The pickle man

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mom's Chocolate Cake

I probably have too much to say about this cake.  So if you're just here for the recipe, scroll on down. 

This cake is an integral part of my childhood. 
It was definitely the first thing I could make from scratch.  Same goes for all of my sisters (I have 3).  After watching the process several hundred times a year, I could do this at age 8. 

Oh, and if you think I'm exaggerating about the several hundred, guess again.  Mom made about 3 of these a week - for everyone's birthday she loved (and she has a big heart), to auction at the church, for thank you notes, Valentine's Day... You asked, you got cake.  

And she went into overdrive at Christmas.  The first year after her stroke, she asked me to come by and get the "cake list" to help her bake.  When I saw there were 53 names on it, I told her it was time to start giving away wine! 

But why make box cake if you can whip this up in the time it takes to preheat the oven?  Yep, that's how long it takes.  I know because my husband timed me. 

So, let's get this show on the road. 

First, you grease and flour two 9 inch pans.  

When I was little, mom used vegetable oil and waxed paper (I loved getting to cut out the circles).  But now we've both discovered Baker's Joy.

Next, measure 1 cup buttermilk, and float 1 teaspoon of Baking soda in the buttermilk.  Brands pictured.

Next, put 2 sticks of Parkay in the mixer.
That's right.  Parkay.  If you want it to taste like Kay's, you use Parkay.  Not Country Crock.  And certainly not real butter.  I know - I tried for years to use real butter and it never tasted just like mom's.  Then I caved.  Now I have Parkay in my fridge just for this.

Moving on,
add 2 cups of sugar and 2 eggs to the butter. (Picture your six year old, sing-songing two sticks-a-butta, two cups-a-sugah, two eggs... yep, that's my childhood)

Then add 3/4 cup of Hershey's cocoa.

Add 1 tsp vanilla extract (REAL, not imitation) and 1 tsp salt.  I use Kosher.  Mom used straight up iodized.  I can't taste the difference, but I'm sure if you have a discriminating pallet... better be safe and go with iodized.

Then (and this is as tricky as it gets) ALTERNATELY add 2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour...
and the buttermilk/ baking soda mixture.
And blend until combined.

I highly recommend tasting the batter at this point.  It might be better than the cake.

Meanwhile, microwave 1 cup of water until it is boiling.

Slllooowwllllyyy  add it to your mixer (and make sure that it is as low as it will go).

Again, tasting is required.

Pour into the 9 inch rounds... 
And bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  
You can also bake this batter into cupcakes OR (if you want to prevent the problems described below) in a jelly roll pan (one of those long rectangles I always used for cookies). 

While the cake is baking...
let your kid lick the bowl, the spatula, and the beaters.  It's good for his soul.

When the cake gets out of the oven, let it cool.

SERIOUSLY, let it cool!!

Then dump it out on a cake plate... preferably near the center.

Then, start making the icing. 
Melt 1 stick of butter... um, I mean, PARKAY... in a sauce pan.
Add 3 tablespoons of Hershey's cocoa powder and 6 tablespoons of skim milk.
Stir in 1 tsp vanilla.
Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 to 1 bag of powdered sugar
Basically, keep adding powdered sugar until it looks like you want it to...

The above picture is too thin...

And the one below is just right...

Then, spread it on the first layer of the cake.
A butter knife works just fine for this, but my mother-in-law gave me this handy-dandy offset spatula for my birthday, so now I use it.  It's fancy :)

Top with another layer of cake, and then more icing...

AND THEN (if you are Katherine and not Kay) tragedy will inevitably strike.

1. your cake will split OR
2. your cake will slide.

See below.
I propped up the cake with a spatula to slow the slide.  Mom says this happens because I get in too big of a hurry and I don't let the cakes cool enough.  But she was ALWAYS in a hurry and this NEVER happened to her cakes.  ARGH!!

(worst slide ever: a groom's cake version of this... for 200 or so... and I was pregnant... but I think I won't scare you... we'll save that for another post).

And of course, in addition to the lovely slide, this cake ended up splitting, too.  But my friend Jennifer said it was still pretty tasty. 

And for those of you who like the babies more than the food...

This is what happened while I was icing. 

I have a really really tiny kitchen - practically no counter space at all - so I put the discarded cake pan on a stool.  My baby has just started pulling up, so he found it. 

Somewhere in his baby brain, something said, you should try to eat this stuff! (which isn't saying much, since apparently everything induces the same reaction in him)... 

So he did!

And you know what? He liked it!
Some things no one has to teach you :)

For the cake:
2 sticks Parkay Margarine (you can use butter or another kind of margarine, but it won’t taste the same) room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease one half-sheet pan or 2 9 inch round cake pans.  You can also make cupcakes.

Place the baking soda in the cup of buttermilk and set aside.  Cream the margarine and the sugar.  Add the eggs, beating well after each.  Add the vanilla and salt.  Add the cocoa powder.  Alternately add the flour and the buttermilk/ soda mixture.  Do not overbeat.  Add 1 cup boiling water.  Pour into the pan you are using.  Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes (cupcakes/ sheetcake) up to 20-25 minutes (round cake pans).  Test by inserting a toothpick or skinny knife into the center.  It should come out clean if the cake is done.

For the icing:
1 stick butter or margarine
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
6 tablespoons milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 lbs powdered sugar

Melt the icing in a saucepan.  Add the cocoa, milk, and vanilla, stirring until combined.  Remove from heat.  Stir in the powdered sugar until slightly stiff.  Pour over the cooled cake.

Note: If you are making a layer cake, be sure to let the cake cool completely before you ice it, or it will split.  The sheetcake and cupcakes are more forgiving J


  1. This is my favorite post. Maybe because two of my grandchildren are in it, maybe not :) The smile is stuck on my face :)

  2. I definitely remember your mom's famous chocolate cake!

  3. Oh boy, there's nothing like a chocolate cake for dessert. Yours looks like it was enjoyed by all. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up.

  4. We have a dessert in my husband's family that has become known as Lemon Slide Cake. (It's not really a cake.) I'm sure it had another name originally, but after a famous incident in which she used the kind of pudding that has to be cooked instead of instant pudding, it was renamed. Mmmm, chocolate cake.