As we progress into February we start to see candies and chocolates displayed in our local stores alerting us to the arrival of Valentine’s Day. People have several different opinions on this holiday and whether or not to celebrate it. From a historical standpoint, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries. There is debate to Ancient and Medieval history but by the 19th century, the day was being celebrated by the exchange of cards both printed and handmade. That seems very similar to today! You can even see some examples of printed Victorian Valentines in the electronic collection of the British Museum by clicking here or here. I find the elaboration of the second one especially fun.
Closer to home, Americans in the latter parts of the 19th century could purchase valentines produced on the mass scale. Esther A. Howland begins to sell the greetings as early as the 1840s. (history.com) Progression in printing practices and low-cost postage contributed to the rise of the valentine greeting. Be it printed or homemade, a Valentine’s Day greeting is always appreciated.
Of course in modern America we like to include candy or chocolate with our lovely greetings. If you’ve got some spare time this week consider making homemade chocolate cake for Valentine’s Day. The recipe below is the one we make for our 1900 Dinners program, and I believe if we were to ever change it there would be some riotous patrons. It is rich, but delicious (even as leftovers). Beware, it does take some time in preparation (probably about 2 hours total), but it is well worth the effort.
Double Layer Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Filling and Chocolate Frosting Cake
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 cup butter
½ cup cocoa
1 cup water
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup buttermilk
Sift flour, sugar, soda, and salt. Melt butter, add cocoa and water, and bring to a boil. Mix hot liquid with dry ingredients. Mix eggs in one at a time, add the vanilla and the buttermilk. Bake in two layers (9 inch) at 350˚ for approximately 25 minutes. Be careful not to over bake the cake. Fill with cinnamon filling and frost.
8 T sugar
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp. cinnamon
2 T cocoa
1 T cornstarch
2 egg yolks
1 cup milk
Mix first six ingredients in saucepan. Add milk gradually. Cook until thick (pudding consistency). Cool and spread between layers of cake.
4 T butter
3 T buttermilk
4 T cocoa
2+ cups powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
Cook butter, cocoa, and buttermilk until butter is melted. Beat in enough powdered sugar to make stiff. Stir vanilla into frosting.
Bake the cakes until a toothpick comes out clean, but you shouldn’t need more than 35 minutes. Don’t be too concerned with cracks in the cake, you will be frosting it and it’s pretty amazing what frosting can cover! If you want a delicious chocolate cake in less time, consider baking it into a 9 X 13 pan and frosting in the pan. You miss the filling, but it doesn’t take nearly as long to assemble.
Speaking of the filling, it is like making pudding on a stove-top. (Does anyone still do that at home?) If you cook the filling too long it will turn clumpy. If that happens, simply try again.
As for the frosting. Personally I don’t really like chocolate frosting (I’m really more of a vanilla girl), but this frosting is delicious. The recipe is purposefully vague so that you can make the frosting the consistency you desire. Some people like it to be more of a glaze, others like full icing frosting. If you get frosting that is a little thick, don’t be afraid to add a little milk. This frosting is good on the cake, but also on apples, tortillas, graham crackers, and I had a roommate that liked to eat it on a spoon! A final tip about the frosting, it freezes really well so you could make a large amount, freeze it in cake sized containers, and let it come to room temperature prior to cake decorating.
This cake melts in your mouth, or can be refrigerated covered for a few days and retain its moisture. It’s really great for breakfast! Enjoy your Valentine’s Day, with or without cake, and think about all those who have celebrated before you. Sending good wishes your way!