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Devil's Food Cake - Top Cracking

Asked by Noam. Answered on 19th May 2011

Full question

Does Nigella use natural unsweetened cocoa or dutch-process? I was making Kitchen's Devil's Food Cake (Kitchen, p.253)a couple of days ago and it rose and cracked, and I think it is because of the cocoa. Thanks and lots of love, Noam from Israel.

Hi, I made this cake this morning followed the recipe perfectly as far as I'm aware and measured everything precisely. I placed the mix into the oven immediately after adding and mixing the wet ingredients. My oven manual recommends that sponges be baked in the centre of the preheated oven on 160c on the pizza fan setting However, the mix rose very quickly and cracked on top. It didn't sink when removed and the cake was generally ok. I thought that cakes only cracked when the oven was too hot so can you offer advice to avoid cracking in the future? Perhaps conventional cooking without the fan is better for "wetter" cake mixes. Johnrl

Our answer

Quite frequently if the top of a cake cracks it is because the oven may be slightly too hot or the cake batter may have been over-mixed which develops the glutens in the flour and causes cracking. In the case of the Devil's Food Cake it may be as the recipe contains a fair amount of water this also develops the glutens in the flour slightly more than a standard sponge cake recipe and may be causing the top to crack. However this is normal, as you can see from the middle photograph on p.255 of Kitchen, and the cracks are easily covered by the icing so aren't seen in the finished cake.

Dutch process cocoa (sometimes called alkalized cocoa) is cocoa that has been made from cocoa beens that have been treated with a potassium solution before grinding. This neutralizes the acidity of the cocoa and tends to leave it with a darker colour and a mellower flavour. In the US and some other countries the cocoa is labelled as Dutch processed (cocoa which is untreated is usually labelled as "natural"). However in the UK it is not labelled and you may have to read the ingredients list to check - eg Green & Black's cocoa is Dutch processed and mentions potassium in the ingredients but it appears that Cadbury's Bournville is not as the ingredients are 100% cocoa. For the Devil's Food Cake recipe it does not matter particularly which type you use but if a recipe uses only bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) as its leavening then you need to use natural cocoa unless there are other acidic ingredients in the cake (such as buttermilk) as the bicarbonate of soda needs an acid to react with to help the cake rise.

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