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Q: recipe substitution ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: recipe substitution
Category: Family and Home > Food and Cooking
Asked by: apie-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 24 May 2005 19:29 PDT
Expires: 23 Jun 2005 19:29 PDT
Question ID: 525262
What is the conversion for "cake chocolate" in an old recipe?  I have
a recipe for Devil's Food Cake from my great grandmother that calls
for "1/3 cake chocolate", and I want to know how much powdered cocoa
or unsweetened baker's squares to substitute.  Almost any google
search containing "cake" and "chocolate" returns a zillion hits.  The
best I could do
was include an amount, like "1/2 cake chocolate".  This brings up
several old recipes, but I only found one that included a conversion. 
It said that 1/2 cake chocolate equals 3 Tbsp. cocoa, which does not
sound like nearly enough.

Request for Question Clarification by chromedome-ga on 25 May 2005 18:00 PDT
Hi, Apie!

I initially thought that this would not be an overly difficult
question to answer, but as you've already discovered the information
available online is confused and frequently contradictory.

After consulting numerous sources both on- and off-line, I am unable
to give you a firm, verifiable answer.  It would seem, from the
various oblique references I've located, that there were at least two
sizes of "cake" chocolate marketed in the days before the 1 oz square
became standardized.  Some of the recipes I've viewed would indicate a
"cake" equalling 4 oz of chocolate, just about identical to the 100g
size available today from many upscale vendors.  Some of the other
recipes I've viewed would indicate a 2 oz "cake." To complicate
matters further, some recipes specified "German" chocolate, which is
named for its inventor rather than for the country.  "German"
chocolate was somewhat sweetened, probably similar to today's

I have seen few cake recipes calling for 1/2 sq or less of modern-day
baking chocolate.  Typically they range from 1 to 4 ounces (squares),
depending on the richness desired.  Since 1/3 of a 2 oz cake would be
rather a modest amount, I'm assuming that your great-grandmother's
recipe was based on a 4 oz cake, which would give 1 1/3 ounces of
chocolate.  This would be modest by today's measure, but many vintage
recipes are lighter on the chocolate (for reasons, I presume, of
frugality) than modern ones.

Since I am unable to generate an immediate, verifiable answer for you,
I can offer a couple of alternatives.  On the one hand, a visit to
some reference materials in archives and libraries around my city
might yield the desired result.  Of course this will take some time,
and I'm sure you want to bake your cake at the earliest possible
opportunity.  My other suggestion, if you don't mind the recipe
appearing in a public forum, is to post it here.  I am a professional
cook and baker, and should be able to calculate from the other
ingredients whether my "buest-guess" judgement above is accurate.


Clarification of Question by apie-ga on 26 May 2005 08:49 PDT
Hi Chromedome,

Thanks for your research thus far.  I am not in a huge hurry to bake
this, so if you do come across additional info in the next couple of
weeks, I would be very interested in it.  Below is the recipe exactly
as written.  I looked up other devil's food cake recipes, but was
further confused by the fact that my great-grandmother's recipe seems
to call for twice as much flour per other ingredients.  But she wrote
in "good!" on the recipe, so it must be.  If it helps you to place
things historically, she was born around 1880 and lived in Indiana and
Wyoming, if anything about this is regional.  Thanks for your help!

Devils Food 
 cup butter 
2 cups brown sugar 
 cup sour milk 
2 eggs 
1/3 cake chocolate 
1 tsp soda 
 cup hot water 
 tsp vanilla 
4 cups flour 

4 cups brown sugar 
 cup sweet milk 
 cup butter 
1 tsp vanilla
Subject: Re: recipe substitution
Answered By: chromedome-ga on 05 Jun 2005 12:46 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi, Apie!

Well, it looks like my earlier guess of 2 oz and 4 oz for the two
sizes of chocolate cake was off-base.  After much rooting through the
bowels of Project Gutenberg, I've finally located a specific measure
of chocolate "cakes" in a vintage cookbook.

Volume 4 of the 1918 edition of the "Library of Cooking" by the
Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, Inc. contains the
following paragraph:

"18. CHOCOLATE AND COCOA.--Materials that are much used for flavoring
cake mixtures and icings are chocolate and cocoa. Chocolate is sold in
pound and half-pound cakes in both the bitter and the sweetened form,
while cocoa is sold in packages or bottles in powder form. The bitter
chocolate gives the greatest amount of food value and flavor and is
therefore used the most. Cocoa is neither so strong in flavor nor so
high in food value as chocolate, but it can be substituted for
chocolate when this is not in supply."

One-third of a half-pound cake of chocolate would give us a quantity
of 2 2/3 oz of chocolate, certainly adequate for most cakes.  Assuming
a one-pound cake of chocoate, that would give us a total of 5 1/3 oz,
which would be suitable for a very large or a very rich cake.  Making
things more interesting, I've also found reference in one of Elizabeth
David's books to an archaic "confectioner's pound" of 12 oz for some
ingredients, which would yield measures of 2 oz or 4 oz for your
grandmother's recipe, based on a half or whole "pound."

Isn't this fun?

So, let's take a moment to review your grandmother's recipe in
comparison with a few others.

Your grandmother's recipe calls for:

2c brown sugar
1/3 cake chocolate
4 cups flour

At home, I use the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, which calls for:

1c brown sugar
2-4 oz chocolate
2c flour

I have made this recipe with both quantities of chocolate, and while
it is perfectly acceptable with the smaller amount it is gorgeously
rich with the larger.  This recipe yields two nine-inch rounds.  Based
on that, your grandma's recipe would look to be a double batch;
however the measurements for butter and eggs are identical.  Compared
to the "Joy" recipe, then, your grandmother's recipe would yield a
denser finished product and more of it.

From Project Gutenberg, I've located a recipe of comparable vintage in
the 1894 volume, Recipes Tried and True by the Ladies' Aid Society of
First Presbyterian Church, Marion Ohio:

"Two cups darkest brown sugar, one-half cup butter, two eggs, one-half
cup sour milk, three cups flour, one pinch salt; mix thoroughly
together.  Take one-half cup boiling water; stir into this one
teaspoon soda, and one-half cup grated Baker's chocolate; stir into

FILLING.--Two cups dark brown sugar, one-half cup butter, one-half cup
sweet milk or cream.  Cook until it threads."

You will see that this recipe corresponds closely to your
grandmother's, though again with a smaller quantity of flour.

So what does this tell us?  Well, for one thing, they liked their
cakes a little denser and sweeter back in those days.  A key
ingredient here is the sugar, which in both of the earlier recipes is
double that of the more modern one.  Sugar doesn't just sweeten a
recipe, it also has the effect of softening the crumb (which is why
low-fat recipes tend to be high in sugar; both are softeners).  This
is what permits of the greater quantity of flour.  Therefore, both of
these vintage recipes would result in a denser, fudgier cake similar
in texture to the "cakier" style of modern brownie.

I would recommend trying your grandmother's recipe with four ounces of
modern-day unsweetened chocolate (the quantity of sugar involved would
mandate unsweetened, rather than semisweet).  This is adequate to give
a very chocolatey end result, and would correspond to "cake chocolate"
of one 12 oz "confectioner's pound."  I would also recommend using
cake flour, if you have it, since that will give you a less-chewy cake
than all-purpose flour.  If you live in the South, where flours tend
to be lower in gluten, that may not be an issue.

The substitution you'd already located, of three tbsp cocoa to one of
butter, is a "per-ounce" substitution.  I often use cocoa instead of
chocolate when baking the recipe from "Joy."  You may certainly do the
same, if you wish.

This has been rather entertaining to research, for anyone interested
(as I am) in old cookbooks and cooking techniques.  I've been using
Project Gutenberg for years, and collecting cookbooks for years, and
somehow never thought to put the two together until this past week. 
Go figure.

Search Strategy:

Before I thought of Project Gutenberg, I tried several searches on
Google, but despite (or because of) the wealth of information out
there, I was unable to locate the specific piece of info we were
looking for.

Having bethought myself of Project Gutenberg, I used their "advanced
search" function with keywords including...


...and then just trudged through the various documents looking for
instances of the word "chocolate," and then later "devil's food cake."
 There were many fascinating older cookbooks (I downloaded the
legendary "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management," a sort of
Victorian Martha Stewart), but those linked above were the ones which
yielded pertinent information.

The edition of the Joy of Cooking which I own is the two-volume Signet
paperback, dating from 1974.

The final piece of the puzzle was sheer serendipity.  I am currently
reading "Harvest of the Cold Months" by English food writer Elizabeth
David, a study of the evolution of frozen desserts.  In quoting a
selection of recipes from an old cookbook, she mentions in passing the
"confectioner's pound," and describes chocolate as one of the
ingredients which may be bought and sold in that measure.

Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good...

Thank you for a weeks' agreeable sleuthing, and happy baking!

apie-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $50.00
Wow, I am very impressed with the amount of research and detail
involved in the answer to my question.  Thank you so much,
Chromedome!!  I am looking forward to trying this recipe now.

Subject: Re: recipe substitution
From: chromedome-ga on 05 Jun 2005 18:56 PDT
Thank you for your kind remarks, and (of course) for the generous tip!

In re-reading my answer, I find one sentence which was not quite what
I'd intended to recommending 4 oz of chocolate, I should have
said "...would correspond to your grandmother's 1/3 cake of chocolate,
based on a 12 oz confectioner's pound."

That's what I get for not having a coffee before proofreading, I guess.


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