My Go-To Birthday Cake

comments: 139


For many, many years, one of both parts of this cake have made their ways into almost every birthday cake I've baked for someone else or requested for my own birthday. I am super picky about cake. The one I made for Keels on MondayHershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake and my mom's Cloudburst Frosting — is probably the only way I really, really like it; chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is way too much chocolate, yellow cake is good, I cannot stand cream-cheese frosting, buttercream is okay but Cloudburst is lighter and better, etc., etc., etc., etc. I'll drive you crazy if you let me. I've tried a couple of variations on this chocolate/white frosting combo (adding pastry cream layer, using a different cake recipe), but to me the cake you see above and the recipe I'll give you below are just about perfect together. The cake is so heavy and so dark and so moist, the frosting is light as a cloud. If you put it in the fridge for about an hour before you serve it? Oh. Do that.

Normally I wouldn't reprint a recipe as-is like this, but I live in fear that Hershey's will change their link or delete their web site or somehow I won't be able to find it again. The only thing I do differently from their recipe is switch out 1/2 of their 1 cup of boiling water with 1/2 cup of very hot coffee (you don't taste the coffee, but, as Ina taught me, a little bit of coffee brings out the flavor of the chocolate). So, with apologies to Hershey (and a link for high-altitude directions and more info):

Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (I use either the regular or the Special Dark, whatever I happen to have)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup steaming hot (brewed) coffee

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water and coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.

Now, the frosting for this cake is my mom's old recipe for something we in our family called "the milk and flour frosting." When I was growing up, she always made it for chocolate cake, too. We have never been able to find an official recipe for frosting like this, probably because we don't know what its official name is. When I first put it on the blog several years ago (and if you hang around here you'll remember me talking about several times since), I renamed it more romantically and called it Cloudburst Frosting. This frosting had a long history in our house of being very temperamental but it is totally worth it. We think we have it down now, but you have to do it exactly this way. You just do. Don't ask me why. We really do not know.

Cloudburst Frosting

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup WHOLE (it has to be whole) milk
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

In a small pan, gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking them together into a totally smooth mixture — you don't want any lumps here. Simmer (barely) until thick over low/medium heat, whisking constantly so you don't get any lumps. (Do not walk away from the stove for even a minute — trust me. If you do get lumps, just push it all through a sieve.) You want it to be the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let it cool completely but NOT in the refrigerator (Mom says if you put it in the fridge it won't work). Let it cool for a few minutes, and then push a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the mixture (so a skin doesn't form) and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two or three until it's completely cool. Cream together the butter and almond; add the confectioner's sugar and beat on high for several minutes until it is very fluffy. Add the milk/flour mixture and beat until it is super fluffy. The frosting will sometimes appear to separate when you add the milk/flour mixture, but just keep beating it on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.

To frost the cake, trim off the top of one round so it is flat, and mound half of the frosting on it. Put the other round on and mound the other half of the frosting on it. I never frost the sides because 1) I'm lazy and 2) I think it looks a lot prettier with bare sides. Top with accessories. Chill before serving for maximum deliciousness.

*Update: Sounds like this is called "Butter Roux Frosting" and is a traditional red velvet cake topping. Yay! Thanks guys!


Flour in the frosting? Who'd have thunk to try that out the first time?

Well, it caused me a teensity bit of pain to read you don't like cream cheese frosting on the Deep Dark Chocolate Cake recipe, but I suppose it would be mature of me to allow you that. And since you, like myself, prefer the cake properly chilled, I do still feel a kinship between us. Along with the thousands of other kindred spirits who read your blog. :)

Cloudburst Frosting....Romantic a name, as there ever was! (Sigh.)

My favourite chocolate cake recipe is very similar. I bake it in a Bundt pan & serve the cake with whipped cream & a warm Burgundy-cherry sauce. It's divine but your frosting recipe looks so good that I think I'll give it a try next time!

THANK YOU for sharing. thank you.
that icing looks devine. must try.
I'm picky too -- especially about icing. Our go-to icing is typically a seven minute icing -- but I must try this one!

this looks absolutely divine, thanks for sharing!

but... but... my birthday was yesterday! I'll have to find another excuse to try this out. Thanks for sharing the recipe! Seeing the picture yesterday without the recipe was absolute TORTURE! It's just so pretty with the little baby strawberries and blooms and sounds absolutely delectable.

This looks so delicious.

I'm very happy that there's another person out there who doesn't like cream cheese frosting. Actually, I don't like cream cheese anything.

I started making that same cake last year, and now I will never go back to a mix!

Thank you for the frosting recipe - I've been at a loss as to how to top the cake, and my attempts have been far from stellar!

Maybe a Last Day of School cake is in order tomorrow...

That icing is my very favorite. My mom used to make it when I was little. It's not too sweet and lovely and light. And NOW I have a name for it - Cloudburst Frosting - yes, I'm going to write that onto my old, stained recipe card.

That's our household's favorite icing. It's traditional southern, apparently, and it is the icing that is supposed to go on red velvet cake. All of that is hearsay, because we're not southern. But it is delicious.

Cloudburst is the perfect magical name for this frosting. It reminds me of fairies and forests after a rain-beautiful. We will try this. I am from Georgia and we used cream cheese frosting on our red velvet cake. I am sure you are gagging right now;-) Hee hee. But I think I will commit a sacrilege and try your Cloudburst. My kiddos and my husband all love chocolate cake and this looks divine. They'll be buzzing for days! Thanks for sharing this!

My goodness, if that isn't the epitome of summer wonderfulness- such a beautiful cake!

My son turns 4 tomorrow and he asked for a strawberry cake. Do you think he would settle for a stawberry ON the cake?? :)

Michelle says: June 23, 2010 at 10:14 AM

YUM YUM YUM!! I have made that frosting a few times now, I ran across the recipe on Our Best Bites. The measurements are a bit different but same idea.

I will have to give yours a try next time because I never have quite enough with the other recipe, yours looks to make more.

Thanks for sharing!!!

It's just so beautiful! And that frosting looks and sounds just like its "romantic" name!

FINALLY! Finally, I meet someone else who doesn't like cream cheese icing! Everyone I know thinks I'm nuts when they hear I put a homemade butter icing on my carrot cake---until they try it. LOL It's awesome. I never buy icing over here. Homemade is just too good to bother.

Jake Gariepy says: June 23, 2010 at 11:43 AM

I love this frosting too! I found the recipe awhile back in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunninghm. There she calls it Gravy Icing, but I think Cloudburst is much better.

My favorite go to frosting for chocolate cake is Seafoam Frosting from the 1963 McCall's Cook Book. It's 7 Minute Frosting with brown sugar. Yum!

Thank you! My son's 21st birthday is Saturday and I wanted to make him a special cake. I'll let you know how it turns out. :)

jenn nahrstadt says: June 23, 2010 at 11:48 AM

this is the first chocolate cake recipe i learned to make after receiving as a wedding gift a Hershey's chocolate cookbook with the recipe in it. it is so hands down better than a box mix that my husband won't eat any other chocolate cake. EVER.

i make a penuche (browned butter brown sugar) frosting to go with mine. here's the link:

one other suggestion: if you aren't a coffee person, purchase some VIA instant coffee from starbucks and add that to the boiling water the recipe calls for. then you don't have to brew a pot for a cup and you can control the strength of the coffee nuance. trust us; it does nothing but enhance the chocolate flavor!

long live Hershey's chocolate cake!

so, you answered my burning question of how to make the cake.

now, now i have to find a reason. let's see, first week of summer and not too hot to fire up the oven yet. yep. that will work.

~ can't wait to try this one~

bless your heart. chocolate cake. can't wait to try this. i thank you. the farmer thanks you. the farmhand thank you. everyone but my diet thanks you.

Jennifer O. says: June 23, 2010 at 12:03 PM

That looks and sounds delicious, but whoa, high maintenance frosting!

Thank you for sharing this. It looks soooo delicious!

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at