the double boiler and mix it in with a whisk while the chocolate mixture is cooking. You are basically making a chocolate custard or pudding since you will cook the mixture until it thickens. You want to cook it until it is so thick it only pours slowly from an inverted spoon. It doesn't have to be hard, just really thick.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set up two 9 inch cake pans. Butter them and flour them lightly. You don't absolutely need the flour, but this cake can be tricky to extract, and it helps.

While the pudding cooks, you can start the rest of the batter. Cream a stick of butter. I smush it with the heel of my hand and then work it with a fork. You can use a food processor or whatever. Add 1 cup of white sugar and work it into the sugar until you get a gritty mixture.

Then, add the egg yolks. The butter mixture will get smoother.

Dump in the first of two cups of flour. Add a teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the dry flour, and then mix it into the batter until most of the flour is absorbed.

Add 1/2 cups of water and mix until most of the water is absorbed.

Add the second cup of flour and mix.

Add 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and mix these in completely. The mixture should be bubbling a bit.

By now, the chocolate custard should have thickened. If not, keep double boiling it. When it is ready, dump it into the batter and mix well.

Beat the three egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter.

Now, divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and pop them in the oven, on the middle rack if you can. They will take a good 25 minutes to bake.

When they are ready and seem to have solidified, remove them from the oven and let them cool. If you can't dump the two layers out of the pans, you can always scrape them out and reassemble them into layer like cake assemblies. Don't worry too much about the cake looks at this point. Chocolate fudge cockaigne icing can hide a number of sins.


When we designed the Death Cake we decided we wanted an orangey filling. The old Harvest in Cambridge, Massachusetts once had a chocolate mousse pie with a chocolate graham cracker crust and an orange icing. It was an amazing mix. We wanted to recapture this in a classic cake.

There are a number of orange icing recipes in the Joy of Cooking. There is a seven minute orange icing, which we tried because we figured it wouldn't take that long. This is a cold icing, and to be honest, the sugar and the flavorings never really married. The Luscious Orange Icing wound up with a corn starchy flavor and it was really too clear and runny to make a proper filling for a ten trillion ton chocolate cake.

Then we tried the Quick Orange Icing. This is a classic quick icing made with butter and confectioner's powdered sugar. You have to cook this with a double boiler, but the icing turns out rich, orangey, thick and tangy.

For our version of the recipe, melt a fat tablespoon of butter in a double boiler. Then add two cups of confectioner's powdered sugar (10X), the grated rind of an entire navel (relatively large) orange, and the juice of an entire lemon. The lemon juice gives this icing its tang.

Stir everything together and cook, and cook, and cook, until the icing starts to thicken. This takes only 10 minutes. Since the icing is hot in the double boiler, it will be runny, but after 10 minutes you will notice that it starts coating a spoon differently. When it does, remove the icing from the heat, and beat it until it is cool. It will thicken considerably.

When it seems fairly thick, put one of the cake layers out on a plate or whatever you plan to serve the cake on. Once you start building and icing, moving the cake safely will be problematic. Dump the orange icing all over the middle of the cake, spreading it out so it reaches to the edges.

The icing will fill in all the cracks in the bottom layer like some kind of superglue. Put the upper layer on top of the lower layer and shove it around until the cake forms a cylinder. Let it rest, and get to work on the final outer layer.


The icing on the cake is a rich fudge Cockaigne. As we noted above, Cockaigne is the land of paradise, also known as London. If nothing else, the English know and love their rich, thick, sticky desserts.

For once, you don't need a double boiler. You just need a sauce pan.

The Joy of Recipe cookbook calls for a cup of milk, or a cup of milk less one tablespoon. We rarely have milk in the house, so we use heavy cream to make what we call "milkoid". This is usually a 50:50 mix of heavy whipping cream and water, but we often err on the side of heavy whipping cream. You might as well go for richness. If you wimp out, you'll just eat more and more and never get the proper fix. You'll wind up eating more calories and gaining weight, so go for the heavy whipping cream. It's actually healthier.

Put a full cup of milkoid and an extra tablespoon into the sauce pan along with two cups of sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 ounces of baker's chocolate. Heat it up on medium high and let the chocolate melt. Stir it in as the temperature rises.

You will soon have a boiling mess with brown foam lapping the sides of the pot like the angry Atlantic in a storm. Let it boil.

If you have a candy thermometer that you trust, bring the temperature to 238 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the soft ball stage. We find candy thermometers to be rather inaccurate and awkward to use. They never seem to register the proper temperature, and the steam makes them hard to read. Some day, they will invent a proper infrared thermometer, and you'll be able to tell your stove, "heat the pot on burner 3 to 238 degrees", but for now, the technology isn't there.

Let the mixture boil for five minutes or so. Then, every few minutes, set up a cup of cold tap water and test a spoonful of the mixture. Drop it into the tap water, and let it rest a bit. Then reach in and see if you've got a soft ball. At first, the mixture will simply dissolve. Then, it will form a sort of biofilm that dissolves in your hand. Then, it will stick together and form a cohesive ball.

Take the mixture off of the burner. Put in 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter. Add a teaspoon or a capful of vanilla extract. Stir this in.

Take a frying pan and fill it with cold tap water. Put the saucepan in this and stir. When the frying pan water gets warm, dump it out and refill it with colder water. All the while, keep stirring. We find it takes two frying pans of cold water before the mixture starts to firm up.

This is process is rather tricky. You actually could just dump the hot mixture on the cake and get something quite reasonable, but what you want is a proper fudge texture, so you have to stir the mixture as it cools until it is workable as fudge.

Some cookbooks state that you should wait for a change in color, or reflectivity, or gamma ray reduction intensity. This is generally useless advice. We notice no change in color, reflectivitiy or gamma ray reduction intensity. We just wait for the icing to thicken.

Then, we start dumping the icing on the cake and letting it run down the sides. This is usually a quick, chaotic process with one of us turning the cake and the other licking hot icing off her fingers. Use a spoon or butter knife to spread the dark oo (pronounced like "goo", but without the "g") over the top and down the sides.

If the icing gets too hard to work, you can reheat the saucepan over low heat until it softens a bit. You can even add a bit more heavy whipping cream. In a pinch, you can put it in a small bowl and microwave it for 30 to 60 seconds to get it malleable again.

The first time we made this cake, the icing seized. The panicky cry went out, "boil more hot water". It was sort of like that Mad Magazine movie parody with, "quick, boil more hot water and tear up your petticoat". "Why?" "So, I can have a nice cup of tea while I watch you tear up your petticoat."

As it turns out, it doesn't really matter what the Death Cake looks like. You've heard the saying "death be not proud". Well, vanity isn't a good idea either. Sometimes we luck out and get a good workable icing. Sometimes the cake looks like death. Then again, that's the whole point.

Let the icing harden, and then tuck in. Remember to use a silver cake knife if you have one, and use your best silver. This cake is a serious matter.

We recommend serving this cake with good champagne. It's also good with milk, but we never have milk in the house.

As we eat this cake, we can almost hear Darth Vader's voice saying "Don't overestimate the power of this technological marvel. Its power is insignificant when compared to the power of the Force" Then, we take a bite and say "Pshaw!"

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