Emily’s White Cake with Confectioner’s Chocolate Frosting

slice of cake on plate
Source: Balanced Daily Diet (1920) by Janet McKenzie Hill

I recently came across a recipe in a hundred-year-old cookbook for Emily’s White Cake, and decided to give it a try. I was intrigued by the recipe’s name. Who was Emily? – The recipe’s author? . . her daughter? . . . a neighbor who shared the recipe? . . .

I also wondered: Are recipes that are named after someone more likely to be good than more generically named ones? . . . or vice versa?

To make the frosting, I used a recipe in the same cookbook.

Here are the original recipes:

cake recipe
Source: Balanced Daily Diet (1920) by Janet McKenzie Hill
Frosting Recipe
Source: Balanced Daily Diet (1920) by Janet McKenzie Hill

The old recipe referred to moderate heat and high heat (and probably assumed that the cook was using a wood or coal stove). Many cakes are baked at 350° F, so I just used that temperature. It took a little longer to bake the cake than indicated in the old recipe.

The old cake recipe called for 3 tablespoons of baking powder – which seemed like a lot. I wondered if it was a typo – and really supposed to be 3 teaspoons. But in the end, I went with what the recipe said and used 3 tablespoons. The frosted cake tasted fine – though I  think that  it might have been better if I’d used less baking powder. (I ate a few cake crumbs, and they may have been a bit bitter, but it was not noticeable once the cake was frosted.)

[9/14/20 Note: Based on the research and comments of readers about other sources for this recipe – e.g., old Crisco advertisement that contained the recipe, other editions of the cookbook – I’ve determined that 3 tablespoons of baking powder was a typo and that it should be 3 teaspoons. I now include this information in the updated recipe.]

I doubled the recipe for Confectioner’s Chocolate Frosting to make enough to ice the cake layers. When I made the Confectioner’s Chocolate Frosting, the consistency and spreadability seemed a bit off, so I added 3 tablespoons of melted butter. This greatly improved the texture of the frosting, so when I updated the recipe I included butter as an ingredient.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Emily's White Cake with Confectioner's Chocolate Frosting

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Emily’s White Cake

1/2 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups flour

3 tablespoons baking powder (I used 3 tablespoons which is what the old recipe called for, but other sources for this recipe state that 3 teaspoons should be used. The larger amount worked, but if I made the recipe again I’d use 3 teaspoons of baking powder. See note in blog post for details.)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring

3 egg (whites only)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans.

Put egg whites in a medium mixing bowl; beat until stiff. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar. Add flour, baking powder, salt, water, flour, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool, then assemble layers and frost.

Confectioner’s Chocolate Frosting

2 squares chocolate, melted

3 tablespoons butter melted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons boiling water (more water may be needed)

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Put the melted chocolate and butter in sauce pan, add the granulated sugar and water. Heat using medium heat, while stirring until smooth. Remove from heat add the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Stir until smooth. Add additional water, if needed.


33 thoughts on “Emily’s White Cake with Confectioner’s Chocolate Frosting

  1. You were right about the baking powder should have been 3 teaspoons–I looked it up and found 2 photos of the recipe and both showed 3 tsp. I have 3 chocolate cake recipes named Ava Mae’s chocolate cake, Lois’s, and 2 different Betty’s chocolate cake. My dad used to say “I’m getting ready for a Betty cake” when he wanted her to make chocolate cake. 🙂

    1. Wow, I never would have thought of googling this recipe. It’s interesting how the old Crisco advertisement indicated that 3 teaspoons of baking powder should be used. There must be a typo in the book I got the recipe from. I’m surprised that a typo slipped through when they were copy editing this promotional cookbook published by Proctor and Gamble. I’m going to add a note in the post regarding this.

      What a fun story about your father and the Betty cake!

    1. About 10 minutes or so into baking, the cake looked like it might overflow the pans. Fortunately it stopped rising at just the right moment, and didn’t.

  2. Thanks for this recipe! I love cake, but I don’t care for butter, so I’m especially happy to see an frosting recipe that calls for so little of it. Lots of frosting recipes are mostly butter, mixed with sugar and some flavoring.

    1. You’re welcome. The cake was very white because the recipe didn’t use any butter or egg yolks. If you don’t like butter in frosting you should take a look at the original frosting recipe. It does not call for any butter or other fats. I didn’t like the texture and spreadability of the frosting, so added a little butter – but it might be worth a try with no butter.

    1. What fun names! It’s nice how some recipe names are a wonderful reminder of the origins of the recipe. I’m not going to think too hard about why the one recipe called for “rat cheese.” 🙂

    1. At least in my part of Texas, “rat cheese” was the big yellow cheese with the red rinds that you got from the meat counter in the grocery store. People used it to bait a mouse trap because the texture would allow you to squish it onto the part that held the bait so it did not fall off. It also melted really nicely and was good for cheese toast or mac and cheese. My grandmother made mac and cheese with tomatoes–yummy.

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