Grandma’s Chocolate Cake with Buttercream, Cream Cheese Frosting

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Whenever there’s a birthday, I think of my Grandma Wentworth, my mom’s mom.  She was kind, had a great sense of humor, and was an incredible cook.  I have so many amazing memories of she and my Grandpa, especially around the Christmas holiday.  Every Christmas, we would wake up, pose for a photo on the stairs, open presents, and eat breakfast at our house before packing up to make the 40 minute trek over to Rome, NY to spend the day with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

My most vivid memories are of her in the kitchen and the delectable treats that she would create.  From seafood salad and swedish meatballs to homemade toffee topped with rich, luscious chocolate to simple ranch seasoned oyster crackers, my grandmother knew food.  I remember sitting in her kitchen, either helping or waiting anxiously for the scrumptious bites that she would create.  Her kitchen walls were lined with blue and white wallpaper with images of Nantucket.  In her window sat one of those special birdhouses with a one way mirror.  She loved birds so much and this would give her the best view of the most beautiful winged creatures.  I could watch robins come into the bird feeder box, literally one foot from my face without them ever knowing.  On one of the kitchen walls hung a display case with tiny little handcrafted, unique figurines – like handpainted plates made out of the little plastic inserts of soda bottle tops – and on the other a case with antique porcelain teacups and saucers.  I loved those teacups so much that they were gifted to me after she passed and they are waiting for me, stored in my basement to be handed to my daughter.

Although she is no longer with us, my memories of her are still brilliant and clear.  For as long as I can remember, we made her chocolate cake for every birthday and for absolutely no special event other than a hankering for something sweet and decadent.  And I have continued this tradition in my house with my family.  Sure, I’ve tried other chocolate cake recipes but none of them quite measure up and I always find may way back to this one.  It is chocolatey without being too much so, sweet but too sweet, moist but not overly — it’s perfection in a chocolate cake.

Cake: (makes a very large, two layer cake. Cut the recipe in half for one sizeable cake or to make cupcakes)

  • 2 C. sugar
  • 1 C. oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1 C. cocoa (unsweetened)
  • 4 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 C. flour
  • 1 C. boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour two, 9 inch baking pans.

Cream oil, sugar and eggs together.  Add buttermilk (note: substitute — place 1 T. white vinegar in a 1 C. liquid measuring cup, fill with milk to the 1 C. line.  Let sit for 5 minutes) and mix thoroughly.  Add cocoa and mix thoroughly, scraping edges of bowl.  Add vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and salt and combine.  Add hot water in 3 batches, alternating with 1 C. flour.  Be careful of splatter during mixing.

Pour into pans evenly.  Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out cleanly.

Buttercream, Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1, 8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 C. confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 T. milk

In a mixer, combine butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar one cup at a time.  Add vanilla and mix.  Add milk last.  If it’s too stiff, add a teeny tiny drop of milk until it’s the desired consistency.  If it’s too loose, add a teeny bit of sugar.

Notes/tips:

  • If the cakes are too rounded, it will make frosting difficult.  You may want to take a bread knife to trim the bottom layer cake so it is flat.  The top layer can stay rounded.
  • Take 4 strips of waxed paper and place under the sides of the first layer.  This will help with presentation — after you frost the cake, pull out these pieces and you’ll have a clean cake platter.
  • To frost: Take 1/3 of frosting and cover first layer.  Place second layer on top.  Pour remaining frosting on top and gently work frosting out from the center and down the sides.  Get a tall glass of very hot water.  To make the frosting smooth and pretty, dip your spatula in the hot water and turn the cake platter and keep the spatula stationary.
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