Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Grandma's Brownstone Front Cake



After organizing all the cookbooks in our new place, I decided I should really go through and try to use some recipes from each of the books.  I decided to start with the personal cookbooks that I have.  Back home in Indiana, it is a quite common fundraiser to come up with a cookbook to sell.  My mother had several from schools, churches and even festivals.  And some of them made their way into my bag when I moved out.

My childhood church, Banquo Christian Church, compiled a book for its 100th anniversary celebration back in 2000.  It has so many great comfort food recipes and lots of dessert ideas.  My grandmother has a few in there, and one caught my eye that I'd never seen before.  Apparently, this was a cake that her mother (my great grandmother, Lela) used to make for birthdays, often with colored buttercream icing.


Bingo!  I found a way to combine two of my hobbies- baking with genealogy.  I have dabbled in genealogy for over a decade now, and I love finding any kind of artifacts that are associated with my ancestors.  I have mainly focused on census records, obituaries, biographies, photographs and headstone images.  I have pretty much collected most of what is available, so my new goal is to try to find recipes that have been made by my ancestors.  I know that I have a pretty good start already in the materials I have in my home, and my other grandmother showed me stacks and stacks of recipes she has from her mother.  I'm planning to start adding some of these family recipes (as well as some genealogy tips) to this ever eclectic blog.

But back to this cake.  When I did a little research, I found that this was possibly named (its origins aren't really clear) based upon the brownstone houses in New York City.  With that information, and the fact that we just moved into our own townhouse, I knew I should go ahead and put this on my "to-bake" list.

See how it looks like a townhouse?  For a simple chocolate layer cake (all the ingredients should already be in your cupboard), it was awesome.  And I love that it has some history behind it.


Here is the recipe as in the cookbook:

Mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup butter.  Add 2 eggs and mix.  Stir 1/2 cup cocoa and 1/2 cup hot water together.  Add to mixture.  Add 2 cups flour alternately with 1/2 cup milk.  Dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in small amount of hot water and add to mixture.  Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and beat well.  Bake in 2 greased and floured pans at 350 for 30 minutes.

Since the recipe doesn't describe the pans, I decided to use two loaf pans to give it the tall, thin townhouse look.  Brian made a quick butter and powdered sugar icing recipe and finished it up for me.  You could decide to make it into more layers, use a glaze, or even add some caramel into the icing or filling.  That part is up to you.



My great-grandmother Lela was born in 1906.  She was the oldest of the six girls in her family.  She did not marry until she was 35, and then married a widower with 5 children.  She had one daughter, my grandmother.  Her husband died when she was 42  Below is one of my favorite photos, with this family.  My grandma is the youngest girl in the pink hat.  It was for these children's birthdays that this brownstone front cake was made.


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