I created this cake forty years ago when I began my career as host of a 30-minute cooking show, “Big Sky Cooking,” in Montana. For my first show, I prepared two chocolate cakes. The first was an old recipe known as “Crazy cake” or “Wacky Cake,” a cake made by whisking together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, vinegar, water, vanilla, and salad oil, in a bowl and baked in a square pan.
The second cake I put together was this quick-mix recipe for Chocolate Party Layer Cake, a showstopper that make my kids and all their friends very happy. Me, too! Quick-mix cakes, where all the batter ingredients get beaten together at once, gained their fame in the 1950s, when more and more women began having full-time jobs. Vegetable shortening was the key ingredient because its soft and creamy texture blended quickly into the batter. And these cakes had the same lightness of texture as their creaming-the-butter-and-sugar cousins. Vegetable shortening is tasteless, however, so I shun this quick fix method for white or yellow cakes. But chocolate cakes made this way have enough strong flavor to overcome the neutrality of vegetable shortening.
Much to my joy, I find this recipe still works. Why might it not? Flour milling and flour combinations used to make all-purpose flour can change over time, and if that happens it can create all sorts of baking problems. Fortunately, any such changes that may have occurred across the decades have not changed the quality of this cake. Give it a try. I think you’ll be quite happy.
Chocolate Party Layer Cake
- 1 3/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 large eggs
Cocoa Cream Frosting
- 1 pound confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, natural or Dutch process
- 1/8 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened slightly
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans. To measure flour for the cake, spoon lightly into dry measuring cups to overflowing and sweep off excess with a metal spatula or other straight edge. Do not shake or bang the cups while measuring.
- Place all the cake ingredients into the large bowl of an electric mixer equipped with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for about a minute just to moisten the ingredients; the batter will be lumpy. Increase the speed to medium and beat 4 minutes, stopping to scrape the bowl occasionally with a flexible spatula. Remember to stop the timer each time you perform this step and restart it after. The batter will resemble softly whipped cream.
- Divide the batter into the prepared pans. If you have a kitchen scale, you can weigh the pans and batter. The batter should level itself in the pans. If not, grasp a pan between your hands and rotate gently--clockwise and counterclockwise--on your countertop.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until layers begin to come away from sides of the pans and the tops just spring back when lightly pressed with a fingertip. Cool cakes in their pans 5 minutes; turn out onto cooling racks, remove pans and cover cakes with other cooling racks. Invert again to cool cakes completely right side up. If cakes have any rough edges, trim them away with a small sharp knife.
- To make the frosting, beat all the ingredients together on medium speed in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until very smooth and of good spreading consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. If too thick, add a little more milk.
- Line a cake plate with four long strips of wax paper in a hashtag pattern. Set one of the cooled layers with its original top side down onto the platter. Paper strips should be partly covered by the cake. Spread about one-third of the icing onto the layer and place the second cake layer top side up onto the icing. Ice the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing, making swirls if you wish. Gently pull out the strips of wax paper by their narrow ends one at a time from under the cake. The surface will be clean. Let cake stand an houyr or two before cutting into portions with a sharp knife.