by Nancy Silverton

Wayne Thiebaud is a dream artist for dessert lovers. He represents those of us who still lick the frosting-coated spatula, believe that raspberries, chocolate, and lemon go with almost everything, and think of cakes, cookies, or ice cream as perfect way to end a wonderful meal.

In the world of food, we are experiencing a very un-Thiebaudish trend. The glistening pastel cakes that are his signature would never contain the flavorings being used in desserts today, such as avocado, basil, and lemongrass. Even Thiebaud's clean-lined vision of how desserts are supposed to look-round and delicately decorated, by someone who was probably smiling-is being challenged by the popular belief that anything found at the end of the menu should resemble complex modern architecture, laboriously constructed by a team of grimacing pastry chefs. Wayne Thiebaud's art offers a tip to these culinary explorers. In the all-American imagination, desserts occupy sainted territory, and at the bottom of every urban appetite is the need for something quiet, sweet, and beautiful.


Devil's Food Cake
with White Mountain Frosting

by Nancy Silverton

Makes one 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 8


Brush an 8-inch round cake pan with some of the melted butter. Line the bottom of the pan with an 8-inch round of parchment paper or waxed paper. Brush the paper with the remaining melted butter and place the pan in the freezer briefly to solidify the butter. Dust with the 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and throw out the excess. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of barely simmering water. (The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl, or the chocolate will burn.) Turn off heat and let sit over warm water until ready to use.

Whisk together the water and the remaining 1/4 cup cocoa powder in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth and thickened and the whisk leaves an empty trail when it is drawn across the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the melted chocolate and set aside in a warm place.

Using a heavy-duty electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the 1/2 cup butter on medium speed until it lightens and holds soft peaks, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the brown sugar until well blended. Turn the speed to low and add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after teach addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the chocolate and sour cream until well blended. In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water, making sure that the baking soda fizzes. Beat half of the flour into the batter, add the dissolved baking soda, and then beat in the remaining flour until well blended. Set aside.

Using the electric mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low speed until frothy. Increase the speed to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to high and gradually beat in the granulated sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Whisk one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten the texture, then fold in the rest, incorporating them well. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the cake shrinks slightly from the sides of the pan while remaining slightly soft in the center. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

When thoroughly cool, invert the cake onto a rack and peel off the paper. with a serrated knife, trim the rounded top of the cake so that it is flat, and then cut cake horizontally into 3 even layers, each no more than 1/2 inch thick. Place 1 cake layer on a serving platter or cardboard round, trimmed side up, and spread the top with a 1/8-inch-thick layer of frosting. Place the second layer on top, press down lightly, and spread with the same amount of frosting. Top with the third cake layer and press down lightly. Spread additional frosting on the sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm.

Place the cake on a cake stand or hold the cake flat on your palm for easy handling. Scrap the remaining frosting onto the top of the cake and spread it with a back and forth motion, using a long bladed flexible metal spatula held flat against the top of the cake. Allow the frosting to flow over the edges of the top. When the top is smooth, use the spatula to spread the frosting down the sides of the cake in broad, smooth strokes, turning the cake after each stroke.


White Mountain Frosting

by Nancy Silverton

Makes approximately 2 cups, enough to frost a 3-layer 8- or 9-inch cake


Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil. When the syrup boils it will throw sugar onto the sides of the pan. At that point, wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry bush, dipping the brush in water as necessary. Boil the mixture gently for 5 minutes, or until the syrup reaches the soft-crack stage (270 degrees F on a candy thermometer or when a small amount dropped into cold water separates into firm though pliable strands). Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using an electric mixer set on low speed, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then, while beating the egg whites, pour in the sugar syrup in a slow, stead stream until all of it is incorporated. Continue to beat the mixture for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the frosting forms firm rounded peaks that hold their shape. Gently fold in the vanilla and almond extracts using as few strokes as possible. Use the frosting immediately.


Recipes From The Artist Table

Devil's Food Cake with White Mountain Frosting
Celery Remoulade
La Bouillabaisse Chez Panisse

Images from the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Edited by Carol Eron
$28.00 (clothbound)
Publication date: November 1995
ISBN: 0-00-225071-3
55 recipes; 65 full-color reproductions
Reprinted with permission

This Archived Page created between 1994 and 2001. Modified August 2007