‘nearly’ nanny’s chocolate cake | family chocolate cake recipe

A ‘Nanny’s chocolate cake’ has stood proudly at many a Thomas family gathering. More candles have been blown out over this cake than any other and to this day my dad and his brothers still fight over the corner piece.

I can remember sitting in the red booth seat at Nanny and Bull’s in Strathfield, eating a piece of this choccie cake as a young girl. The memory is so vivid and one of the earliest of my childhood memories. Nanny always had a chocolate cake on standby in the freezer for when her grandkids popped in. It always tasted so good! And so cold!

I’ve called this chocolate cake –  ‘nearly’ Nanny’s chocolate cake as it’s based on Nanny’s recipe but with a few small changes to bring it in to the modern day, the main one being the addition of the white vinegar. It’s almost exactly the same as a recipe that my mother in law, Anne makes too which comes from an Australian Women’s Weekly magazine.

Back in the day it was often hard to get fresh ingredients and cooks had to be creative. Mock cream was often used instead of whipped cream as it lasts a lot longer. Freshly whipped cream on a cake spoils quickly and needs to be eaten straight away. If you haven’t tried mock cream before – give it a go. It’s a little more fiddly than whipped cream, but totally worth it. Nanny’s recipe also included paraffin wax in the chocolate icing, which helped to make it really shiny. I’ve omitted this.

This is the perfect cake to make for a kid’s birthday party as it’s large and can feed a crowd. The cake is so soft and light and the addition of the vinegar means that it is not too sweet. It also keeps well for a couple of days and can be made without the mock cream for when you’re short on time.

I like to think that my Nanny would be proud of me for keeping this recipe alive and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that I’ve made a couple of changes along the way. I like to think that she’d be happy knowing that the next generation are still fighting over the corner piece.

‘nearly’ nanny’s chocolate cake 

1 1/2 tablespoons of white vinegar
1 1/2 cups of milk
250 grams of butter, softened
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 3/4 castor sugar
2 1/4 cups of plain flour, sifted
3/4 cup of cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons of bi carb soda, sifted
4 eggs
Canola oil spray, for greasing the cake tin

  • Preheat the oven to 160 degrees.
  • Grease and line a large 22cm square cake tin using canola oil spray and baking paper.
  • Add the milk and vinegar in to a small jug.
  • Simply throw the butter, vanilla, sugar, eggs, milk and vinegar, the sifted flour,  cocoa and bi carb soda in to a large bowl of a mix master. Beat on low to start, increasing to a medium speed to thoroughly combine.
  • Pour the mixture in to the prepared cake tin and bake in a low oven at 160 degrees for 1 hour. (The cake is ready when a skewer comes out clean).
  • Leave the cake in the tin for 5 minutes to let it cool slightly before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool completely. (I keep the bottom of the cake upwards as I like the top of the cake to be nice and flat).
  • Once the cake has completely cooled, using a long bread knife, cut the cake in half horizontally and smear the mock cream in the middle of the cake, placing the top back on.
  • Ice the top and sides of the cake with the chocolate icing and decorate as you see fit. (I use my index finger to create a ‘horizontal line’ pattern in the icing).

chocolate icing

1 1/2 cups of icing sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons of cocoa, sifted
60 grams of butter, softened
A couple of teaspoons of milk, as needed

  • Add the butter, icing sugar and cocoa to a small bowl of a mix master and beat on a medium speed until nearly combined.
  • Add a teaspoon of milk to the mixture and see the icing start to come together. Add another teaspoon of milk and by this stage it should be looking nice and moist. Add a little more milk if its still too dry. (I make sure that I add the milk very sparingly as the icing goes from too dry to way too wet very easily and quickly. It’s easier to add more milk, a lot harder to fix once there is too much liquid added).

mock cream

125 grams butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup of castor sugar
1 teaspoon of boiling water
1 teaspoon of milk
1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract

  • Add the butter to a small bowl of a mix master and beat on a medium to high speed until it has become lighter in colour and fluffy. (This should take between 5-8 minutes).
  • Very gradually spoon the sugar in to the butter as its being whipped (lower the mix master speed here so that it doesn’t splatter) until all sugar has been added. Give this a good mix. (This is often referred to as ‘creaming the butter and sugar’).
  • Add a teaspoon of boiling water and continue to mix. (The boiling water helps the sugar granules to dissolve).
  • Add the vanilla.
  • Add a teaspoon of milk and be careful not to over mix now as you don’t want the cream to curdle. (You can add a smidgen more boiling water if you feel that the sugar hasn’t dissolved well enough and if the mixture needs more moisture).
  • The cream once mixed should be light and fluffy and will keep for a couple of days in the fridge.

Lo’s tips

  • You can soften the butter (needed to make the cake) in the microwave but don’t melt the butter for the mock cream. The mock cream changes consistency if the butter is melted, so make sure that it’s at room temperature before you begin.
  • Castor sugar can often be quite lumpy so I often sift it or make sure I break up the clumps with the back of a spoon.
  • You could also serve this cake with fresh strawberries or grate come chocolate over the top for even more decadence.


Do go to the trouble of sifting the dry ingredients as it results in a lovely light cake with no lumps.


Everyone will want to lick the beater!


Make sure you line the cake tin with the baking paper and either canola oil spray or butter, as the last thing you want is for the cake to stick.



The cake has a nice rise to it. I ice the bottom of the cake to get a lovely even top.



Perfect for an afternoon ‘pick me up’ with a hot cuppa.



If you make this cake, please share your comments below or send me a pic here as I would love to share it on the lo’s fans page. xx


  1. This was my kind of cake to make, love that you throw in all ingredients and give it a mix. Very hard to make a mistake with this recipe. It was so yummy I had to cut up all the pieces and freeze them for Huey to take to work – mostly to stop me from eating it all up. Out of sight, out of mind! We will be making this one again! Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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