as soon as i saw this recipe, i knew i had to make it. the worn clipping was tucked in my mom’s recipe book, neatly typed out via typewriter, and trimmed down to a perfect little 3×5. the antiquated look, the name–black midnight cake–immediately my head was flooded with images of hot, sticky southern nights…unnaturally still waters reflecting the distant moon and stars… a pair of young lovers meeting in secret with only the cicadas and fireflies to bear witness to their indiscretions… something about “black midnight” makes me feel overly romantic bordering on the nonsensical. then again, i’ve always leaned toward hopeless romantic.
growing up, my mother always told me that “all is fair in love and war–right up until the altar.” i blame this advice for some of my more dramatic fantasies…and realities. my mom similarly fell prey to the idealism of love conquering all, and in this vein pursued my father with a reckless air of “oh, what the hell.” they met at a wedding, exchanged addresses (oh the days before the internet & cell phones), and once my mom returned home some 1,000 miles away, she decided based on the wisdom of the aforementioned saying that it couldn’t hurt to send a letter. and thus began the long-distance, hand-written courtship of my parents. my heart breaks from the over-exertion of abundant sighing. if this is my reaction just from thinking about letters, imagine my brain high on black midnight cake!
modern-day romance seems so much less sigh-inducing in comparison to the days of yore. there are too many online dating sites and methods of communication. texting, emailing, iming, facebook messaging, facebook wall-posting– it makes my head spin. sure, the email might be the letter of the 21st century, but there is still something so much more romantic and idealistic about the act of putting pen to paper. i met a guy at a bar once who gave me his full name and network so i could later find him on facebook… yikes. i mean, i didn’t expect some quill-to-parchment action here, let’s be realistic, but honestly, a phone number exchange would have sufficed. curses 21st century!
but back to the black midnight cake. to my utter disappointment, it ended up being a bit like modern-day romance– a little meh. the title overpowered my overly romantic mind and belied the fact that it was preeeetty much just a chocolate cake. a tasty chocolate cake, but just a chocolate cake all the same. i was expecting the flavors to be making sweet, sweet love on my tongue. instead they politely introduced themselves to my taste buds, hung out for a second, and then moved on. a nice memory… but forgettable.
but despite all of this, I shall attempt to harness the magic the name first conjured… i’ll just light a few candles, dim the lights, slice up a bit of this cake, and perhaps check the computer to see which men the online algorithms have conjured up. ah, modern-day romance… i guess you’ve got to take what you can get.
black midnight cake:
what you’ll need:
2/3 cup shortening
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups flour (sifted)
2/3 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla
1. beat the shortening, sugar, and eggs for 5 min at high speed. (also, how absolutely amazing is this mixer? for starters, i don’t have to hold it other than for the initial helping hand to get it to start spinning. for seconds, i don’t have to hold it. for thirds… i don’t have to hold it. did i mention i don’t have to hold it?)
2. sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (when i can’t find a sifter…like in my parents house… mooooom… i find that a mesh/small-holed (?) strainer works better than nothing. eventhough it may seem unnecesary to sift, it really does make the cake a lot fluffier and therefore lovelier.)
3. mix dry ingredients and then a combination of water and vanilla in alternately with the sugar/shortening mixture.
4. pour into 2 9-inch layer pans or 1 13×9-inch oblong pan (greased and floured).
5. bake at 350 degrees for 35 mins if layers, 40 to 45 if oblong.
milk chocolate icing: (if you like a lot of icing like me, i would suggest doubling the recipe. i stuck to it as written, but felt like there just wasn’t enough.)
what you’ll need:
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup cocoa
3 cups confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1. melt together the shortening and cocoa.
2. stir in confectioner’s sugar, hot scalded milk, and vanilla. make sure to make a giant mess, esp if you are in your mother’s kitchen and she is anal retentive about keeping everything impeccably clean.
3. place the pan in ice water, and beat until a spreadable consistency (about 3 to 5 mins).
according to the recipe creator another option is to add a few drops of peppermint flavoring.
now, i did not have a flat cake stand on hand for icing the cake so we tried to minimize the mayhem by putting wax paper under the cake, which we later slid out from under it. this definitely helped keep the pretty cake stand clean, though it made icing the cake a smidge tricksy. also notice that i did not slice off the tops to make the cake flat… this is because i am lazy. but, i guess we could pretend that i was going for a rustic feel?
(this would probably be more dramatic if photographed during a black midnight.)