Abigail McCarthy’s Chocolate Cake

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This spring, one of our readers wrote in for a recipe for Senator McCarthy’s cake, saying “My Grandmother used to make this for me and the recipe has been lost. It was a chocolate cake with white cream frosting.” Happily, another reader, Philippa O’Keefe, wrote to share the recipe and her own memory of the cake: “When Eugene McCarthy was running for POTUS (I still have a button and bumper sticker!) one of the ladies’ magazines (McCall’s, I think) published a recipe for Abigail McCarthy’s cake. My mom used to bake it when I came home for college breaks, and, for birthdays.”

eugenemccarthyWhatever your memories of McCarthy’s candidacy, we’re thankful to Philippa, and glad to reintroduce Abigail’s cake! With only two squares of bakers chocolate in the batter, the chocolate flavor of this very moist sheet cake is light, almost cinnamon-y. And the icing, our riff on a recipe that ran in the Chicago SunTimes more than 55 years ago, is equally light, not cloying.  We think it makes a nice picnic cake. For picnic readiness: cool the cake completely after baking; ice it and refrigerate until the frosting sets well. Keep chilled ’til you’re ready to head to the picnic.

Makes 1, 13 x 9 x 2 inch sheet cake

Light Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 squares of baking chocolate
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup warm water

"Three-Fourths" Icing Ingredients

  • 3 3/4 Tbsp Wondra flour
  • 3/4 cup milk or cream
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 and 1/2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup granulated pure-cane sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla


  1. Make cake: Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together
  3. Beat in two eggs, melted chocolate, vanilla and sour cream.
  4. Beat in flour mixture until smooth and creamy.
  5. Add hot water and beat 2 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350.
  7. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan. Pour and smooth batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes until top of cake springs back when lightly touched.
  8. Completely cool cake on wire rack.
  9. Make frosting: Whisk flour and milk or cream together in a small pan. Over medium-low heat, continue whisking until mixture thickens into a soft mass. Remove to a bowl and refrigerate until completely cool.
  10. Cream butter, sugar, salt and vanilla together. Add cooled flour/cream mixture and whip until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Spread on cooled cake and refrigerate to set icing well.

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