Chocolate Upside Down Cake

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2010 • all rights reserved

Chocolate Upside Down Cake

Here’s the Chocolate Upside Cake recipe as I originally submitted it to Cruising World.  It was published in the July 2006 printed version of the magazine, and — in a pared down form — is still available at the Cruising World website.

Chocolate Delight

Aboard ¿Qué Tal?, our Tayana 37, we’re chocoholics.  But so many chocolate treats are hard to make while cruising – either the ingredients are hard to find or store in the tropics, the baking process doesn’t lend itself to a galley oven, or the finished product does poorly in the heat.

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.

This recipe is in The Boat Galley Cookbook.

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  1. Candy Ann Williams says:

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

  2. Gotta try this … thanks!

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

  4. Great!

  5. Me too, the cake I mean

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

  7. I’ll bet it would — great substitution idea!

  8. Nona Urbitnez on Facebook says:

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

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

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