Monday 10 January 2011

Chocolate cake - the way mum made it

Today I am going to share a special recipe with you. A quick look at my index will tell you just how much I love making different chocolate cake recipes. Today I am going to share with you my first chocolate cake love. This is the chocolate cake that I grew up with. I thought it was the only chocolate cake in the world. Now I think it is rather plain but it is still comforting.

To think about this cake takes me back to my childhood kitchen with the the old electric oven (I still remember my mum's excitement at moving to a house with a gas oven when I was a teenager - she told me that I could bake anytime I wanted because I wouldn't have to preheat the oven!), the sink where I washed and dried so many dishes, and the pantry with the louvered wooden doors.

The pantry was big enough to hide inside if we were playing hide-and-seek. It was a great place to hide because you could see a little of what was going on outside the door through the louvres. Or sometimes we climbed the shelves in search of food or other goodies - I am not sure if the shelves were sturdy or it was just that we were too light to bother them. The shelves were always full. My mum tried to put food in containers and used all manner of odd tins and jars. Above is the large coffee jar I remember from my childhood that she still uses to store icing sugar. (The lid is so battered that it is a challenge to screw it on.)

The recipe is an easy one. The ingredients would always be in my mum's kitchen. Dump them in a bowl and mix with electric beaters. Sounds simple, and yet during this process something magical happens to turn the ingredients into a creamy chocolate batter. I still remember visiting family friends and being amazed at how light and gorgeous their cake was. Mrs D gave us her secret. She beat the mixture for a whole 3 minutes. Ever since, I have done the same. It makes a difference, I swear!

And when the beaters were turned off, what child could resist a taste! Not while they were whirring faster than the eye could see. I was a little scared of them when they were on. I had visions of blood splattering, cartoon style, from fingers that ventured too close. A bit like I would never even touch the oleander bush after being told it was poisonous because I feared that instant death would come to anyone who so much as brushed against it. But I digress!

With many brothers and sisters in my house, there was often a fight over who "cleaned" the beaters and got to lick the bowl. Kids love raw cake batter. They have no horror of raw egg nor calories. I was told that a friend of a friend once made a whole bowl of cake mix with her sister just to eat it raw. They never ate it raw again. I have a friend who has a rubber spatula especially for scrapping the bowl and sampling it once the cake is in the oven. Cake mixture to children is a wondrous thing. Why adults must save it until it was baked and cooled, was a mystery to me as a child.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Next the batter was tipped into a round 20cm cake tin. This was our standard cake tin (along with a lamington tin) in my childhood. It was probably the first cake tin I bought when I moved out of home because I thought every home must have one. No fancy springform.

We always greased the tin with butter, usually with fingers but sometimes when a packet of butter had been finished, the paper was used to grease the tin with the butter remaining on the wrapper. I now use baking paper and oil spray, just as I use a skewer to check if the cake is done instead of a butter knife like my mum did.

Yes, I don't quite bake cakes the way my mum used to. Nor do I eat them the same way. My mum always insisted that the cake was cooled and iced before we ate a piece. I would beg for a warm piece but she had more self control. The photo above shows that I didn't wait to ice the cake. But I did cut it like my mum. She would cut a thin slice of cake along the middle and then cut this slice into smaller pieces. Then she would put the remaining halves of cake in a plastic container and push them against each other.

I am not so interested in icing but made some for the sake of nostalgia and because E loves it. There was never a recipe for icing in my childhood. Just some icing sugar in a mug, a spoonful of butter and as much hot water as was needed. To make chocolate icing, I added a spoonful of cocoa. Sometimes I had to add a little more water and then more icing sugar to get the right consistency. I still often make icing this way.

But I did need a recipe for chocolate cake and when I moved out of home, it was one of the first recipes I asked my mum to give me. She didn't turn to a cookbook or her notes. This recipe was in her head. I wrote it down.

Given the sentimental nature of this post, you wont be surprised to hear that I photographed the cake on the plate from my childhood. Well, it is not exactly the plate from my childhood. I am not sure what happened to them. But when I lived in Scotland, we were visiting my parents in law in Peebles one day. As we were driving down the high street, I saw that pattern on a plate in the window. We stopped the car and I bought a couple of plates from the charity shop. These plates were a great comfort to me while I was living far from home.

This cake is also a comfort. No longer my only chocolate cake nor even my favourite chocolate cake but it tastes as happy as licking the beaters and hiding in the pantry and my mum's warm hug. E enjoyed the cake because he likes icing but it is not home for him like it is for me.

I am sending this to Tamanna of The Dazzling Kitchen who is holding a Comfort Food Event. The theme is winter, but although it is our summer, I thought I would send this to her because chocolate cake is so perfect for winter comfort.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year:
Tetris, the Foolish Hedgehog and Brunch
This time two years ago:
Curry traditions – of sausages and potatoes
This time three years ago:
GF delights and fairy bites

Chocolate cake
From my mum

125g butter
2 eggs
1 cup self raising flour
little less than 1 cup sugar
3 dessertspoons cocoa
½ cup milk

Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin. (When I was young I just used my fingers to smear butter over the inside of the tin. Now I usually cut out a circular piece of baking paper to line to bottom of the tin and spray the sides with oil.) Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 3 minutes with the electric beaters until the mixture becomes lighter and creamy. Tip into prepared tin and bake at 180 C for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out cleanly. Cool and ice with chocolate icing, if desired. Ours lasted almost a week.

On stereo:
His and Her: Pulp


  1. Lovely cake recipe.

    My mother makes the best "one step" Victoria sponge from an old blue ribbon margarine recipe booklet!

  2. I think that maybe a part of the recipe is missing or did I mis read it- it looks so yummy, I thought I'd give it a try and I just adore recipes that have been passed down- always more delicious than ones from a cookbook of an 'unknown' - but no chocolate?
    Thank you

  3. this cake looks very yummy ! chocolate cakes can be a great great comfort food and thank you for sharing it with my event! Will be in roundup after deadline, check back then! ciao =)

  4. How lovely to have a traditional family chocolate cake recipe. I don't think my mother ever made a chocolate cake - I think that's why I'm so obsessed now :)

    Couldn't see any actual chocolate in the recipe though?

  5. Hello there Jo. Despite my freakish dislike of chocolate, I read this post with happiness for such lovely reminiscences (and the hot tip of 3-minute beating). It does sound like the ideal choccy cake for me, though, given that the recipe at the end doesn't specify any chocolate! You've probably picked this up already, but just thought I'd say so in case you hadn't! xx

  6. Sometimes it's the memory of a cake from your childhood that makes it so delicious, even if it's simpler than most. Why mess with a good thing? This sounds so delicious!

  7. Lovely, lovely post. The way you feel about this chocolate cake is how I feel about the brownie recipe that my mum, and then I, used to make for almost every afternoon tea/bake sale/etc. It's not overly rich as it's cocoa based, but I made it so often as a teen that I knew the recipe by heart :)

    Also, I'm 23, and I still get tempted to make and eat an entire batch of raw batter...

  8. I think you might be onto something with the long beating time. Perhaps that's why sponges are so light too! :)

  9. What a lovely stroll down memory lane. I can still taste the chocolate cake my Mum used to make too and the pantry you had at home sounds just like the one my Granny had (was the best hiding spot for hide and seek until everyone figured it out!)

  10. Gosh, I still make a cake very similar to this with the beating for 5 minutes though. I also have the same cake tin & it still does a fantastic cake - better than some of the newer tins you can buy !! Thanks for taking me on a journey of memories

  11. Looks yummy. I love it how so many of our childhood memories can be related to baking.
    I've given you an award, please visit my blog for details.

  12. Oh I love posts like this - full of happy memories.

    Yummy cake too!

  13. What a wonderfully nostalgic cake :)

  14. Thanks Helen - I was surprised to learn how similar victoria sponges are to the sort of cakes my mum made (and unlike the sponges she made)

    Thanks Real Girl - sorry about the typo - have fixed it - hope you enjoy the cake

    Thanks Tamanna - will look forward to seeing all the other comfort food in the round up

    Thanks Choclette - wow that is amazing, you are making up for your mother's lack of chocolate cakes in a big big way :-)

    Thanks Nicki - ha ha - you could always try this cake without chocolate - I don't think i have ever done so but I have put the cocoa back in the recipe - serves me right for trying to just write the ingredients list from memory!

    Thanks Joanne - a good dose of happy memories makes any chocolate cake taste good doesn't it

    Thanks Hannah - strangely enough I don't remember having brownies as a kid - but am making up for it! I don't get tempted to make a bowl of raw batter to eat these days but every now and again I taste some batter and wonder why bother baking it when it tastes so good

    Thanks Lorraine - the long beating does seem to help this cake, which should be a warning to me, as I often can't be bothered getting out the beaters but it is different when you know a recipe

    Thanks Chele - I was at a friends today who had a wooden louvred pantry and I felt like hiding inside it for old times sake after writing this post - but restrained myself :-)

    Thanks Christine - I am less surprised to hear of others who love this recipe than to hear of those who never had one like this - and I agree that these cake tins are great - I love mine

    Thanks Katie - very kind of you to send an award my way - and it is lovely how baking links us to our foremothers

    Thanks Brownieville Girl and Lisa - glad you enjoyed the memories

  15. It's so great that something so simple can be so comforting. And you brought back many days in my mum's kitchen when my sisters and I fought over who licked the beaters (and the icing bowl, of course--since there was no such thing as a "good" cake without it in our house)! Nothing like mum's baking. :) And it looks like a really lovely, fluffy cake.

  16. I love comforting recipes like these that remind you of growing up. Interesting that your mom cuts a slice out of the middle of the cake and pushes the halves together! I wonder why. Probably she didn't have a container big enough to fit the whole thing? It reminds me of that story about why people cut the ends off a pot roast before putting it in the oven, and in the end it's because that's what the grandma did because her oven wasn't big enough.


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