I used Nick Malgieri's 1942 recipe to make the cake of which I wrote last. The recipe was perfectly serviceable but made two rather skimpy 8-inch layers rather than the 9-inch the recipe promised (I was going to make it in my 8-inch pans anyway, since I made myself a cupcake to try it out). I was less than overwhelmed at the moist devil's foodness of the texture, but I still say it was better than a mix.
The icing was every bit as difficult as I anticipated. It's cooked in a pan like fudge, but withdrawn when the candy thermometer reaches 220 rather than the 250 required for real fudge. Otherwise the recipe is very similar. Trying to be modern I beat it with my portable mixer rather than by hand, stopping before it really became firm. This is where it gets difficult. You have to pour the mixture, slightly cooled of course, onto one layer of cake and then add the the top layer. You're putting a layer of cake onto warm soft frosting, so it begins to slide. The trouble was that the the frosting was slow to harden -- that's better than it being fast to harden, because that way you get fudge and cannot spread it on the cake. I walked around the house looking for a way to hold the cake at the right tilt so that the top layer wouldn't slip off. For a couple of hours, off and on. I told myself, "This should not be part of the process."
I asked myself what Martha Stewart would do, but clearly this kind of thing has never happened to Martha Stewart. When asked how to handle kitchen disasters, the only one she can think of is when, as a bride, she cooked the bag of giblets in the Thanksgiving turkey -- and every woman in the country has done that. I asked myself what Paula Deen would do, and I realized that she would have dumped a box of confectioners' sugar into the icing as soon as she saw it wasn't hardening. Too late for that, besides I don't like confectioners' sugar icing (confectioners' sugar has cornstarch in it, and you can taste it). So I was stuck with juggling the cake -- until I thought of what I used to do to harden fudge, and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. This firmed it.
When I took my cake to the bake sale it looked like a despondent little lump amid the fancy decorated cakes, but I put a label on it that said "Home Made Devil's Food, Made from Scratch." By the end of the day I saw a child carrying it around proudly, having selected it from the table full of sparkling cakes covered with M and M's and sugar butterflies.
I hope it was good.