My good friend Steph had a birthday so we made plans and I made the birthday cake. Both my Betty Crocker & Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks have solid recipes for chocolate cake, but I decided to dive a little further into the vault for some real, homemade chocolate cake. I ended up using a fudge cake recipe from my Lilly Wallace New American Cookbook, printed in 1943. I substituted cocoa powder & lard for the melted unsweetened chocolate (that I didn't have on hand), but my version went like this:
scant 3/4 cups lard or shortening
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 farm fresh eggs
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
9 Tbsp cocoa powder (1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp)
1 cup milk
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda & cocoa powder. Cream shortening & brown sugar together in a (separate) large bowl. Add vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Alternately add sifted flour mixture & milk to the wet mixture, beating until smooth. Turn into greased pan or pans. In loaf pan bake in moderate oven (325) 1 hour. In layer cake pans bake in moderate oven (350) 25 minutes.
I used a 12" round pan at 350, and found it was done in about 40 minutes, with a toothpick inserted into the center coming out cleanly and the cake was beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. I turned it out on to a rack to cool after a bit. Once cool, I made icing.
Peanut Butter Icing
2 cups confectioner's sugar
3 Tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
4-6 Tbsp milk
Combine all ingredients. Add the milk slowly until of the right consistency.
I love how old cookbooks assume you have some kitchen knowledge, just like old handwritten ones. This book never tells you to preheat an oven; the author assumes you know to do that and just gives you baking times and temperatures. I guess it has to do with the average person's kitchen comfort level- in the 1940's you cooked for your family. There were no microwavable meals (nor microwaves!), generally speaking, convenience foods didn't exist. The country was just coming out of the Great Depression, so families were used to making do with little. Going out to eat on a regular basis was also not likely. People were cooking from scratch with basic staples, not prepackaged mixes. That's why I love cookbooks from the 40's and earlier, because they cook like I do- with real, whole ingredients. I also like the idea behind digging out old treasures. It really fits into my general passion of preserving old stuff. Just like it's exciting to me to plant the very same variety of bell pepper Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello when our country was born, it's exciting to me to taste a WWII cake. I am quite certain that I am not the first gal to put the peanut butter icing on the fudge cake using the recipes in this book. I like to think of how this may have been a cake made for celebrations- of birthdays, or for a soldier returning home safely from the war. It's facinating. And in reality, still a pretty tasty cake. It made the birthday girl smile, and as far as I'm concerned, that's the true measure of a cake.