Fern Ulmer of Lodge is looking for a recipe for a cooked chocolate frosting that she clipped from a Woman’s Day magazine some 50 years ago. It calls for three egg yolks and unsweetened chocolate squares as part of the ingredients.

Now, why would anyone bother making frosting these days when it’s readily available in a can at the supermarket?

If you’ve ever tasted a really good, all-from-scratch cake with chocolate frosting, you’ll get it. It’s just not the same.

Not all home cooks are created equal, so that doesn’t guarantee instant superiority when it comes to cakes, from scratch or not. And there are numerous variations on chocolate frosting, I might add.

But I will say that, among the older generations at least, there was a certain pride in being able to make a great cake, frosting included, and it was just fine if everybody talked about it, too. That was a badge of honor in the sweet-toothed South where I grew up (but not exclusive to the region by any means).

So, we did hear from a couple of readers who offered recipes. And then I pulled Nancie McDermott’s “Southern Cakes” cookbook down from my bookshelf and felt a little faint after looking at some of the photos and recipes. More on that later.

Mollie Wilkinson of James Island says she’s had this recipe for years and years. “I think this would be the one she is looking for. I have used it to frost three split cake layers.”

While she hasn’t made it lately, she says the cake with the frosting always was a big hit.

Chocolate Frosting


3 squares unsweetened chocolate

2 cups sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 beaten egg yolks

1 large (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1 stick butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Combine all ingredients except vanilla and cook slowly, stirring until thick, about 20 minutes. Cool. Add vanilla.

Susan Hartry of West Ashley found this recipe in her 1950 edition of “Charleston Receipts.”

The term “bitter cake chocolate” has fallen out of use but it means unsweetened chocolate.

“This is a receipt from the famous Theus family of bakers. The Theus trio came to Charleston from New Orleans. They sold cookies and cakes, pies and pastries here in the 1870s and ’80s. Even in those days their special cake, which had to be ordered days in advance, cost three dollars! — and you furnished your own quart of cream! This chocolate icing was for a lesser cake, but as far as my knowledge goes, this is the only receipt of theirs which has survived.”

Submitted to “Charleston Receipts” by Mrs. Clements Ripley (Katherine Ball).

Chocolate Icing


1 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (approximately) cream

¼ pound bitter cake chocolate (unsweetened)

1/8 pound butter

Pinch salt

2 egg yolks, beaten

1 tablespoon vanilla essence (imitation or extract )


Dissolve sugar in cream. Add chocolate, butter and salt. Cook very slowly until all ingredients are dissolved. (Beginners may wish to use a double boiler.) Add beaten egg yolks by first pouring hot mixture over them and then returning to saucepan. Continue to cook very slowly — do not boil — until mixture is thick. This will be about five minutes.

Remove from stove. Add vanilla essence and beat until cool enough to spread on cake. This will ice, thickly, a two-layer cake.

So I’m circling back around to the “Southern Cakes” book which, in the middle of an ordinary work day, has stirred up an almost obsessive craving for homemade cake.

“Southern Cakes” came out in 2007 (Chronicle) and is authored by Nancie McDermott, who was born and raised in North Carolina. But this cookbook is more than eye candy; it’s full of recipes for old-fashioned cakes that will conjure up glorious food memories.

This is just one example, with a word of caution: The chocolate icing will not work on a rainy day.

Sybil Pressly’s Buttermilk Cake With Old-Time Fudge Icing

Serves 6 to 8

For the cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 cup buttermilk (see cook’s note)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the fudge icing:

3 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate or 1/2 cup cocoa

3 cups light brown sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup evaporated milk or half-and-half

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Cook’s note: If you don’t have buttermilk, stir 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice into 1 cup of milk and let stand for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour 3 (8-inch) round cake pans.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda and stir with a fork to mix well. In a large bowl, combine the softened butter and the sugar, and beat with a mixer at high speed until very light, fluffy and smooth, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each one. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture, and then half the milk, beating at low speed just until the flour or milk disappears. Mix in another third of the flour, followed by the rest of the milk, and then the rest of the flour in the same way. Stir in the vanilla, and divide the batter among the 3 prepared cake pans.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cakes are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly in the center. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks or on folded kitchen towels for 10 minutes. Then turn out the cakes onto wire racks or plates, top side up, to cool completely.

To make the frosting, first place a bowl of ice water and metal spoon by the stove. Place 1 cake layer, top side down, on a cake stand or serving plate. Have the other two layers handy so that you can ice the cake as soon as the icing is ready.

Break the chocolate squares into big chunks, and then combine them in a medium heavy saucepan with the brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and evaporated milk.

Bring everything to a boil over medium heat, stirring often to help melt the chocolate and prevent it from sticking and burning. Continue cooking the icing at a gentle boil until it reaches the soft-ball stage. This means a generous dollop of the icing dropped into cold water forms a soft little clump, which can be rolled between your fingers into a tiny ball.

The temperature on a candy thermometer will read 236 to 240 degrees.

Remove pan from heat. Without stirring, add the butter and vanilla to pan on top of icing and let cool to lukewarm. Then, mix it at medium speed until it loses its shine and thickens enough to spread on the cake.

Quickly cover the first cake layer with icing, and place second layer on top of it, top side down. Cover it with icing, and the place the third layer over the second, top side up. Pour icing over the cake and quickly spread it over the sides and top. If the icing hardens while you’re working, add a little milk and stir well to soften it again.

Who’s got the recipe?

Pam Kilpatrick asked if we could get the recipe for the key lime pie sold at Simmons Seafood on Isle of Palms. She says she has tried many different recipes, but cannot match the creaminess. I did contact the owners and not surprisingly, they said the recipe is a guarded family secret. However, if any readers have recipes for extra-creamy key lime pies, we still may be able to help Pam.

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Features Editor Teresa Taylor at food@postandcourier.com or 937-4886.