If cooking were hereditary, I’d be Julia Child. Or at least a fry cook. My family is full of wonderful cooks.
Food is important to us all. I can remember laughing, as a dumb kid, because my female relatives never got up from lunch without discussing the menu, supplies, and time schedule needed for dinner. My grandmother saw nothing funny about this. “You have to plan ahead if things are going to be good,” she said.
My grandmother, Nettie, and her sister, Aunt Sula, are the models for Aunt Nettie, the owner of Ten Huis Chocolade and a major character in the Chocoholic books. But neither of them, as far as I know, ever made a bonbon or a truffle. They were too busy baking cakes for church and family, frying chicken-fried steak (Oklahoma’s official state entrée), producing the best piecrust in town, or chopping salad (that’s another blog).
And despite having written ten books about a chocolatier, I can’t make truffles or bonbons either. This is a skill that takes lots of equipment and practice. I’ve never even tried.
But I can make good brownies, and I can bake the family’s favorite chocolate cake. And how this cake came into the family always struck me as funny and very typical of my family.
I first ran into this cake at a convention I attended with my husband. No, it wasn’t served, but the wife of another convention-goer mentioned it to me. She gave me the recipe, just out of her head, and I wrote it down on the back of the envelope I’d gotten my name tag in. I still have that envelope, now all stained with chocolate.
When I got home, I made the cake, and it was great. So I wrote the recipe out neatly and sent it off to my mother, asking her to share it with my grandmother and great-aunt. I felt that I’d made a real contribution to the family archives.
I never had any response to the recipe, however, and eventually I almost forgot sending it.
Then we – me, my husband, and our three kids – went to visit my parents in Wichita. When we arrived, Mother had dinner ready, and as she served it up she said, “Save room for a piece of this new chocolate cake. Someone at church gave Aunt Sula the recipe, and it’s wonderful.”
You guessed it. It was my cake.
None of them had even tried Little Eve’s cake recipe. I might be thirty years old and the mother of three, but I was just an inexperienced cook to those ladies. It was only after the same cake turned up at a covered dish dinner that it won the acclaim it deserved.
I’d have had my feelings hurt if I hadn’t been occupied with stuffing down chocolate cake. Instead I thought it was funny, because I knew those ladies loved me very much, even though they snubbed my cake recipe.
The cake is still our family’s favorite. We call it Cinnamon Chocolate Cake, because of that special ingredient, or Cookie Sheet Chocolate Cake, because it’s baked in a jelly roll pan or another flat pan with a rim. The cake is thin; the icing thick.
A few years ago I took this cake to a covered dish dinner at a family reunion in Michigan, where the Chocoholic books are set. I didn’t know all the people there well – they’re distant relatives of my husband’s grandparents – so I was horrified to see that someone else had brought the same cake.
Covered dish etiquette varies from locale to group to family. I was afraid this was someone’s special annual contribution. I might have inadvertently stepped on her toes.
But the other cake maker came over and smiled. “I see you brought a Texas Sheet Cake, too,” she said.
I did? It was the first I’d known about it. I’d never run into the cake under that name. After I got to a computer, I looked it up on-line, and, sure enough, there it was. “Texas Sheet Cake.” There’s a white version, too, but I never waste calories on white cake, so I haven’t tried that. Yes, I’m a genuine chocoholic. Anyway, here it is. Easy to make and awfully easy to eat.
Oh, one more story. When my older daughter was nine or ten, I was cutting a piece of the sheet cake for her and a friend. She watched me seriously, then she turned to her pal. “My aunt,” she said, “gives me a great, big piece of that cake.”
How’s that for a hint? Since then I’ve remembered that the cake is thin, so the it must be served in “great, big” pieces. At least to nine-year-olds.
COOKIE SHEET CHOCOLATE CAKEMix in large bowl: 2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Bring to a boil: 1 stick margarine
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
½ cup shortening
Mix the two mixtures.
Add: ½ cup buttermilk
2 eggs, well-beaten
Pour into greased and floured cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan or other large cake pan. Bake 15 to 20 minutes in 400-degree oven.
6 tablespoons milk 4 tablespoons cocoa
1 stick margarine 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 box powdered sugar 1 cups nuts
Bring cocoa, margarine, milk, and vanilla to a boil. Add powdered sugar and nuts. Pour over warm cake.
JoAnna's most recent book, The Chocolate Cupid Killings, was just released!
Lee McKinney Woodyard and her aunt, chocolatier Nettie TenHuis Jones, are cautious helpers in that mysterious underground railway which assists abused women to escape to new lives. The appearance of a private detective looking for the woman they’re sheltering sends up alarms – especially after the private eye is found dead, with Aunt Nettie is standing over him brandishing an empty Amaretto bottle.
Thanks so much for joining us today, JoAnna!