Aunt Lee’s Chocolate Cake

March 20, 2011

~gumdrops optional, dudes.

This cake recipe has been in my family a really, really long time. Because “Aunt Lee?” She was my great-grandmother’s sister.

Mama, obviously, was too young to know Aunt Lee, but she heard stories. Southern families are good with stories. They’re even better at secrets.

Apparently, something had happened to Aunt Lee’s husband and nobody wanted to talk about it. To this day, we don’t know if it was di-vorce or de-sertion or whatnot. Heck, maybe they were never really married…nobody with the scoop is above ground anymore, so we can just entertain ourselves in speculation.

Aunt Lee was a teeny-tiny woman; she stood under 5 feet. She also, due to the “husband issue,” had little money and nowhere to live. So she came, at intervals, to stay with different members of family. A few months here, a few months there, that kind of thing. But she was a warm and vivacious woman, and she could bake like nobody’s business. As soon as Lee arrived for a “visit,” she immediately got to baking this cake. It’s delicious. It’s been served, either in cake or cupcake form, at almost every family birthday for nearly 200 years.

Even I, who would rather sit in a pit of fire ants than bake, will bust out the Aunt Lee action when it’s time for some fanfare.

The girls and I did not bake this cake in honor of a birthday. We made it to celebrate the return of the Stringer family to our neighborhood. We missed Susan, Ted and the boys (horribly!) for the months they were away, and the girls are stone-cold thrilled to have the Outside Outlaws, Colin and Liam, back in the saddle and knocking on the door. Life is good; especially if you have friends who like to play with dirt and sticks and swords. I’m looking forward to another spring and summer of skinned knees and filthy fingernails. Hoo-ya!

A few things of note about this cake:

~You will notice that the recipe calls for shortening. This tells you how old this recipe is.  Cakes made with shortening stay moist for a longer period of time, so frugal bakers used shortening to extend the shelf-life of baked goods. I used half butter and half shortening, and the cake was still moist. I didn’t dare tinker any more with the recipe, though, because the alchemy of baking is a mysterious and delicate thing.

~It is hot-damn impressive to me that Aunt Lee knew to add coffee to the cake batter.  Just a few weeks ago, I saw Ina Garten remark smugly that her secret to a rich chocolate cake was to add coffee; for some reason, coffee makes the cake taste extra chocolatey. Aunt Lee has a lotta years on the Garten-ster. Lee may have had poor taste in men, but she sure knew her way around the kitchen.

~I made this at high altitude, so I added a few tablespoons extra of flour and decreased the sugar by 2 tablespoons. Then I sucked my thumb, in the fetal position, waiting to take the cake out of the oven. Voila! The cake didn’t immediately cave into a brownie-like sliver (Out of My Ass Cake is for another time). Still, when I frosted it, it insisted on listing to the side, like something out of Dr. Seuss. Thus, no photograph. But it tasted divine.

~Use any frosting you like. We prefer the purist method and stick with chocolate icing, but if you’re feeling racy, buttercream or white frosting works fine.

Aunt Lee’s Chocolate Cake

1 cup shortening

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk or sour milk

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 cup hot, strong coffee

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix together cocoa and coffee; set aside to cool.

Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.

To the butter/shortening mixture, add half of the cocoa/coffee mixture. Then add one cup of the flour mixture and mix well. Add the rest of the cocoa/coffee mixture and another cup of the flour mixture, beat to combine. Add the sour milk and the last remaining cup of flour mixture. Beat until well combined.

Butter and flour three cake pans.  Divide batter evenly among the pans and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until the middle of the cake springs back when lightly touched.

*For cupcakes, bake in a 360 degree oven for 16-18 minutes.

Frost with your favorite icing.  I’ve made several chocolate frostings over the years, but currently, this one’s my favorite:

Chocolate Frosting

from Gourmet Today

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 pound semi-sweet chocolate (no more than 70% cacao), finely chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled

Bring cream, sugar and corn syrup to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until completely melted. Add butter, whisking until melted and smooth. Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable, about 1 hour. *Depending on the chocolate you use, you may have to chill the frosting to spreadable consistency.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Social networking July 16, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Greeting from across the world. precise article I must return for more.


Zebra Zoologist July 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm

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