Monday, December 30, 2013

Grandma's Chocolate Cake

For the last cake of 2013, I bring you an old-fashioned (think 1945) three-layer chocolate cake, attributed to "Grandma" on the vintage recipe card. And a little lesson on living in the moment, just added to my growing list of New Year's resolutions.  For in the midst of mixing the batter, I glanced at the recipe card title, Chocolate Cake, and then at the very vanilla batter in the bowl.  Holy cow! I forgot to add the chocolate!  Luckily, it wasn't too late and I spooned it in, several steps behind the instructions.

Speaking of the chocolate, it should always be melted in a double boiler, but not to worry if you don't have one, as I don't.  Simply create your own by placing a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

This cake batter is quite thick, so...

using an offset spatula, or even the back of a spoon, smooth it out before placing the pans in the oven.

Pull the cakes from the oven and let them cool on a rack for about ten minutes before turning them out.

Like many cakes, these formed a dome.  You don't want a dome when stacking cakes so, using a serrated knife place horizontally, just slice off the dome.  Then, the baker can have a taste or two, for quality control purposes.

The layers, frosted.

The cake had a soft crumb, wasn't overly sweet and a rather delicate flavor (for a chocolate cake, that is).  My tasters, Allen and his wife Racine, preferred the frosting to the cake.  (Racine thoughtfully selected her clothing that evening so she would match the upholstery in our parlor.)

Production notes:  I used unsalted butter in place of the shortening, and did not add the 1/2 cup of water, since the instructions didn't say how or when to add it. I used sweet (regular) milk and not sour (buttermilk). For the frosting, I used 8 tablespoons of butter and increased the cocoa powder and hot water a bit, but you'll have enough frosting if you following the amounts listed on the card.


  1. Hi Susan! Based on other chocolate cakes recipes I have seen, the 1/2 cup of hot water is added at the very end and stirred in. It enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Some people, (including myself) use hot coffee instead, as coffee added to a chocolate cake doesn't give it a coffee flavor but rather enhances the chocolate (even better than plain hot water would). Try the recipe with the buttermilk, I find it makes the cake more moist. Loved that you used butter instead of shortening.

    1. Thanks for these great suggestions, and the explanation of the hot water, Trish! Using coffee instead of hot water is a great idea. I use buttermilk (sour milk) when I have it on hand, but I always use butter and never shortening. I try to remain true to the recipe as written, but the shortening today has been so reformulated that it quite different from the product used in the original cake.

  2. My mother had the same Chambers stove that I see in many of your pictures. It's a gorgeous piece of kitchen equipment and it served Mom well for almost 60 years. When Dad and Mom built our first house, the kitchen had to be designed around the Chambers because of its size. (It's wider than most stoves.) Mom's only complaint was that the oven was too small for big pans, even though the outer dimensions were large.
    I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

    1. I love my Chambers and even wrote a blog post about it here:
      It has outlasted three modern electric ovens, and has hardly given me a bit of trouble. The people we bought it from were selling precisely because they thought the oven was too small, but since I have a large electric oven in addition, it hasn't been a problem. Thanks for writing!