Nona’s Chocolate Cake

Birthday cakes are really important to us. They might even be the most important birthday decision, and they are definitely the most delicious present. In our family, my Nona’s chocolate cake is often the birthday treat of choice. Boston Cream Pie or berry trifle sometimes make an appearance, but this cake celebrates birthdays with us at least a couple of times a year. We don’t know exactly where the recipe came from, but my Nona (grandmother) used to make it for me all of the time when I helped out at her house as a kid.

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While it may look like your average chocolate cake, this recipe is truly the ultimate. The cake is incredibly moist, perfectly chocolately, and destined to be paired with delectable cream cheese frosting. We have tired to make it in different types of pans, but the tube pan is the only one that does justice to our favorite chocolate cake.

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Instead of smothering it with icing like I do, my Nona would simply dust it with some powdered sugar.  This is a great way to eat the cake in the 1 to 4 hours after its made. Plus, it has a fantastic crust on the top that you won’t find on any other chocolate cake.  But in our house, for birthdays and any other excuse to make a chocolate cake, we love to pair the cake with this delicious cream cheese icing.

Nona’s chocolate cake
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder, natural and unsweetened
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour milk/buttermilk/milk+vinegar
  • 1 cup boiling water

First, let’s take care of the sour milk.  (My Nona would keep old milk until it went sour and use that. But most of us don’t want sour milk around the house, so there are a few substitutes – like buttermilk.) Or what we do is to add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk (2% or whole) and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes… now you have sour milk!

Next, grease and flour the tube pan. Set aside.

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This is one of easiest cakes to make! Add all the ingredients (except the boiling water) together in your mixer bowl in the order listed above. Beat for 1-2 minutes.

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Now, CAREFULLY, add the boiling water, with your mixer running on a very slow setting.

Note: Unless you have a deep mixing bowl (mine’s a 7 quart – nice and deep!), add the boiling water SLOWLY so it doesn’t splash every where.

Pour the batter into the greased and floured tube pan.

Bake at 375F (350 convection) for 55 minutes.

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Cream Cheese Icing

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

Mix the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and milk at high speed.  Slow down the mixer and add the powdered sugar. Once incorporated, beat again at high speed until nice and fluffy. After your cake has cooled, spread the icing all over the cake.

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To add some pizazz, reserve a couple of small bowls with 1 – 3 tablespoons of icing and then add your favorite food dye colors.  You can use a piping bag or a small zip-lock bag with the corner cut off. I like this method as it allows for asy clean up and you can have all 4 bags going at the same time!  Decorating is fun for the kids or for adults (like me) that need to act like kids…

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2 thoughts on “Nona’s Chocolate Cake”

    1. My dad just made this for fun, but I’ve had it many times on my birthday, too! I’m doing research now for this year’s birthday cake:)

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