This is the cake my Mom always made. It has become a staple of my household as well. In 2007, when looking through her multitude of recipe clippings I found the newspaper clipping that she kept, had written “Best Ever” on the side of the clipping, and then had typed into her own recipe notebook. I have made a scrapbook page to grace the cover of one of my most organized recipe notebooks. I had printed a copy of this recipe and kept it on the inside door of a kitchen cabinet at one time when I was raising my kids!
I had somewhat decided that I would not make desserts for a while as I have gained a bit of weight over the past three months. Most likely due to Holiday baking but also due to the lack of usual physical movement due to this broken ankle. It is partially healed but will need a bit more time. Aye yi yi! However I needed an excuse to try out the newest Buttercream frosting from Nila at http://thetoughcookie.com/2016/02/08/how-to-make-swiss-buttercream-swiss-meringue-buttercream/.
So Best Ever Chocolate Cake is my “go to” recipe but I did not want a big cake to sit around my kitchen for me to nibble away on all week! I decide to make half the recipe (it divides very nicely) and make 12 cupcakes. I can always send the “leftovers” to work with hubby.
Original ingredients: (full recipe)
- 1 cup lard or shortening
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 cup sour milk
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
And Mom’s version:
Mom would have used shortening or oleomargarine. Mom would make cake for Sunday supper. She would bake most of her cakes including this one in a 9 x 13 baking pan. She would sprinkle on powdered sugar. And here’s how to serve cake: cut the cake into two parts. Cut one part into six equal pieces. We kids thought “equal” was very important! Serve the family (2 parents, 4 children) dessert. Save the other half of the cake until the next night’s supper and do the same thing. Mom had a similar approach to those rare occasions when she bought ice cream from the grocery store. This was when the package was a rectangle and a full half gallon! She would open the rectangle flat. She would slice the rectangle of ice cream into six equal (emphasis again on the equal) parts and serve the family. The flattened open box was then put on the floor for the cat to have her treat.
Over the years I have altered the ingredients from time to time. I use butter now and not shortening. I usually keep buttermilk in the fridge so that can be used instead of sour milk. At times, recently, I use coffee instead of the hot water. I once “improved” the recipe using Shirley Corriher’s book Bakewise for the “scientific” version based on ratios and weights of flour, sugar, eggs, and fat. That required more eggs and using half butter and half oil. If I remember correctly that cake was more evenly baked, the top was not puffed up and the color was slightly lighter as was the texture. I think my son liked that cake.
Even though I had intended to only make a dozen cupcakes I thought it would be interesting to make the original (I have lard in my fridge to use!) and then make my more “modern” version. There will be family home for dinner tonight to test these on.
For the first set I use lard (I am not going to use oleo), regular cocoa, and make the sour milk. I even sift the dry ingredients together. For the second batch I use butter, buttermilk, coffee, and Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa. I whisk the dry ingredients together. Otherwise I use the same method for mixing the batter as per the original clipping. This is how mom taught me. She also had me sift the dry ingredients three times and only stir the batter clockwise. We did not always have an electric mixer available.
There is a definite color difference. The “modern” version rose a little higher as well but not too much so. I will have to remember which are which once I frost them!
Now that I think about it, I could have piped the buttercream on one batch and spread it on the other!
Let us see what the family thinks. They were excited about the experiment. We spent 10-15 minutes in discussion and deliberation after dinner. My son had grown up eating this cake. His first response was that both tasted like he remembered. Hubby liked the darker version because it looked as if it would be richer and more chocolaty. Stepdaughter (I hate the prefix “step” but it is what it is!) liked the look of the lighter brown one and noted that it had a nice “muffin top” which was appealing. Everyone thought that if they were presented on different days and not in comparison with each other, the difference would not be evident.
Results: The lighter brown cupcake was the original recipe. The darker brown was my modernized version. The modernized version was described as moist. The original version was cakey. There was no discernible taste difference. After several cupcakes were tested, and devoured, with and without the frosting, the preference was for the original recipe. When the changes were described the suggestion was to make the original but use butter and buttermilk. This is exactly how I have been making this cake for the past 10 plus years!