In 1736, Francesco Arisi (aka "Francisco Arisi", aka Franciscus Arisius"), 1657 - 1743, complained in his poem "Il cioccolato" that chocolate was appearing everywhere in cooking, even in cakes.
Up until the mid-1800s, "chocolate cake" meant something like "coffee cake" does today -- a cake to go with a chocolate drink. There was no chocolate in or on the cake (see Mary Randolph recipe below.) By the mid-1800s, "chocolate cake" could be either a cake with chocolate in it, or a cake of another flavour with chocolate icing on it. This became possible as the price of chocolate fell to be in reach of ordinary people.
The invention of cocoa in 1828 in the Netherlands, and its increasing availability in the UK and in America over the next few decades, helped make chocolate more affordable, and easy to use.
By the end of the 1800s, recipes began to compete with each other to be the richest, most luxurious chocolate cake, and Devil's Food Cake emerged, which had up to twice the amount of chocolate in it than other chocolate cake recipes did at the time. Sarah Tyson Rorer, in her 1902 "Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book", calls for 4 oz of chocolate in her Devil's Food Cake, and only 2 oz in her "Chocolate Loaf Cake."
At the turn of the 20th century, chocolate was still a luxury item, as can be seen by comparing what you could get for 15 cents in 1913 :
- German Sweet Chocolate, in 1/4 pound cake, two for 15 cents
- Baking Chocolate, 1/2-lb cake, 15 cents
- Sweet Mixed Pickles, 1 pint, 15 cents
- Sweet Potatoes, 5 pounds for 15 cents
Chocolate Mayonnaise cake was probably created during the Depression for those who couldn't afford to use a lot of eggs, milk and shortening (though goodness knows how they got hold of the cocoa), but it became popular during the Second World War when, no matter how much money you had, if you'd used up your ration coupons for those basic ingredients, you were out of luck.
 Heiny's Grocery at 1419 Calhoun Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "The Fort Wayne Daily News." Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tuesday, 23 December 1913. Page 12.
Literature & Lore
PUT half a pound of nice brown sugar into a quart of flour, sift it, and make it into a paste, with four ounces of butter melted in as much milk as will wet it; knead it till light, roll it tolerably thin, cut it in strips an inch wide, and just long enough to lay in a plate; bake them on a griddle, put them in the plate in rows to checker each other, and serve them to eat with chocolate.
Mary Randolph. The Virginia Housewife. Washington, Printed by Davis and Force, 1824.
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