Grandmother’s Cake

For more than fifty years, our family has enjoyed “Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake”. The cake makes an appearance for every family gathering, regardless of how many people will be in attendance. It is a cake that mothers taught daughters to make and over time has been attributed to Diana, known simply as “Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake”. However, it is not her recipe.

Introduced to our family during a vacation at Kentucky Dam Village by Aunt Vena, the cake was an immediate hit. The touch of cinnamon made it unique as did the warm icing slathered onto a hot cake – right out of the oven. I never talked with Mama about this, but I imagine that when she first tasted the cake, it took her back to her childhood.

During one of my wonderful visits with Aunt Katherine, she told me that she had “Grandmother’s Chocolate Spice cake recipe.” Puzzled, I told her I had it too. “No”, she said. “You have your Mama’s recipe. I have your Grandmother’s recipe.” She retrieved her recipe from the kitchen, and handed it to me along with a notepad and pen. As I looked over the recipe, I realized that Aunt Katherine was right! This was a slightly different recipe.

Ok. So track with me here. The cake we called “Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake” is a version of Aunt Vena’s cake, modified by my mother, Diana. The cake Aunt Katherine called, “Grandmother’s Chocolate Spice Cake”, is my grandmother’s recipe.

Any way you look at it, our family has been making and enjoying a homemade Chocolate Spice cake – either Grandmother Rowena’s or Grandmother Diana’s – for more than 60 years. Both recipes are below

Sheath Cake

Moist cinnamon-spiced chocolate cake baked in a sheet pan.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cake, chocolate
Author: Vena Denney Lewis – modified by Diana Dunn Denney


  • 2 cups sifted flour See notes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt See notes
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • 3-4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 6 tablespoons milk
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • Combine flour, sugar, (and salt – see notes).
  • Combine cocoa, water, margarine and shortening in saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil.
  • Add to flour mixture.
  • Dissolve soda in buttermilk, add to batter along with eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix well.
  • Pour into greased, floured 11 x 16 pan.
  • Bake at 350-400 for 20 minutes.


  • Bring cocoa, milk, and margarine to a boil. Add sugar and vanilla and mix well. Spread on hot cake immediately after removing cake from oven.


This recipe was introduced to our family by Aunt Vena at the cottage at Kentucky Dam Village in 1967. Aunt Vena brought her own ingredients including this “special” size pan.
Diana modified the recipe by substituting self-rising flour and eliminating the salt. This made the cake lighter and fluffier. This is the version of the cake that our family has enjoyed for more than 50 years.

Chocolate Spice Cake

Cook Time40 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cake, chocolate, Heritage
Servings: 12
Author: Rowena Dunn – courtesy of Katherine Dunn


  • Mixer
  • (3) 9" pans or 9 x 13 pan.


  • 3/4 cup Crisco
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp cocoa (heaping)
  • 2 cups flour (all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  • Cream together sugar and Crisco.
    Add eggs and beat.
  • Sift flour, cocoa, and spices together.
  • Mix soda in buttermilk.
  • To the sugar and egg mixtture, alternately add the dry ingredients and buttermilk mixture
  • Bake in 3 (greased and floured) pans about 30 minutes at 350 degrees or in a 9 x 13 pan for about 40-45 minutes.