For Mother’s Day: Grandma’s Chocolate Cake with a Surprise

Bertie choc cake 1When my Grandma Bertie was growing up in coastal North Carolina about 100 years ago, she dutifully wrote down recipes from her mother, her aunts, and the ladies of the town. She never baked this chocolate cake recipe for me, but I wanted to recreate it in her honor this Mother’s Day. I like to imagine her in an apron, hand-beating the egg whites when she was just learning how to cook. One of six children, she might have served the cake for dessert or simply as a snack. In such a large family, there was little chance of leftovers.

The recipe surprised me because of the mashed potatoes in the ingredients. Potatoes grow well in the sandy soil near the Pamlico Sound, where my grandmother lived, so maybe that’s why they ended up in her recipe. They also add body and moisture to the cake without diluting the chocolate flavor. It was my idea to add the glaze to dress up the cake a bit, but I don’t think she would have objected. An 8-inch cake pan would probably work best for this quantity of batter, though I used a Bundt pan. Either way, you can’t go wrong with chocolate.

Bertie choc cake melting chocGrandma Bertie’s Chocolate Cake [circa 1915]
Serves 8

1 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 ounces chocolate [I used bittersweet], melted
1/2 cup mashed potatoes [see note]
1 egg, separated
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts [I used pecans]

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch cake pan or a Bundt pan.
  2. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the melted chocolate and potatoes and mix to incorporate. Add the egg yolk, milk and vanilla. Mix again. Stir in the flour mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until stiff peaks form.
  5. Add the egg white, vanilla, and nuts, stirring gently to incorporate everything.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Note: Use plain mashed potatoes, without any seasonings or butter. Mash them well or the batter will be lumpy.

Grand Marnier Glaze
Makes about 1/3 cup

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier [or another liqueur or rum]
1 tablespoon water

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, immediately lower the heat, and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon evenly over the top of the cake and let it drip down the sides. Decorate the top with a few of the type of nuts you used in the batter.


About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers. Somehow I ended up with a cooking gene that I brought with me from Richmond, Virginia to my current home in Boston, Massachusetts. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir and a novel. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and other American recipes with a past.
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2 Responses to For Mother’s Day: Grandma’s Chocolate Cake with a Surprise

  1. Potato in a cake sounds bizarre, but no more bizarre than Carrot Cake I suppose! It looks delicious and rich.


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