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A Very Old World Mahogany  Cake Recipe

Have you heard of  the  Mahogany cake ?  Some  say  it  was  the   ancestor  of   today’s  red  velvet  cake . True  or  not one  thing  is  for  sure,   it  is  an  incredibly  delicious  confection.  It  is   an old fashioned  cake  that  has  cocoa  and  coffee in  the  batter. Not  a  rich chocolate  cake , but  with  very mild  flavors  of  chocolate  and  coffee.

Old fashioned Mahogany cake - chocolate and coffee velvet cake

This is  not the  only  old fashioned  cake t o  experiment  with  cocoa and  coffee –   devils  food  cake  for  one  comes  to mind.  Mahogany cake recipes  use much  less  chocolate  than   devils  food –  in fact  much less  than  to be  considered a  chocolate  cake.   There  is  chocolate  flavor  here , but  barely.

The  same  goes  for  red  velvet  cakes –   there is  chocolate in the batter , but  you can  barely  taste  it.  Baker’s started adding  chocolate to cake  batter  to make  cakes  with much smoother, finer  texture (hence the  velvet  reference).  The  chocolate  cakes  with  intense  chocolate  flavors  as  we  know   today came  much later.

Natural  cocoa  is  acidic.  Baking soda   is  alkaline  and reacts  with the  acidity  (remember  middle school  chemistry? ) and   turns  it  slightly red.  Some  culinary historians  think  it  is this   reaction that  gave  the  baker’s    the idea  for  red  velvet.  The  dutch processed  cocoa (or  dutched  or  European ),  is  washed  with  potassium carbonate   and  is  no longer  acidic.    As a  result  it  does  not  react  with  the  baking  soda  leaving  the  baked  cakes  with a  darker  color and  milder  chocolate flavor.   You could  use  either  in this  recipe,  the  natural  cocoa  will  give  a little  reddish  hue.  The  effects  are  not  as  pronounced   as  there are  many other  dark  and  acidic  elements,  black coffee and  dark  brown sugar  both mildly  acidic ,  here.

All  this  talk  about  color  and  chocolate  was   the  reason  I discovered  this  cake.  Years  back  I was  looking  for a  red  velvet  recipe that   did  not  use  food  coloring.  There  were  no  natural   food  dyes   available  near  where I lived  then ( I know , I  was  living in the  dark ages).   I did  come  up  with a   beet  based   red  velvet  recipe  that is  still a hit.   Interestingly my family still prefer  that  I use  actual  beets  in it  rather  than  the  derived  coloring.

I do not  remember  how  I made  my first  Mahogany cake – but  skimming  through the  recipes  I came  across  this  one  from a  cake  bakes  in  Brooklyn – Jack Berch’s Mahogany Cake of 1947 .  There  are  many wonderful old  recipes  here – if  not  this   then you might  find  something  else  to inspire  you. 

Old fashioned Mahogany cake - chocolate and coffee velvet cake

So here are  all the ingredients  that  go into the  cake –  butter , flour , cocoa, salt, baking  soda, coffee , brown sugar, vanilla and  vinegar.  As  old fashioned  recipes  go this is  pretty  lean  !

Being  a  baker  and  not  quite  from the  same  era  as Jack  Berch ,  I did  make a   few  changes  to the  recipe.  In other  words  I   tweaked  it  based on my understanding.  Here   are  the   step by step pictures  of   what  I did.

Making Old fashioned Mahogany cake - chocolate and coffee velvet cake

Interestingly  this  time  I decided  to make it  without  the help of  an  electric  mixer.  A  way to honor  the   old fashioned  recipe .  This  was  not  that  hard  though –  as  the   leavening  was baking  soda  and  not  aerated   egg whites.  If  I had  to  whip egg  whites into  stiff peaks the I would  gone  looking  for  my  electric  mixer.

Few  things  to remember

  • Sift  the  dry ingredients really well (2 to 3   times).
  • Mix  in  vinegar  towards  the  end.  The  original recipe  asks  to mix  it  at  the  very end but   I find  it easier  to  do   it just  before  adding  the  last  batch of  flour.
  • Do not  use Ph  neutral coffee – use  regular  coffee.
  • Once  the  batter is  mixed   do not let it  rest –  into   the  oven  ASAP.

Cool, decorate  and  serve !   My favorite  here is  cream  cheese  icing  – but  use  any   you like.

Old fashioned Mahogany cake - chocolate and coffee velvet cake

How  about  that  slice ??

I  do not  make cakes   as  much as  I bake  bread.  But  the  stories  behind  old  fashioned  cakes  always  hold a  fascination   to me. And  trying  to  do all this  by hand    gives  me a  new  appreciation for  the  cooks  and  bakers  of  yore.

So I came a cross  this   book the  other  day –  American Cake  by Ann Byrn . There is a  wealth of  information in here  about   the  evolution of  cakes  as  we  know  it   and  of  course  the  American  cake  history.  How  cakes   were  leavened in the olden   days,  and  even what was  considered  fashionable/ cool/healthy  in  those  days  have  changed   quite   a  bit.  If  you   like  to know  more  about  the   traditional  cakes   how  they got  their  names  and  what  was  used    give this book a  try.

Enough  about  the chemistry and  history – this  here is  the   recipe  for Mahogany Cake adapted  for the  modern  kitchens .

Old fashioned Mahogany cake - chocolate and coffee velvet cake

Mahogany Cake

By Syama
Mahogony cakes   is a  delicious  old  fashioned  cake. It has  mild  flavors  of  chocolate   and  coffee .  The  texture is  lovely  with a  fine  crumb.   More than  anything  I love  the flavors  in this.  
4.67 from 6 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 6


  • 2 Flour
  • ½ C Butter
  • 1 ½ C Dark Brown Sugar
  • 3 Eggs Large
  • ¼ Cocoa Powder
  • 1 C Strong  Black Coffee
  • 1 Tsp  Vanilla
  • 1 Tsp  Baking Soda
  • ½ Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp  White Vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • ½ C Butter 1 stick / 110 g (Notes)
  • 8 Oz Cream Cheese   (220g)
  • 1 Tsp  Pure Vanilla  extract
  • 3- 4 C Confectioner’s Sugar


  • Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature before making the batter Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the oven rack in the center. Butter and line two 8 inch circular pans .
  •   Sift together flour, salt , baking soda, and cocoa powder. Sift 2 to 3 times until all the flour looks uniform and aerated well. 
  • Cream butter and brown sugar together until smooth. Add the eggs 1 by 1 to the mix and beat in. Beat in the vanilla. Fold in a third of the flour mix. Add ½ C coffee and mix in until combined well. Repeat this process one more time, this time adding in more than 1/3 of the flour. Mix in the vinegar add fold the remaining flour.
  •  Divide the batter equally into the prepared cake pans. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or till done. When done the center top will look form and set and a tester inserted in the center will come out clean.
  •  Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before frosting.

Crème Cheese Frosting

  • Bring the  cream  cheese  and   butter  to  almost  room temperature.   Beat  the  butter  until  it is   fluffy .   Add  in the  cream  cheese  and  beat  well until mixed  well.  The  mix  should  look  uniform  and  a little  fluffy.    Mix  in 1 C  powdered   sugar along  with  vanilla.  Add  the  remaining  sugar  in batches  until desired  consistency is  reached.


  • The  cooking  times  are  for  8 inch  circular pans.  The  times  will change  if  using  different  sized pans. 
  • You  could  use  salted  or  unsalted  butter  for  creme cheese  frosting. Most   salted  butters  contain  very little  sodium , but  if  the  butter  has   discernible  salt  taste avoid  it. 

Important: Nutrition Values are estimates. Actuals vary based on ingredients and serving size.

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Old fashioned Mahogany cake - chocolate and coffee velvet cake

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Recipe Rating


Friday 14th of September 2018

I can't believe how amazing the texture is! I have never heard about the Mahogany cake but I do know now that it is a fantastic recipe. Mild flavors of chocolate and coffee sound great!


Tuesday 25th of September 2018

Thank you, Jacqui !


Thursday 21st of June 2018

The texture of the cake is incredible! It would be hard for me not to try it if it was nearby :) But it is a great recipe and I am definitely giving it a try!