Gram Hill’s Yellow Cake With Chocolate Icing

Gram Hill’s Yellow Cake With Chocolate Icing

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Credit: Jennifer Hill Booker
National Culinary Review, May/June 2022

From the Chef

“My father’s mother, whom we called Gram Hill, would make a huge yellow cake with chocolate icing for special occasions. She only made it for birthdays and holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Juneteenth, so it was a highly anticipated treat. Her cakes were always moist, and the icing was like eating a creamy chocolate bar. I remember being excited to open the tin cake dish lid and eat the chocolate crumbs around the cake. I still have her cake dish and think of her every time I bake this cake.

“The cake can be made three days ahead. Wrap it tightly in plastic and chill, or freeze the cake for up to two weeks.”


For the yellow cake:
• Nonstick vegetable oil spray
• 3 cups cake flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1½ cups granulated sugar
• ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 6 large egg yolks, room temperature

For the chocolate icing:
• 3 cups sugar
• 1 cup whole milk
• 4 tablespoons shortening
• 4 tablespoons butter
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 1 cup good quality cocoa powder


1. To make the cake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350°F.
2. Lightly coat two 10-inch round, springform cake pans with nonstick spray. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper; lightly coat the parchment with nonstick spray.
3. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir milk and vanilla in another medium bowl.
4. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl, scraping down the sides as needed, until light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add yolks in two additions, scraping down the bowl after each. (The batter may separate slightly; it will come back together after dry ingredients are added.)
5. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture in two additions, and beginning and ending with the dry ingredients; beat until smooth. Divide the batter between prepared pans (slightly less than 3 cups per pan); smooth the top.
6. Bake the cakes, rotating pans halfway through, until the cakes are light golden brown, the centers spring back when gently pressed and a tester inserted into the centers comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30–35 minutes.
7. Transfer the cakes to wire racks; let cool in their pans for at least 15 minutes. Invert the cakes onto racks, peel off the parchment paper and let cool completely.
8. Using a long serrated knife, trim the top dome and any bumps from each cake to create a flat surface.
9. To make the icing, in a large heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, milk, shortening, butter and salt. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to prevent scorching.
10. Once the icing mixture reaches a boil, let it boil for three minutes without stirring.
11. Remove the icing from the heat and immediately stir in vanilla and cocoa powder.
12. Beat until the icing is smooth and starts to lose its shine, about 5 minutes.
13. Immediately start to assemble the cake. Spread 1 tablespoon of icing in the center of a platter. Place the first cake layer, top side down, in the center. Working quickly, evenly pour a thin layer of icing over the top of the cake. Carefully place the second cake layer, top side down, over the first layer, gently pressing down to secure.
14. Pour the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. The icing hardens very quickly so work fast and don’t try to smooth the icing once it has set—it may tear your cake.
15. Chill at least 15 minutes before cutting to let the icing set.


Dessert, The National Culinary Review

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