Lora Abernathy: That’s the icing on the cake

Lora Abernathy: That’s the icing on the cake

By Lora Abernathy

My husband said the cake was absolutely delicious, but that I really should change its name.

“It’s kind of unappetizing,” Gary said.

“I’m not going to change its name! That’s what we called it growing up, so that’s what I’ll always have to call it,” I protested with a smile, but throwing in a harrumph for good measure.

“OK, OK,” he said, smiling back.

I had just baked for us my grandma’s chocolate cake with what we always called “mashed potato icing.” I know, I know, you’re already siding with my husband, but hang tight. It’s not actually made with mashed potatoes, it just looks like them. OK, maybe that’s still not the best argument, but consider this: It’s made with a lot of sugar and also contains butter, vanilla, shortening and flour. It’s absolutely the sweetest, most delicious icing I’ve ever had. It’s also “ours.”

The cake was always baked for birthdays, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and my favorite times of year, just because.

A year or so after I started cooking, I asked Grandma for the recipe. She gladly gave it to me. I started writing it down with the excitement that Ralphie has in “A Christmas Story” when he locks himself in a room to decode the Little Orphan Annie Secret Circle message.

But when I asked her to repeat one of the ingredients, she shocked the heck out of me with these words: “Or, you could also get the cake recipe off the back of the Hershey’s chocolate box.”

“What? You mean you’re not the only person who makes this?” I was thinking. “There are other people in America eating this cake right now?”

Suddenly, I felt Ralphie’s disappointment when he discovered all the super-secret message said was, “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”

“Ovaltine?” Ralphie asked out loud.

“Hershey’s?” I thought to myself.

At least she said the icing was her own, which helped my incredulity dissipate, and it was still Grandma’s special chocolate cake after all, no matter how many other grandmas out there were making it.

I haven’t made it in years, but I got a hankering for it recently and tried it the weekend before Thanksgiving. Why did I wait so long? The cake was so moist and the icing was extra “mashed potatoey” (sorry, Gary). It was like I was right back at Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen table.

When I made it, I looked for the recipe on “the back of the Hershey’s chocolate box.” It was still there. I’m not sure if it was the same one Grandma used, because I never looked at it that day. If it was, it was certainly altered over time. Vegetable oil must have been swapped for shortening, it called for milk instead of buttermilk, and there were variations on the measurements and the directions.

Grandma hasn’t made the cake in years, so, I took a photo of the cake and texted it to my mom, uncles, siblings and a cousin. Most everyone lives back home in West Virginia.

“Hey, Kris,” Uncle Rod asked my mom. “Is that the cake that has the mashed potato icing?”

I promised everyone I’d make it again and bring it with me on my next visit back home. I didn’t make it back for Christmas, though, so it looks like I’ll need to visit very soon so they can have their cake and eat it, too.


Make the icing first because a portion of it needs to get cold in the refrigerator. If you prefer a thicker layer of icing like I do, or want extra so the grandkids have enough to get a few decent licks from the bowl after you’ve frosted, go ahead and just double the recipe.

Icing Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup shortening, cold

1 cup milk

5 tablespoons flour

Pinch salt

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cake Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups sugar

2/3 cup shortening

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole buttermilk

1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup Hershey’s cocoa

Icing Directions:

Keep butter and put shortening in refrigerator for several hours until very cold.

In a small pan on medium heat, with a whisk, cook milk, flour and salt until thick. Don’t stop whisking once you start. You can’t get the mixture too stiff. Put mixture in refrigerator for several hours, covering with wax paper, to get as cold as you can.

Cream together well shortening, sugar and butter. Add in milk and flour mixture and beat on high speed. You can’t beat too long. Add vanilla and blend well.

Cake Directions:

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

In a large bowl, cream the sugar and shortening together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk to sugar mixture.

In a small pan, bring water to boil.

In a small bowl, make a heavy, smooth paste of the cocoa and boiling water. Cool slightly. Add to mixture and blend well.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes or until done. Let cakes cool completely. Frost cake between layers, on top and on sides.

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