Chocolate cake

Election Anxiety Cure 2020: My Family’s Secret Chocolate Cake


In a column I recently wrote about election anxiety, I mentioned that I had a really good recipe for chocolate cake — and now I’ve had several people ask me for it.

Come to think of it, this might be a devil’s cake recipe, but I never understood the difference between chocolate and devil’s food. Anyway, this is a great cake I make for everyone’s birthday no matter what. It came to me from my mother, Jinx McNamara, who got it from her mother, Mary Ann McNulty, for whom I was named. (I dropped the Ann in second grade, and sometimes I deeply regret having done so.)

She was known to her grandchildren as Mae-mae (hence the title of the recipe). It’s not a recipe that I normally share beyond the family because, well, every family should have a really good recipe of their own. But it’s been a very tough year and a very tough election, and so in case this cake could make anyone’s life a little easier for even a few minutes, here’s how to do it.

(Disclaimer: This recipe hasn’t been staff tested at The Times’ Food, so if you hate it, that’s up to me. But you won’t, because Mae-mae knew what she was talking about.)

Mae-mae’s birthday cake


  • ½ cup of butter
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa
  • 1 cup boiling water


Cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl (I just use the measuring cup), add baking soda to the milk and let sit for a few minutes. Then add the milk to the butter/sugar mixture and mix well. Add the flour, salt and cocoa and mix well. Add boiling water and mix well again. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Pour in the batter and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Glaze as desired; it’s okay because the cake is the thing.

Share with your shelter buddies or eat alone in the privacy of your own room – whatever lets you pass. Repeat as needed.

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