The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Piece of Cake: Cake Baking Tips & Fabulous 1930 Layered Chocolate Cake with Fruit Filling Recipe

By Vicki McClure Davidson


A colleague of mine recently gave me several old cookbooks that were his mother's. She is well past 90, and because of her fragile health and failing memory, has had to enter into an assisted living facility. While sadly taking care of selling off or giving away a lifetime of his mother's possessions, my friend spied a few old cookbooks of hers and thought I'd enjoy them.

Georgetown relief depot, 1932

Zowie, he was SO right. I can while away many hours, just thumbing through cookbooks that are years older than I am — I'm especially partial to those from the Great Depression era. These are filled with practical cooking tips and recipes from an era of frugality and expertise, some even have fascinating historical information on dishes of that era that may not be well-known now. Many of the pages have some spatters, smudges, and smears from long-ago batters and gravies. Those are the cookbook pages that I zoom in on first, since they more often than not are indicative of the recipes that were the family's top favorites. I'm a sucker for WWII-era artwork, too.

In one of the vintage cookbooks from my colleague, I found an unbelievable little gem. A yellowed newspaper clipping of a layered chocolate cake with fruit filling recipe, snipped from a 1930 publication of "The Daily Plain Dealer." I've included two photo captures of it below (both front and back). Amazing!

I was able to determine the year of publication because the back side of the recipe clipping showed partial ads for two new movie releases at the time: one was with William Haines, Leila Hyams, and Marie Dressler in the romantic comedy The Girl Said No and in the other, Constance Bennett with Richard Barthelmess in the film Son of the Gods. Both films were released in the year 1930. At the bottom of the clipping is a pitch for home delivery of "The Daily Plain Dealer" newspaper: "Only 18 cents per week for home delivery!"

For the past 80-plus years, this make-it-from-scratch chocolate cake recipe clipping has quietly served as a bookmark. Because of the age of the clipping, I'm guessing that my friend's mother somehow acquired it years after it was published, because she would have only been between 10 to 15 years old in 1930. So cool and amazing...

The recipe below calls for using "top milk," in the filling, which according to Merriam-Webster, if you're not familiar with the term (and I wasn't), is the upper layer of milk in a container enriched by whatever cream has risen. The first known usage of the term was back in 1891 and before homogenization and pasteurization became common. It is the cream that rises to the top of non-homogenized milk and is much richer and thicker than regular milk. This top milk reference will show up in many older cookbooks.

A terrific explanation about top milk, and another make-it-from-scratch cake recipe can be found at Diary of a Locavore and some more info on top milk is available at this location at Yahoo.

If you don't have access to top milk, you should be able to substitute it with light cream, heavy whipping cream, or even double cream in the recipe.


This layered chocolate cake with fruit filling recipe, or one similar to it, may have been made by your grandmother or aunt during the Great Depression era before any frugal housewife worth her apron would buy a cake mix. I've provided both the screen capture of the clipping and have typed the recipe up as well, with a bit of modification where it seemed advisable. Click here to see a larger version of the vintage newspaper recipe clipping.

The baking time was not included in the recipe (uh, oh), so I had to dig around for some general advice.

According to two sources (Baking911 and the Wilton cake pan site), if you are using 8- or 9-inch round cake pans, the rule of thumb is about 30 - 35 minutes baking time.

To be safe, and if your oven runs a bit hot, I'd suggest checking it at 29 minutes, piercing the center with a toothpick for doneness.


Chocolate Cake with Fruit Filling

  • 4 squares bitter chocolate
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1/4 c boiling water
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1-1/2 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c cake flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c milk

Grate chocolate, add sugar (3 T), and boiling water, melt over hot water, stirring occasionally.

Cream shortening and add sugar (1-1/2 c) gradually while continuing creaming process. Stir in the chocolate, separate eggs, beat yolks well and add to first mixture. Add vanilla, then dry ingredients (sifted together) alternately with milk. Lastly, fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

Bake in two layers in a moderate oven, 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When cool, spread with the following fruit mixture.

Fruit Filling
  • 1 c top milk
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c dates, chopped
  • 1/4 c raisins
  • 1/2 c nutmeats, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla


Mix top milk with sugar and stir over hot water until sugar is dissolved. Add fruit and cook until thick.

Cool, add vanilla and nutmeats, and spread between cake layers.

Frost the cake with your favorite chocolate frosting.


1930 newspaper clipping with chocolate cake recipe from The Daily Plain Dealer

1930 newspaper clipping with chocolate cake recipe from The Daily Plain Dealer


Back side of the 1930 recipe newspaper clipping from The Daily Plain Dealer, with portions of two 1930 movie ads

Back side of the 1930 recipe newspaper clipping from The Daily Plain Dealer, with 1930 movie ads



There are many little-known tricks and tips to creating a perfect cake from scratch.

Ingredients and oven temperature are very important, but there are other simple secrets and tips as well. Below are but a few:

This first set of cake tips is from the 1989 publication of Reader's Digest - Cook Now Serve Later, The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York. Project editor was Gayla Visalli.


Cake Making Tips from Chef Rick — visit his site for more cake making tips:


Tip from CDKitchen, Flouring Cake Pans:

When flouring a cake pan, take into consideration the flavor of the cake. If you plan to serve the cake dusted with powdered sugar, a white ring on the side of a chocolate cake takes away from the appeal. For light cakes, use white flour to flour your pans. When making a dark cake, use powdered cocoa. The cocoa works in the same manner as the flour with regard to release and it doesn't leave a white ring around the edge or on top of the cake.

And this on keeping the cake plate neat and clean while decorating:

To decorate a cake directly on its serving plate, slip strips of wax paper under the edge of the cake, allowing them to hang over the rim of the plate. Frost cake, then, with a quick motion, pull out the paper. This leaves the serving plate nice and clean without a trace of frosting.


Cake Frosting Tips from the Betty Crocker website:

If the cake is very soft and crumbly, apply a "crumb coating" to prevent cake crumbs from mixing with the frosting. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake, then let stand 5 to 10 min. or until frosting is set. Spread remaining frosting over cake.
Make sure cakes are completely cooled before frosting. A warm cake can cause the frosting to soften or melt.


Cake Baking Tips from, Southern Food — visit the site for more little-known tips:


Some more terrific cake tips from the 1989 The New Basics Cookbook, written by Julie Rosso & Sheila Lukins, Workman Publishing, NY:


Chef foods divider



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