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Contrary to what you might think, you can make good cake with whole wheat flour.  It’s been literally decades since I ate it, but I close my eyes and I’m reliving the memory of this deliciously traditional birthday treat with its creamy caramel icing at Grandma’s house. I’ve never tried to make it myself, but today is the day! I can’t think of a better dessert to honor my daughter’s birthday. Grandma used to tell about how she came up with this recipe on a dare. She tossed one of the layers in the air, spinning it to prove to her naysayers how light and fluffy it was.  I wouldn’t say it was “light”–it’s more like a pound cake, but it is moist and flavorful–certainly not the “brick” you might expect.  Here’s the recipe with Grandma’s own instructions along with a few of my own observations:

Whole Wheat Cake
2 eggs, separated
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (finely ground is best)
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/8 t. salt
1/2 c. shortening
3/4 c. canned milk (may also use fresh)
1 t. vanilla
Make a meringue by beating egg whites until frothy and slowly adding 1/2 cup of the sugar. Set aside or chill in refrigerator.


(I LOVE my hand wheat grinder!  Fresh ground flour is the best, but I wasn’t sure it was as finely ground as store bought flour, so I sifted some of the bran off.  Because of this, I decided I could get away with using 100% whole wheat instead of adding the 1/2 cup white. I wouldn’t do that next time.)

Sift white flour and measure. Add baking powder, salt and other 1/2 cup of sugar. Sift together. Add the remaining ingredients (yolks, milk, shortening, vanilla) reserving about 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour. Beat well with electric mixer or by hand. Add enough of remaining whole wheat flour to make a fairly thick batter.

Different brands of whole wheat flour absorb moisture differently, so the amount of flour may need to be adjusted.  To test batter, put a spoonful onto a greased pie plate.  Bake to see how it cooks.  If batter flattens out and looks crystalized there’s not enough flour.  If the it rises up high and cracks, there’s too much flour.  Adjust batter accordingly.

Fold in the meringue. Bake in 2 greased 9″ round cake pans at 375º for 20 minutes or until done.


As I don’t own 9″ cake pans, I increased the recipe by 1/2 so I could bake them in 10″ rounds.  You can see it worked out nicely, but I might even double it next time for a little thicker layers.


When cool spread tops and sides with Buttermilk Icing.

This cake can be stored in the freezer, wrapped tightly with pieces of wax paper between layers.


Buttermilk Icing

2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 t. soda
1 T. vanilla
Cook all ingredients, except vanilla, until it forms a soft ball. (This will take about 20 minutes, so make sure you have a large cup of cold water on hand, and prepare yourself to “stir constantly” for awhile!) Cool Add vanilla. Beat until creamy. Spread on cake.

Cooked Icing Tips
Always cook icing as long as called for in the recipe. If icing seems too thick after it’s cooked, stir in a little cream while still warm. If icing seems too thin, add a little powdered sugar.
Cooked icing can be stored in the freezer for several months. To use frozen icing, mash up and slowly beat in a little cream or milk. Whip until desired consistency.

After the Fact:  As with anything, I wasn’t sure it would turn out perfectly the first time.  If I had remembered to take a picture of the final product you could see that it looked good with the icing dripping down the sides, and the flavors were delectable, but it seems there’s a “learning curve” with making this cake.  Next time I’ll try to make a couple of improvements:  As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t try to use 100% whole wheat without the addition of the bit of white flour.  There was a bit more texture than I remembered from Grandma’s.  And as with making caramel candy, I should have been more careful not to scrape down the sides of the pan while making the icing, and probably use a wooden spoon instead of plastic, because it was grainy rather than smooth and creamy like Grandma used to make it.  I’m still dreaming of Grandma’s cake, but next time it will be better, and next time will definitely not be another few decades away! (Maybe next week. . .)