Need Help -- Updating 'the family' birthday cake recipe.

This recipe is from the early 20th century and needs a bit of updating. There isn't enough of a chocolate punch, but with only vinegar and baking soda for leavening, I'm worried about throwing the balance off, especially if I add cocoa powder. To really complicate the issues -- I'm living at just high enough of an altitude -- 3,000 feet -- that affects most baked goods. FYI -- The original recipe used "sour top milk" and Spry, instead of butter. (If memory serves, Spry was a Crisco competitor.)

Happily, the caramel/walnut frosting that traditionally goes with the cake works just fine, 100 years later. Suggestions?

Grandma’s Chocolate Malted Cake

Cream: ½ cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
Add: 2 eggs
2 oz melted unsweetened chocolate
Add alternately:
2 cups sifted flour and ¼ tsp salt
1 cup sour milk
Add last: 1 Tbsp mixed with 1 tsp baking soda

Bake at 325 approx 25 minutes.



Melusine March 13, 2011
Thank you so much -- two new chocolate cakes to try; high altitude and flavoring advice and some culinary history. Can't get much better that this.
betteirene March 12, 2011
The base of your recipe is nearly identical to the Waldorf Astoria's Red Velvet Cake, also almost 100 years old. I'd trust your Grandma's recipe before I'd trust one that was the subject of an urban legend in the 1930s, way before the Internet was developed.

That recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk, 2 Tbsp. red food color, 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup cocoa, 1 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 Tbsp. white vinegar.

If you compare the two recipes, you'll see that you have a bit of wiggle room to play around in. I think it would be perfectly safe to add a tablespoon or two of cocoa (Dutched or not, it doesn't matter in this recipe) to your recipe without it affecting anything more than the taste of your cake. However, because your recipe has the word "malted" in its title, I'd hesitate to make it darker: Malt cakes are supposed to have less of a chocolate flavor than a typical chocolate cake. Grandma probably had a separate recipe for those occasions when she wanted Devil's Food.

Also, if you can detect the taste of vinegar in the finished cake, it's a sign that you can safely cut the amount of vinegar down to 1 teaspoon. If too much vinegar is used for the amount of baking soda called for, only part of the vinegar is used up in the chemical reaction that causes rising; the unused vinegar just sits in the batter, doing nothing more than flavoring it.

As for your altitude, no matter what adjustments you make to the cocoa/chocolate ratio, and whether or not you decrease the vinegar called for, you need do nothing more than add 1/4 cup additional flour to the batter to compensate for your height.

PS: I would never (gasp!) add a full bottle of red food dye to anything I make. That stuff is ghastly! I use 1/32 of a teaspoon of paste food coloring (a dollop from the end of a toothpick) in my red velvet batter for a cleaner, less chemical, taste. I tried more natural red colors like tomato paste and concentrated beet juice (Hey! Don't laugh! If it works on gray hair, it should work in a cake, right?) and all I can say is, "Kids, don't try this at home."

boulangere March 12, 2011
You should adjust for altitude. Don't tamper with the vinegar or baking soda. But do increase your flour by 3% (round up and use 2.25 cups), and also crack an extra egg into a bowl, whisk it up, and add about half of it to your other eggs. Give the other half to the dog or the cat. If you want to increase the chocolatiness, add another ounce, and increase your baking soda by 1/2 teaspoon.
drbabs March 12, 2011
There are two really wonderful cake recipes on this site, both of which I've made several times, both wonderful. I don't know about high altitude, though. But I suggest that you look at :
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