The One-Bowl Chocolate Cake Recipe That Reconnected 2 Families

February  9, 2017

Valentine’s Day is next week, and whether or not you like the holiday, you’re sure to be charmed by our Food52 Love Connections: All week long we'll be sharing one heart-warming story a day about connections (romantic and otherwise) fostered through our site.

One can never have too many one-bowl cake recipes, and even better if the cake has a good story behind it, as does Belle Foley’s Chocolate Cake from boulangere.

She shared this recipe back in 2011, and the headnote is a bittersweet tribute to her mother, Marilyn Joan, and a neighbor, Belle Foley, who brought joy to her mother’s life:

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 nothing 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.

Photo by James Ransom

But there’s still more to this story!

Shop the Story

Belle Foley’s grandson was searching the Internet for something and low and behold, Belle Foley’s Chocolate Cake recipe popped up. He told his dad, Max Foley (Belle Foley’s son), who then got in touch with boulangere via a question posted on the Hotline (actually, back when this occurred it was called the foodpickle #f52funfacts). Do take a few moments to read through the Hotline thread, but here are a few of the highlights from boulangere:

I had a blast forwarding this to my sister, son and daughter. What a fantastically nice man! He knew my mother, her sisters and brother, and gave me the names of our grand and great-grandparents. What a nice, nice man. Blessings on food52! Blessings, blessings! I've been reunited with a great missing piece of my family's history because of you. Thank you beyond words.

I hope I've adequately conveyed, the entire experience has been breathtaking. My family is a very fractured one, and Max Foley has brought a huge loop around us all. I've loved sharing this with my son and daughter and sister. I will certainly keep in touch with him, and I love that he shared the recipe and its story among our extended families.

A number of Food52ers professed to having tears in their eyes as they followed along with boulangere’s unexpected connection to a piece of her family’s history. Boulangere also connected with Belle Foley’s great-niece and great-grandchildren on the Hotline thread and in the comments of the recipe, respectively.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I bet a bunch this is going to taste like the cake made for me on my very young birthdays by the shy sweet lady across the street. And, I bet that is the very icing as well. I will know in one bite, and I can be four again. ”
— Saffron3

And that's not all!

Photo by James Ransom

Both boulangere and Max had been sharing information of the new connection with their families, which consequently brought something else to light. Below is the email boulangere received from Max:

Cynthia, My niece said she had the frosting recipe that went with the cake. We lost many recipes in one of our moves and so I didn't have it. The only thing I remember about the frosting is that it is like eating fudge and I always liked the corner piece of the cake as the frosting was the thickest. Give it a try and see what you think. Max

So the cake was reunited with its original frosting! As boulangere says, “This cake has created miracles.”

Now, you’re no doubt convinced that you need to bake this cake after the touching backstory, but just to fully send you over the edge, here’s cookiecakes' 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.

Don’t miss any of our Love Connections! Catch up on Monday’s, Tuesday's, and Wednesday's.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • HalfPint
  • april
  • Saffron3
  • mela
  • Nancy
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


HalfPint September 7, 2022
5 years later and I still love the journey of this story and recipe :)
april February 14, 2017
What a wonderful story. I can't wait to make this cake.
Saffron3 February 12, 2017
Oh what a nice collection. I bet a bunch this is going to taste like the cake made for me on my very young birthdays by the shy sweet lady across the street. And, I bet that is the very icing as well. I will know in one bite, and I can be four again.
mela February 12, 2017
Thanks for the lovely story. Will try the cake too :)
Nancy February 9, 2017
I read and liked this story a while ago. Nice to see it again.
Also this is a lovely series of love connections via food52.
HalfPint February 9, 2017
Oooo, didn't know that there was a frosting recipe too!
aargersi February 9, 2017
Love this story!
Christine February 9, 2017
That is the most beautiful story about the restorative power of food.