Can you imagine the mayhem that would ensue in today’s world if a top college official banned sweets from the diet of its students. Unimaginable, right? Believe it or not, in the late 1800s, that is exactly what the founder of Wellesley College did. “Pies, lies, and doughnuts should never have a place at Wellesley College” declared Henry Durant. I’m sure he had only the best of intentions in mind for the young women when he sent a letter to their parents stating that ‘the college refused to accept students who were broken down in health, maintaining that a proper diet is key for proper learning, and that “we have therefore decided not to receive any one who will not come with the resolution to obey cheerfully all our rules in this respect, and pledged in honor neither to buy nor receive in any manner whatsoever any confectionery or eatables of any kind not provided for them by the College’. I’m pretty positive that wouldn’t have been the school for me.
The letter may have been signed by all Wellesley attendees, but I’m betting that not everyone honored their commitment. Legend has it that many of the girls of Wellesley chose to indulge in both sweets and lies by making contraband fudge in their dorms late at night. The exact details of how their fudge making evolved into a chocolate cake with ‘fudgy’ chocolate frosting is up for debate. I’m just happy it did.
I adapted this recipe from one printed in a January 2010 issue of Cook’s Country Magazine. Initially, I wasn’t overly impressed with the cake component of the recipe. However, after sitting a day under a cloak of fudgy frosting, the cake took on a whole new personality. Likewise, the first go-round with the frosting was a total failure. It was grainy and lumpy and extremely thin. In the trash it went. I significantly adapted the recipe to make it my own and the changes resulted in a silky smooth frosting with a perfect spreading consistency. It will most definitely be my ‘go to’ chocolate frosting recipe.
This cake matured beautifully. Day after day it became more moist and fudgy. The best slice was the final slice eaten three days after baking the cake.
Although there is no reason to make this cake on the sly, once you get a taste of its thick fudgy frosting, keeping it a secret just might cross your mind.
Wellesley Fudge Cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into 16 pieces, and softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut in half, and softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cake: With the oven rack in the middle position, heat the oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour two 8 x 8 x 1 1/2-inch square baking pans. (Two 9 x 1 1/2-inch round cake pans will work.) Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a small bowl, whisk hot water with the cocoa powder until smooth. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix until incorporated. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk, until combined. Reduce speed to low and slowly add cocoa mixture and vanilla until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. (Cake layers can be wrapped tightly and stored at room temperature for 2 days.)
Frosting: Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa. Heat 4 tablespoons butter, brown sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup half and half in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until small bubbles appear around perimeter of pan, 4 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly and turns deep golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Slice remaining butter into 4 pieces and stir it and the remaining half and half into the large bowl with the other ingredients. Add the chopped chocolate and the vanilla and stir until smooth. Slowly whisk in the confectioners’s sugar and cocoa until incorporated. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes until the frosting reaches the desired spreading consistency.
Assemble the Cake: Place 1 cake layer on a serving platter. Spread approximately 1 cup of frosting over the surface. Top with second cake layer. Generously spread remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of cake. Cake can be held at room temperature or covered and refrigerated until serving. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Serves up to 16