Belle Foley's Chocolate Cake

By • April 28, 2011 • 81 Comments



Author Notes: My mother was the saddest person I ever knew. Life and everything in it failed her utterly. I've never understood fully the roots of her disappointment, though heaven knows I tried. Nonetheless, one of my best memories of her is this cake.

My mother, Marilyn Joan, known as Joan, grew up on a farm in the general area of Fenton, Michigan. On a neighboring farm lived a woman by the name of Belle Foley. Over the years, I've nurtured an image of a woman described by my father, who came to know her, as warm and smiling.

This is the cake she taught my mother to make. It was always our go to cake for anyone's birthday when my sister and I were children, then eventually for our children and their friends as we grew our own families. The ingredients and directions are exactly as I inherited them from my mother. My notes are in parentheses.

Measurements are fairly approximate. According to my mother, "Belle measured cups with teacups and teaspoons with something you'd use to stir sugar into coffee." As well, "rounding" measurements mean just that. Butter was something they churned from the milk and cream from their own cows, eggs were gathered from beneath their chickens, and need I explain that the milk was anything less than "whole"?

You really can mix it in one large bowl. Sift together dry ingredients? Forget about it. Whisk? Sure, if you have one, which I'm fairly sure Belle Foley did not. Alternatively, mix with a rubber spatula.

I like to think that Belle Foley took a nervous, unsure young woman to her side and shared this cake recipe with her, and gave her some joy. The greatest tribute to both her and my mother is to pass this on.

Enjoy! And please pass it on. - boulangere

And now for something entirely new, some of you may have followed the story on foodpickle of the miraculous gentleman who posted a question as to how to get in touch with me because, you see, Belle Foley was his mother. You can read the very long thread here: http://www.food52.com/foodpickle/8078-a-question-about-a-recipe-belle-foley-s-chocolate-cake

For the sake of ease of use, I'm posting the frosting recipe on the page Belle Foley's Chocolate Cake Chocolate Frosting: http://www.food52.com/recipes/14604_belle_foleys_chocolate_cake_chocolate_frosting This cake has created miracles.
boulangere

Food52 Review: While making this cake I felt sent back in time: stirring up batter in a country kitchen, before the time of electric mixers and air conditioning. The batter came together quite easily with just a bowl and wooden spoon, however it was very watery. I admit to skepticism when I poured it in the pan and popped it in the oven and I sent a little prayer up to the kitchen angels. But after about 40 minutes I beheld a glorious chocolate cake. Belle Foley's creation is pure, home-cooked, delicious chocolate goodness. It makes a wonderful treat to snack on as is, but I will definitely be trying it out with a variety of frostings and fillings...think coffee, caramel, nutella... - cookiecakescookiecakes

Serves hmmm 8 to 10

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 rounding tablespoons cocoa
  • 3 rounding tablespoons soft butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon (baking) soda
  1. (My notes: Trace the outline of a 9" round cake pan onto a sheet of parchment. Cut inside the line so that the circle fits inside the cake pan. Drop the circle into the cake pan. Don't spray or grease the sides; you'll get a more level rise.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Mix together the sugar, cocoa, butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, and flour. Batter will seem thick, but don't worry. Add 1 cup of boiling water with 1 teaspoon (baking) soda stirred into it. Stir together. It will seem runny, but don't worry.
  4. Pour into a cake pan. Bake for about 35 or 40 minutes (or until done, when you can bounce your finger off the top and the cake feels springy). Those are all the instructions I received from Belle.
  5. (Remove cake from oven and let cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before depanning. Depan and let cool until room temp to the touch. Sift some powdered sugar over the top. Cut warm, generous slices and serve with big splops of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.)
  6. Know love. And please pass it on.
Jump to Comments (81)

Tags: family, kid-friendly, picnic, serves a crowd, travels well

Comments (81) Questions (1)

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7 months ago CyndyK

So nice- Thx

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over 1 year ago ShannonC

Thank you very much for this recipe! My family enjoyed it...we added fresh strawberries before serving (not terribly inspired but the clasics work).

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over 1 year ago debradrodvillo

Just made the cake. looks beautiful, especially with the powdered sugar. the taste is okay. I will try again, but add less sugar and more coca powder. It just does not have a deep enough of a chocolate flavor. But it is super easy and if I can get a more deep chocolate flavor, it will be a great go-to cake. i'll let everyone know!

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over 2 years ago softpunk

I'm not sure what went wrong, but this cake turned out very, very sweet, but not terribly chocolatey. More importantly, the cake fell as soon as I took it out of the oven. The crumb is full of huge air bubbles that look like carpenter ant tunnels, and the texture is squidgie with the cake sticking to the teeth unpleasantly. Could it be the humidity outside? I so wanted this to be the perfect, go-to chocolate cake. I will try it again another day to see if I get better results, but for today's birthday I'll have to go with an old reliable that calls for 3x as much cocoa. If anyone can suggest a cause for the weird carpenter ant air bubble tunnels I would love to know!

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over 2 years ago Lucas4Food

I just made this cake for my son's 3rd birthday party (the one mentioned on my handle name) and everyone loved it! him specially. It was so easy to make, that I decided to make a second one just in case. One, I used powdered sugar, the other I used chocolate fudge icing (also a recipe from Food52), then cut strawberries and made a Mickey Mouse face on each of the cakes. Thank you for sharing the recipe. I am not a cook at all and still was able to have evryone talk about how delicious the cakes were.

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over 2 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

What a lovely story, and what a wonderful ending. It's really so perfect. My grandson's birthday is tomorrow and I'm looking at all the wonderful chocolate cakes here. I find I really need to make this for him. I love sdebrango's chocolate cake recipe too as it's another family one, and it feels right that I should make a family recipe for him, even it it's not from my family. I might make both!

Me

over 2 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

I ended with another cake for that grandson's birthday, but am going to the birthday party shortly for my oldest grandson (he's all of 8 now), and made this cake this morning. It smells wonderful - as does my whole house now, thanks to your (and Belle's) wonderful cake. And the batter was runny, as warned, but tasted great too. I iced it, because I think he'd want me to, and can't wait to try it at the party!!

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over 2 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Happy birthday to that sweet boy! I hope you all enjoy the cake and have a lovely party. Thank you CS.

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almost 3 years ago Foley77

Belle Foley was my great grandmother. She was a special lady, and the best baker around. This recipe is a Foley favorite, I now make this cake for special occasions.

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Well aren't you one of the luckiest people around! What a great heritage you have behind you, and I'm so glad you carry on the tradition, too.

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almost 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Can I use 2 8" cake pans instead of the one 9" for this cake?

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Well you can tell I haven't been keep up on things. I'm not sure I got notification that you'd commented, sdb, so I apologize. I hope you got tired of waiting for me and figured out that yes, you can indeed use to 8" pans.

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almost 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Actually I waited, I asked in advance. I am making the cake for a party the first week of November. I did send a message but things have been wonky here. Thank you. I also sent you a message about Belle Foleys grand daughter commenting.

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Many thanks, drbabs-it's really interesting to hear your experience with the added lemon making things kind of nutty! the lemon cake you mention here sounds marvelous. i ended up creating this recipe which i just love, both for flavor and b/c it skirts the issue of the lemon in the batter: http://www.food52.com/recipes...

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almost 3 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

yes, I just saw that--it looks so good! And I was laughing to myself because having grown up on Betty Crocker cake mixes, I thought I was so sophisticated when I changed to Duncan Hines (which tasted a lot less artificial to me).

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

:) I love it!!!

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Hi there, Just wanted to let you know what I did and how it turned out re: the lemon adaptation. I used your recipe but instead of cocoa subbed 12 T lemon juice and the zest of three lemons. I increased the baking soda to 1.5 tsp. The batter never looked terribly thick so I used 1/4 c boiling water instead on the full cup. As I pulled the cake out of the oven, I dropped the darn pan about 3" and part of the cake dipped in. I put it back in the oven for 2-3 minutes as I'd already cooked it just under your recommended 35 (my oven bakes warm). It puffed back up some. Here's what I was shocked by: it really wasn't terribly lemony. How is that possible? It was a tad chewy, maybe b/c I didn't use all the boiling water? Maybe b/c I dropped it? Anyway, it was a nice cake but not stand out so I'll stick with your beauitful chocolate recipe in the future. I adapted a different cake to update my grandma's lemon-lime, and that turned out deliciously, terrifically, intensely citrusy well. This was a really fun process of creation, boulangere, and I appreciate your advice! Thanks!

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almost 3 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

em-i-lis, last year I was trying to change a cake recipe (I actually think it was orange cake) to make lemon cupcakes for a friend's birthday. The acid in the lemon did all sorts of weird things to the cake batter--made it runny and gummy and the resultant cakes were chewy and somewhat unpleasant. After that I found and tested this recipe from kitchenbutterfly: http://www.food52.com/recipes...

The texture of the cake was perfect and it was just lemony enough. The differences were significant--hers is a yogurt pound cake with almond meal, and she uses a lot of lemon zest as well as juice; baking powder instead of soda. But you might want to try it and see if it gives you a better result.

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Darn. Cakes just hate being dropped on their heads. Yes, I have a feeling the trip to the floor affected the poor thing's texture. It seems this was born to be a chocolate cake. Glad drbabs helped you find your way to a lemon cake.

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

my 2.5 yr old and i are getting everything out for lemon belle foley #1. :) if i want to do a 9x13 sheet cake, do you think i need to double your recipe? your cake is so fluffy in the pic- maybe just 1.5x the original recipe? many thanks!!!!

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

and boulangere, what about subbing buttermilk for reg milk? i'm sorry to ask you all these questions but i'm feeling inspired over here. have you ever used cake flour vs AP? thank you!

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

i could not agree with you more re: lemon extract=pledge. and i will definitely let you know the result of this. i'm pretty excited!!!
many, many thanks for all the helpful tips and for sharing the love and fun you have in the kitchen. truly, i can tell you have a great spirit. love it!
and family recipes are so special. i've become the de facto historian for my family. my grandma, now 92 and very frail and ready to go, gave me my first cookbook and has always been one of my dearest friends. keeping her recipes going is special on so many levels, not least because doing so honors her over and over again.
thank you, boulangere!! i'll keep you posted!

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almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh my goodness, what a treasure you have in your living grandmother! And great kudos to you for taking on the role of family historian. My sister and I have divvied up those duties: she's taken on filling out the family tree from my father and his brother (the last of the 3 brothers died just a few months ago, and our father a year-and-a-half ago), and I've inherited my mother's recipe card files and binders, from which this obviously stems. Isn't that the heart of food52 - cooks who love where their food comes from and know it isn't always from them.

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

boulangere, you have great spirit! i was actually wondering about going all the way to lemon (no chocolate), and here's why i ask. my grandma used to make a divine lemon-lime sheet cake with lemon whipped pudding as the frosting. it was insanely good and used a Duncan Hines cake mix as the base. that is a solid cake-from-a-box but i like to make cakes from scratch w/o all the weird additives. so i was wondering about using yours but changing the choc to lemon. what do you think? many thanks!

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Well I think that's pretty brilliant. Leave out the cocoa, add the lemon juice and zest. I'm guessing you want a true lemony flavor here (and bless you, bless your for not going the mix route!), so probably go with the zest and juice of two lemons. Again, strain and measure the lemon juice and let its quantity determine how much baking soda you use: 1/2 tsp for every 8 ounces. And as I said, taste your batter and let that tell you if you've used enough lemon juice. And I am so happy you're using real lemon, not extract. If the latter, you may as well use Pledge. And do let us know the result!

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

There's nothing like those family recipe memories.

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almost 3 years ago em-i-lis

Emily is a trusted source on General Cooking.

hi boulangere, this sounds lovely. i wonder if it could be adapted to a lemon cake? what do you think?

Dscn2212

almost 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

What a great idea! If you're asking if you add lemon (zest and juice, right?) to the chocolate cake, hell yes! That's a fantastic combination. Measure your lemon juice (taste the batter to see if you have enough), and increase the baking soda via this formula: 1/2 teaspoon for every 8 ounces of acidic component. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you're likely going to be adding considerably less than that, so think in terms of an extra pinch. And please let us know the results!

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about 3 years ago There'sAlwaysPie

As recommended - I made this cake last night to test it out as a wedding cake layer option. Despite having an epic kitchen accident that included milk and butter all over the bottom of my oven (room temp. butter and milk? put it in the oven to help make it warmer, right? Wrong!) Regardless, the final product was delicious. It truly tastes like an old-fashioned homemade chocolate cake and would definitely stand up to the rigors of decorating. Thank you for sharing!

Dscn2212

about 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I one melted 4 pounds of butter by putting it in an oven on the pilot light just to "warm up", so I feel you pain. I'm so glad you liked the cake and that it will work well for you!

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over 3 years ago Chef Rick

I showed this recipe to my mom because her favorite thing is chocolate... Now she can't wait for me to make it for her! She thinks it sounds delicious!!!

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

I hope the photo gives you an idea of how dark and chocolatey it is. Great treat for a good mom.

Dscn2212

over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

cookiecakes, you took my breath away. Your sensitive review is precious, and I'm so glad it stirred - no pun intended - such good feelings for you. You cook deeply and express yourself beautifully, and I hope you'll come back to test many more of these wonderful peoples' creations. And to share yours with us!

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over 3 years ago cookiecakes

You're so sweet! I will try to test more- its the deadlines that get me- I have 3 kids so there is always a lot going on around here. I am stirring up another batch of your chocolate cake for my son's First Communion this Saturday. Can't wait to show it off to everyone!

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oh how precious - I hope the event went well. I know what you mean about the deadline. I have to confess that I've missed a couple because I'm 2 hours off NY time, and when I see 5:00, I tend to think of my 5:00. Sheesh. Life gets full.

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over 3 years ago ChiFoodLover

I couldn't agree more with everyone's comments that this is such a beautiful story for such a delicious recipe. Looking forward to making it this weekend and passing on the sweetness. Congratulations and thank you for sharing!

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you for sharing the sweetness!

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over 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulations on being chosen as an editors pick, fantastic recipe and the honor is certainly well deserved.

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you so much - I didn't know about this yet.

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over 3 years ago ChefMommy

A beautiful story for a beautiful dish. It makes it all the more delicious.

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over 3 years ago boulangere

Cynthia is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you so much!