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
"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
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.
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
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!