Food Memories: Durango Cake


When I polled the Facebook audience a few weeks ago on peoples’ favorite food memories, I was absolutely thrilled with all the responses.  So many unique stories and some that felt as familiar as my own childhood.  From broccoli rice casserole to stewed cabbage.  From Eastern New Mexico to Ireland – so many people had one thing in common: good memories made from a meal and shared with family.  I made it my unofficial mission to tackle a few stand-out comments that included recipes I might actually be able to make.  I got to share the first food memory  with the author herself.  This week, sadly, the author of today’s food memory, my friend from high school, Kelli Morrison,  lives in Oklahoma and can’t partake directly in the cake recipe she so graciously shared with me.  But I have a feeling she’s made it so many times that she won’t feel like she’s missing out TOO much.

This is a glorified Texas sheet cake.  For those who have made and love Texas sheet cake, you will love this cake.  I think the true magic is the icing.  It gets crunchy around the edges and the cake itself is so fluffy and perfectly moist that it truly is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had.  I think next time, I will add some cinnamon to the cake batter because I love cinnamon and chocolate together, and I think I may make these into cupcakes so that each cake can have icing completely surrounding it!  I may even make a double batch of icing just to make sure I have enough.  I’m telling you, this icing is ridiculously good…


Here’s what Kelli had to say about her memory of this truly wonderful cake:

Ok, so it’s a cake that was always made in a pan that could be easily traveled with, because we always were taking it places! It all started when my dad was moonlighting as a farm land real estate agent and the gentleman he worked for offered up his RV for us to use on summer vacation. So we took it to Durango for a week. At the last minute, my mom invites my recently widowed grandmother (on my dad’s side) to come with us (like, invites her the night before we’re leaving at the crack of dawn). Grandmother has no money to contribute toward the trip, but stays up that evening and packs her bags and makes this chocolate dream cake. Total hit. The next summer, we end up doing the same trip in the same RV up to our favorite lake for fishing and my brother requests the same cake that grandma brought to Durango last year. Even though grandma didn’t go the second year, my mom got the recipe and made one for the trip. From then on, it was, as my brother put it, “that good ‘ol Durango Cake.” We have made it frequently ever since, and it is always requested for birthdays, church socials, pot luck, holidays-it’s a staple in the Stroud family and among our church friends who have become so familiar with it over the years.
It has a deep, rich chocolate-on-chocolate flavor, with a thin chocolate glaze that is cooked and poured over the top while the cake is still warm (one reason it has to be IN a pan, not on a pedestal). Once the glaze cools, it creates a very thin sheet of icing that looks like broken glass when you cut into it-not thick like frosting. Because the glaze is so runny when you pour it, it usually runs all over the cake and spills over the side, so a side or corner piece is very desirable because the outside edge is covered in glaze as well.
I have been known to take a slice in each hand and scarf it like it’s going out of style just before bed, and then wake up in the morning, put another slice in a bowl, break it up into bite-sized pieces and pour milk over it and eat it like cereal. I know. I’m obsessed. But seriously, this cake is phenomenal.


Durango Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup oil
1 cup water
4 tbs baking cocoa
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cooking spray for dish

1 stick butter
2 tbs baking cocoa
2 tbs milk
2 cups powdered confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.

For cake:
In a large bowl using an electric mixer (I did everything by hand), blend flour and sugar well.

In a medium saucepan heat 1 stick of butter, oil, water and cocoa until almost boiling.  Set aside.
In third container (I use a 1 cup glass measure), combine buttermilk, eggs, soda, salt, and vanilla. Whip with a fork until well mixed.
Pour heated mixture into flour mixture and blend. While mixing, add buttermilk mixture and mix well until color is even.

Pour into sprayed or greased 9×13 casserole dish (I use a Pyrex). Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly. While it’s cooling, bring all ingredients for the glaze to a boil in a saucepan on the stove. It is okay if there are several tiny lumps of sugar that don’t dissolve. Remove from heat. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, ensuring that the whole top of the cake gets covered (you may have to use a spatula to spread it a bit). Some glaze will run down and fill up the edges where the cake has pulled away from the pan. Cover upon cooling.

Note from Kelli: if you have large quantities of vanilla ice cream, it is perfectly acceptable to eat this cake while it is still warm. Otherwise, allow it to cool before serving. It is also acceptable to put fresh sweetened fruit atop this cake when serving. Strawberries, cherries, or especially peaches are quite delicious.


5 thoughts on “Food Memories: Durango Cake

  1. I LOVE Texas sheet cake, so I must try this! 🙂 I do have one question though. Is baking cocoa different than the regular Hershey’s cocoa I have in my pantry? Maybe it is baking cocoa and I don’t know it?

    • It’s the same. I used extra dark Dutch process cocoa because that’s what we keep on hand. It all works! Anything in a powdery chocolate form! 🙂

  2. Thanks for immortalizing this recipe and this memory for me Alisa! I thoroughly enjoyed your assessment and your amazing photos!!

  3. I make this cake too. It’s my granny’s hot water cake. Hers does have cinnamon in the cake batter…just a little cinnamon adds so much flavor! It’s my “go to” cake when I need to bring a dessert somewhere but can’t make it to the store.

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