THAT chocolate cake

Recipe: Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake

If it’s celebration time in our house, our friends know that they can expect my chocolate cake. But “my” chocolate cake isn’t really mine, and like most of the things that I cook, it has a story.

Probably the biggest influence on my mother’s cooking life was her best friend Janet Telian, who is a chef (you may show your age if you remember Anton van Wouw, Harridans and Pomegranate in Johannesburg, as well as Savoy Cabbage in Cape Town). Janet and my mom met when her son, Sebastian, and I went to nursery school together. Remember Janet – she’s going to be mentioned again in this blog.

mom and janet.jpgMy mom and Janet in 1985, in my parents’ garden – discussing their food, no doubt!

In my recipe books – and it is written down in several places – the chocolate cake that I always make is called Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake.

It quickly became the cake of choice and I have had it for most of my birthdays – originally made by Mom and now made by me. (You know that you’re a grown up when you have to make your own birthday cake.)

In my mind, there were only a handful of people that could possibly have this recipe: Janet, Janet’s mother, Mom and me. Possibly Janet’s siblings.

So imagine my surprise when, very early in our relationship, I went to my husband’s parents’ home to celebrate his brother Peter’s birthday. . . and his mom had made Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake! What devilry was this. . .

So you can call it Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake, or Paul’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake, or maybe you can call it Gail’s Chocolate Cake (as most of my friends do). But whatever you call it, you must make it!

My version of the recipe is quite old fashioned – and when I gave it to my friend Vanessa, who is not an experienced baker, she didn’t realise that an instruction to bake at 350 degrees was the wrong measurement. . . so she put her oven up as high as it would go. The results were not good.

I’ve translated it into modern terms now!

Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake

Bring to boil:      250g margarine (NOT butter. Both Mom and Janet usually preferred butter but not for this)

                                1 cup water

4 Tablespoons cocoa.

Mix with:            2 cups flour (sifted, although my mom never did – it’s much better if you do!)

2 cups sugar

Add:                      ½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

The mixture is quite runny:

choc cake - mixture.jpg


Bake at 180 degrees for 25/30 minutes. Use a oiled/sprayed rectangular pan – I use a Le Creuset dish these days and it works very well – better than a traditional cake pan did. You serve it straight from the pan so the Le Creuset is also prettier.

(Do you know how to test a cake? Take a piece of spaghetti and stick it into the cake when it is cooked. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked. My mom had a special thingy for this.)

While the cake is cooking, make the icing:

Bring to boil:      60g marge

1 ½ tablespoons cocoa

2 tablespoons milk

Remove from heat and mix in about half a box of icing sugar. But do it slowly. It must have a glossy dark brown look and it is easy to add too much icing sugar. When I made it last, and took photos for you, I added too much! So here is a photo of what it looks like about one shake after you should have stopped!!

choc cake icing.jpg

Ice the cake as soon as you take it out the oven!

One of the things that often goes wrong for me is that the icing separates at the stage with the milk and butter. I don’t know why this is. It happens often. When it does, just start again.







6 Comments Add yours

  1. Vanessa + 350 degrees. LOL! Can only be THE Vanessa we both know and love. I look forward to trying this recipe one day when I’m thin enough.


    1. Of course it’s that Vanessa! Don’t ever put off things until “thin enough”. . .terrible way to live!! 🙂


  2. 2468aw says:

    A blast from the past! Thank you Gail for these lovely reminiscences.
    I thought I was the only person who knew this rich, wonderful chocolate brownie/cake as “Janet’s Mother’s Chocolate Cake”..
    My daughter Amber serves it as a treat dessert at her own dinner parties now and I bake a biggie for her birthday every year (she is gluten intolerant but throws caution to the wind for a slice of JMCC) x Anita

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Vanessa van Copp says:

    Hi Darling Friend ooh I love this cake xxx That Vanessa


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