Chocolate Upside Down Cake – Sweet Treats

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 temperamental galley oven. Plus, the frosting won’t run in tropical heat!

Grandma Phila’s Chocolate Upside Down Cake

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.

Prep Time 10 mins

Cook Time 35 mins

Total Time 45 mins



  • 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 or margarine or vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup nuts



  • 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


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place all cake ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Pour into an ungreased 8″x 8″ 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).

Mix together topping ingredients 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. Time it! 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.


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 has 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 rolling 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.

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