Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A chocolate cake tradition of love June 22, 2011

Homemade chocolate Crazy Cake frosted with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

THEY RAVED ABOUT the moistness of the cake. And three of them—all guys—forked up a second slice of the chocolate cake I’d made from scratch.

I almost said, “Ummm, guys, it’s the women who should have a second piece.” But I let them be, passing the cake pan around the table, plating more cake.

This is one moist, delicious chocolate cake.

Then, because I couldn’t help myself, I shared the story about this cake. They needed to hear it, to understand that they weren’t eating just any old cake but cake made from a special recipe.

This Crazy Cake, aka Wacky Cake, is the chocolate cake of my youth, the one my mom made every time she baked a birthday cake, I told my friends.

“We didn’t have much money, didn’t get birthday presents,” I explained as my friends savored each bite of chocolate cake. “So our birthday present was the cake, an animal cake my mom made.

She would pull out her cake book and let us pick the animal shape we wanted for our birthday cake—a lion, a horse, a duck, an elephant…”

“My mom had a book like that too,” my friend Jackie chimed in.

Mari, on the other end of the table, nodded her head. Likewise, her mother had a booklet that provided instructions for transforming round cakes and square cakes and oblong cakes into animal shapes.

By cutting the cake and decorating it with various candies and frosting, my mom transformed a plain chocolate cake in to a special animal-shaped birthday cake.

Those birthday cakes were magical. I never missed the birthday presents, never even knew I should receive gifts, because I had that cake, that special, special chocolate animal-shaped cake.

When I became a mother, I continued the tradition with my children. While I didn’t have an animal cake book, I had my imagination. I made a snowman, Garfield, Piglet, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a horse (that looked more like a cow than an equine)…

Unlike me, my children got birthday presents, plenty of them. But I would like to think that the one they will remember is the annual gift of an animal-shaped birthday cake, a gift, really, passed down from their grandmother.

For in the passing down of that tradition, I’m honoring their grandma, my mom, who taught me that birthdays are not about prettily wrapped presents, but about love. And that love, for me, will always be symbolized by homemade chocolate Crazy Cake.

Chocolate Crazy Cake

3 cups flour

2 cups white sugar

½ cup cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix the dry ingredients together and then stir in:

¾ cup salad (vegetable) oil

2 cups cold water

2 Tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 35 – 40 minutes.

When the cake is cool, whip up a bowl of this creamy Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

When cool, frost with:

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

6 Tablespoons butter, softened

½ cup cocoa

2 2/3 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter in a small mixing bowl. Then add the cocoa and powdered sugar alternately with the milk, beating to a spreading consistency. You may need to add an additional tablespoon of milk. Blend in vanilla. Spread on cake. Makes about two cups of frosting.

The recipe yields two cups of heavenly, finger-licking-good frosting.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recipes from The Cook’s Special, 1973, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota, and Hershey’s Easy-Does-It Recipe #10


11 Responses to “A chocolate cake tradition of love”

  1. Lanae Says:

    I remember a rocking horse, lion, snowman cakes that mom made for me. My poor daughter Tara got a pink rainbow care bear cake that looked like a pig to us. Thanks for the memories!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Of course, who could forget your lion cake, dear sister? I hope Mom realizes how much those cakes meant to us.

  2. Bernie Says:

    Awwww, this is sweet. Bless your mom’s heart for making the cakes special. This sounds like something I’m going to have to try to make. Not into shapes, but the cake and frosting sound yummy! Thanks for sharing the memory!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It is a sweet story, isn’t it? And the cake is equally sweet. I seldom make cake, but if I do, this is about the only recipe I use.

  3. It had been so long since I made this cake that I actually made one for my grandsons before I left for work this morning. I had them frost it after it had cooled down from the frosting I made, too. But I had a very warm piece before I left for work! Delicious!! Cake from scratch is ALWAYS better than that out of a box, just as quick and probably cheaper, too. I added a couple of eggs because my hens are producing way too many eggs right now and the extra protien is always good anyhow. Thanks for printing the recipe.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Glad you enjoyed the recipe and baked a cake for your darling grandsons. You’re a pretty sweet grandma.

  4. Rosie Says:

    I’ll have to try out the cake recipe, though I will have to do plain cupcakes or cake man, no animals for me!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, animal-shaped cakes should be reserved for special occasions. And, as I recall, your birthday falls in September. I promise, you will love this cake.

  5. Bernie Says:

    What a great memory!
    That recipe is my go- to for birthdays around here, but I always make peanut butter frosting for mine.
    Will have to try your frosting recipe…looks great.
    I think parents try to out do other parents by buying birthday/Christmas presents…I really think kids would be okay with a cake….like someone told Phillip Gulley (one of my favorite authors) …your first mistake was telling the kid they were having a birthday…thought that was cute.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for reminding me about that peanut butter frosting. That is also one of my favorites. Do you think our growing up in the same rural southwestern Minnesota area has something to do with our love of this cake?

      I love that quote. I also think parents overdo birthdays. My girls each had parties with extended family while growing up. Those were in our home. Each had one party with friends, again, in our home with games and activities I planned.

      By the time my last child, my son, came around, he got only one birthday party at age one. I guess by that time I was tired of planning and hosting bday parties.

      We have always had a tradition of dining out on the birthday person’s birthday. It’s a treat given we eat out so rarely. The celebrant also gets to choose his/her “cake.” More often than not, it’s not cake, but a cheesecake or other dessert.

      My kids have only ever had one “boughten” birthday cake. My eldest got the purchased cake when her brother was born the day before her 8th birthday and she celebrated with cake at the hospital. I wasn’t home to bake her a cake.

      • Bernie Says:

        I don’t know if we have good midwestern values…or because I am the oldest daughter syndrome, or if I just like the simple life of “Little House on the Prairie” books that I feel like less is more…I know, though, that I tried to outdo someone else or something else, but now at my age…does it really matter..I do like nice things, but I want to have the money before I get something nice…now with my grandkids and buying things for their birthdays and Christmas it’s like you have to outdo the other grandparent…which I do not do…but you get my drift. Hope your day is well!

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