Eileen’s Chocolate Cake

IMG_1392My mother-in-law was  a lot of things, but fancy wasn’t one of them. And even though in the end she would wind up living on a golf course in Florida and belonged to one of the swankier beach clubs on the Jersey Shore, she stayed pretty true to her humble Pennsylvania roots. She saved rubber bands and plastic bags and twist ties and presumed birthday candles were good for a few birthdays. Why chuck perfectly good candles out after just one use?

She was also good at getting the job done. A real pragmatist. So when her youngest of four was old enough, she went back to school to get her master’s degree, often carting him along and depositing him at some childcare situation on campus. She landed a job as the librarian (back when we had librarians) at one of the local high schools where she worked for 25 years and retired right as the Dawn of the Internet approached and her long-practiced methods would become obsolete.

So when she cooked for her family, her offerings were basic but good. Comforting. The broccoli casserole covered in mushroom soup on Christmas. The savory baked beans she’d prepare for a summertime bbq. The pot roast she brought over the night I came home from the hospital with my own fourth child.

Of course she baked all sorts of cookies around the holidays and put them out on her fancy tiered plates on Christmas Day for us to nibble on as we opened our stacks of presents. And she would make a peach crumble in the dead of winter using canned peaches that brought me back to my childhood desserts of the 70s. When my mom would serve us bowls of peaches floating in that sweet syrup straight out of the can. Those nights were so much better than when she’d open the can of fruit cocktail with the sour pieces of grapefruit lurking within. #buzzkill

But my favorite of my mother-in-law’s desserts was her chocolate cake that is as no-nonsense as she was. A real workhorse. It’s always a crowd pleaser and couldn’t be easier to make and when served a little warm with a big dollop of freshly whipped cream (or perhaps a scoop of ice cream), measures up to some much more complicated recipe. But who has time for that?

Life is short, people. Bake a cake and share it with the ones you love.



  • Box of Devil’s Food cake mix
  • Box of instant chocolate pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a tube pan (Eileen’s trick: use the cake mix as your flour). Mix together everything up to the chips and then throw them in at the end and pour into your prepared tube pan. Bake around 45 minutes to an hour or until the cake looks firm and not jiggly. Let it cool for a bit before removing from pan and serving to your happy family. Taste the love.

What mommy doesn't want to feed her baby cake (and apologies for blinding flash but I'm really a much better writer than photographer and have to live with that deficit every day)?

10 thoughts on “Eileen’s Chocolate Cake

  1. Great memory. My Mom hacked a boxed Betty Crocker lemon cake mix that she’d make all the time, and add her own glaze. I make it when I’m really missing her.

  2. YES! Can’t wait to try! Your MIL reminds me of my own, who also went back to school in her 50s while her youngest of 7 were in high school to get her masters in library science. She worked in the MCL as a children’s librarian for 20 years after her teaching career. She was a true inspiration for me encouraging me to get my masters in library science. Thx Amy for reminding us all to savor the small stuff! XO

    • I was very close to going back and getting my master’s to teach, mostly because of all the teachers in my ex’s family. In many ways, I really wish I’d gone through with it. But thanks for sharing your story and also for giving me the idea to post the recipe in the first place!! xo

    • Enjoy. And just FYI, someone on Facebook said it was one of her fave recipes and she tops it with this homemade peanut butter icing which I can’t stop thinking about: 1/2 cup butter softened, 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, 3 TBS milk (you might not need that much so add sparingly) and 2 cups confectioners sugar. Gradually beat butter and PB together. Gradually add the sugar and 1TBS milk at a time. It’s to die for.

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