Only make if it isn’t raining… A family recipe for chocolate cake

Lonnon Foster:

Here’s to recipes that speak directly to the heart. This cake says to me: childhood, love, comfort, laughter, consistency. Maybe food shouldn’t say those things to me, but when it does, I want to make sure that the cake lives on.

Let me explain. I have been trying for years to make my grandmother’s chocolate cake. I don’t have enough fingers to count all the times I’ve failed. This summer, though, we took the critter to Odessa, Texas, to visit his great-grandparents, and I watched and wrote down every single step of what grandma really does when she makes the cake. And now I’ve managed to prepare it successfully three times, to the great pleasure of husband and son.

Grandma Vicky’s Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1 t. soda

1 heaping t. cinnamon

1 t. salt

1 stick butter

½ cup shortening

4 heaping T unsweetened cocoa

1 cup water

1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (Grandma really uses: ½ cup well-shaken evaporated milk + ½ cup water and 2 T vinegar to sour the milk)

2 well-beaten eggs

1 t. vanilla

Grease and flour a 13×9-inch pan. (Preferably, this pan should be a simple, non-stick pan purchased at the dollar store. The kind Grandma uses has a plastic lid as well for storage.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift first five dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a heavy pan, bring butter, shortening, cocoa, and water to a gentle boil (just until all are melted and simmered). Transfer to a mixing bowl, and then stir in dry ingredients. Next add buttermilk and mix. Finally, stir in eggs and vanilla.

Pour into the 13×9-inch greased, floured pan. Tap pan on counters several times to release bubbles. Cook 20 minutes at 400 degrees. If still soggy in the center, bake 5 more minutes, but be careful not to overcook.

Grandma Vicky’s Chocolate Icing

(Note: Grandma says not to make this icing if it’s rainy or humid.)

2 cups sugar

¼ cup evaporated milk

¼ cup water

¼ cup corn syrup

3 heaping T unsweetened cocoa

½ cup shortening

¼ t. salt

1 t. vanilla

Prepare a water bath in a pan or the sink (cold water to set pan in after cooking icing). In the heaviest pan available, cook all ingredients to a rolling boil, then time an additional minute and 15 seconds. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and place in the water bath. Stir continuously until the icing begins to feel a little thick. Pull pan out of water and pour onto cooled cake.


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