Chocolate Cake for a 90th Birthday Party

My lovely Grandma turned 90 last week, and on Sunday we celebrated with her in the care facility where she is recovering from the fall she took on Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, the x-ray she takes later this week will show that she is recovered enough so that she can go home.
For the party, I volunteered to bring the cake.  Grandma says her favorite cakes are fruit cake and chocolate cake.  I don’t know many people who like fruit cake, and I have no idea how to make it, so I opted for chocolate on chocolate love.  Then came the question, to make the cake from scratch, or use a box.  I vacillated on this one quite a bit.  The chocolate cake I made for Maya’s birthday last year turned out pretty well, but for some reason I just felt safer using a box mix.  I believe I’ve said before how much baking makes me nervous.  SO precise.  SO easy to end up with a dry, blah cake.  I didn’t want to risk that.  In the end, I decided to make a doctored up mix cake.  I remember my old roommate, Troy, used to add extra oil and an extra egg to cake mix, with moist, delicious results.  Here’s the recipe I used.

Darn Good Chocolate Cake (Cake Mix Cake)


  • 1 box devil’s food cake mix
  • 1 (4 oz) box instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • chocolate frosting

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans*. Dust with flour and tap out excess. Set pans aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend all ingredients except the frosting on low for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 2 – 3 more minutes on medium low. The batter will be very thick and should look well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans and smooth it out.

Bake for 27 to 32 minutes. Mine was ready in 29 minutes**.

Cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

*America’s Test Kitchen made a cake the other day, and they said to put some parchment paper in the bottom of your cake pan, and it comes out more cleanly. I did this, and the cake came out VERY Easily. However, I didn’t butter and flour the parchment paper, so it stuck to the cake. Oh well.

**A toothpick through the center of the cake came back with just a little gooey batter. I don’t like to wait until it’s completely clean, because the cake continues to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven, and it can turn out dry.

Aunt Flo, Grandma’s younger sister (by 16 months), Me, my cousin, Carey, and the Birthday Girl

Next came the frosting question.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use canned frosting, doctor up some canned frosting, or make frosting from scratch.  I’ve read that adding a bit of vanilla to canned frosting can take it from blah to delicious quite easily, but I decided to go for scratch, as frosting is pretty easy to make.  Maybe.  At first I was going to make this recipe, which was the one recommended in the cake recipe.  But I don’t like to whisk in my cooking pots, as it scratches the non-stick surface of the pot, and the whole “DO NOT BOIL” warning made me nervous, and the ice bath thing seemed too worky for me.  So I abandoned that idea, and went instead for an America’s Test Kitchen frosting that you can make in the food processor.  I like that, because I don’t have a stand mixer.  I had to find the America’s Test Kitchen recipe elsewhere, because they require you to pay a subscription to access their older recipes.  The recipe says to use milk chocolate, but I had already bought semi-sweet, because that’s what the original recipe I was planning to use called for.  So I went with that.

Foolproof Chocolate Frosting

  • 20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened.
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • Pinch table salt
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces milk chocolate , melted and cooled slightly (see note)

In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately or held (see note).

Makes 3 cups to frost one 9-inch 2-layer cake

NOTE from ATK: This frosting may be made with milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate. For our Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake, we prefer a frosting made with milk chocolate. Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the butter mixture. The frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

I thought the frosting was perhaps too bitter, so I added a little bit more sugar. Grandma likes dark chocolate more than milk chocolate, though, so I hoped that the frosting wouldn’t taste too bitter on the cake. You know what? It didn’t. There was a lot of frosting, too, so I was able to cut the layers in half, and make four layer cake, which means more frosting. Have to remember that for Maya’s birthday, since she LOVES frosting.  One thing though, I might try a frosting recipe next time without the cocoa powder.  There’s something about that cocoa flavor that’s so distinctive, and if you don’t love it, it can really come on through.  It kind of did in the frosting.

What a yummy cake, what a lovely party, and what a wonderful Grandma. Happy Birthday Grandma, SO glad that we were able to celebrate with you. I hope you’re home in your house again, drinking the coffee YOU like, sitting in your favorite chair, smoking your favorite cigarettes, and watching your favorite TV shows, all on your own schedule, not the schedule of a facility where they tell you when to get up, when to bathe, when to eat, all of that.

(Maya looks gorgeous in this pic. That’s my handsome Uncle Forrest, my mom’s younger brother, in the background)

6 thoughts on “Chocolate Cake for a 90th Birthday Party

  1. What a lovely day and yummy looking cake!

    With all your cake mix doctoring I hope you can become comfortable with baking from scratch. With this recipe you’re only using the cake mix to measure out the flour, cocoa and levaners for you. You can measure. You can do it!

  2. What a great-looking bunch of ladies, and all so joyful! And now I want some chocolate cake. My problem is, with only Rick and me in the house, I usually eat one piece and then Rick feels compelled to eat the rest so it won’t go to waste.

    I wish there were single-sized cake mixes. The “cakes in a mug” for the microwave are icky.

    • Nance, perhaps you could bake cupcakes, and then send the rest to Rick’s work? Then you could have 1, he could have 1, and the people at work think he’s a hero. 🙂

  3. I echo Nance (uh, AGAIN she has beat me to the punch) in that you’ve got a family with some fantastic DNA! Your grandma looks radiant!

    Happy Birthday to Grandma!

    And yes, your daughter IS utterly beautiful.

  4. Gina, you’re too kind. Grandma is indeed radiant. She loves nothing more than her family, and she has some fancy DNA. Glad Maya got both. 🙂

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