The Ugly Duckling Cake

Gray, Lavender, Orange, and Green…not only are these hot colors for 2010 but also the saving graces for an ugly duckling of a cake.

I made one of my favorite cakes, Cookies and Cream Chocolate Cake, though delicious as it may be, it is not a pretty specimen of the bakery world. Thankfully, my “Delta Dawn” mix of pansies and violas took the cake, literally.

“Delta Dawn” is a mix of pansies and violas I compiled a few seasons ago and have come to rely on them as garden faithfuls. I take Delta Orange and Lavender Shades” of pansies and mix them with Peach Jump Up violas, creating a montage of orange, lavender, and hues in betwixt that pair so well with not only the grayness of winter and it’s pale sky, but also with the bright green of winter herbs like parsley, chervil and the terra cotta tinted “Bronze” snapdragons.

So how did I get from an ugly duckling cake to Delta Dawn pansy mixes? Well, as noted, the aforementioned cake is quite delicious, though not visually appealing. And, since we eat with our eyes first, my eyes started visioning what my imagination was thus reeling.

Something about the grayish colored icing which I believe also has lavender tint; So I thought I would serve the cake on lavender plates. Close shot but no cigar.

"It's got gray icing, I can't even begin to think how you'd make gray icing"

- M'Lynn about the red-velvet armadillo grooms cake…Steel Magnolias

Moving on...gray and lavender led me to thinking about lavender and orange (one of my favo combos!) and then back to gray with lavender and orange… and then green, nature’s neutral, just fit the bill for my stemware and my table’s compilation for dessert was set.

Now, an ugly duckling no more, my cake was singing its own Swan Song. My guests, wondering if they could eat the flowers, dug right in though. I decided to bypass the lesson on color coordinating and pansy planting and just kept serving them cake…the next wonderings were simply about a glass milk or another piece.

Enough of's the recipe!

Basic Chocolate Cake...

*Cook’s note…I basically follow the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s Cocoa powder box, yet I have tweaked it slightly. I nearly always substitute buttermilk for milk in batters (pancakes, other cakes, etc…even with scrambled eggs) and this cake is no exception. Though I don’t necessarily like the taste of coffee, I love the effect it has on chocolate…chocolate’s natural flavor is enhanced by coffee, so I use one cup of HOT coffee in the batter as well. Ina Garten does the same…need I say more?!


  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 and ¾ cup of all purpose flour…sifted. Sifting gives great texture to baked goods.
  • ¾ cup of Hershey’s cocoa
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 and ½ teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 eggs…room temperature best for baking
  • 1 cup of buttermilk…shaken not stirred
  • ½ cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract…use good vanilla-another one of those flavors that enhances chocolate
  • 1 cup of hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and flour two round 9 inch baking pans.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients and beat the two sets of ingredients together for 2 minutes. Sample the batter before you add the coffee.

Once coffee is added…the batter will be thin. Try the batter now…the degree of the chocolate’s flavor has intensified. For those of you who do like more of a coffee flavor, brew your coffee stronger.

Split the batter between the two pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center…about thirty minutes.

Allow the cakes to cool for about ten minutes and then remove them from their pans.

Cookies and Cream Icing

*Cook’s note…be sure your cakes have cooled before icing…if they are still warm, the cakes could melt the icing. Minus the Oreos, this is your basic cream cheese frosting…great on pound cake, muffins, and banana bread.

  • One carton or two blocks of cream cheese softened…about 16 oz.
  • One cup of confectioner’s sugar
  • A package of Oreos crushed Reserve some for garnishing

Beat the cream cheese until whipped and somewhat fluffy…about a minute or two.

Add sugar and mix together.

Fold in Oreos…voila! Easy, easy, easy…