I grew up in the north woods in Ashland, Wisconsin. When we were little, my younger siblings and I spent hours outside exploring the woods, pretending to be pirates or the children from”The Chronicles of Narnia.”
One of our favorite things to do was to hike to the Miller’s house, our closest neighbors. Our mom would call to alert them that we were on our way. With me leading the way, we’d walk about a half a mile through the forest behind our house, across the magical bridge, through the birch wood trees, past the ravine, and beyond the raspberry and blackberry patches to the Inn at Timber Cove.
Run by Tina and Bryan Miller, the vintage bed and breakfast had everything a child could want at the end of a long journey through the woods: friendly neighbors, kittens, dogs, a cozy kitchen, and delicious treats coming out of the oven. My favorite dessert at the Timber Cove was Mrs. Miller’s chocolate cake, a recipe passed down from her aunt.
With perfect consistency and a touch of caffeine, my siblings and I renamed it “the greatest chocolate cake ever.” Tina Miller graciously shared the recipe with us and now it’s the go-to cake we reserve for Duffy family special occasions.
Ever since COVID started and college classes have gone virtual, I have been spending a lot more time at home. As it has for so many other Americans, baking has helped me relax and clear my head between Zoom calls, term papers, and writing for work.
Baking Mrs. Miller’s treats brings back warm childhood memories while creating new memories for my littlest siblings, who have enjoyed my after-school treats and weekend baking adventures. COVID has had a lot of downsides for kids. I hope that my siblings will think back on this time in history and remember how much more time they got to spend with their college sister and enjoy her delicious chocolate cake.
The Greatest Chocolate Cake Ever
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cups cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup strong black coffee
1 cup buttermilk
1 ½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
Combine the first six ingredients.
Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for two minutes until the batter is thick.
Pour into a well-greased and floured 9×13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes.
1 ½ cup milk
4 tbls flour
1 ½ cup butter
1 ½ sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 drops red food coloring (optional) — Tina always made the frosting a beautiful pale pink.
Blend of milk and flour, then cook on the stove, stirring until thick, then cool.
Cream butter and sugar. Add milk mixture. Add vanilla extract and food coloring. Beat until smooth.
The Millers’ dog, Trinka.
Their cat, Skippy.