I grew up in a Catholic family that really observed the austere season of Lent. We fasted and didn’t eat meat and gave things up and especially didn’t eat sweets for the 40 days starting on Ash Wednesday. On the night before Easter, we would go to the Easter vigil Mass, then come home to have a piece of this cake, baked by my mother earlier in the day, with vanilla ice cream. That combination of warm cake and cold ice cream gave real meaning to the idea of the resurrection. It’s best as a six-layer cake with a double recipe of chocolate butter cream frosting, but it’s delicious and tender as a sheet cake too.
Kay Downs’ Devil’s Food Cake
- 1 c. softened butter
- 2 c. sugar
- 3 squares unsweetened baker’s chocolate
- 5 eggs, separated
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 2-1/2 c. cake flour (not regular flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
Preheat oven to 325. Dissolve soda in boiling water and set aside. Melt chocolate. Cream butter, add sugar gradually. Add melted chocolate, mix well. Add egg yolks. Beat. Sift four and salt together, then add them alternately with the buttermilk. Add vanilla, then soda/water mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold in gently until just incorporated. Bake in three 9-inch greased and floured tins for 20 minutes. Cool before frosting. To make a six-layer cake, cut each layer in half horizontally with a serrated knife after it cools. Frost with my grandmother Kay Watson’s chocolate buttercream frosting:
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- 6 generous tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- 6 tablespoons milk
Beat in one pound powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Add nuts if desired. I like it with a dash of salt added.
This chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (with vanilla ice cream again, of course) was also the cake of our childhood birthday parties. There are so many old photos of a table surrounded by people with puffed out cheeks, helping the birthday child to blow out the candles on this cake.
One of the (few) sad things for me about being a parent is that my own girls don’t want me to make this cake for their birthdays. They prefer angel food cake out of a box, with chocolate whipped cream frosting. It makes me realize that the chocolate cakes of my childhood, like other memories, existed in a certain time and place, and can’t be fully shared with anyone who wasn’t there.