Heaven and Hell

I’ve posted before about this book All Cakes Considered.  In my copy, there are several post-its flagging recipes I’d like to try.  The problem, of course, is finding the time.  Lucky for me, a dinner invitation presented itself for this weekend, and for a change, I didn’t have three classes to teach and a pile of work and laundry – I had the time to make a cake!  I love it when the planets align that way.

In All Cakes Considered, Melissa Gray bakes a cake a week for a year for her office coworkers. I used to bake that often… sigh…  I digress.  The book is organized from ‘easy’ to ‘hard’ – meaning the first recipe is a beginner recipe and the last recipe is the most complex.  The Stephan Pyles Heaven and Hell Cake is the last recipe in the book.  And for good reason.

A little background on Chef Stephan Pyles can be found on (you guessed it) wikipedia.  Turns out he’s a pretty neat guy who has been a classically trained singer, chef, world traveller and philanthropist.  He gave Melissa Gray the recipe for his Heaven and Hell cake to try and print in her book and this recipe has, since I bought the book any way, always intrigued me.  It truly isn’t a complicated recipe – meaning each part of it is actually quite simple – what makes it complicated is the amount of work when you total all the different parts of the cake.  There are two types of cake (angel food and devil’s food – get it?  Heaven and Hell?) peanut butter mousse, and milk chocolate ganache.  I added a layer of buttercream to my version – but I’ll get to that in a minute.  It’s a day’s work, essentially, to make this cake – but I promise you, it is worth every moment.

The ECBF gets a little tense when I pick a cake project.  He says the house gets a big “dramatic”.  To make this a true cake project, instead of just me baking a recipe, I chose to only follow the framework of the recipe – I took some liberties at every turn (I have perfectly good recipes for both a white and a dark cake, a peanut butter mousse, and a milk chocolate ganache – so… I suppose it’s fair to say I got a little cocky).  You know what happens when I get cocky?  I end up having a meltdown on the floor of my kitchen with the ECBF sweeping up whatever it is that I managed to ruin.  So, with that in mind, let me tell you the story of Heaven and Hell.

2 pounds of chocolate

My favourite kind of story starts with 2 pounds of chocolate.  Galen’s big a$$ chocolate bars are ideal for milk chocolate ganache.  Particularly when the ganache isn’t the main event of the dessert, which is absolutely true in the case of a cake involving 2 different types of layer cake, AND peanut butter mousse.


2 lbs of chocolate roughly chopped – beautiful isn’t it?  You start with the ganache before anything else because you want it to set long enough to be thick and gooey but still easy(ish) to spread.   I learned to make ganache a long time ago, but my technique was “perfected” when I was lucky enough to take a chocolate course through the Red River College, Advanced Chocolate Work with Chef Don Pattie.  Now, if he ever finds out I use Galen’s bulk chocolate for this purpose he’d probably rescind my certificate of completion, but alas, Chef isn’t here and guess what – it works.

Chef taught me to add the chocolate to the boiling cream and then let it sit.  Do not stir. In this case, because I had just over 2 lbs of chocolate to add to the cream, I let it sit for a full 10 minutes.  Then you take your whick and you stir.  Just when you think the cream will not blend with the chocolate – it starts to turn into this glossy, creamy, beautiful liquid.  Love. It.

White cake – meh.  I didn’t make a true angel food cake, despite the recipe, because I thought that the texture of my white cake would be better.  This is where the cockiness kicked in.  Ugh.  This is where it started to fall apart.  I baked three layers of white cake.  My white cake.  Then I started on the chocolate layers.

The secret to a good chocolate cake is strong, hot, coffee.  Stephan Pyles’ chocolate cake recipe also called for coffee.  I got back on track, momentarily.

Secret ingredient to any good chocolate cake

The problem with not following the recipe became abundantly clear when I pulled the chocolate cake layers out of the oven to discover that my chocolate cake recipe expands, while my white cake recipe contracts.  What does that mean?  It means that my layers were two different sizes.  When I stacked them, with the delightful peanut butter mousse in between, they were horrifyingly uneven.  How do you frost something like that?  Here’s where the meltdown started.

The ECBF was off doing something else so he didn’t hear my swearing.  As far as he was concerned, this cake project was delightfully drama-free.  Only Carl was witness to the tears.  Why didn’t I just follow the flippin’ recipe like everyone else?  Why do I think I know better than a world-renowned chef with his own restaurant?  Or a published author?  Why?  Because if we don’t try, we’ll never know.  Suck it up Princess, you have a couple hours til this dinner party and you have a cake to deliver.

Buttercream roses hide a lot of sins.  It seemed appropriate to hide sins in a Heaven and Hell cake.  Eureka!  Not only did I find a solution – but a clever one!   And there you have it, the rationale behind the absolutely gratuitous additional layer of buttercream.  I thought of that after the cake was done and ready to be transported to its final destination – my dinner party invite.  I quickly whipped up a batch of buttercream, and tossed in the leftover peanut butter mousse – which, as it turned out, made for a light peanut butter flavoured buttercream.  That being said, after eating the inside of the cake, the buttercream was mostly for aesthetics and most of us left it behind on the plate.  Oh well, at least it didn’t look lopsided.

This is what the final product looked like (nevermind the crummy photography – the class I’m taking is next week, I swear):

Final Product

Imagine, underneath all of that, three layers of white, two layers of chocolate, stacked with peanut butter mousse, and rounded out with milk chocolate ganache.  Oh wait, you don’t need to imagine, I took a picture of a slice for you to see for yourself!


See how the chocolate layers hang over the white layers?  Cockiness got the better of me.  But cleverness saved the day.


This tastes like heaven.  Melissa Gray describes in her book about how a waitress at Stephan Pyles’ restaurant explained the name of the cake like this: “heaven on the lips, hell on the hips”.  This is a sugar rush sure to be a couple pounds on the scale the next day – but worth every bite.  I promise.

POST SCRIPT: Saveur magazine posted the recipe here, if you’re so inclined.  It’s a little different than Melissa Gray’s version from her book, and of course, as you know, it is nothing like the recipe I made…

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