Ma is 91 years young and makes an amazing chocolate cake.  She is my husband’s grandmother and she has so kindly been feeding me this cake for the past 11 years. The recipe has been in an old family cookbook for decades, but no one has ever been able to truly master her secret icing technique!  I was visiting Ma in Nashville earlier this month and she baked the cake with me step by step for the first time.  I documented with photos and got her permission to share with you.  She is already known for this cake, and I told her now she was going to be an internet star! 🙂

Isn’t Ma the cutest.  My grandmothers both passed away when I was younger and she scooped me up as her own granddaughter shortly after my husband and I started dating.  I just love her!

Ma and Me

Alright, let’s bake a cake!

So, the cake part really isn’t a secret.  Just use the easy boxed stuff!  You can use yellow, white or chocolate cake mix.  Follow the directions on the box to bake the cake.  Ma suggests Crisco for greasing the pans before adding the cake mix to bake.

yellow cake mix

Yellow Cake Mix Baking

Once the cakes have baked, then let cool on a cooling rack.  You can slice each of these in half if you would like to make more layers of the cake.

Ma Cutting Cake

Now, to the famous chocolate frosting.

STEP ONE: Mix all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. (Scroll to the bottom for recipe)

Chocolate Frosting Recipe Step By Step

Mix Ingredients Together


STEP TWO: Bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring.  Cook until soft ball forms in cold water (or 234 degrees on candy thermometer). We didn’t use a thermometer – Ma uses the old fashion trick.

Boiling Chocolate Frosting


Chocolate Frosting Tip

STEP THREE:  Remove saucepan from heat.  Place saucepan in pan of cold water.  (We used Ma’s sink).  Stir frosting until creamy.

Cooling Chocolate Frosting

STEP FOUR: Place parchment paper on cake plate or cake container bottom.  This will help so much with clean up! Spread between layers and on top of sides of cake. Frost two layers or four if you cut your bakes cakes in half.  (I only cut one in half, so I had three layers)

Frosting a Cake

(Don’t you love the minion paper towels! I felt like that little guy was judging my frosting technique!)

Layers of Cake

Chocolate Frosting on Cake

And there you have it!  The frosting was definitely tricky.  I think I need to make this a few more (dozen) times to even come close to Ma’s perfect version. It’s all about timing with the frosting during boiling/cooling/icing.

Choclate Frosting Cake Recipe

Please don’t judge my lopsided cake!  I love to cook, but I don’t bake very often.  My first cake in quite some time and I didn’t line the layers up just right.  You can use toothpicks if you need to hold it together.

As you can see this is messy!  But a delicious clean up.  Once you have it all iced, slide your cake knife under the cake to lift a tad so you can pull out the parchment paper.

Lopsided Chocolate Cake

Let cool and then enjoy! YUMMY!


Ma’s Famous Secret Chocolate Cake


  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup of cocoa
  • 1 pinch of baking soda


Mix all ingredients in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring. Cook until soft ball forms in cold water (or 234 degrees on candy thermometer). Remove from heat. Place saucepan in pan (or sink) of cold water. Stir frosting until creamy.  Spread between layers and on top of sides of cake. Frost two layers or four if you cut in half.  Cool and enjoy!

Tips for this recipe – see photos and text above
Lower fat alternative – you must be kidding!

Heather made Ma's Chocolate Cake

I was so proud of myself and my little lopsided cake.  I will do better next time.  Practice makes perfect, right?

Chocolate Frosted Cake Cut


A big thank you to MA for sharing her kitchen and cooking expertise with me and her recipe with all of us!


Heather Johnson - The Creative Stack