Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Friday, December 22, 2017

Family Chocolate Cake Recipe

This Family Chocolate Cake recipe is not my family's -- it belongs to the Wenzel family whose son Ryan worked for me a few years ago. It was passed down from Ryan's paternal grandmother and the go-to cake for all family birthdays. After he shared the recipe, I baked one for his farewell party. Although it was delicious, and a big hit, I never got around to blogging about it. Until now.

We celebrated my niece Jessica's birthday last weekend because it happened to fall on Honeyball Day, our family tradition where we make strufoli, an Italian confection from my husband's childhood. I'm not a fan, but it's a fun day. However, I am a big fan of this old-fashioned chocolate cake with white frosting, also called "gravy" frosting. You'll see why below.

Start by melting the butter and chocolate in water.

When it's smooth, remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.  Because chocolate is the star, it's better to use good quality (i.e., not a supermarket brand) chocolate. I used Scharffen Berger, one of my favorites. 

Next, start the batter.  It really couldn't be easier.

Add the chocolate mixture to the batter and incorporate.

After adding the dry ingredients and sour cream, pour the batter into greased and floured pans.

Remove from the oven, cool on a rack for about ten minutes, then turn the cakes out from the pan to completely cool. Ryan once skipped this important step, and frosted a warm cake, with rather unfortunate consequences.

While the cake is cooling, begin the frosting. It uses flour (!)) which is why it is often referred to as gravy icing. It's a very old recipe and one that should be returned to the American frosting repertoire. I screwed this up the first time by overcooking the flour and water mixture. You want it to be thickened, but not so much that it congeals, as below. Lesson learned.

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the cooled "gravy" mixture and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Frost the cake. As you can see at the top, this didn't make quite enough frosting to completely cover two nine-inch layers, so I made a naked cake, all the rage these days. However, if you plan to do so, even off the cakes completely (cut the domes flat) so the side frosting doesn't gather in the gap.

Wenzel Family Chocolate Cake and White Icing

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I substituted butter for the margarine.  I baked it in two nine-inch round pans -- but didn't have enough frosting. If you want to fully frost a two-layer cake, increase the frosting amounts by 50 percent. I baked the cakes for 25 minutes. Check for doneness at 20 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the centers. (Also, Ryan just let me know that the original recipe calls for semisweet chocolate, though the unsweetened works fine.)

The birthday girl, Jessica, below. Not only was she elected to the Alpha Omega honor society in medical school, and matched to her first choice for residency, she is about to become chief resident in pediatrics (a specialty that will be very welcome in our family in a few months!), and plans to follow with a fellowship in pediatric intensive care.

Friday, December 15, 2017


This fall, I did something new -- I taught a graduate class in nonprofit communications at a university in Manhattan. Much of the curriculum was devoted to developing effective writing skills, using social media and the like. But part of the class was about honing one's personal and professional "brand" -- a 21st-century buzzword that simply means reputation. For the final class, I wanted to demonstrate a memorable way to reinforce personal branding. So I baked some Snickerdoodles from a vintage recipe (and told them about my blog, of course).  Let's just say the cookies were very, very well received.

Snickerdoodles (the best-named cookie ever) are rather old-fashioned, simple and delicious. What makes them special is the final roll in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Although not traditional Christmas cookies, I doubt anyone would be disappointed if they appeared in a box of holiday baked goods.

In addition to being a classic, or perhaps because of it, they are very easy to make.  This recipe, as are many vintage recipes, is mostly a list of ingredients with the instruction: "Mix as usual."  My method is listed at the end of this post.

Start by creaming the butter with sugar, adding the eggs...

and adding the dry ingredients until a dough forms.

I ran out of time, so I stored the dough in plastic bags in the refrigerator overnight. Chilled dough is also easier to work with.

After removing the dough from the refrigerator, roll the dough into small balls.

Then roll each ball around in a small bowl filled with cinnamon and sugar.

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I pressed each cookie a bit.

The students, below, with the cookies. (Though it was the last class, they still had to submit their final exam!)

Below is the recipe card and below that is the method I used.


1 c. butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. baking soda
2 t. cream of tartar
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 T each of sugar and cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, combining well.
Mix the baking soda, cream of tartar, flour and salt in a separate bowl, blending well.
Add dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl and combine. (Do not overmix; this will result in a tough cookie.)

Refrigerate dough until firm enough to handle.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Roll dough into teaspoon size balls and then roll each in the sugar and cinnamon.
Bake at 350 F for 8 to 10 minutes. Check underside of cookies -- if they're golden brown, they're done.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Impossible Pumpkin Pie

Delicious pumpkin pie in just minutes?  Impossible you say? It's not quite a Thanksgiving miracle, but if you have a blender and oven, it's possible! 

This is a cheat pie made by placing all the ingredients -- including a half cup of Bisquick -- in the blender and mixing for about one minute. The pie didn't form a substantial crust at all; in fact, it was barely there, but the pie otherwise tasted like the traditional Thanksgiving dessert.

This pie is so easy and passed the taste test with flying colors, that I couldn't resist posting it. Aside from baking for 55 minutes, the pie took literally minutes to put together. (It took me longer to make pumpkin pie spice from the spices below than it did to actually blend the ingredients.)

Start by putting all the ingredients in a blender. I used the DH's fancy smoothie blender, which I can barely operate but, after pressing all sorts of buttons, it whirled everything into a smooth batter.

You'll need to grease a nine-or 10-inch pie pan. Spraying it with Pam, or similar, is the easiest method.
Pour in the batter and place in the preheated oven.  I put the pan on a cookie sheet lined with foil to catch any spillover.

When a tester comes out clean, remove from the oven and let cool.

Serve and enjoy. It's better with whipped cream, as is nearly everything else in life.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I used softened butter in place of the margarine.  Of course, the first time I made it, I realized that I'd forgotten to add the eggs.(However, that version formed a more traditional pie crust. Go figure!)  But it took just minutes to whip up another one. If you don't have pumpkin pie spice in your pantry, you can make your own.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Corn Bread

A hot-from-the-oven pan of cornbread is an excellent way to elevate a weeknight dinner of chili or soup or really anything. It's a rather lowly baked good that, homemade and warm, adds something special to any meal. 

Traditional cornbread recipes, like this vintage one from the 1969 Dorcas Missionary Circle of the Baptist Church in Pound, Wisconsin, are rather plebeian affairs. Short on sugar and fat, they are nonetheless delicious.  And extremely simple to make, and equally difficult to screw up. It's an excellent addendum to your Thanksgiving table, or crumbled and used as a stuffing base.

While I mostly bake from handwritten recipes, I do love church and school cookbooks, as I think the housewives and church ladies submit their best recipes.

Start by sifting the dry ingredients together.

Stir in the wet ingredients until they're well combined and...

smooth, like this. A spoon works fine -- no need for any modern-day machines.

Pour the batter in a greased pan and smooth until it reaches the edges.

Bake until the top is golden and the edges just begin to come away from the sides of the pan.

Turn out, cut and enjoy.

Production notes: I followed this exactly, but accidentally used half & half in place of the milk (a sad fact I discovered the next morning when I poured my coffee). I baked it for about 20 minutes -- you don't want to overbake cornbread or it will be dry.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fresh Cranberry Cookies

'Tis the season for fresh cranberries and after making sauce, bread, cake and cobbler with these tart ruby berries, I was delighted to discover this vintage recipe for Fresh Cranberry Cookies. These would make a fine addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, and a nice alternative to pie.

They are a snap to make, delicious and, most importantly, different. While Craisins (sweetened dried cranberries have appeared in numerous cookie recipe, this is the first I've seen using fresh berries.)

Gather your cranberries and, as the recipe instructs, coarsely chop them. I thought this was way too boring (and difficult) and was about to give up, but...

the DH, a former "deli man," decided to do it.  However, I do think these cookies would be fine using the whole berry if you don't have an ambitious sort at home willing to step up to the plate cutting board.

The recipe calls for two teaspoons of orange juice and, having none the house, I just juiced half an orange (and drank the extra!).

Make sure your butter is at room temperature, and beat it with the sugars. Add the milk, juice and egg and combine.

After you add the dry ingredients and combine well, add the cranberries and nuts to the batter. I used pecans, but walnuts would also be nice.

I used gloved hands to form the cookies into small balls, rather than dropping them by teaspoon onto the cookie sheet. They don't spread much so you can place them close to one another.

Bake for about 10 minutes and cool on racks.

Production notes: I followed the recipe exactly, using pecans for the nuts. The SIL, who adored these cookies, suggested gilding the lily berry by adding white chocolate to the batter. I will try that next time, Josh!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Grasshopper Pie

During college, in addition to protesting (it was the 1970s), studying, experimenting with all manner of things (again, the 1970s), I worked as a waitress in a couple of restaurants.  One, CJ's Tavern,  was in a mall on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin, to which I hitchhiked or took the bus. At CJ's, the cooks made everything from scratch -- I still remember the yeasty aroma from huge mixer where dough for the bread was kneaded every day. (I also recall on the rare occasions when both the owner and the head chef were not working, all of us going into the huge walk-in refrigerator and grabbing handfuls of the exotic-to-us fresh crab meat meant for the Crab Louie salad.  (Sorry about that.)

Anyway, at the end of each shift, we would all gather at the restaurant bar to count our tips while the bartender prepared Grasshoppers, a cocktail with creme de menthe, creme de cacao and ice cream, blended together so it was a dessert and cocktail in one. (I recently ordered a Grasshopper at a chic Manhattan restaurant and it was so modernized, it tasted nothing like the smooth, sweet cocktail confection of my memory.)

That's a long way to get to this vintage recipe for Grasshopper pie, but you can imagine my delight when I found one. It is extremely light and rather delicious and very easy to prepare. (A Google search revealed an even earlier version where a more traditional meringue is used instead of marshmallows.)

 Begin with chocolate wafers for the crust.

Crush them in a food processor or by placing them in a plastic bag and using a rolling pin, or skillet or wine bottle. Mix the crumbs with melted butter and press into an eight-inch pie pan, reserving some for the topping. Bake for about eight minutes.

Next, melt the marshmallows with the milk in a double boiler (or in a bowl set atop a saucepan of simmering water.

When melted, stir in the creme de cocoa and creme de menthe.

Pour the mixture into the crust, smoothing out the top. 

Add the reserved crumbs to decorate the top. Refrigerate for several hours.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, except I baked the crust (at 350 F for about 8 to 12 minutes). Also, I'd suggest adding more of the liquors -- the taste was very subtle. If you want the pie to be green, just add a drop or two of green food coloring after adding in the liquors.

Family members enjoying the pie at our annual Jersey shore rendezvous last month.