I still remember the first time my mother and I attempted my granny’s 16-layer chocolate cake even though it has been almost 20 years now. We had worked all afternoon on it, carefully cooking each paper thin layer of cake, guarding the fudge-like frosting as it cooked away on the stove so that it wouldn’t burn, and finally, assembling it. Pleased with ourselves, we stepped out of the kitchen until a loud splat brought us running back. Our beautiful cake was now in bits and pieces all over the floor – we had assembled it while it had been too warm and the layers had slid apart. I looked at my mom and did the only thing that I could do at the moment. I sat on the floor and started eating.
It was delicious.
That’s the kind of magic that my granny’s cake had. I can’t think of the holidays without picturing her chocolate cake, sitting modestly on top of the freezer in the backroom, though it should have been issued a place of honor at the main table. Every time we gathered at her house, for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for birthdays, the cake would be waiting for us. We all had to pass through the backroom to enter our house (no one ever used the front door) so we all would feel a glimmer of excitement when we spotted that cake sitting there.
Even when arthritis crippled her hands, she pressed on, switching from homemade cake batter to one out of a box. She faithfully made her icing the same way, though at times my grandfather had to take over for her (under her watchful eye of course). Sometimes the cake would have 14 layers, sometimes closer to 19. It was always a game to see who could come the closest to guessing the number of layers before we counted, peeling off each layer to eat, line by line.
My granny passed away this past January, only a few brief months before I would find out that I’m pregnant with my first child. I’m looking forward to sharing the magic of this cake with my own child as he grows. Even though I might have learned my lesson to let the layers cool before assembling the cake, who knows, maybe I’ll let him help me and start a tradition of eating cake off of the floor.
Trust me, it’s worth it.
Even though my granny started using a box cake mix in her later years, I went with her original recipe. When Robb saw me unloading not just butter but margarine for this cake, he said that it HAD to be good with all of that fat in there.
The key is nice, thin layers. I made my layers just a little too thick but my body was just exhausted. Being 8 months pregnant would do that to you!
There is an ingredient in the frosting that doesn’t normally appear in most other boiled frosting recipes, an ingredient that I think turns this into an almost foolproof recipe – marshmallows. I’ve done a little digging around and it seems that adding in marshmallows became a thing in a few areas of the country back in the 1960’s. When I called my mom to ask if she remembered including marshmallows during our initial fateful recreation years ago, she said that it didn’t seem familiar to her but perhaps that was why her attempt failed.
After letting your frosting cool for just a few minutes – and be careful because it will be hot – start stacking your cake, pouring the frosting over layer by layer. Making this cake requires a tremendous amount of patience. If you try to hurry through it, your layers will start to slip and slide just like ours did.
The worst part about making this cake is even after you get it all assembled – you still have to wait. Wait for it to harden and solidify. It’ll be well worth the wait, trust me.