Friday, January 28, 2011

In Honor of Chocolate Cake

I keep meaning to write about the inspiring things I learned at FoodBlog South but life – and national holidays keep getting in the way. What holidays, you ask? First there was National Pie Day, then there was National Peanut Butter Day on Monday and then yesterday was National Chocolate Cake Day. I commemorated National Peanut Butter Day by making my kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and eating a Clif Mojo Peanut Butter Pretzel bar. I even did some research on peanut butter history, but it has not materialized into a blog post yet. One day soon I will pay homage to the peanut! Although today is National Blueberry Pancake Day, right now I must honor the chocolate cake.

When I think of chocolate cake, the first I think of chocolate soaky cake. I really think it is a family invention. (Well, at least the name was.) It likely resulted from boiled chocolate icing that never reached the right consistency. Here’s the gist of it – you bake a yellow sheet cake, poke holes in it and pour boiled fudge icing over the top. The fudgy deliciousness seeps down into the cake and crystallizes. The result is an ugly but utterly delicious and gooey dessert. That is what I intended on making and sharing with you, but that’s not what I ended up with.

Boiled icing is a tricky beast. It’s all about the timing. I emailed my aunt to get my family’s recipe. I say “recipe,” but what I mean is loose measurements with vague instructions. That’s how we roll. Southern cooking requires a lot of intuition, adaption and sometimes rolling with the punches. The thing about soaky cake is that you don’t want the icing to get too hard and not soak in, but you also don’t want it to be too runny and make the cake mushy. I remember soaky cakes of varying consistencies. Even though I used a candy thermometer and tried to be precise, I guess I ended up boiling the icing a little too long. I poured it over the cake and it quickly hardened without any soaking action. The result was a yellow cake with boiled fudge icing – delicious nonetheless.

I also have to wonder if the lack of “soakiness” is because I made a yellow cake from scratch and did not use a cake mix. I have nothing against cake mixes as my mom and granny almost always used them (except for pound cakes). Cake mixes do produce a very fluffy and tender cake which is hard to replicate. I just felt up to the challenge of making a cake since I couldn’t remember the last time I had made one without a mix. Plus, maybe it’s just me, but I find that some cake mixes taste more artificial these days. I found a great recipe from the Smitten Kitchen. This one is definitely going to be my go-to yellow cake recipe from now on. I also found her post hilarious because she wrote about her pregnancy anxiety of having never found the perfect yellow cake recipe for birthday cakes. The things we food-obsessed people worry about!

The cake baking part went great. The good thing about soaky cake is you don’t have to worry about how it looks. It’s going to get decimated anyway. After it cooled, I took out all my aggressions with a fork. I even let the boys get in on the action – which they quite enjoyed. Then came the icing, which would have been a perfect glaze for a pound cake. It instantly hardened like a glossy sheet of ice. Foolishly, I poked some more holes in the cake thinking it might help. Nope. But, I heard no complaints when I served it up after dinner. That’s the great part about chocolate cake. Even if it doesn’t exactly turn out how you intended, it is still a crowd pleaser. I’ll keep working on perfecting the soaky cake and share that with you at some point. Meanwhile, enjoy a not-so-attractive non-soaky chocolate cake with the best icing in the whole wide world.

Yellow Cake
(Recipe from the Smitten Kitchen)
Note: I didn’t have any cake flour so I substituted with all-purpose – even a little white whole wheat. However, you have to adjust the flour measurements if you use plain flour. 1 cup of cake flour = 1 cup minus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour. This is a trick I just learned!

Boiled Fudge Icing (from the Corn family kitchens)
2 heaping tbsp. cocoa (note: I’m very liberal with the cocoa.)
2 c. sugar
Dash of salt
3/4 c. milk
1 stick butter or margarine (note: I’m a butter snob.)

In a heavy saucepan, stir dry ingredients together and then add milk. Heat it gradually (not on high) on the stove until the sugar melts, then “boil the hell out of it” while stirring constantly until it reaches the soft ball stage. (Approximately 135 degrees on a candy thermometer.)

Add 1 stick butter or margarine and have a little milk on standby in case you've overcooked. Stir it in a sink full of icy cold water to thicken. If it loses its gloss and gets hard too soon, stir in a few drops of milk and sacrifice your arm to get it the right consistency. When you're happy with it, add 1 tsp. or more of vanilla. Work quickly to pour and spread on cake.

Enjoy! Do you have a magic fail-proof boiled icing? Have you ever heard of a chocolate soaky or chocolate poke cake? I’d love to hear from you!


  1. Sounds delicious, and I'm glad that even if your experiment didn't achieve the exact results you expected, it was still tasty! My mother in law makes a poke cake, I believe. I think it has root beer or coca cola in it.

    BTW, did you know wednesday is National Crepes Day? I can't wait to see what you come up for that!

  2. p.s. I think I used that same Smitten Kitchen cake recipe recently. It's a good one! Like you, I sometimes like the ultra-buttery flavor and moist texture of boxed mixes, although I'm the type of person who prefers to make everything from scratch.