Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ada's Devil's Food Cake

Grandma Ada Ruth gave this Devil's Food Cake recipe to Martha, who made it as her signature cake through most of my life. It is one of my most valued family heirlooms. I don't know where Ada got this recipe, does anyone else? Does anyone remember her baking this one?

This cake is virtually fool proof, responds well to an apparent infinite number of variations, stays moist for over a week if not entirely consumed sooner and is super easy to make. The secret is the sour milk (1 tbsp of vinegar in a cup then fill it up with milk and leave in a warm place til it starts looking like runny yoghurt) and I suspect this is responsible for the slightly reddish tone of the dark chocolate and the amazing, unique smell when you stir in a cup of hot water right at the end.

The cake is so moist it is delicious without being iced/frosted: just a sprinkle of icing/confectioners sugar makes it look elegant. And a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla icecream on the side for extra indulgence. However, any good chocolate icing turns this into a special occasion cake.

Extra-sinful variations I have tried and enjoyed have included:
- stirring cherries into the batter at the end
- replacing vanilla with brandy
- making in a bundt (tube) pan, or as cupcakes, and then hollowing out the middle and filling with chocolate mousse (there are still people who remember that version fondly from some 20 years ago!)

Grandma Ada Ruth's Devil's Food Cake

3 cups plain flour
2 cups white sugar*
6 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup sour milk
1 cup cooking oil
1 tsp vanilla

Sift the dry ingredients into a big bowl.
Mix the wet ingredients together.
Stir wet into dry until completely combined.
Stir in 1 cup of hot water.
Bake at 190/375 degrees until the top springs back (about one hour).

*I use half a cup less which stops the top of the cake from cracking, and is still sweet enough for my taste.

This portrait of Ada Ruth Taylor was sent to Jess when he was in France. At the same time portraits of ther first two babies ,Ruth Jean and Martha Taylor, and her Mother-in- law were taken and they were combined on a single card , small enough to fit in a breast pocket. I seem to remember the card said, ' Greetings from Home'


  1. Grandma always used boiling water for her cake hot tap was not hot enough. This cake was a favorite served in a coffee mug with milk poored over the top. Grandpa and I liked it without icing. The cake tasted best when it cracked in the center during baking. Grandma used egg yolks only and used the whites for an angle food cake. Usually mad the same day. No special reason needed, we would sometimes celebrate cake!

  2. This is posted by Judy Kellerman Southern:

    ThisMom's Devils Food Cake was a favorite cake when we were growing up. I liked it when the cake had a butter cream frosting; white frosting on a devils food cake, YUM!
    My recollection is similar to Amy's, except you use whole eggs for this recipe. (Mom used the eggs yolks for a yellow cake and the egg whites for the Angel food cake) I always asked to have angel food cake for my birthday, that way I got two cakes for one celebration!!! And I was such an angel,so it fit.
    As you can see the recipe calls for sour milk, originally the recipe called for buttermilk. You only soured milk if you didn't have buttermilk available.
    I remember my grandmother Taylor making this cake, I do not know if the recipe started with her or was from earlier generations. I love that when I make the cake I am, at least, the third generation baking it; it is being handed down to my daughter and some day to her daughter. (you knew I was going to bring up my (precious, beautiful, smart, darling) granddaughter some how!!!
    The recipe says to bake the cake in a 9X13 pan, this makes a deep cake. It also works well baking the cake in a 11X15 pan, it makes a thinner cake that will serve a few more people. Just watch your baking time.
    Thanks to Meliors and Kimberly for creating this wonderful family site, honoring Jess and Ada Ruth Kellerman, Mom and Dad to a Very large family and extended family.

  3. The sour milk is probably firmly entrenched in my version because you couldn't find buttermilk in NZ until a couple of years ago, and its still a rare and expensive ingredient, that I'm not sure I've ever tried.

  4. Ok - Judy brought me a box of Grandma's recipes...and in finding the original of the Devil's food cake - grandma used sour milk. So- we're thinking that buttermilk was a shortcut.

  5. I've made the cake plenty of times with just regular milk because I was too lazy to wait for it to sour up. Mum remember I also made it a few times using olive oil by accident as well. It sounds terrible but actually made for a deliciously sticky, even more moist than usual version, (I thought so when I was 12 anyway)...

    This has been my birthday cake since I can remember, in various shapes and sizes. Some of the most memorable I think would be the cat cake when I was 6 in Colorado and also the first one baked with grandma (Martha) in Hamilton when I turned 8 - I was so eager to ice it when it came out of the oven it turned into a jackson pollock-esque mess of color but still tasted delicious! Also the 2 heart shape cake tins mum and I had while I was a teenager, the original recipe would fill both and still have enough for cupcakes but I don't think I ever thought ahead enough to halve it.

    Louise Simms