Some of the old recipes are the best. And others are just weird, like the jellied frankfurter-Spaghettios combination from the 1960s that pops up every now and again. Thankfully, this Mocha cake from 1917 fits into the first category. It’s a recipe I make over and over again.
In my last post I talked about the joys of reading A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband… with Bettina’s Best Recipes. If you don’t know about this cookbook, you can read about it here. This recipe for Mocha cake is one of my favorites from that book. However, it’s not my only favorite. Many of the recipes in A Thousand Ways are worth the time they take to make, especially if you cook for a small household of 1-3 people.
This particular cake serves 12. It’s designed for either entertaining (which is where it falls in Bettina’s story), or for storage. I generally pop half the cake into the fridge after using it for dessert. The other half gets sliced and put into the freezer for another day. This, of course, is assuming that you have a family the size of Bettina’s, and not four hungry teenagers who live at your house. If you live with teens, even if one of you is the cook, prepare to say goodbye to this cake in one sitting.
Ways to make it your own
When I make this recipe, I usually cook the layers in my vintage RevereWare 9-inch cake pans. Although the recipe itself doesn’t tell you what size pan to use, I find that partitioning a cake into 12 pieces Is much easier with a 9-inch cake than it is an 8-inch one, even if the layers come out a bit more flat. With the addition of icing, a small piece adds just the right sweet note to end a dinner along with hot tea. You can enjoy it with coffee or milk, too, if you like.
In 1917 the term mocha didn’t mean chocolate-flavored coffee. It meant coffee, period. So this is a coffee-flavored cake. No chocolate. No cocoa. Just coffee. It’s an inexpensive cake to make because it uses the leftover coffee from the morning’s brew, if you make it a pot at a time. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups coffee total.
When the original bakers made this Mocha cake from 1917, they had access to plain coffee. If you like flavored coffees, I encourage you to try one in this recipe. This time I made it with Michigan cherry flavored coffee and it was delicious. Even the household’s non-coffee drinker loved it.
Because this Mocha cake from 1917 yields a light coffee taste in both the cake and the icing, you might want to try it with hot tea or another beverage. Trying it alongside a cup of the same type of coffee you put into the batter gives you a cake that tastes sweet, but not particularly coffee-like.
Make it yourself
This is a great recipe for drop-in guests or teatime with friends. A slice also makes a good midmorning snack or a decadent breakfast treat. It’s relatively quick to make, as cakes go, and it’s pretty sturdy. This means it travels great in a lunch box to the office or schoolroom. It would pack well for a picnic. I love it with a cup of hot tea while I sit at the table pouring over the current month’s vintage magazines.
Mocha Cake from 1917
- 2 cake pans, 8 or 9-inch diameter or whatever you have
- wax paper for bottom of pans
- ⅓ cup butter softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup strong coffee brewed
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups flour, all purpose I used Bob's gluten free 1 to 1 with good result
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 4 tbsp strong hot coffee
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 cups powdered sugar May use 2 to 3 cups
- Prepare your cake pans by lining them with wax paper. Or, if you prefer, grease and flour your pans. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
- Separate the eggs. Set the yolks aside and beat the whites until they are stiff. Pour the whites into a bowl for later.
- Cream the butter. Add the sugar, and cream again.
- Add the egg yolks and mix well.
- Add the coffee, vanilla, flour, and baking powder. Mix until combined and then beat for 2 minutes.
- Stir in the stiffly beaten egg whites. Be gentle, you don't want to undo all your hard work.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes in a 350° oven. Test for doneness by pressing the top center of the cake. If a finger indentation pops back up and disappears, the cake is done. If the indentation stays, it probably needs another ten minutes or so.
- Let the cake cool before icing.
Mocha Icing Instructions
- Mix the 1 tsp vanilla with the 4 Tbsp coffee.
- Add the powdered sugar slowly until the mixture is thick and spreadable. You may need as much as three cups (even though the original 1917 recipe only called for 1 ½ cups).
- Spread over one layer and place the other layer on top. Spread the icing on the top. Depending on the size of the cake, you may also have enough for the sides.
If you enjoyed this and would like to try another vintage cake recipe, this Many Layered Jam Cake from the Twenties is addictive and oh-so-sweet.