The Clara Project: chocolate birthday cake.

I haven’t shared a recipe from The Clara Project lately (read about the collection of vintage recipe cards and the project they inspired) … mostly because I’ve been saving this one up.

Allow a bit of backstory: When I had the pleasure of meeting Clara Shenefelt Williams and her daughter Jan last summer, I was charmed by the loving way they spoke about Clara’s late husband, Roy. Jan shared many memories of her parents’ relationship, and Clara said of Roy, “He was such a good man.” We discussed Clara’s old recipes, of course, and Jan recalled that Roy had a favorite chocolate cake, which Clara always made for his birthday.

After our meeting in August, I scouted through the vintage recipe collection to see if it contained the chocolate cake recipe. There are so many recipes in the stack, and several chocolate cake recipes (see the chocolate pudding cake recipe and the one-bowl chocolate cake recipe I’ve published previously). Would THE chocolate cake recipe be there?

It was. It’s on a card labeled “From the Recipe Files Of Loretta Tyndall”; the recipe is handwritten. There’s a note: “Roy’s favorite.” I set the recipe card aside. Until now. This week is Rob’s birthday, and I knew I had to make Roy’s favorite chocolate cake.

In honor of Roy, Rob and good men everywhere, enjoy.

Roy's favorite chocolate birthday cake

(makes a 9-inch layer cake)

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans; cut a circle of waxed paper to fit the bottom of each pan, and grease and flour the paper. In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in a double-boiler), slowly melt the chocolate. (Watch carefully so the chocolate doesn't overheat and separate; don't multitask while you're doing this.) Set melted chocolate aside to cool. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the sugar and shortening until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time. Stir in the melted chocolate until well combined.

In a glass measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk and baking soda. (This activates the soda's leavening properties.) Add half the buttermilk mixture to the batter and stir to combine. Add half the flour and stir to combine. Add the remaining buttermilk, then the remaining flour and stir well. Very slowly pour the boiling water into the batter and mix on low speed. (Careful: The batter may slosh about.) Batter will become thinner and glossy.

Divide the batter between the two prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of one cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans for about 20 minutes, then remove and cool completely before frosting.

A note on frosting: I had a box of King Arthur Flour's chocolate buttercream frosting mix on hand, so that's what I used to finish the cake. It's delicious. My very favorite scratch-made chocolate frosting recipe is Smitten Kitchen's Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting.

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