rutledge chocolate cake 8-30-21

There is no better youth elixir than scraping the remainders of Mom’s homemade chocolate icing from the pan.

I have more good things in my life than one man probably deserves. Somewhere near the top of the list is my mother’s chocolate pound cake with chocolate icing. To receive one of those is to live a blessed life.

She bakes a chocolate cake for most birthdays around our family compound. Mine was the most recent. Finally.

At some point during the earliest years of her marriage — which means around the time of my birth or shortly before — Mom clipped two pound cake recipes from the Charlotte Observer. One is lemon. The other is chocolate.

Her lemon pound cakes alone are legendary. They arrived with less frequency during her long teaching career. For about the last two decades, however, she has kept a lemon pound cake on her table roughly 90 percent of the time.

This has been a mild problem for my waistline, especially since last year when the pandemic began. For the days when I must work from home, I set up shop in my dad’s old study at her house. There has developed a routine that involves my starting the workday with coffee and a piece of lemon cake.

“Don’t you want a piece of cake?” Mom will ask if I sit down without one.

“Well, I’ve already eaten a bowl of cereal,” I might say.

I eventually have the cake, always. I might even do a second slice as a pre-lunch appetizer.

Mom’s lemon pound cake is as dependable as spring rain. She never bakes a bad one. But when they are fresh and still warm, everything else in the world seems good as well.

Once in a while, I will walk through the door to the distinct aroma of a freshly baked chocolate pound cake. “That’s for (insert name of sibling or grandchild),” she will quickly announce. The birthday might be days away. She’ll put the cake in the freezer and thaw it on the day she makes the icing.

The icing.

I’m not sure where she got the recipe for her chocolate icing, but when it comes out right — which is most of the time — it is of a magical and marvelous candymaker quality that I have never experienced anywhere else in my life.

Making the icing can be a punishing experience — both for the maker and the icing.

“You have to beat it and beat it and beat it,” Mom says, “in order to get the right consistency.”

If the icing comes out hard instead of creamy, it’s a sure sign that atmospheric conditions are askew. “I can’t get this icing to thicken right,” Mom will say. “It must be the humidity.”

The icing will taste as good, but one cannot roll it into little balls of fudge like my older sister and I did when we were kids.

Something else we did as kids was lick the mixer blades and the spoon and pan after the icing had been applied to the cake.

“Which kind of cake do you want for your birthday?” Mom asked about a week ahead. She has asked me that for most of my 60 years, and the answer is always the same. Maybe she’s secretly hoping I’ll finally go for lemon and she won’t have to spend an hour beating the icing.

Fat chance.

The day before my big day, she had just spread the icing when I walked in. She handed me the pan and the spoon — and I was 10 again.


Contact Mark Rutledge at

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