Devil’s food cake with Bigmother’s icing

Today I get to make tacos for friends who are coming to dinner. The perfect finish to spicy tacos is chocolate. And for me, the perfect chocolate is cake. I bake a recipe adapted from the 1972 Joy of Cooking, and I frost it with my grandmother’s recipe. Here we go. This is a complicated yet straightforward recipe, and the result will ruin you for Hostess and Sara Lee for life:

This recipe is adapted from the 1972 Joy of Cooking


  • Bring the butter, eggs, water, and milk to room temperature before beginning to cook.
  • For this recipe, you’ll make several different mixtures: a custard, a flour mixture, sugar, a butter mixture, and whipped egg whites. These all get combined into the cake batter.
  • Equipment needed: measuring cups and spoons; a big mixmaster; a small hand mixer; 5 small bowls; a big mixer bowl; a spatula and a wooden spoon; a double boiler; and a flour sifter.
  • Grease two 8” round cake pans.
  • Oven 350°

Custard: Add the following ingredients in this order and stir in a double boiler:

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

½ c milk

1 c light brown sugar, firmly packed

Stir those together; then add:

1 egg yolk

Remove from heat when thickened.

Flour mixture: Sift twice before measuring:

2 c flour

Resift into a small bowl with:

1 t soda

½ t salt

Liquid mixture: Combine in a separate small bowl:

¼ c water

½ c milk

1 t vanilla

Sugar: Sift into a separate small bowl:

1 c sugar

Butter mixture: In the big mixer bowl, beat until soft:

½ c butter

Add the sugar gradually. Blend until very light and creamy.
Beat in, one at a time:

2 egg yolks

Cake batter: Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 4 parts, alternating with thirds of the liquid mixture. With any cake, always start with the flour and end with the flour.
Stir in the chocolate custard.

Whipped egg whites: Using the small hand mixer, whip until stiff, but not dry:

2 egg whites

Using the wooden spoon, fold them lightly into the cake batter.

Pour the batter into prepared pans.
Bake at 350° for 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

Bigmother’s icing:

1/2 c. brown sugar
2 sq. bitter chocolate
pinch of salt
1 box confectioners sugar (in contemporary terms, this comes to about 3/4 bag)
1/3 to 1/2 stick butter
1/2 c. sweet or sour cream
Melt brown sugar, butter, & chocolate together. Add cream. Boil 1 min. Cool a little; add pinch of salt. Beat in confectioners sugar. If too stiff, add a little liquid—cream or water will work, but coffee is best!


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