Indian Cake

One of my cousins put together a family cookbook.   It is full of people reminiscing about Grandmother’s cooking, and great recipes down through the generations.  My aunts were awesome cooks as well.  The funny thing about this cookbook is that there is not one but FOUR recipes for Indian Cake.  And I don’t even remember anybody ever serving it to me.

My father summarizes best what everybody else says about my grandmother and her baking:

“All of our family remembers how Mary could tell when the temperature was right in the oven to bake a cake, pie or bread.  This was long before gas or electric stoves were known on the farm and our kitchen stove was either wood or coal fired and the oven didn’t have a temperature gauge.

She would get the fire going and after a while she would open the oven door and put her hand in the oven.  After a few “hand” tests she would say it was ready, and put in her goods to be baked. They always came out perfectly.”

This is my grandmother’s version of the cake.

Indian Cake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup cold coffee
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup hot water

Blend sugar and shortening.  Add ingredients in order given, adding hot water last.   Pour into a greased 9”X 9” pan.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour.  Check it at 45 mins – these recipes always say “bake until done”.  So the first time, you need to keep an eye out.

Bon appetite!


  1. What a treasure that cookbook is! I would love to have that built-in hand gage and that sixth sense of when something’s done–I always overbake. 🙁
    I have a cookbook like that too, of my grandmother’s recipes, and pictures, and comments. I love it.
    So, does anyone know why it’s called “Indian Cake”?

    1. I think it is a “modern” variation of a Native American bannock ( like a scone or flatbread made over an open fire). But I don’t know for sure. I always thought it was some Pioneer interpretation of an “Indian” food.

          1. Makes that recipe book extra special. Love the idea of various children having different recollections of Grandmother’s recipes. Such stories in there. Thank for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the recipe! My mom put together a family cookbook a few years back, and it, too was full of fondly-remembered recipes that I have never tried… and some that I never will (“aspic balls” in particular not sounding appetizing)!

  3. A family cook book… What a wonderful idea!
    And I loved your father’s story about your grandmother to go along with the recipe.
    Absolutely priceless!

  4. The four recipes were put in the book to show that even in a family the need to “tweak” a recipe exists. All were put into the book by four great cooks. I don’t recall ever having the cake either, but I’m not fond of coffee flavors. I always thought the name for the recipe came from the fact that all ingredients were staples in every kitchen and a great use for leftover coffee, plus Grandma was born in the 1880’s, so it was probably a “prairie” recipe handed down by her mother. Unfortunately, most of the cooks have passed and we will probably never know for sure.

    1. Hi cuz, thanks for adding to the story!! The four recipes are very similar, it is like they added instructions as the generations went by. Gramdma knew how to cook so she didn’t need any instructions!!!

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