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MOM FOOD : Remembering the women who shaped our tastes. The recipes are the least of it. : We Remember Mama : On Licking the Spoon


It always takes too long for chocolate cake to bake; I've thought so all my life.

Knowing what torture it was for me to watch as the batter went round and round in her old Sunbeam electric mixer, my grandmother would wipe her hands on the yellow gingham apron her twin sister Jewel had made--the one with the torn pocket and strawberry border--shake off some of the dark brown batter and give me the beaters to lick. Eventually I insisted on licking both the spatula and the bowl clean. I've been a bowl-licker ever since.

Nannie (my older cousins called her Aunt Annie, but that was too difficult for me to say so I shortened it to Nannie) was a wonderful cook. Dessert was her specialty: It was part of her Southern heritage. And her Devil's Food Cake was a far cry from any made from a commercial mix. She cooked and stirred the deep chocolate batter for her Devil's Food Cake in the top of a double boiler until a rich cocoa perfume was released.

The daughter of a cook for the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, Nannie devoted entire afternoons to baking confections for her family and often insisted on making dinner so Mom wouldn't have to cook after a long day at the office.

Nannie isn't with us any more, but her recipes are. They're too rich for my mother's everyday table (which is usually set with tofu and ground wheat berries). But every Thanksgiving she gets out all my favorites including a savory corn-bread dressing Nannie prepared in a huge crusty black cast-iron skillet and her sweet baked red apples. Once again, the house is filled with sage and poultry seasoning. And like Nannie, Mom reserves a little extra dressing for us to taste before it goes into the oven.

Still, as far as I'm concerned, dinner is just something to eat before dessert. You could easily skip the rest of the meal and just eat Annie's Devil's Food Cake.

I do.


3 eggs

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups milk

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate Icing

Chocolate shavings

Beat 1 egg in top of double boiler. Add cocoa powder and 1 cup milk. Cook over boiling water until thick and smooth. Cool.

Cream together shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in remaining 2 eggs, 1 at time, beating thoroughly. Combine flour, baking soda and salt and add to mixture alternately with remaining 1/2 cup milk. Add vanilla and cooled cocoa mixture. Beat thoroughly.

Place batter in 3 greased 9-inch layer cake pans. (Layers will be thin.) Bake at 375 degrees 15 to 20 minutes. Cool, then remove to wire racks and cool completely. Frost with Chocolate Icing and decorate with chocolate shavings. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Chocolate Icing

1/2 cup butter

4 cups powdered sugar

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup milk

Cream butter in electric mixer until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Beat in milk by tablespoon until icing is creamy and spreading consistency.

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