Don’t hold the mayo

chocolate mayonnaise cake

Every Valentine’s Day needs chocolate, and when I posted the photo of this dessert on my Food Writer Debbie Moose Facebook page, requests came in for the recipe.

It’s so simple, and has an interesting history. Chocolate cake using mayonnaise instead of butter and milk became popular as a cost saver during the Depression, and it was also popular during the rationing period of World War II. It makes a devil’s food-like cake that is so simple, kids can make it. In fact, I demonstrated this recipe for a group of teachers at a teachers’ seminar focusing on WWII.

The only caveat is don’t overbake it to prevent dryness. I added a drizzle of melted bittersweet chocolate to make it even more of a Valentine’s Day treat.

This recipe makes enough to fill a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, but I used an oversized muffin pan to make six individual cakes.  I cooked the remaining batter in a smaller baking dish, dusted the resulting large cake with powdered sugar and gave it to my neighbor, who has two kids and is expecting a third – just to spread the Valentine’s Day love (and get the calories out of my kitchen).

I adapted this from a recipe in “The American Century Cookbook” by Jean Anderson.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

2 cups flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used a super-dark cocoa)

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

1 2/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup mayonnaise

1 1/3 cups cold coffee or water (coffee adds more flavor)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or equivalent muffin tins, etc., with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a portable electric mixer) combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the mayonnaise just until blended. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with the coffee or water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour into prepared pans and bake 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the pan (the muffins will take less time). Bake just until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; do not overbake. Cool for 15 minutes or so, then remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting, drizzling with melted chocolate or dusting with powdered sugar.

Milling around

marcia townsend’s lemon cornmeal cake

Handed-down family recipes are like patchwork quilts. They contain little pieces of everyone who has cooked them, their tweaks and additions or subtractions, but still make a beautiful whole.

Marcia Townsend of Raleigh told me that her winning dish for the cornmeal cook-off at Yates Mill in Raleigh is one of those creations that started with an old recipe, then she added her own touches. In this case, she increased the amount of cornmeal, which gave the cake extra texture.

The contest was held as part of the harvest celebration at the restored mill, which is more than 250 years old. The mill works, and produces some mighty fine cornmeal.

Here is Townsend’s recipe.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup sugar

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled


1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt, then whisk to blend. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel, vanilla and butter. Whisk to combine.

Use a spatula to gently fold the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until just blended; do not stir.

Place batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Invert the cake immediately onto a cooling rack and invert once again to a serving plate so that the cake is right side up. Combine the Glaze ingredients until smooth. Drop by tablespoons full onto the top of the cake and spread until it is 1/2 inch from the edges of the cake.

Serves 8