Growing up in Kentucky put me well beyond the reach of Drake's snack-cake empire, so I kept putting it off, imagining each "Dog" as a mushy Oreo with a silly shape. But my friend Dee persevered, growing downright evangelical in her attempts to win me over and going so far as to order a box for me online.
That's when it dawned on me that Devil Dogs were a commercial bakery's answer to the whoopie pies of New England, which I'd come to love while attending culinary school up north. Suddenly, I got it: a handheld version of devil's food cake with whipped cream, magicked into a virtually nonperishable form.
Of course, that part I could do without. Whether formulas change or our tastes simply grow up, few packaged treats taste as good in real life as they do in our minds. Instead of trying to mimic every nuance of the original, I decided to focus on the chocolaty flavor its name implied.
That means tons of butter, brown sugar, and dark chocolate, whipped together à la devil's food cake. I use Dutch process cocoa—that is, cocoa that has been alkalized—to deepen the crumb to an Oreo-like hue. Not only is Dutch process cocoa darker than natural, its alkaline, rather than acidic, pH gives cakes a sense of earthy depth. (Acidic cocoas fall on the light-and-fruity end of the spectrum.)
Droste is a solid choice if you're at the supermarket (and far better than that other brand in the brown packaging with the silver typeface), but, ounce for ounce, you'll save more and upgrade to a higher tier of chocolate by shopping online. I'm a big fan of Cacao Barry Extra Brute, but any brand of alkalized cocoa will do.
Compared to a classic devil's food cake, Devil Dogs require a lot less liquid; just a splash of coffee to melt the chocolate. That means the batter isn't just stiff enough to pipe—it's stiff enough to hold up in the oven without oozing out of shape. To handle that sort of thickness, you'll need an honest-to-gosh pastry bag rather than a zip-top bag.
Because the old-fashioned canvas bags can harbor bacteria if not kept meticulously clean, I definitely recommend the disposable sort. It's what health departments demand for restaurant use, and it's far less of a hassle, especially because the filling is best piped, too.
You can pick up a roll of disposable pastry bags at craft and baking supply stores, or toss one into your digital shopping cart. Pastry bags are sold according to their length, so look for one that's around 18 inches, a fairly multipurpose size. It's big enough to use for doughy projects like profiteroles, but easily trimmed to handle smaller portions of frosting as well. I tend to buy Kee-Seal because their edges are so smooth, and, with 100 to a roll, they're only 22 cents a pop. I've also had good experiences with brands like DayMark, Ateco, and CIA, so grab what you like!
Because Devil Dogs are so thin, they bake lightning-fast—less than 10 minutes at 350°F. In fact, the real wait is in letting them cool. Once cooled, the cakes can be stored up to a day at room temperature in an airtight container, or filled when you're ready to chow down.
I prefer a thick stripe of Homemade Cool Whip, since it's so wonderfully stable and I often have a tub on hand, but Devil Dogs are a forgiving thing. The recipe comes together so quickly that it may be simpler to opt for your favorite vanilla frosting or just plain ol' whipped cream.
If you've got a soft spot for chocolate-covered cherries, might I even suggest a batch of Cherry Pit Whipped Cream? Sacrilegious to be sure, but amazingly tasty if you'd like a seasonal variation.
Whatever the case, take it easy on the filling, or else it will go squishing out the sides. I mean, there are worse problems to have in life, but still. Once assembled, the Devil Dogs should be devoured ASAP, or else transferred to an airtight container to chill—I'm told that Devil Dogs, like revenge, are best served cold.