By Linda Bassett
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Despite what the poet wrote about April, I think February is the cruelest month.

Drab, pewter skies bring every kind of nasty weather, rarely a ray of sunshine. So we jolly up month with a football spectacle watched around the world, a day dedicated to love, colorful Mardi Gras parades, a week dedicated to school vacation when we hope for snow to sled and ski on, award shows with lively gossip and fashion follow-up, and presidential birthdays.

We’re invited to enjoy bar munchies, romantic dinners, King’s cake, soul satisfying stews and sky-high burgers and cheese-y fondues après ski and cherry pies. And restaurants join the fun with a week of their own, giving us the chance to try out a new eatery at a come-hither price.

Above all, February appropriately celebrates the single food, scientifically proven to lift spirits. Chocolate.

Bake up a batch of double-chocolate brownies. Give someone candies packed into satin and lace boxes in shades of rose, garnet, ruby and carnation. Wrap it around almonds or out-of-season strawberries. Sprinkle a touch into a mole sauce. And, at some point during the month there will be cake! Mile-high devil’s food. Molten chocolate. Heart shaped single-layer showered in powdered sugar.

Great chocolate cakes do not come out of a box. They’re not found on the pages of the trendiest new cookbook. Baking a real all-American chocolate cake starts with meticulous research. If you have a mother or grandmother handy, get her acclaimed recipe. If mom or grandma didn’t bake, you’ll need to resort to old magazines and cookbooks. Not too old, because ingredients and equipment have changed drastically. Thirty or 40 years is best, when every magazine cover on the supermarket rack beckoned with a beautifully photographed cake. Anyone who baked one was crowned kitchen royalty.

MAGAZINE CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKE

Makes a 9-inch, 2-layer cake, 12 servings
This recipe, originally published in a 1975 issue of Family Circle magazine, was one of that publication’s most well-liked. I’m guessing a recipe this old renders it an American classic.
Use an electric hand mixer or a countertop stand mixer for this recipe. Note that at some points, a wooden spoon is recommended.
Cake:
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2-1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
2-1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 9-inch-round layer cake pans, tapping out any excess flour. Set the pans aside.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over hot, not boiling, water; set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a separate bowl; set aside.

Beat the butter until soft. Add sugar and eggs, beating until light and fluffy. Finally beat in vanilla and the cooled, melted chocolate.

Stir in dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt) alternating with the sour cream, beating well with a wooden spoon after each addition until batter is smooth and the ingredients incorporated. Stir in the boiling water.

Divide the batter equally between the two pans. Transfer to the oven and bake for 35 minutes, until the centers spring back when lightly pressed with the fingers.

Cool the layers in their pans on wire rack, for 10 minutes. Loosen by running a knife around the inside edges of the cake pans, and turn out the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely.

Frosting:
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick butter
1 pound package confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt chocolate and butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; set aside off the heat.

Separately, beat in the sugar, milk and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.

Stir in the chocolate mixture. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water, and beat the mixture with a wooden spoon until it reaches a good spreading consistency for the frosting to hold its shape.

To assemble:

Put one layer on a serving plate. Spread it with about one-fourth of the frosting. Add the second layer, then spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at kitchencall@gmail.com, read her blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @Kitchencall.