I can’t think of a better way to start this blog than with a birthday post. It happens to be February, the month of all things chocolate and Valentine’s Day, which is also my daughter’s birthday! When she was born I said “Well, so much for romantic Valentine’s dates”, and my husband was like, “Phew! I’m off the hook forever. A beautiful girl! The gift that keeps on giving!” In truth, she IS the greatest Valentine’s gift we’ve ever received and, man, I haven’t missed those V-day expectations. The pressure! She’s in college now, turning 21, and I am going to surprise her and deliver these cupcakes, hoping she won’t see this post first. (I don’t know about you, sometimes I can’t help making things extra difficult for myself.) I could go on and on about how amazing she is, but this is a food blog and let’s not forget about why we celebrate birthdays in the first place: CAKE.
It seems appropriate to share our family go-to chocolate cake recipe which can be made as a sheet cake, a layer cake, or in this case, cupcakes! If you don’t like chocolate cake, be glad you’re not in our family because this is THE birthday cake. My grandmother has used this recipe, which she calls “Old Black Joe Cake” (I presume because the recipe is old and it contains black coffee) for as long as I can remember, and has always made it as a 13×9 sheet cake, sometimes topped with white (vanilla) frosting, sometimes peanut butter. They are equally delicious. It’s an agonizing choice every year; which icing do you want on your cake? I am a Libra so I have to start thinking about it in mid-September, at least 2 weeks in advance. (I usually choose peanut butter, but today’s not my birthday.
My mother makes this same cake into filled cupcakes that make everyone feel as gleeful as a child again. I dare you to even look at these without grinning and wanting to get your hands on them right now. They are filled with an old-fashioned frosting that we fancifully call “White Icing”, and it’s sort of an unorthodox recipe, but if you trust me, you’ll find that it results in the lightest, creamiest vanilla frosting that has the sweetness level of a perfect whipped cream. (See recipe notes for substitutions*) Since I’m surprising my girl at college with a delivery, I chose to make these so she won’t have to waste precious cocktail mixing time to cut and serve a cake at her party. (“Sorry for ruining your black panther party, Jenny.”) That’s one of the many bonuses of cupcakes, they’re “Self-serve”.
A few years ago, I read a recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa At Home cookbook, for a cake that is nearly identical (“Beatty’s Chocolate Cake”) and in the description she attributes it’s origins to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, which is where my family is from! (If you read my About page, you also know that I read cookbooks like novels, just for fun. And, comedy-quoting is a family trait.) The only difference in Ina’s (or Beatty’s) recipe is that hers uses buttermilk instead of the plain cow’s milk in our recipe. So, if you have that cookbook, you already (almost) have the recipe and it’s legit! (In case you weren’t certain about Ina’s authority, lol)
So, Happy Birthday to my sweet Valentine, Ali!
And Happy Birthday, to The Table of Contents!
Without further ado, here are our recipes for Black Joe Cake and White Icing.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the cake pans or line cupcake pans with paper liners.
- Sift (or whisk) together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Stir milk, oil, eggs and vanilla together in another bowl until combined.
- Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mix until combined.
- Stir in hot coffee with a rubber spatula. (Batter will be thin.)
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake 30-40 minutes for a cake, 20-25 for cupcakes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool in the pans 30 min and then turn out onto racks. (if making round layers)
- 1 cup milk*
- 3 heaping Tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (or 4 oz) butter
- 1/2 cup (or 4 oz) crisco*
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Heat milk in a saucepan, be careful not to scald.
- When milk is steaming hot, whisk in flour and stir over heat until the mixture is thick.
- Immediately remove from heat and cool completely. (can refrigerate)
- In a mixer, combine sugar, butter and crisco. Beat for 3-4 min, until fluffy.
- Add cooled milk mixture and vanilla to mixing bowl and beat for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- One recipe is enough for a sheet cake or cupcakes. Double the recipe if you are making a layer cake.
- *Substitutions: I have used unsweetened vanilla almond milk in the first step and subbed coconut oil for the crisco with excellent results.