Self-Frosting Chocolate Cake, or, a Chocolate-Flavoured Lie

In the 1960s, the best kind of food was the easiest kind of food, no matter whether it was margarine, Tang, or a cake that frosted itself. Nowadays, I think if you're going to go to the trouble of making a cake, you can probably go to the trouble of frosting it (even if the frosting comes from a can), but I guess if you made a cake every week like a lot of families in the 1960s, you probably got sick of using that much powdered sugar all the time.

I, however, never get tired of frosting, but I don't always have time for that nonsense. So I made a chocolate cake. But not just any chocolate cake: a cake that frosts itself in the oven, inside a skillet. I just love any recipe that involves a skillet, because no matter what, it's always going to look elegantly rustic.

And since I needed a quick dessert for a party and didn't have time to bake a cake, let it cool, and frost it before the party, I whipped up this self-frosting chocolate confection.

But it didn't work. I'm assuming the science of this somehow involves the weight of the ingredients separating in the oven, but I don't understand how the top layer is (supposed to) stay moist and frosting-like. PLUS, I'm not entirely convinced the recipe is written correctly. I know, I know, only a shoddy carpenter blames his tools, but this recipe just comes from some kind of Betty Crocker type of thing, and I've read the recipe over and over and can't figure out what went wrong... beyond the usual 'I substituted half of the ingredients for other ingredients because stuff that was available in the 1960s in the US is not available in 2015 Scotland.'

Anyway, it didn't seem to have its own frosting, but no one complained. This was a delicious cake that tasted more like a dense, chocolatey muffin than a cake. It's a moist, brown-sugar based cake, studded with chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, and a melty chocolate centre. It's the kind of thing you would eat for breakfast if you were on holiday in a country known for its pastries; somewhere like France, or Florence, or Bavaria. Or the kind of thing that makes a perfect dessert on an unseasonably blustery late-spring night in Scotland.

Make this when you need a pick-me-up. After a rough day at work, or an evening after you got stuck coming home in a rainy, traffic-filled, commute. You'll be so pleased with yourself at how easy it is (and so proud of yourself for finding a use for that bottle of chocolate syrup you've had in your fridge since that cookout last summer) that you'll forget all about your troubles when you take your first melty bite, still warm from the oven.

If you are trying to make this cake look pretty, might I suggest not inverting it? The actual top of the cake is much prettier than the bottom (in my experience), and it's going to look much more 'inside-out' after you invert it.

P.S. The original recipe called for '2 envelopes premelted chocolate.' What even is that??

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. I'm knocking off a spoon because, strictly speaking, this recipe didn't work the way it was supposed to. But I'm keeping it at four because, well, it's delicious.

The recipe:

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 176C/350F.
Generously grease a 9- or 10-inch ovenproof skillet.
In a large mixer bowl, combine all ingredients except nuts and topping ingredients.
Blend well at low speed, then increase speed to medium and beat an additional 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl.
Spread batter into skillet.
Sprinkle with pecans (or be awesome like me and arrange them in a lovely flower pattern).
Combine topping ingredients and pour over batter.
Bake 30-35 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Allow to cool 1-2 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate (or, if the top of yours looks like mine, maybe don't invert it as it's going to look less than stellar once it's flipped upside down).
If necessary, scrape sauce from inside pan onto top of cake and serve warm.

the ingredients:

½ c shortening
1 ¼ c flour
½ c sugar
½ c brown sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp salt
2/3 c milk
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
½ salted pecan (or walnut) halves


½ c chocolate syrup (if you're in the UK and can't find this, you can sub in ¼ c melted milk chocolate with ¼ c water, stirred together and cooled)
½ c warm water
1 tbsp sugar