Full Disclosure, I was raised in California by a southern mom. Many parts of our great country claim food as part of their culture. For southerners it is part of their soul. I could go on about numerous southern dishes. However, my most vivid memory is of Aunt Rosie’s Chocolate Pound Cake. I remember tasting it the first time. I was probably around 5 years old. We walked to Rosie’s after church for “dinner”. I ate my meal particularly fast since I could see the cake, sitting there waiting for me.
It was a simple cake. There were no decorations of fancy swirls in the icing. It was a round cake, made in a tube pan, with a chocolate glaze poured haphazardly over it. IT LOOKED GOOD!
As a kid most sweets are devoured quickly. I realized after the first bite that this cake required time and attention. The cake was so dense and didn’t crumble like a regular cake. The taste was sweet and stayed in my mouth long after I finished swallowing. The icing had a rough texture but at the same time it was smooth. I noticed that it was a light brown cake, not dark like a devils food cake. I wanted more cake and I wanted to know more about THIS cake.
Several years ago, as my grandparents were preparing to move out of their home and after my great aunt had passed away, my mother asked if there was anything in particular I would want from either home. “YES! I want the recipes!”.
I had no idea that there would be so many old cookbooks, binders of handwritten recipes and a 12X12 box filled with scraps of paper of handwritten recipes, bank books with recipes scrawled on the back cover and a collection of newspaper and magazine recipes that I am sure the editor of Southern Living would kill to have. These recipes made real the folklore of our family. Finally having these recipes offered me the opportunity to connect with my ancestors in a way I never could before. The recipes that called for a “Granny’s hand full of sugar”, made me realize how petite my great grandmother was compared to the rest of us. These recipes helped me to imagine Granny standing in the very kitchen that my Great Aunt Rosie made my favorite Chocolate Pound Cake. Now I have that recipe and can stand in my own kitchen and share baking it with my daughters.
As I was making my way through all of these recipes one thing stood out to me, Pound Cake. I knew that my family loved pound cake. We ate it at almost every occasion and even for no occasion at all. It was always available at all of our homes. You could walk into any aunts or cousins home and have a slice, at any time. We had regular pound cake and chocolate pound cake. We had pound cake plain and pound cake with whipped cream or frosting. I quickly realized that, at least for our family, there were many, many ways to prepare pound cake. I started to wonder if there was one standard way to make pound cake and just what the history of this versatile cake was.
The first mention of “pound cake” comes in the 1700’s. As you might suspect the name comes from the ingredients: a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. This was intentional and practical, since most commoners didn’t read and conventional measuring tools hadn’t been created yet. Most cooks had some sort of scale in their kitchens.
Later in the century there was evidence of changing pound cake recipes. In the first American cookbook, there are two recipes for pound cake. The first stays true to the original. The second adds rose water and brandy. They also separate the eggs, in the second. This indicates they are looking for a way to lighten up the cake by beating the whites separately and then folding them in. By 1891 Southerners are calling pound cake their own and by the 1900s we are using leaveners to lighten the cake.
What is it about a pound cake that is so intriguing and long lasting? At it’s most basic form it is an easy cake that anybody can bake. The humblest of no-reading servants to the most confident of chef have made this cake. It probably started as a practical recipe. Let’s face it a cake that is made of four pounds of ingredients is going to serve quite a few people for quite a few days. The pound cake is a most versatile baked good that can be served at every meal from breakfast toast to and extravagant after dinner dessert. Have you ever had a piece of pound cake toasted and slathered with butter or strawberry jam? Magic! My mouth is watering already! So today I share that first chocolate pound cake recipe with you.
“If you’re afraid to use butter, use cream.” – Julia Child
Rosie’s Chocolate Pound Cake
3 cups sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)
3 cups Flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Cream together butter and shortening with sugar. Add eggs one at a time, blending after each.
Soft together all dry ingredients. Add dry in gradients to butter mixture in thirds alternating with milk. Add vanilla.
Bake in a floured and greased tube pan for 1 hour 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
1/2 cup shortening or butter
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
Stir all ingredients together over medium heat and dissolved, about 2 minutes. If it is too thick add 1 teaspoon cream.