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Shearer House Devil's Food Cake

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

In an effort to satisfy all the chocoholics who were disappointed when Mrs. Shearer's 1876 "Chocolate Cake" recipe was actually a yellow pound cake topped with chocolate, this week's historical recipe is for an honest-to-goodness chocolate Devil's Food Cake.

The recipe, along with a lot of others, were found in the stately Shearer house located at 267 W 5th St. in Marysville. The home dates back to 1886 and has remained in the Shearer family. More information on the Shearer family and their significance to Union County history can be found here. The current owners, yes, also Shearer descendants, have put a lot of work into restoring the home and in the process have discovered some very fascinating things, including a collection of old cookbooks, some handwritten, others collections of magazine and newspaper clippings. The only problem: Over the years, other Shearer descendants living in the home have collected many items from estate sales, so there is no guarantee the cookbooks are actually originally from the Shearer family.

Besides the uncertainty of WHO collected the recipes in these cookbooks, there is also the uncertainty of WHEN they were collected. Yes, the book itself may look old, but, according to Solveig Shearer, many people would write their recipes in whatever old notebook they could find with some empty pages left in it. Add to that the inevitable stains and wear that can be found on any cookbook that's seen some kitchen use, making the book look older than it may actually be, and you have a real dilemma in determining an accurate timeline. Basically, the book may look old, the recipes may not actually be that old.

A little research into the history of Devil's Food indicates that the first recorded recipe for this cake dates back to 1902 (1) and originates from the South. (The recipe from the Shearer house is attributed to a woman from West Virginia.) We can at least rule out any pre-1902 dates for the Shearer house's Devil's Food Cake recipe.

Probably named "Devil's Food" as the gooey dark chocolately opposite of the white fluffy Angel Food cake, most early recipes included grated chocolate, probably a leftover of the 19th century way of baking. The Shearer house recipe included NO CHOCOLATE of any kind; this was most likely an accidental omission on the part of the writer since there has been no record of anything called "Devil's Food" prior to the chocolate version we know today. I chose to add Dutched cocoa powder, the preferred modern method of making this cake. The Dutched cocoa tends to react with the baking soda in the recipe to create a slight reddish color. (The fact that the Shearer house recipe calls for baking soda as opposed to powder is another indication that chocolate was probably supposed to be used in the recipe.) While we usually see a chocolate frosting on this type of cake, the Shearer house recipe calls for caramel icing. We chose to make a caramel buttercream for added stability in heat and humidity during these hot Ohio summer days.

Want to serve your cake in an appropriately dignified manner? Check out these tea party instructions, found in the same cookbook from the Shearer house:

Cupcake (yes, we know, very modern) versions of the Shearer House Devil's Food Cake will be for sale for $4 at our farm market Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21, 12:30-6pm or by appointment or special order. Proceeds go to benefit the Union County Historical Society.

We will continue to provide you all with more info on the Shearer family and home as we bake more recipes from the cookbooks.

(1) More info on the history of Devil's Food can be found here:

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