Nanny’s Chocolate Icing

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook
in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice
and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” ~ Laurie Colwin

I love this quote by American author Laurie Colwin; I think most cooks feel this connection with the cooks who came before us, whether cooks in our families, or friendly neighbors who had time and patience to take a neighborhood child under his or her wing to teach them some simple recipe, or generous older women who were willing to pass down tried and true recipes to young brides at wedding showers. Some of us even have the blessing of a family cookbook compiled by the family cooks a generation or more ahead of them.

I have a cookbook like that; it’s fondly and simply called “The Frazier Family Cookbook.” The pages are yellowed and falling out of the book, but it is still wonderful to look through and try out what the women in the family cooked when my generation was still in diapers.  Here are a couple of the pages that have fallen out. Winnie is my husband’s grandmother (she went by “Mammy”), who passed away in 1986, I believe. I never got to meet her.  Connie  was one of her daughters-in-law.

There is also a recipe in this book for Mammy’s seven-layer lemon cake, and I hope to try to make it soon.  According to everyone who knew her, it was fabulously delicious, as was pretty much everything she made.   I often use  her recipe for homemade rolls, and they are amazing; light as a feather.

Another of  Mammy’s daughters-in-law is also a wonderful cook, and an especially great baker. She also happens to be my mother-in-law,  Susan Frazier, who is known to my children as “Nanny.” Sunday was her birthday, and for her cake we made a simple yellow cake with chocolate icing. I have been wanting to learn how to make her caramel icing and her chocolate icing, and Sunday night was the perfect opportunity to get a lesson in the chocolate version.  She showed me how to combine evaporated milk, sugar, and butter, mixing and stirring it constantly, and how to know when it had boiled long enough and gotten to soft-ball stage, so that I could then add the melted butter that had been mixed with cocoa powder.  Then I basically stirred all of that, off of heat, for about ten minutes, until the mixture got thick and shiny smooth, at which point I had only to pour the icing over the cake. In a few minutes, it became firm and was able to be cut through.

I thought I’d share Susan’s chocolate icing recipe with you. It’s nothing fancy, but it tastes great, and has a smooth, sort of shiny finish.

Nanny’s Chocolate Icing

In a small sauce pot, combine

1 ½ sticks of butter


1 ¾ TBS cocoa powder

Melt together, stirring constantly. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, whisk together:

¾ cup evaporated milk

3 cups of sugar

1/3 cup Karo syrup

Bring to a boil. Boil for a couple of minutes, then cook to soft-ball stage using a candy thermometer, or  by checking consistency of mixture when a few drops are dripped into ice water.  The mixture should be able to be formed into a soft little ball between your fingers if it’s ready. (If you cook it for too long, you will have some nice hard candy. Not really what you’re going for here, though.) 😉

Remove from heat at this point, and whisk the chocolate mixture into the syrup mixture.  Whisk together for about ten minutes. (You might want to sit down during this part.  It’s a long time for some people to stand in one place and stir.)

Or you could just use the whisk attachment on your mixer. I was choosing to do it old school style, as that’s the way Susan does it.   🙂

Pour immediately over a prepared sheet cake, and spread without lifting your spreading utensil from the surface of the cake. Then allow it to “set up” for a while. As it cools, it becomes smooth and shiny.  It’s always hard to hold people off when they see the cake sitting there, uncut, on the counter top, (which is why there is no picture of my final product this time) but it’s worth the wait, if you can convince them!

And as a side note, would you consider writing down some of your mother’s or grandmother’s old recipes, before they get lost? It’s important; it’s part of our history.  Are you already doing this?  Let me know in a comment, below, if you are or if you are inspired to do so.  I’d love to know about it.

p.s. the black and white picture in this post is from http://www.homescentscandlecompany.com; she’s someone’s grandmother, but not mine. 🙂 I love the picture.


8 thoughts on “Nanny’s Chocolate Icing

  1. I can attest that the home made rolls are suberb!!! So i am inspired to try this recipe sometime. Thanks Steph!! You’re such a great cook!

  2. OK… I MUST comment on this post! This post has struck a chord with me that is particularly near and dear to my heart. You see, I too have one of these cookbooks. Mine is the “Bauer Family Cookbook” and it was compiled by Tom’s sweet mother, Virginia. I was so honored to receive a copy when Tom and I got married nearly 27 years ago. Then, I lost my copy in our house fire. Tom’s mom had passed away one month before our fire and I didn’t know if there were any other copies. Fortunately, one of my dear sister-in-laws made me another copy and put it in a little notebook for me. However, the part that really amazes me is that the picture you included of the pages from your cookbook look as though they could have come from mine! Mine is typed in almost exactly the same style and even contains a smattering of hand drawn pictures like the one shown on the left page. Virginia also included personal stories that related to some of the recipes, such as, the fact that Tom would quarter the cranberries for her when she made Cranberry Bread because it was one of his favorites. I’m wondering if your cookbook also contains comments like this. I’m so happy to have another copy of our family’s cookbook again because it is like having Virginia with me in the kitchen. She was such a great cook and her book is filled with so many wonderful recipes. I really miss her, but the cookbook keeps us connected (and well fed!). I know you must treasure the cookbook from your family as much as I do mine!

    1. Glinda, I am so glad you shared your cookbook’s story with me! It sounds like you and I both had/have wonderful mothers-in-law! I looked through the Frazier family cookbook after I read your comment, and I didn’t find any personal notes like Virginia’s about quartering the cranberries. However, I did find a few handwritten recipes stuck in-between the pages…don’t even know whose they are! So sweet!
      Now, in my maternal grandfather’s Julia Child cookbook, he has handwritten some notes by her Bouef Bourgignon recipe….Granddaddy was an aspiring gourmet cook! So I have country cooks and gourmet cooks behind me in my family…..I guess I’m a hodgepodge of both. 🙂 How about you?

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s