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!


Inventing bread

I love to bake. I pride myself on my biscuits and French bread, both oven-baked from scratch. Real Southern biscuits, the kind that soothe your soul and raise your cholesterol. Perfect French bread, stellar with spaghetti and lasagne. I also mastered (though for many years haven’t practiced) the art of salt risin bread, the kind you start with potatoes as yeast. Smells like hell, tastes like heaven. (I do think I need to resurrect that art!) 

So why, for cryin out loud, haven’t I transferred that gift and that love to the breadmaker? Why have I treated breadmaker bread like an invitation to mechanics rather than art? Why have I resigned myself to the breadmaker crapshoot, never knowing how the loaf will turn out or whether it will actually taste good?

Yesterday it finally came through to me that I didn’t have to use mixes, didn’t have to follow recipes. The result is quite wonderful. Here’s my recipe for breadmaker spelt bread:

Crust setting: dark

1 c minus 1 T lukewarm water (err on the cool side if you’re not sure)
2 T canola oil
2 T maple syrup
½ t liquid lethicin
2 c spelt flour
1 c white bread flour
3 T whey
1-½ t sea salt
2 t yeast

As the loaf begins to knead, have a spatula, some lukewarm water, and some white bread flour on hand to adjust the dough as needed. It should pull away from the pan as it kneads, but it shouldn’t be lumpy.

Enjoy. We are.