Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grandma Sullivan's "Jiffy" Chocolate Cake (not from a box!)

There are certain things that evoke a sense of yearning for days long since passed. Memories of standing on the stool in the kitchen, next to Mama as she measured out the ingredients, pulled out just the right pan, mixed those cups of milk and flour and spoonfuls of sweet smelling spices in a big bowl, and somehow made it all come out of the oven a little while later as something that made you feel good.  You didn't know why it made you feel so good.  Of course it tasted great.  It might have even looked pretty, if Mama was a "fancy" kind of cook. But those weren't the reasons that it made you feel the way you did inside.

Looking back now, as a mom myself (and hopefully a grandma/a nana/a granny someday) I realize that the reason it made me feel so good was simple. It was because my mother made it for me. Even in a world where Mom's don't always get the chance to stay at home, there will always be moments that create those good feelings in our children. Whether it's watching Mom cook or sitting next to her in the big cozy chair in the family room as she reads a story, or when she tip-toes into the bedroom as soon as she gets home at the end of a hard day and quietly, lovingly kisses her child on the forehead.

Til the end of time, Mom's will continue to create the memories that later on in life will evoke those same good feelings in their grown children. The following recipe is one of the things that brings that feeling back to me. Every time I make it, I think of Mama's hands as she sifted the flour and sugar and made the little wells that held the liquid ingredients. I can smell the cocoa powder before I even open the tin. I can taste the rich, dark moist cake and the simple sugary frosting that is as bright and white as the cake is deep, dark chocolaty brown. Keep in mind that this isn't the Jiffy Cake Mix that's been around for about a hundred years. It's a scratch cake, made simply from ingredients that most everyone has in their pantry. I suppose it got it's name because it's made in one pan "in a jiffy".  I'm not sure if the name was given to this cake before or after the boxed mix came out, but I do know that it's delicious and more importantly, it just makes me feel good.

Grandma Sullivan's Jiffy Chocolate Cake

Mama's Recipe Box and Recipe

Cake Ingredients

1 &1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour, sifted (I sift it onto a large sheet of waxed paper to start)
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 Tbls Cocoa Powder (I use Dutch Processed)
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/3 Cup Shortening, melted and cooled slightly or Vegetable Oil (I use Canola Oil)
1 Tbls Cider Vinegar
1 Tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Cold Water

Measure out Flour into sifter and sift onto a large sheet of waxed paper.  Add Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Soda and Salt and then pour all ingredients into the sifter and sift together into an 11"x7"x2" rectangular baking pan. (If you are using a 13"x9"x2" pan, then you'll need to make 1 and 1/2 times the recipe)

Spread out the dry ingredients evenly and with your fingers or a spoon, make 3 "wells" or impressions, about 2" apart. Pour vinegar in one, vanilla in the second and oil or shortening in the third.  Pour Cold Water over the whole thing and stir with a fork until well mixed.  There might be a few tiny lumps, but that's fine.  You don't want to over-work the batter.

Bake in a 350 degree, pre-heated oven for 28-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. (or with a few moist crumbs)  Allow it to cool in the pan for about an hour.


1 Cup Unsalted Butter (or 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup pure vegetable shortening)
4 Cups Confectioner's Sugar (I sift it, but you don't have to)
2 Tbls Milk (whole or 2% work best)
1 Tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
Tiny Pinch of Salt  (if using salted butter, this should be omitted)

Using a large spoon, or an electric mixer (I use a hand mixer) beat Butter, Salt and Vanilla in a large bowl until it's smooth and creamy. Gradually add the Confectioner's Sugar (approx 1 cup at a time) alternating with a few drops of milk until all of the Sugar is combined. (you may not need all of the milk if it's humid) Spread frosting on cooled cake and serve. I like to refrigerate any leftover cake, but as long as you keep it covered it isn't necessary.

This isn't a fancy cake. It's not filled with anything or made with exotic ingredients.  It's just a simple old fashioned sheet cake, but that's what makes it so beautiful. It's simplicity. And I don't know about you, but more often than not, simple things just make me feel good. Enjoy!


  1. I am going to a St Patty's day dinner and I was asked to bring dessert. This looks like a perfect recipe for me the Non Baker!!

  2. Oh, I'm so glad I could help you out! If you did want to make it a tad more fancy, you could cut it in half and stack the two pieces like layers. There should be enough frosting to fill it as well, I think. Or you could use some strawberry or seedless raspberry jam as a filling.

    OK. Sorry about getting carried away there! You can certainly just make it "as is" too.

    Although... Since it is a St. Paddy's party, you could use green food coloring in the frosting! Woops! There I go again. I don't know why I can never leave well enough alone! LOL

    No matter how you choose to do it Shawn, I hope you like it! You'll have to let me know. ;~) XOXO

  3. Sounds like something my aunt used to make us when I was little. I think she called it a "wacky cake". It was good and she used to let us help with putting it all together.

  4. Hey George! Ya know, I've heard of "whacky cake" before, but I don't know what it is. I'll have to look it up to see if it's at all similar. Do you bake at all? I'd love to know if you ever try this out! ;~)

  5. What a great, basic recipe. Some things you can't improve on.

  6. This looks SO good, gonna bookmark it!! Thanks for the sweet comments over at my blog!

  7. This looks delicious and unlike a lot of recipes I read from the US, quite doable for me down in NZ due to the simple ingredients listed.

  8. Kim: You're so right. Old fashioned isn't always a bad thing...

    Cheri: You're welcome my friend. It's a great thing to take to a pot luck or party. Especially if it's a last minute invite. You can get it done pretty quickly!

    Cate: I'm glad to know it's so doable for you. Is it more difficult because of conversions or just availability of ingredients?

  9. A luscious, rich cake made with love ... does it get any better??? Memories and nostalgia and just feeling good, all in one simple bite of cake ... :)

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  11. My grandmother made this same cake often. It was my favorite. I never knew the recipe for it's frosting. So I never made it. I decided today to see if anyone else had heard of this cake. I am so glad you published this. I found the recipe for the frosting. You unlocked a mystery for me. Grandma is gone and I have had the cake recipe for 25 years. Thanks so much!

    1. You're very welcome and thanks so much for stopping by, Lori ! I'm really glad I could help. I hope it lives up to the way you remember your gandmother's tasting. If you do decide to make the cake, I'd love to know how it all turned out! :)


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