Recipes from the Past: Great-Grandma’s Devil’s Food Cake

Recipes from the Past: Great-Grandma’s Devil’s Food Cake

When Great-Grandma Eva left behind her cookbook, she left recipes for everything from her famed pies to cakes, roast beef to something called “Shrimps on Toast”. In the cakes section, she had not one, but two recipes for devil’s food cake. Clearly we need to make at least one of them.

In typical Eva fashion, she didn’t leave a bake time or temperature, making her cookbook much more like DaVinci’s written code than a 1940s housewife, so a little sleuthing was in order to find a recipe similar enough that I could borrow the temperature and time for this cake. Thankfully, McCall’s Cook Book came to the rescue! I determined the cake should be baked at 350 for about 30-35 minutes for 9-inch rounds, but since I used 6-inch rounds, I took off 10 minutes so they wouldn’t over-bake.

Making the cake introduced another challenge: it said to dissolve the cocoa powder in boiling water. It seemed like it wasn’t nearly enough water, so I ended up doubling how much water is used to create a paste. I’m not sure if cocoa was different back in the day, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to add a bit more. Another thing I changed is the milk. When old recipes call “sour milk” I always substitute buttermilk since that seemed closest to what might have been used. That and I can’t really justify waiting for milk to go bad before using it. Though, if you DO have sour milk, now you know you can still have cake!

Boiling water to dissolve the cocoa. Old school style, obviously.

If you don’t have buttermilk, here’s a helpful tip to make a perfectly good substitute!

Let’s get to the recipe!


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
2 cups sifted flour

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat cake pans with cooking spray and line bottoms with parchment. Either two 9-inch pans or three 6-inch pans.
  2. Dissolve baking soda into the buttermilk.
  3. Dissolve cocoa powder into the boiling water, stiffing until smooth (will be thick)
  4. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream together softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in egg yolks.
  6. Add cocoa mixture and mix well.
  7. Add buttermilk mixture and mix well.
  8. Add sifted flour and mix until just combined. Mixture will be thick.
  9. Divide evenly among the greased cake pans and smooth tops.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes (6-inch) or 30-35 minutes (9-inch) or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Allow cakes to cool for 30 minutes in pans, then turn out onto calling racks to cool completely before icing.

For the filling, I used Dulce de Leche, and for the frosting, I used this awesome recipe from Add a Pinch!

Let me know if you make this recipe!


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