Chocolate cake was one of the things we always made from scratch when I was growing up. My mom’s chocolate cake recipe was famous among my friends – it was a true old fashion chocolate cake recipe.
Several years ago I got a package from one of my dad’s sisters and inside was a copy of some of my Granny’s recipe’s cards. Along with the bread and butter pickle recipe was a recipe that my Mom gave my Granny for chocolate cake. It’s amazing how meaningful those few photocopies are to me.
The great thing about these handwritten recipes is that they are written just like my granny spoke. There’s no list of ingredients. It just starts off with “Bring to a boil…” So you have to read the whole recipe just to get the ingredient list. hmmm, maybe that was intentional?
We did change one thing, we don’t use oleo (margarine), I use butter or sometimes coconut oil.
The Oil or Butter Debate…
This recipe uses both oil and butter (oleo) in it. I’ve actually forgotten the oil before and the cake was still delicious – just not quite as moist.
The oil stays liquid at room temperature and is lighter than butter a cake made with oil will be fluffier and have a more even crumb.
However, butter has more flavor than oil which is why it’s often thought that butter makes better cakes than oil – they are usually more flavorful, but drier.
What should you use? Whatever you have on hand. If you’re eating the whole cake that night for dessert, and want to use all butter, that will work just fine.
If you want the cake to stay moist longer, then limit the butter and use oil. I’ve made this cake with only coconut oil – no butter or vegetable oil – and it’s fantastic.
Buttermilk and Water?
Yes, both buttermilk and water are in this recipe. I’m sure my Granny used real buttermilk in her cake, after all she had a milk cow.
I know my Mom did not use real buttermilk. In fact, she often used regular milk and just put a little lemon juice in it to sour it. The ratio to make a buttermilk substitute is 1 cup milk or cream and 1 tablespoon lemon juice or white vinegar. If you need to make your own “buttermilk” then do it at the very beginning and set it aside while you start the cake batter.
The acid in the buttermilk (real or substitute) reacts with the baking soda to create a fluffy cake. If you use plain milk, the cake will still taste good, I promise, but it will be more dense – which some people like so if that’s you then try it with just plain milk.
How to prepare a cake pan
Before spray oil and Baker’s Joy, bakers prepared their cake pans with butter or oil and flour or cocoa.
The easiest way is to partially unwrap a stick of butter and then rub it all over the pan – holding onto the wrapped part. If you’re using oil, use a pastry brush (I actually use a chip paintbrush) and spread a thin layer of oil all over the pan. They key is a THIN layer, this a a time when more is NOT better.
After the pan is oiled, sprinkle some flour in the pan and then turn and shake the pan until it covers all the oil. If you’re making a chocolate cake use cocoa powder instead of oil so you don’t have a white layer all over the finished cake.
What about the frosting?
This frosting is fantastic and you don’t need a mixer to make it. But know that it’s not going to spread like store bought frosting. It’s different, in my opinion much better.
Usually frosting is too sweet and takes away from the flavor of the cake. Whenever we go to a party that has cake, people scrape off the majority of the frosting and don’t eat it. Such a waste.
This frosting recipe makes just enough to cover a 9×13″ pan of cake. If you decide to make this into a layer cake you might need to make a double batch.
Old Fashion Chocolate Cake Recipe
1 stick oleo (margarine or butter)
4 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup oil (I use coconut oil)
1 cup water
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
Bring “oleo”,cocoa, oil and water to a boil. Remove from heat. Mix flour and sugar.
Pour mixture over flour and sugar.
Mix the baking soda into the buttermilk. Add the buttermilk mixture and eggs to the flour mixture.
Pour into 9X13 pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes.
Old Fashion Chocolate Frosting Recipe
1 stick oleo – I usually just use coconut oil for this
4 Tbsp. cocoa
3 Tbsp. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box (1 pound) powdered sugar
Bring oleo, coco and buttermilk to a boil. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and using a mixer add 1 box powdered sugar.
- 1 stick oleo ( butter or coconut oil)
- 4 Tbsp cocoa
- 1/2 cup oil (I use coconut oil)
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup buttermilk*
- 1 stick oleo (butter or coconut oil)
- 4 Tbsp cocoa
- 3 Tbsp buttermilk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 box (1 pound) powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 325°F
- Prepare 9x13 baking pan by oiling it and sprinkling coco powder over the oil.
- Bring butter ,cocoa, oil and water to a boil.
- Remove from heat.
- Mix flour and sugar in a medium bowl.
- Pour butter mixture over flour and sugar.
- Mix the baking soda and buttermilk together.
- Add the buttermilk mixture and eggs to the flour mixture.
- Pour into 9X13 pan.
- Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until done. Test for done-ness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. When it comes out clean, it's done.
- Bring butter, coco and buttermilk to a boil.
- Remove from the heat and let cool a bit.
- Add vanilla
- Add 1 box powdered sugar - you can use a mixer or just a wooden spoon
For the cake:
For the frosting:
*to make a buttermilk substitute mix 1 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar with 1 cup milk
Other From Scratch Cake Recipes
While making cakes from scratch might seem intimidating, it’s really not. They are all basically made the same as this old fashion chocolate cake recipe but with different ratios of ingredients or different add ins like carrots or nuts. Here is a list of super easy homemade cake recipes to get you started.