This Chocolate Upside Down Cake is designed to be made without an electric mixer and tastes great -- perfect if you live on a boat, RV or off the grid.

Chocolate Upside Down Cake

My great-grandmother began serving this chocolate cake nearly 100 years ago, and it’s been a family favorite ever since.  It’s great on a boat, as it uses cocoa instead of baking chocolate, was intended to be mixed by hand and baked in a “moderate oven” fueled by wood – perfect for a somewhat tempermental galley oven.  Plus, the frosting won’t run in tropical heat!

Grandma Phila’s Chocolate Upside Down Cake

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder (see note below)

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ tablespoons cocoa

¾ cup sugar

½ cup milk

2 tablespoons melted butter, margarine or vegetable oil

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix.  Pour into an ungreased 8”x8” pan (or anything that is reasonably close).  Let sit while you prepare the topping – which can be made in the same bowl (scrape the batter into the pan and you don’t need to wash the bowl).


½ cup brown sugar (if not available, use white and a smidge of honey or molasses)

½ cup sugar

5 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup boiling water

Mix together and spoon over the mix in the baking pan.  You’ll notice that the cake mix will start to float to the surface – that’s normal.

Bake in a 350° F. oven for 35 minutes.  Cake is done when the top is uniformly dry, although the frosting mixture may bubble around the sides.  Don’t overbake!  Allow to cool before serving.

To serve, cut cake into pieces and slip a spatula under one slice.  Carefully take it out of the pan and flip it “upside down” onto a plate – the gooey frosting will now be on top.  Generally not all of the frosting will have come out of the pan.  If this happens, scrape the extra out and smooth it over the top of the slice.


Notes:  If you use a smaller pan, the mix will be thicker and you’ll probably have to bake it longer.  An 8” or 9” round pan works well, as does a 9” x 6” pan or even a bread pan.  This recipe doubles well to fill a 9 x 13 pan – baking time is approximately the same.

Be sure to store your baking powder inside a Ziploc bag, taking it out just long enough to measure the amount you need.  Humidity is the enemy of baking powder, since it reacts with moisture to raise the batter.  If it’s already reacted with moisture in the air, it won’t do anything for your batter.  I learned this the hard way, with a very flat cake!

If I make this while underway or in a rolly anchorage, I measure the cup of water for the topping when I put it into the teakettle to heat, then just pour it into the mixing bowl.  Much safer than trying to measure boiling water in a moving boat.

Want more boat-friendly recipes? Check out The Boat Galley Cookbook with over 800 recipes or get a free PDF sample of it with 30 recipes:

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  • Candy Ann Williams
    Posted at 25 December 2010 Reply

    Sounds great….can’t wait to try it….Thanks for sharing…can’t believe I missed it in cruising world….

  • on Facebook
    Posted at 01 December 2011 Reply

    Gotta try this … thanks!

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 18 April 2012 Reply

    I need a BIG slice of chocolate cake after the last two days — the server has had a LOT of problems!

  • Debra Perfitt on Facebook
    Posted at 18 April 2012 Reply


  • Debra Perfitt on Facebook
    Posted at 18 April 2012 Reply

    Me too, the cake I mean

  • Patty D Tate on Facebook
    Posted at 10 October 2012 Reply

    Didn’t have coco. Used hot choc mix. Worked well.

  • The Boat Galley on Facebook
    Posted at 10 October 2012 Reply

    I’ll bet it would — great substitution idea!

  • Nona Urbitnez on Facebook
    Posted at 03 July 2013 Reply

    Wow! I think I might have all the ingredients on board for that 😉
    Looks delish!

  • Tammy Swart
    Posted at 25 December 2014 Reply

    Yams! Traditional! Can’t wait to see what delectable dishes appear here in Vero Beach! Merry Christmas Carolyn, hope to meet you IRL someday soon!

  • Audrey
    Posted at 08 February 2015 Reply

    I have been searching for this recipe for so long. My mama used to make this and I was wondering if she had just made it up. I loved this growing up even though I really was not a cake eater. Thanks so much for the recipe. I have been googing it but could come up with nothing till I finally called it the upside down chocolate cake.

    Thanks so much!

  • cyndy
    Posted at 28 June 2017 Reply

    Hi, C
    Will this fir in the Omnia stove top oven? I’m thinking the silicon liner would work well.

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