Project 52: Rationing - Week 4 - Raised Chocolate Cake

This week was my husband's birthday, so I asked him if I could make his birthday cake from a rationing
Mmmm! Homemade chocolate cake. Nothing beats that.
 recipe and he agreed. I was really excited!

It was a little tricky finding just the right cake. Should I go with a British recipe like a sponge or should I try and find a classic American vanilla cake with chocolate frosting? With dried fruit or plain? And from which source would I find the recipe? In one of my books, a pamphlet, or magazine? In the end I settled on a unique recipe for Raised Chocolate Cake with Sugarless Boiled Frosting from Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes which I've mentioned on here before. Her book has an index in the back, so since I was in a rush, her book was the easy choice!

This cake recipe is pretty standard except that it calls for yeast. I've never heard of a cake that called for yeast, so I was very intrigued.

I had two substitutions that I needed to make in the recipe. One is that it called for shortening. And second is that it called for corn syrup. I am nutritionally opposed to both shortening and corn syrup, so this is a dilemma I have to deal with in these recipes. Do I adhere strictly to the recipes for historical recreation's sake? Or do I make a substitution if I don't have or want to use an ingredient? The historian in me says to do the former and adhere strictly, but I also have to think about how my family and I are actually going to be eating this food. Our health is important to me, so I decided to go with substitutions. I'm sure women of the 1940s were required to use substitutions as well when they weren't able to get certain ingredients, so I don't feel I'm doing a total disservice to the recipe. My substitutions are as close as I can make them.

For example: for shortening I used butter (there are "healthier" shortening alternatives as well that I've used in the past which I might purchase again), and for corn syrup I make my own cane syrup made by boiling cane sugar and water to a thick syrup consistency. It makes a wonderful corn syrup substitute. My inner-historian isn't 100% pleased, but oh well...

If you're interested in food history, here is a quick and dirty history of shortening on wikipedia and a biased history of Karo corn syrup. (According to the Corn Refiners Association, corn syrup was invented in 1882.)

Besides the yeast addition, beating up the batter was very straightforward and familiar with other cake batters I've made in the past.
Yummy looking batter - enough for two 8" cake pans.

Taste test: PASS!
My daughter carrying on my childhood tradition of licking the beaters.
The yeast taste was definitely there, but not overpowering.
 You're supposed to let the cakes sit out for 1/2 hour until bubbly to let the yeast rise some. Our house must be too cold, because not much bubbly was going on. I was in a hurry to get the cakes done before hubby came home, so I popped them into the oven anyway.

They turned out lovely!
 I'm pretty sure they were supposed to rise a lot more, but I was still pretty happy with the cake. The baking smells filling my house were very strange - it smelled like I was baking yeasty chocolate bread. Weird.

 So, next I had to make the Sugarless Boiled Frosting. I was slightly intimidated by this recipe. You have to put the egg whites, corn syrup, and salt in a double boiler and beat it with an electric mixer while it's sitting and cooking over simmering water. This was a totally new experience for me! I've never used an electric mixer near my stove, but I gave it a try and let it heat while mixing. It wasn't as hard as I thought, though you do need to be careful of the cord near your stove. The recipe says it takes about 7 minutes to whip up to stiff peaks and it does, but the result was amazing - the mixture whipped up to this luxurious glossy pure white frosting. I actually cut the recipe in half because I didn't have enough cane syrup after using it in the cake. I thought it was just the right amount of frosting though. It's not like I needed leftovers!

Folding in the vanilla

Frosting the stacked cakes with a frosting layer inbetween.


This cake turned out so delicious!
This cake was a success! It made a lovely birthday cake. Both the cake and frosting were sweeter than I was expecting. I might put in less brown sugar next time. I found the frosting had an interesting texture, but couldn't quite put a finger on it. I let my 6-year-old son try it and he immediately said, "It tastes like marshmallows!" He totally hit it on the head. This frosting should really be called Marshmallow Frosting. It reminds me of marshmallow spread. And just so you know, you need to spread it while it's warm. It starts to stiffen as it cools and keeps its shape very nicely. I can see why it was popular for wedding cakes.

Some historical notes and thoughts:
Ms. Hayes mentions that the Sugarless Boiled Frosting was used a lot for weddings and the recipe makes a lot from so little ingredients. 

1930 Sunbeam Electric Mixer
Both recipes are made using an electric mixer. Not true to the 1940s, you think? Well, it is! I was stunned to walk into an antique shop a couple years ago to find a 1930 Sunbeam electric mixer. I guess I never realized that they've been around for so long. Kitchen work was revolutionized far before our modern Kitchen Aid mixers came around. For some reason this is a comforting thought and makes me really happy! :-)

I think our modern definition of cake has spoiled us for good homemade cake. Homemade cake never seems to be as tender as box mix or store-bought cake (full of additives and chemicals). And so now we think that's the way cake is supposed to be. Have you seen the Disney movie "Pollyanna"? There's a scene where Pollyanna is at the church bazarre and she buys a gigantic piece of layered cake and walks around eating with it in hand - no fork required! That, folks, is real cake in my opinion. I think this Raised Chocolate Cake recipe is just that sort of cake - sturdy, full of yummy homemade flavor, and yeah, you could walk around with a piece in your hand without it all falling apart. I'd say that's a bonus, wouldn't you? Give this recipe a try and see for yourself!

One last note - while perusing rationing recipes I found quite a few desserts that called for crumbled cake crumbs. What a thrifty way to use your leftover, dried-out cake!

Raised Chocolate Cake
Ms. Hayes says she saw this recipe in wartime magazines and cookbooks.

3/4 cup warm water
1 envelope yeast
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Sugarless Boiled Frosting, optional

Grease two deep 8-inch round baking pans. Combine warm water and yeast in a cup and set aside for yeast to soften.

Beat together brown sugar and shortening until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then corn syrup and vanilla.

Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add to sugar mixture along with yeast mixture. Beat just until smooth.

Divide batter between greased pans and set aside in a warm place 30 minutes or until it begins to look puffy. 

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake layers 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of each comes out clean. Remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting. Fill and frost with Sugarless Boiled Frosting, if desired. 

Sugarless Boiled Frosting
Ms. Hayes mentions that a lot of 1940s wedding cake recipes called for this frosting.
Recipe fills and frosts a 9-inch two-layer cake

1 1/3 cups light corn syrup
2 large egg whites
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla (you might want a little less)

Combine corn syrup, egg whites, and salt in top of a double boiler. Place over simmering water and beat with an electric beater until the mixture stands in stiff peaks - about 7 minutes. 

Remove pan fro hot water and fold in vanilla. Use to fill and frost 2 (9-inc) layers. Serve cake within 2 to 3 hours and store any leftovers in the refrigerator. 

Both the cake and frosting taste great the next day! 


  1. Electrification post WW1 lead to a boom of electric kitchen appliances here in the US. Women's magazines are filled with advertisements for toasters, waffle irons,egg cookers, coffee mills, percolators, popcorn poppers and mix masters. The breakfast nook of our previous house from 1939 was especially wired to allow for cooking right at the table. My 1938 Better Homes & Gardens strongly recommended that every dining room should be wired for electricity so that food may be served piping hot. If you want to see a lot of wonderful appliances, and marvel at all the now gone US manufacturers that crafted them, check out

  2. You make a great point. I am really fascinated with technology that directly impacted the home like small kitchen appliances. I didn't realize they recommended wiring your dining room so food could be cooked right there. Cool! Now that I think of it... our house was built 1900, but the kitchen/dining area was added on later. There is an oddly-placed outlet next to where our table sits that is at about table height. I wonder if this was put in with the same cooking-at-the-table thing in mind. Ha! I wonder...

  3. Cakes were always made with yeast or lots of eggs before the mid-19th century invention of baking powder!

    Joanne Lamb Hayes and her books were a huge help in authenticating my exhibit (

    You aren't really being true to the period in using butter. Butter was nearly impossible to get. They would have used Crisco vegetable shortening or Spry. You could also use vegetable oil to be authentic or fat drippings.

    1. Hi QNPoohBear, Thanks for commenting.

      You're right about cakes! The recipe was very early in my project, and I was researching as I went along. I've been baking since I was a teenager, but this was my first time encountering a yeast-risen cake. Surprisingly, though, in all of my ration cookbooks I've collected, I haven't run across any more yeast cakes. I'll have to keep looking, though, because I'd love to try another one.

      I enjoyed Hayes's book as well. Mint Tinkle is a favorite with my kids!

      I understand what you're saying about butter, but in my research, rationing for Americans varied greatly from 1942 - 1945, especially depending on where they lived, i.e. rural vs. urban, as well as national availability. Early in the war, butter was still available, and rationing of butter didn't start until March of 1943. So, to say it's not being true to the period isn't completely accurate from my understanding of rationing.

      I also learned that the term "shortening" didn't necessarily mean just shortening, it could also mean any kind of short fat like butter, lard, vegetable shortening, or margarine. Since my family was going to be eating it, and we don't eat margarine or shortening, I opted for using butter, bacon fat, or lard for most of my project. It was a difficult decision to make because I wanted to be true to the recipes, but I wanted to be healthy according to my family's needs as well.

      I appreciate you sharing what you've learned with me and I hope you enjoy looking through my ration recipes! I keep learning every day about rationing, and I'm hoping to start another rationing project soon. I'll be sure to check out your online exhibit on rationing. I think that's a great idea, and getting more information out there on rationing is good for everyone!

      Take care!


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