Jennifer Jones' Sour Cream Molasses Cake

It is a very rainy and dreary day here and getting out into the garden was out of the question. I knew I had to do something to get my mind off the election. I decided to do some baking. A few weeks ago, I discovered a wonderfully entertaining blog called Silver Screen Suppers which features vintage recipes from classic movie stars. Since I'm a fan of classic Hollywood and cooking, this was right down my alley. 

I'm also a big fan of Jennifer Jones and was so excited to see her name listed in the index. I thought I'd read everything about her but I'd never heard of this. Jenny, who runs the blog says that it came from a compilation of Hollywood recipes on a CD-rom that she found on E-bay.    

Who knows if the recipes actually came from the stars? I am assuming that many were submitted by press agents although some stars, like Vincent Price and Marlene Dietrich, were serious cooks. From what I know about Jennifer Jones, I don't think she spent too much time in the kitchen. I know she was a fan of Popcorn Balls because she served some to an interviewer and said that they were a favorite childhood treat. A family member who lived with her told me that she liked simple foods - hamburger with ketchup and vanilla ice cream was mentioned. She also loved the chili from Chasen's.

This cake recipe was easy to make and it turned out great. The icing, however, was a bit difficult. As you may know, I also have a blog where I've made recipes from Maida Heatter over the years. I would say everything I've learned about baking has come from Ms. Heatter so a recipe with different techniques will throw me for a loop. This one involved making a boiled icing in a double boiler. I have done it before but it has been a while It also requires some manpower!


Here is the recipe as written -

Jennifer Jones' Sour Cream Molasses Cake

1/2 cup shortening (yes shortening!)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup sour cream

First, shall we address the elephant in the room? That would be the shortening, an ingredient almost unheard of in recipes today. I remember my mother used shortening for everything and it came in a large can. It is easily found today but it comes in sticks. It has a bad reputation (it is high in trans fat). You can actually use butter in place of shortening. But, for authenticity, I used shortening.

Now, back to the recipe -

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour (or spray) two 8" baking pans.

Cream the shortening and the sugar (it helps to have the shortening at room temperature).

Add the molasses and mix well. 

Sift together the flour, allspice, salt and baking soda. Add this mixture alternately with the sour cream.

Transfer the batter to the baking pans.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (actually the cakes were ready for me in 20 minutes).

Allow the cakes to cool completely before applying the frosting.


Sugarless Frosting

2 egg whites
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup light molasses (I only had dark molasses so I used that)

Put the egg whites, corn syrup and molasses in the top of a double boiler. Set over boiling water. Cook, beating constantly with a rotary egg beater for 7-9 minutes or until the frosting will stand in soft peaks.

Spread the frosting between the cake layers and around the sides.

My Notes:

So, as I said earlier, the frosting was not so easy. I do not own a rotary egg beater so I used my hand-held mixer. I mixed for an eternity and was just barely noticing it thickening. I cannot imagine someone using an egg beater for this but if they can, more power to them!

Michael strolled though about this time and he has lots of common sense in the kitchen so I asked him if I should add cornstarch or something to get it to thicken. He said that I should turn the heat down and that it would naturally thicken up as it cooled. Naturally, there was truth to this. I took the boiler off the heat and continued to use the mixer (my arm was numb by this point) and it did thicken up. However, if are making it, keep in mind that this is not a thick frosting.

Nor are the cake layers! Jenny, the blogger at Silver Screen Suppers mentioned that it might be better in a small pan.  I don't know about that but, in an 8" inch pan, it turns out to be a very skinny cake.

And the taste? I thought it was pretty good. It has a terrific texture, very velvety (could that be the shortening?)  The icing is also good. It is rich-tasting so I actually think those thin layers are perfect. I do think it would taste even better with ice cream to accompany it.

Now to find Jennifer's popcorn ball recipe...


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. I admit I'm not much of a cake baker. That looks like a very tasty cake, icing looks tricky. Think it would work as a one layer tray bake? My mom used shortening, my Grandma, lard.

    Do you watch the Great British Baking Show? A great distraction from political news--all the nastiness and cruelty. All the bakers are so nice to each other--that is balm for the soul.


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