Food Columnist Judi Leaming tests out chocolate treats, including her aunt's $300 Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cherry Cake and McCall's Perfect Chocolate Cake.

Doing the research for this column has led me to a lot of very interesting websites. When I dug deeply to find information to share with you, my best source turned out to be a brief history of The Baker’s Chocolate Company (courtesy of Dan’s Chocolates of Burlington, Vt.). Some of you will recall that in 1965 Baker’s Chocolate was part of the General Foods group that relocated to Dover. Many of you will fondly remember that wonderful smell of chocolate that used to waft through the air before the production moved on to another location.

But … back to the very beginning thanks to Suzanne at Dan’s Chocolates:

In 1765 a Harvard educated doctor named James Baker met an Irish immigrant and chocolate maker named John Hannon. With Baker’s money and Hannon’s knowledge, the two of them converted an old mill on the banks of Massachusetts’s Neponset River into a chocolate factory. In the mill they ground cocoa beans between huge millstones to make thick syrup. The chocolate syrup was poured into molds to make ‘cakes’ of chocolate. These were meant to be grated and mixed with hot water to make a chocolate beverage.

Because of the difficulty of importing cocoa beans during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, cocoa was rarely used as a food ingredient. It wasn’t until 1828 that Conrad van Houten figured out how to extract cocoa fat from cacao liquor so that it could be turned into a solid that could be turned into the reddish-brown powder that we now call baking cocoa. This discovery made the ability to cook with chocolate much less expensive and cocoa began to be used as flavoring for baked goods.

Soon after a young Austrian chef named Franz Sacher was charged with creating a dessert for Austria’s Prince Mettermich. He dared to spread apricot jam between layers of dense chocolate cake and poured a chocolate frosting over it all. This later became known as Sacher Torte … but that’s a story for another day. (National Sacher Torte Day is Dec. 5.)

This column offers you delicious chocolate cake recipes that you can create in your very own kitchen. Celebrate chocolate cakes this week with at least one of these!

$300 Chocolate Cake
My Aunt Wrenda shared recipe this with my mother sometime in the early 1970s and it quickly became a “go-to” family favorite.

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
4 heaping tablespoons baking cocoa
1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk*
1/2 cup butter
4 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons baking cocoa
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease, flour and set aside a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
For cake: Combine sugar, flour, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl and mix to blend. Combine water, oil, cocoa and butter in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 1 minute. Pour over sugar/flour mixture and beat carefully just until mixed. Slowly add in eggs and buttermilk just to blend. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. While the cake bakes, prepare the icing because you will be spreading this on the cake while it is still warm.
For icing: Combine butter, milk, salt and cocoa in a small saucepan over low heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Spread on warm cake. Cool before serving.
*No buttermilk? Stir 2 teaspoons of yellow or white vinegar into 1/2 cup whole milk and let it sit for 5 minutes before using.

Chocolate Cherry Cake
Mary Hodges contributed this recipe to the “Recipe from Readers” cookbook published by the Friends of the Dover Library.
1 (18.25-ounce) box devil’s food cake mix without pudding
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons milk
For cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a standard tube pan. Combine dry cake mix, eggs and vanilla by hand. Gently stir in pie filling after this is well mixed. Pour into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 10 to 15 minutes then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
For glaze: Melt chocolate chips in heavy saucepan over low heat. Add all other ingredients and cook on low until smooth. Pour glaze evenly over cooled cake. If desired, you can also add 1/2 cup chopped nuts to the batter when you mix in the cherries.

McCall’s Perfect Chocolate Cake
This recipe appeared in a 1982 issue of McCall’s Magazine.
1 cup unsifted unsweetened cocoa
2 cups boiling water
2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift before measuring)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (6-ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup light cream or evaporated milk
1 cup butter (cut into small pieces)
2 1/2 cups unsifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For cake: In a medium bowl whisk together the unsweetened cocoa and the 2 cups boiling water, mixing until smooth. Cool completely. Sift flour with baking soda, salt and baking powder. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour well three 9-inch round cake pans. In large bowl, beat softened butter with sugar, eggs and vanilla at a high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until light and fluffy – about 5 minutes. Reduce to low speed and beat in the flour mixture (in fourths), alternately with the cocoa mixture (in thirds). Begin and end with flour mixture. Do not overbeat. Divide batter evenly between the three prepared pans – about 2 1/2 cups batter per pan. Smooth tops of batter with spatula. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Carefully loosen sides with spatula. Remove cake layers from pans and cool on wire racks.
For frosting: In medium saucepan combine chocolate chips, cream and pieces of butter. Stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat. With whisk blend in 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar. Place in small mixer bowl and place this bowl into another larger bowl. Place ice cubes between the outside of the small bowl and the inside edge of the larger bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until frosting holds shape. Set aside.
Make filling by whipping cream with sugar and vanilla.
Assemble cake by placing one of the cooled layers, top side down onto the serving plate. Spread with half of the whipped cream. Place second cooled cake layer, top side down, onto the whipped cream. Spread with remaining cream. Place third cake layer top side up onto the whipped cream. Frost cake using a metal spatula. Frost sides first, covering whipped cream then use rest of frosting on the top of the cake. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. To cut, use a thin-edged sharp knife and slice with a sawing motion.