You write what you know

With more free time than I've had since my high school summers, I've been doing a lot of baking. I'm not producing piles of pies, but I am taking a slow and meditative approach to making sure we have a dessert in the house most days. 

Our house is divided when it comes to preferred sweets. I strongly advocate cake, and Josh prefers fruit-based things--pies are on top, but crisps and crumbles aren't far behind. If I were gunning for Girlfriend of the Year, I'd choose fruit at least half of the time I bake. I don't. My love for cake is stronger than my love of awards.

First 10 visitors to our house in Seattle get one of these bad boys.

This cake is legendary back home. I think it's my Aunt Linda's recipe (and I'm not sure where she got it) but my mom has made it so often, and so frequently, that Linda has abdicated "Linda's Chocolate Cake" to "Susie's." There are a few odd things about this cake--you start off boiling some of the batter on the stove, the recipe calls for a cup of water, and the flour can make a big difference. Mom always uses self-rising White Lily flour. White Lily is a Southern brand of soft winter wheat flour, so the grind is finer, and it turns out a light and delicate crumb, perfect for cakes and biscuits. Out here in Seattle, where I can find flour made of quinoa, blue corn, and flaxseed, there is no White Lily to be had. A few weeks ago, I used up the last of my cache that I packed with me from DC, so I've been experimenting to see if I can find a reasonable workaround before I mail order it. I know, I know. Mail-ordering flour makes me seem like a pretentious foodie, but that's not it. I'm just a cake-loving Southerner.

Resistance is futile.
Cake is awesome.

Not having self-rising White Lily presents two cake challenges: the texture is different, and I have to add leavening. A few weeks ago, I made this cake with Bob's flour. To offset the texture difference, I substituted 1 tablespoon of each cup of flour with cornstarch, which is a make-your-own cake flour trick. To add leavening, I consulted a chocolate layer cake from Bittman's How To Cook Everything (make this your new standard wedding gift if you insist on deviating from the registries)--adding 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt to what the recipe already calls for. Yesterday, I tried cake flour (from the bulk foods section) and added leavening. I also tried a new cocoa powder, so my experiment lacked the controls to be scientific. I prefer the cake flour version, but Josh likes the chewiness that regular flour gave the cake. We both prefer the old cocoa, which is usually Hersheys or Ghirardelli. (It's hard living out here, and test-tasting cake is just one of many nice things he does for me.) This version of the recipe is based on Joy of Baking's advice for adjusting for self-rising flour, and I'm quite pleased with it.

Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Susie's recipe for those west of the Mississippi River. If you can get your hands on self-rising White Lily, then omit all of the baking powder, salt, and 1 teaspoon of the baking soda. Mom uses margarine instead of butter.

2 c. white sugar
2 c. cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (table or kosher; don't use sea salt--the minerals can affect the taste)
6 tbsp cocoa (either Dutch-process or natural, depending on your taste)
1 stick butter
1/2 c. oil
1 c. water
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs 
1/2 c. buttermilk, well shaken

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cocoa, butter, oil, and water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and stir into the dry ingredients until just mixed. Add vanilla, eggs, and buttermilk, and mix well. Pour into a greased 9X13 pan and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the sides pull away from the pan. (I prefer using Pam baking spray, and splitting the batter between one of these pans to make 12 adorable babycakes, and one 6-cup Bundt pan.) Remove from oven and cool on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool another 10-20 minutes before icing them.

I'm an adorable babycake!

Chocolate Icing
Susie's recipe

6 tbsp cocoa
6 tbsp milk
1 stick butter
1 pound powdered sugar

Pour sugar into a large bowl. Combine cocoa, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and pour into a the powdered sugar. Beat with an electric mixer for one or two minutes, until well combined. Pour over cooled cakes. Lick beaters and spatula.

Cake and icing yields 24 (12 iced babycakes and 12 iced Bundt-cake slices) 57-gram servings. Each serving is 185 calories and 9 grams of fat. 


  1. I didn't get a chocolate cake on my visit. Maybe I wasn't one of the first ten visitors. But that is okay, because I did have some other amazing dishes at your house! Such a good cook!


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