The Vintage Kitchen

Mocha Cake from 1917

Tan slice of mocha cake with frosting on white plate. Cake server sits behind it, also on the plate.
Enjoying a slice of mocha cake. Over 100 years later, the recipe still shines..

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

A two-layer cake with tan icing sits on a white platter. The platter sits on a black and white marbled surface.
Mocha cake baked, iced, and ready for dessert time.

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.

Photo showing one complete and one partial pan of cake batter. This is mocha cake from 1917. A partial teapot sits behind the pans.
Ready to go into the oven. Soon we will have cake!

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

This cake delivers a mild coffee flavor. It contains no cocoa and no chocolate.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time55 minutes
Course: Dessert, Tea time
Cuisine: American
Keyword: cake, coffee, mocha
Servings: 12 servings


  • 2 cake pans, 8 or 9-inch diameter or whatever you have
  • wax paper for bottom of pans
  • Mixer


  • 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

Mocha Icing:

  • 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.

Recipe Collections · The Vintage Kitchen

Making Ice Creams, Ices and Sundaes

1020s photo of a round platter holding there spoons and two ice cream sundaes in glass dishes. A glass filled with a whipped cream fruit mixture sits beside them.
Enjoy a vintage Pineapple Marshmallow Sundae, South-Pole Sundae, or a Marshmallow Parfait this summer.

During the warmer months sometimes the weather gets really hot. Short of dumping ice water over your head, how do you stay cool? Before the advent of air conditioning, cold drinks, hand and electric fans, and ice creams helped to bring temperatures down. Not really, but it’s hard to be sad while you eat a nice bowl of ice cream. So today I’m going to talk about making ice creams, ices and sundaes –– straight from a Twenties source.

It’s relatively easy to make all sorts of fancy ice creams at home. You can go beyond bowls of plain chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and peach, which were the Ice Cream Standards of the 1920s. Instead of a plain bowl of ice cream, why not serve a sundae? Even the most fancy version starts with a base of vanilla ice cream and then adds syrups and whipped cream. In the Twenties a sundae might also be decorated with preserved, fresh, or candied fruit.

Ice creams and sundaes from your own kitchen

This article will tell you how to make a Pineapple Marshmallow Sundae, South-Pole Sundae, Marshmallow Parfait, Caramel Ice Cream, and a Cafe Frappe. It assumes you already know how to make basic vanilla and chocolate ice cream. I have a recipe for those somewhere that I will post a bit later in case you need it.

Ice cream was classified three ways when sundaes were new. A French ice cream was made with eggs. Today we often call that an ice cream custard and we make it with egg yolks only. A Philiadelphia ice cream was made with thick whipping cream. American ice cream was made with fresh or condensed milk with a little whole cream added. 100 years later we are still making French ice cream with eggs, but the American ice cream has replaced the condensed milk with half and half (light cream) or simply milk with a bit of cream. Even in the Twenties, commercial ice creams contained gelatin to help it maintain its consistency.

Other options for frozen desserts included water ices. We call them granitas, and sometimes they were called granites. In some recipes cream was frozen without stirring in an ice cream maker. This created a parfait or a mousse (have you ever had frozen chocolate mousse? 1000 calories of pure heaven!).

Suggestions for great results using your ice cream freezer

If you use an ice cream freezer that requires ice and salt, you might want to try kosher salt instead of rock salt and crushed ice instead of larger ice chunks. Actually, the instructions suggest that you pulverize your rock salt, but I don’t know anyone who wants to sit outside with a bag of rock salt and a hammer when you can get kosher salt instead.

Most ice cream maker instruction manuals tell you to pour in a layer of ice and then top it with a thin layer of salt, and repeat. Why not try mixing the ice and salt thoroughly in a large pan before putting it into the freezer? One part salt to three parts ice keeps it very cold. Add the ice and salt to the freezer before you add the ice cream mixture. If you add the mix to the container and then add the ice and salt, the mixture begins to freeze at the bottom before the top is cold. It then freezes unevenly.

Avoiding that grainy consistency

Have a problem with grainy ice cream? This often happens when the crank turns too rapidly at the beginning of the freezing cycle. Turn the crank slowly but keep up a steady motion. When the dasher starts to turn hard (and you’re beginning to get tired from all the turning) that’s when you beat hard and steady for one full minute.

Then remove the crossbar that holds the contraption together, remove the container lid and take out the dasher. (I always tried to find a small child who wanted a taste. The little ones are very willing to hold the dasher and try the ice cream for you while you attend to the rest of the procedure. Voilá! You no longer need to find a place to set the dasher.)

Pack the ice cream down, replace the lid on the canister, and plug the hole with a cork. Remove the icy, salty water from the pail and repack it with salt and ice to ripen the ice cream. This ice can be larger than crushed, and use about half the salt you used before. If the weather is very warm (assuming you are doing this outdoors because it creates a mess) you may have to redo the ice and salt before the ice cream is ripened.

Covering the ice cream freezer with an old blanket or a thick cloth helps to keep the cold in. If you get it wet before laying it over the freezer, it will help keep it that much colder. The original instructions said to keep the blanket wet with the brine from the ice cream freezer, but I can’t imagine what that level of salt water would do to old fibers in a blanket. Maybe this is where all the old quilts went.

And on to the cold treats!

Now that you have an idea of some of the forgotten advice on ice cream making, let’s make some warm weather goodies. Making ice cream and sundaes at home can be great fun. Like most Twenties recipes, some of these may sound a little odd at first. Give one or more of them a try and you can have your own Old Fashioned Ice Cream Social.

All of these recipes should serve from four to six.

Pineapple Marshmallow Sundae

You will need:

  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Marshmallow cream filling (like Fluff or Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Cream. Look for it at your grocery store.)
  • One slice of canned pineapple per person
  • Shredded coconut (packaged. Moist. Not dried coconut. Available in your baking aisle.)
  • Whipped cream
  • Juice from the canned pineapple


  1. Half fill a sherbet glass with vanilla ice cream.
  2. Top this with a dollop of marshmallow cream filling.
  3. Press a slice of canned pineapple onto the marshmallow cream.
  4. Top with a tablespoon or so of the soft shredded coconut.
  5. Finish off with a topping of whipped cream.
  6. Pour a little of the pineapple syrup over the top of the sundae.

South-Pole Sundae

You will need:

  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Real chocolate fudge. You don’t have to make it fresh for this; if you made chocolate fudge in the past couple days you can reheat it and pour it over the ice cream. Melt it enough to pour by placing it in a pan set in a larger pan of boiling water. It shouldn’t be very hot. A double boiler works, too. Or [Sh!! Don’t tell!] even a quick zap in the microwave.
  • Candied cherries or Maraschino cherries


  1. Place a tablespoon of vanilla ice cream in the bottom of a glass. I would use a six or eight ounce glass Pyrex dessert dish.
  2. On top of this pour a just a little of the soft chocolate fudge.
  3. Heap the glass bowl with ice cream.
  4. Give it a thin topping of fudge.
  5. Decorate with candied cherries.

This tastes a little like the chocolate covered ice cream bars that were all the rage in 1922. The secret to this is to make the fudge layers thin, like a frosting.

Marshmallow Parfait

You will need:

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp sugar or to taste
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 orange
  • 1/4 lb marshmallows
  • 2 Tbsp shredded pineapple
  • Candied cherries/ Maraschino cherries


  1. Whip the cup of cream and sweeten with the sugar. Set into the freezer to chill while you make the rest of the dessert, or set on ice in a bowl.
  2. Cut the bananas, orange, and marshmallows into small pieces. Stir in the pineapple.
  3. Remove the cream from the ice or freezer. Beat the fruit lightly into the cream and fill tall glasses with the mixture.
  4. Decorate with candied cherries or maraschino cherries.

If you find that you like this parfait, which is not actually frozen, you may also like this recipe for Fruited Cream. It’s similar.

Caramel Ice Cream

You will need:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 cups half and half
  • 4 cups whole/heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Heat the brown sugar into a small frying pan and stir over medium heat until it melts and begins to smoke a little. You want it melted and hot enough that it tastes caramelized but not dark enough that it tastes burned.
  2. Heat together the half and half (light cream) and cream, mix the liquid sugar with them and flavor with vanilla.
  3. Remove the mixture from the fire and stir until it cools.
  4. Strain the mixture to remove any large sugar particles.
  5. Freeze in an ice cream freezer as usual.

The flavor of this ice cream is varied by the length of time the brown sugar is cooked. Be very careful –– hot melted sugar like this can cause dreadful burns.

Cafe Frappe

This is the original method of making a frappe, without the help of a blender. It’s more of an ice than an ice cream, since 3 of the five cups of liquid are water based.

You will need:

  • 3 cups strong black coffee
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Whipped cream for serving


  1. Scald the cream and dissolve the sugar in it.
  2. Set aside to cool.
  3. Mix coffee with the sweetened cream. Add the vanilla.
  4. Pour into an ice cream freezer and freeze slowly until it reaches a mushy consistency.
  5. Serve in glasses with a spoon of whipped cream on top.

I hope you enjoyed these recipes for making ice creams and sundaes in your own kitchen.