A Jolly Nice Chocolate Cake

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Searching for a chocolate cake recipe which didn't require seventeen ingredients including 625g of sugar I turned to my trusty Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium (first published in 1950) and found this recipe, simple yet rich enough for a birthday cake. Blimmin' easy to make too. I iced it with chocolate buttercream which brought the sugar total to around 335g. Then I added an entire box of Maltesers, so, yeah, more sugar. It hit the spot though, celebratory but not excessive. It's called rich chocolate cake but compared with modern recipes it is far from rich.


There's a lot to like about my old 1960 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium. The recipes are straightforward, well written and well tested. Ingredients are few, familiar and easy to buy. My mum has a well worn copy and as a child I used to pore over the pictures of cakes (there are lots) for hours thinking how beautiful they were.



Names do date date one so...

But they aren't beautiful are they? They're terrible. Pick up any baking book published today or read any baking blog (I mean a proper baking blog, not this one) and you will see how the standard of cake decoration has soared. I don't just mean in terms of design and artistic taste but in skill too. The snowman cake below is clearly botched and the marzipan fruit dreadful. But I love them for their rubbish decoration, they're attainable aren't they? Yep, I could definitely make a snowman cake like that.


  I wonder whether the whole baking craze has set impossible standards, can amateur cooks really produce some of the things one sees in books or blogs? So many recipes are headed 'the perfect....whatever' and I can't help thinking, why? Why must my chocolate cake be the perfect chocolate cake, why can't it just be a jolly nice chocolate cake?

We are constantly being told perfection is what we should be striving for, and I don't just mean in our cakes but in our homes, our bodies, our faces, our hair, our lives. But how do we know what is perfect? Who is making the rules?

 Maybe bloggers are helping make those rules. Maybe the little snippets of their lives that they choose to show on their blogs create an impression of a perfect life being lived in a perfect world. I once had an email from a  reader who said I was everything she wanted to be. Flipping heck! I thought, or words to that effect. But perhaps she meant she wanted to be imperfect, that she didn't want to be made to feel her house, her cooking, her family had to be perfect and that I was showing her that it was ok to be a jolly nice chocolate cake rather than a perfect chocolate cake. I hope so.



A jolly nice cake for Katie's 14th birthday.

Talking of perfection, my cherry tree is taking its time to reach it, I was clearly over optimistic when I said it would be in full bloom by the end of last week. Maybe it too has decided that jolly nice will be just fine.

40 comments:

  1. I agree with everything you have said there. My blog generally has a warts and all approach to it. If cooking goes wrong, it gets shown. Who wants to live in a perfect world , not me, that's for sure!

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  2. We had that book, too, and I spent hours and hours looking at the pictures.I wish I knew what had happened to it. I always longed to make that mushroom cake but we were more of a rock buns family!

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    1. My mum used to work as a cookery demonstrator and she says that mushroom cake was wildly popular with audiences. I don't remember her ever making it at home though we were more of a Welsh cake family.

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  3. I so agree with what you say.
    I also pored over Good Housekeeping recipe books as a child. A while ago I was lucky enough to get a pile of the luridly coloured magazines GH produced, each devoted to recipes for different occasions. Fascinating!

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  4. Can you still get blocks of hard margarine (said with a hard 'g' if you were genteel)? I'm sure we used something called Summer County in all our baking. Jolly nice post Sue.

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  5. Your jolly nice cake looks pretty good for eating!
    I wonder how many bloggers are called sue?
    There were 5 in my year at school and I wanted to be different!

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  6. I agree with you. I am quite nit picky in what I make and always have been no matter if it is sewn, cooked or knitted but I don't want to be unnecessarily complicated. I am untidy and everything else goes to pot while making nice things as I am sure is the case with bloggers too, it's just that we don't see that or believe it if we are told it. One of the things I set out to do a few years ago was to ignore little errors and not to throw away, or redo. Not when they will spoil something completely, but the things only I would know about. It did me good. Being a control freak is not so great.

    I had a big Marguerite Patten book as our family bible and I still have it. Proper food for everyday. You didn't have posh iced cakes all the time but rock cakes and scones and jam tarts. Baking is now a very expensive hobby and ingredients for cake making and decoration often have a premium price. A snow man cake used to look like a snow man cake, now it has to look like an actual snow man. Some of how the cakes look is down to a weird 70's aesthetic and cakes would be a bit over done compared to our pared down vision now. At the time though, they suited us and I think we did like how they looked; I suppose a matter of taste. I do actually think that those marzipan fruits look pretty good and would be fine if in colour. We used to make ours and we loved them. Much of the food in cook books now seems to be an event in itself rather than an everyday process of making and eating and then repeating. It's no wonder people don't cook although they watch the popular programmes. All the food has expensive or hard to buy ingredients and/or takes ages. People would get on with cooking if they were shown basic but still incredibly tasty food like stews, Shepherds pie etc. We no longer bother with the ordinary. That's a shame as it is often very good indeed.

    I am totally with you on the cake, it looks very jolly indeed. Also you know that these recipes would have been tested rather than many in books now which sound bizarre and don't work out.

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    1. ......http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2583231/Ceramic-designer-Vicki-Smith-creates-amazing-novelty-cakes-FIFTY-HOURS-bake-decorate.html

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  7. Love that snowman cake.....yeah, I can definitely nail that! Love the fact that your blog is so down to earth and real (I recall the airing cupboard reveal some time back...made me laugh as mine looked just the same!)

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  8. I have this book and love the illustrations and photographs....but most of all the imperial measurements;-)


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    1. Yes! Imperial measurements are so simple and just so right especially for baking.

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  9. Sue, some of my earliest cookbook purchases were made in the mid-1960s when food photography also had some strange color schemes. These pictures do look strange to my eye now, but many of the basic recipes (particularly the baking ones) do still work very well. Simpler ingredients that what often appear nowadays.

    Your posts are always fun, and even educational, to read. I do like your point of view! xo

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  10. happy birthday Kate. jolly nice cake!

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  11. A jolly nice post! And one that made me smile. Your GH cakes do look dreadful, just like the ones in my old BeRo book - that I still use! I love baking, but have never managed the perfect finish that others seem to achieve so easily - I seem (rather to my relief) to have lost a blog I followed whose main appeal was its exquisite cakes seemingly precision-cut by laser. Not my style at all - I belong to the school that says if it looks ok, , that's fine; if less than ok, add whipped cream; if awful, swamp in hot custard; it will taste perfectly acceptable.....

    Your cake looks splendid, by the way.

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  12. I love your blog. I am in complete agreement with your comments on simple recipes. I am a cookbook junkie. I love snuggling up with my cookbooks and planning. Gail Gand is my "read" right now. Having said that ,with all the cooking channels on TV and celebrity chefs peddling their wares, Americans are still eating out most nights of the week. Most people don't know how to prepare a basic meal without prepackaged "foods". I do often wonder if the "foodie"movement hasn't made cooking a stressful thing for people.
    Inflation-sorry but it exists no matter who is in the white house- makes complicated cooking something only the rich can afford.

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    1. Inflation exists here too no matter who is in Number 10. I use an online grocery site and have noticed that prices of things I was looking at in the morning have gone up by the end of the day.

      I think you are right, more celebrity chefs equals less cooking in the home. Personally I cannot bear to watch cookery shows, I prefer to cook.

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  13. Gastro-porn, that's what a lot of what we see in books and magazines is. I didn't coin the term, but I like it.I agree with what you say!

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  15. My GH cookbook is not quite as old - only mid 1970s - but it's still in use. The recipes were much less rich, and a Victoria sponge was a 2 egg mixture for 2 7 inch tins - nowadays recipes always call for a 3 egg mixture. No wonder we're all getting bigger. I still use the queen of puddings recipe which uses 2 oz sugar in total, 1 oz for the base and 1 oz for the 2 egg meringue. Plus a good teaspoonful of jam. And it works out perfectly sweet enough

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  16. I love my trusty 1978 GH Cookery Book - so many good, tasty recipes. The spine on mine has come off, just like my 'Delia' too. Lovely blog - thanks.

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  17. I like to browse my cookery book collection with all the stylish photographs (wondering sometimes if the food is real) but for cooking I prefer my brother's battered copy of the Swiss home economics cookery book with no nonsense recipes, few ingredients and clear instructions. My older (lost) copy contained a recipe for cow udder stew. Who would consider this part of the cow edible nowadays? I am digressing.
    For baking, the GH book is unbeatable. In general, I prefer cookery books without pictures because I tend to get mildly competitive, trying to better the already perfectly presented food. Needless to say that I always fail...
    For my own blog, I tend to stick to the reality of my life. I embrace life with all the imperfections it brings. Well, I try to.
    Your chocolate cake does look yummy. Maltesers are a must for a chocolate cake! Love the flavour of maltose sugar. Happy Birthday to your Katie.

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  18. I am so delighted to see this book used again. I have my Mum's copy, 1954 edition, I think, which is a compendium volume in three parts, the last of which is Cake Making, so many photos to pore over. Please let us know if you recommend any of the other recipes in it. Thank you so much for bringing this to life again.

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    1. Yes, it's the same one as mine -three parts; Basic Cookery, Picture Cookery and Cakes. I always turn to it when I can't remember quantities for rice puddings, or scotch pancakes and for good old fashioned English puddings.

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  19. Oh gosh, yes, I am sure people just blog about the good bits......rather like the Christmas letter.....and yes, who IS setting the standard? I worry for our children and grandchildren.....
    That cake looks delicious....Maltesers, I am swooning, lol!
    I don't make many cakes but GH and Delia have served me well.
    Besides the number of eggs, the blasted plates have increased in size.....three inches across, diameter? Never can remember.

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  20. It does indeed look a jolly nice chocolate cake. I much prefer jolly nice recipes with basic ingredients that I can usually find in my cupboard xx

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  21. Oh so true - although to be honest I quite often settle for "OK", not even reaching jolly good some days!!
    Funnily enough I've recently gone back to an old cookery book from from childhood - the recipes just seem more honest somehow. I see someone else has mentioned it too - Marguerite Patten Cookery in Colour - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cookery-Colour-Picture-Encyclopedia-Occasion/dp/0600317005. Not quite as colourful as todays recipe books, but every recipe is achievable and tasty. x

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  22. I've been finding blogland a bit overwhelming lately, so much achievement! So I appreciate your words about jolly nice being enough. I have an old Cadbury's chocolate baking book that I love. The cakes look similar, they haven't held back with the decoration. The children really like it though. It's how they want their cakes to look. Sod sophistication, let's pile on a mountain of buttercream and stick in a Flake.

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  23. Pati from London11:40 pm GMT

    I've been catching up on your latests posts as life here has been quite hectic... That recipe book sounds perfect to me. I even secretly love the pictures... :-). It is like looking at vintage crochet booklets with those brownish pictures of weird and wonderful designs but with such simple explanations and so to the point.
    I agree with you, the search for perfection in everything is quite overwhelming these days... Blogland can make things appear to be amazing sometimes and easy for people/homes/ wardrobe/ to feel inadecuate....
    Gillian from the blog Tales from a happy house, recently wrote a post about blog photography and how one can make things look perfect when the reality is far from it, which I found very refreshing.
    I like your blog for the same ethos, you present life as it is, no gimmicks, no pretension, just life as it is.
    Yay!! for the jolly nice, I would say....
    Pati x

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  24. Oh lovely, I think a good chocolate cake recipe is so hard to find, they are all too sweet and waaaay too much sugar for my liking but I actually have The Good Housekeeping, haven't opened it for years, I will dig it out and try it myself, thanks for posting

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  25. We got the updated version of that book as a wedding present twenty years ago. It's great for when I want to make a classic and is still where I check for the proportions in a recipe that I really ought to have memorised by now. Didn't know your Mum was a cookery demonstrater

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  26. Anonymous6:51 am GMT

    The blogosphere certainly has fostered an air of "whatever she can do, I can do better." With glitter on it. But, maybe that competitive drive was always there and the internet has simply thrown some fuel on the fire and given us each ample opportunity to see what everyone else is accomplishing. You have summed up very well what has always appealed to me about your blog . I like your easy going style, lack of superlatives and exclamation points, and the fact that you're not lying through your teeth about how much you LOVE something because your sponsor expects it, or you'll get credit for sending readers on to their website.
    Regarding sugar consumption, I just heard a radio interview today with a guy who talked about how much more sugar Americans eat now than we used to (a number I have thankfully forgotten since this morning). A lot. I also am annoyed by the uber foodie movement which seems to have ruined just about every food for me by declaring that you absolutely have to buy such and such (super expensive) brand or type of food and the rest of it is inedible. I have no choice but to shop by price, and am always haunted by the knowledge that we are eating vastly inferior food because of it. Perhaps the housewives of the war era and just after had it easier. They could hate the food they were cooking because they didn't have access to the good stuff. They had to use their wits to make do with a ration book or limited resources. Whereas we have plenty of access to high quality food, but we have to know which blogworthy foods to buy, and have the disposable income to afford it. And tomorrow's round of blog posts will one-up that with (quite literally) a "Life Changing Bread" recipe. And then I have to decide whether to convince DH that we, too, need to be eating said life changing bread, damn the expense of it.

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  27. Jolly interesting post, Sue and some jolly interesting comments.
    To Anonymous, above I would partially agree - but there are uber blogs and lots of just jolly nice blogs, (I hope mine is one of those!) where there is interest and amusement and warts an' all view of life. I steer clear of the other kind. The internet is after all only a reflection of Life. It is just more right in your face and so perhaps extremes are more noticed. Certainly if you become transfixed by the high standards of some of the foodie programmes you would take fright and probably not ever bother. But most of us I think have more sense and just go ahead and do what comes naturally.
    I do feel sad that home cooking is no longer a natural accomplishment (at whatever level) due to fast paced lives in some instances, and lack of parental guidance and school lessons in others, and plain ignorance in many cases. More domestic science in schools! Bring back cookery classes!

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  28. This was a dang satisfying blog post, Sue. And I don't even bake.

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  29. Anonymous2:48 pm GMT

    I have never been a great cook, but have had some great times trying: the first birthday cake in our new cottage which had a terrifyingly hot solid-fuel Aga - it rose spectacularly, but so did the base, so it went down in family history as the ski-slope cake; my mother-in-law (self-confessed disaster in the kitchen) and I trying to construct and decorate a parrot cake, thinking a glass of wine might help, and laughing till we cried. And yes, those expensive must-have buys like the pasta-making machine which my husband decided was men's territory - he constructed various hanging devices around the kitchen, but couldn't understand why his tagliatelle seemed to be shrinking as it dried, until he noticed our spaniel could reach the dangling ends and was systematically trimming them while he was concentrating on rolling out the next batch...

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  30. Oh I did enjoy this blog - it reminded me of the time when I had made two cakes for my sons birthday - one for his party and the other to be taken to school. Both were sponges, but on one I had made a template of Thomas the tank engine and the cake looked very professionally iced. The other cake had butter icing and jelly tots all over for decoration. No-one commented on my 'posh' cake and I realised it was because everyone thought it was a shop bought cake! I made my mind up then to always go for the 'home made look'!
    I also read about a tribe whose women always leave a little 'mistake' in their fabrics - just to show that no-one is perfect!
    Great blog as always x

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  31. The snowman cake has given me fresh hope for humanity. I bet he isn't covered with that awful moulding icing that makes cakes look machine-finished but tastes of sugary rubber.

    And you are right about recipes having more ingredients nowadays - my own policy is to omit half of them and also cut quantities of butter and sugar in half. It seldom harms anything.

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  32. Great post! There's way too much "perfect" this and "perfection" that going around. Let's bring back 1960's "jolly good enough" style. If you didn't have a picture of that Snowman I never would have believed it could have made the cut. Mel x

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  33. Oh my days...I have this very book in my attic and I am going to dig it out! It was my dear mum's book, and I also loved to read it when I was a little girl! I was born in 1957 and so I grew up being fed on recipes from this book. I longed for the cottage cake and whilst my mum never made that one, she made the shortest pastry ever, and also the fluffiest meringues!! Oh those days when I came in from hockey after school and mum had spent the day baking!!
    Happy days - thank you for reminding me about the book!

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