What's the Difference Between Devil's Food Cake and Chocolate Cake?

The ingredient list holds the clues.

mid angle looking at a single chocolate cupcake with remaining on a plate behind
Photo: Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Chocolate cakes come in all forms — bundt, layers, cupcakes; frosted, unfrosted, glazed. But beyond its shape and its frosting, is there any real distinction between one chocolate cake and another?

Technically, yes. However, where German chocolate and Black Forest cakes have very distinct ingredients — a coconut-pecan frosting or layers of cherries and whipped cream — Devil's food and classic chocolate cake aren't so visibly different. Indeed, if you were eating a Devil's food cake and just called it chocolate cake, or vice versa, you might not know you were wrong. Home cooks, recipe developers, and restaurants don't always know that a Devil's food cake is different from other types of decadent chocolate cakes either, so your error is understandable.

The truth is, Devil's food cake is richer, darker, and fluffier thanks to the use of cocoa powder and a bit extra baking soda. The extra baking soda in a Devil's food cake increases the baked good's pH level, which adds more bubbles during the baking process. That makes the cake fluffier and airy, which lends itself to the use of a light glaze, ganache, or even just a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Oil may be used over butter in many recipes because the neutral flavor of the oil lets the deeply rich cocoa flavor be more pronounced.

Basic chocolate cakes usually call for melted milk or bittersweet chocolate. Butter or cream can be used in classic chocolate cake because the richer flavors of those dairy fats won't compete with the milder melted chocolate. A true chocolate cake might be more dense, so a heftier frosting, like a buttercream can be used, but lighter whipped frostings are frequently paired with it, too.

Of course, the occasional cake throws all the rules to the wind. Some cake recipes call for cocoa powder, as well as melted chocolate, and even coffee — which is frequently used in Devil's food cake to heighten richness.

Chocolate Cake Recipes to Try:

All of these recipes and definitions point to one rule of the chocolate cake world: As long as it's delicious, perhaps the name doesn't matter all that much.

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