Helen’s Chocolate Cake
Every family member, friend, chef or baker has a go to dessert recipe; a tried and true treat they can make it with their eyes closed. My Mom, Helen, discovered this chocolate cake recipe over 30 years ago in a magazine though she can’t remember the publication, possibly Sunset, Woman’s World or maybe even Gourmet she took the base ingredients and changed them to her liking. This cake has a history steeped in secrecy, adoration, gratitude, and appreciation and above all else my mother’s love. Proudly positioned in her faded yellow recipe card box sits a splattered and stained and quite faded card with the title “The Chocolate Cake” written across the top.
Over the 39 years of my life this delightful cake has made appearances at Christmases adorned with a miniature children’s carousel for birthdays it was always decorated with three candles representing the past, the present and future. It’s been featured at Graduation celebrations with a perfect icing scroll or waiting with small American flags atop for my son’s return home from his BCT (Basic Combat Training) with the U.S. Army. The cake has celebrated beginnings such as the family meal as we wished my son good luck and Godspeed to his Army post in Korea, and endings being brought to share after the passing of a loved one.
This cake with its tall and sturdy yet tender layers is perfectly complimented by a rich and feather light chocolate icing and all of this time the recipe has remained the World Champion of my family’s culinary secrets. No family member has ever had it, many have asked. Mom’s reply has always been the same “I found this gem. Go and find yours, then let’s compare.” She delivers her response in the tone of a treasure hunter. She found her own personal “X marks the spot” and she encourages others to find their own as well, not to take hers. I completely understood so I knew there was never going to be a chance in all holy heck that I would ever get my hands on that cake recipe.
When I opened my bakery and café, I received a priceless gift. It was a fresh recipe card, void of batter splatter and cocoa dust. My Mom’s handwriting revealed the few ingredients, oven temperature and the steps to follow to make The Chocolate Cake. This was truly one of the simplest recipes I had ever seen and one of the most loving gifts I had ever received. Now it was mine (head tilted back cackling away calling out, “Mine, mine, mine!”) I now had the ability to share a bit of my mom with my customers and reveled as they devoured her chocolate cake!
You are joining me on my new adventure, you are now on my maiden voyage as a food writer, recipe developer, food photographer, published recipe author and above else a storyteller. In good faith and in celebration of my Mom I asked if I could share her recipe with all of you. Could I please reveal the ultra secret, long ago and far away magazine find my mother has carried with her and the memories of my family members, friends, ex-boyfriends (sorry husband) and former customers? Mom said I was allowed to publish this saying, “ Show them that you care that you will go to all lengths to uncover stories, recipes and memories, help them create an amazing cake that wows everyone.”
Enjoy this cake. Serve it with three things, laughs, people and stories. Or take it up a notch and wash it down with merlot, coffee or cold milk. Thank you for being here, thank you for taking this curious adventure with me. I cannot wait to see where we are headed next!
Oh, here is a side note, when I received that recipe card the first time my exact statement was this “ Mom! What in the hell? This cake is vegan? I’ve been eating a vegan cake all my life? My Mom’s statement “What’s a vegan?” I love you Mom.
Helen’s Chocolate Cake
What you will need:
2- 9” round cake pans buttered or non-stick sprayed, parchment lined and cocoa dusted. Oven preheated to 350.
2 tbsp. instant coffee
3 cups all purpose flour sifted
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup sifted Hershey’s cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup oil canola, vegetable, safflower (do NOT use olive oil or coconut oil)
2 cups room temperature water
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
4 tbsp. Heinz white vinegar
In a large bowl sift the flour then sift the cocoa powder, granulated sugar, baking soda, instant coffee and salt. Mix well with a whisk and set aside.
In a medium size bowl measure out oil, water and vanilla, in a separate smaller bowl measure out the white vinegar and set aside.
Add the oil, water and vanilla into the dry ingredients; mix well with your whisk until no dry ingredients remain. Once the batter is smooth add the vinegar and mix to incorporate. Pour evenly into the two prepared pans and place in your hot oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, testing the center of the cake for doneness with a wooden skewer. The skewer should have very little crumb clinging to it. Remover the cake pans and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Turn over cake pans on cooling racks and let sit for 10 more minutes, remove the pans and carefully peal away the parchment paper, allow to cool completely.
Wrap cake in waxed paper, parchment or plastic wrap with a 2-4 vent hole pricks in the plastic wrap (the cake needs to breath) and leave out room temperature over night. In the morning make the icing and assemble your chocolate cake.
Light and Creamy Chocolate Icing
1 cup sifted cocoa powder
4 cups sifted powder sugar
1 ½ cups softened unsalted butter or butter flavored shortening
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 tbsp. milk, half & half, whipping cream or thick coconut milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
In a mixer with a paddle attachment mix butter or shortening on medium speed for 5 minutes, stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla and salt mix for an additional minute. Scrape the bowl down, add your sifted cocoa powder, mix on low speed for one minute then increase speed to medium high for 2 minutes. Scrape bowl down and add your sifted powder sugar, mix on low speed for 2 minutes see if the icing looks dry if it does add 1 tablespoon at a time milk, half & half, whipping cream or thick coconut milk mixing for 1 minute after each liquid addition. When it looks moist increase speed to medium and mix for five minutes stopping at the 3-minute mark to scrape down the bowl and continue. Ice your cooled cake and enjoy.