By Phin Upham
The chocolate cake, the quintessential birthday companion, did not exist during the early 1800s. Chocolate was consumed almost exclusively in beverage form until nearly 1840. There was a “chocolate cake” reference of course, but most cookbooks referred to white or yellow cakes that were eaten with a chocolate beverage.
The first printed recipe for a chocolate cake, meaning a cake made with cocoa powder, is most likely The Hostess of To-Day recipe in 1899. Calling for two squares of chocolate, it would appear a softer shade of brown. The flour used also made the cake fluffier, where current American palettes might prefer moist.
Chocolate cakes became a bit more common by the early 1900s. By 1920, chocolate cakes were commonplace, but chocolate’s primary use was still as part of a beverage or frosting. It was both Hershey and Betty Crocker who managed to popularize the cake thanks entirely to the “cake in the box’ mixture most household bakers still use today.
The rich and thick recipes that we know today are a fairly new occurrence. American tastes have always trended toward the sweeter, but the chocolate cake of today is a far cry from the early cakes of 1899. For one, both the sugar and cocoa quantities have been increased from those early days. One might call such cakes “death by chocolate” due to their richness. Not to be eaten without several glasses of either milk or water.
Actual National Cake Day is January 27th. Perhaps the perfect time to find a certain recipe from 1899?
About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or LinkedIn page.