The History of Coca-Cola Cake

My first taste of Coca-Cola Cake was at Cracker Barrel. This was during the time when the cake was still just a seasonal item on the menu that had a limited run kind of like McDonalds and the McRib sandwich. It was a total fluke that I even tried the cake as my family usually only went to the restaurant for breakfast. So by pure chance, I was there for dinner when it happened to be back in season. It was love at first bite which is surprising as I usually don’t like desserts that are on the sweeter side. Though something about this cake spoke to me I guess. I only make it from scratch on the rarest occasions for reasons I think you will understand when you look at the ingredient list.

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What ingredients are in Coca-Cola Cake?
Coca-Cola Cake is a chocolate cake made with buttermilk, Coca-Cola (or really any cola-flavored soda), and marshmallows that are then iced with a frosting made with more cola while the cake is still warm. If you think the coke and marshmallows replace the sugar in this recipe well, you thought wrong. In a 2018 article for the Daytona Daily Times, the author jokes “leave it to the Southerners to take a chocolate cake and figure out how to add more sugar to it.” 

Three quick things before we move on to the next section. First, the cola should not be diet. The recipe already has marshmallows and sugar so I don’t know why one would use diet cola but many recipes still stress that full sugar is the way to go. The second comes from the 2015 cookbook Grandbaby Cakes. In it, they say to open the soda bottle early to let the bubbles rest a bit so the cola will be easier to measure. Lastly, this will not taste like Coca- Cola. Many would not realize the ingredient was even in there if asked to guess what the secret ingredient was.

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Who and where was Coca-Cola Cake created?
There really is no definitive documentation of when this cake was created. Many would probably think that Coca-Cola would lay claim. An archivist for the company told a 1994 newspaper that it is impossible to know just when people started cooking with the soda. They figure that it seems around the mid-century that inventive home cooks started using soda in recipes. The reason why was mainly because it was already an item in their kitchens.

If you did not know, Coca-Cola was created in Atlanta, Georgia by a pharmacist named John Pemberton. It was in 1886 that he created cola syrup. With this information, it is no surprise that this cake (plus I gave a spoiler in the first section) is Southern-born. A 2018 article, pointed out that this cake is a close cousin to Texas Sheet Cake (or Sheath Cake). The recipes are very similar to the Coca-Cola Cake basically subbing the soda for the water and adding marshmallows. 

The same article points to Charleston, West Virginia as the first publication of the Coca-Cola Cake recipe but I can not prove nor disprove that statement with any sources that I have access to. What I do know is that you can find cakes made with Coca-Cola started to appear in the 1950s. Though not all are the recipes that we would most associate with that name such as a 1957 two-layer cake called Velvet Cola Cake or a 1959 cake called Spiced Coca-Cola Cake that did not include the buttermilk, marshmallows, or icing.

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When was Coca-Cola Cake popular?
While I was researching, I noticed that the 1960s was when many newspapers started really posting the Coca-Cola Cake recipe. And I am not alone as Ann Byrn in her book American Cakes noticed an uptick in the 1960s for the recipe appearing in Southern newspapers. Cheryl Day in her cookbook Treasury of Southern Baking also mentions that the 1960s was when people started making this cake and it “became one of the most popular cakes on the community table”. A 1967 article wrote about the cake recipe being in such high demand that it had to share the recipe with the readers. Another 1969 article, talks about the cake being a family favorite.

In the 1990s is where this cake got pushed outside of community cookbooks and newspapers when the homestyle cooking chain Cracker Barrel added the cake to their menu but only seasonally. This resulted in many readers writing in to newspapers looking for the recipe. A columnist tried the cake in 2001 when she spotted it on the Cracker Barrel Menu and said “one taste and I was pleasantly surprised”. Cracker Barrel eventually added the cake to the menu permanently in 2012.

Honestly, this cake was written about A LOT in the 1990s with readers writing in to praise the Coca-Cola Cake. In a 1994 article for the Miami Herald, the cake was called “one of my mother’s favorite recipes” as well as “great and should be enjoyed by all”. Another just called it divine with someone else elaborating by saying that Coca-Cola Cake is a “heavy and rich cake, but very moist” and that it was a favorite to everyone she has served it to. Another 1994 article said, “Nutritious it’s not, but it’s sinfully delicious”. An Atlanta woman called the cake a favorite in 1990.

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Why should I make Coca-Cola Cake?
It is rich, fudgy, and delicious but also sweeeeeeeet. If you are someone with a sweet tooth, this is the cake for you. Though if you still need convincing on why you might want to try this cake, here are some other thoughts on the Coca-Cola Cake. In Grandbaby Cakes they write that the cake “literally melts in your mouth, and if you serve it with vanilla ice cream, you will think you have arrived at the pearly gates”. In Jordan Christy’s Sweetness, they give you an order that if “you’re ever in a diner or cafe in the South and see Coca-Cola cake on the menu, you know you’re in for some wonderful food!”. It is also promised that the cake will become a favorite as it is a “fluffy and moist cake” that “takes chocolate to a whole new level”.

How do you make Coca-Cola Cake?
Honestly, if you wanted to cut some sugar out of this recipe, the marshmallows can be eliminated and still be a perfectly great recipe. I also think the cake is delicious without the frosting. Sprinkle on a little confectioner’s sugar to make it pretty and maybe add some berries to make a nice little dessert. Though if you want the cake in all of its amazing glory, follow the recipe below for a more traditional Coca-Cola Cake.

You may want to check out these other chocolate cakes:
The History of Wacky Cake

The History of Chocolate Mayo Cake

Nancy Wilson’s Sour Cream Fudge Cake

Coca-Cola Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A decadent Southern chocolate cake.

Ingredients

For Cake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 sticks or 1/2 lb of butter
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup Coca-Cola (or any cola flavored soda)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cup mini marshmallows

For Icing

  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup Coca-Cola
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • Optional: 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Directions

  1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour and sugar. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, combine the butter, cocoa powder, soda and salt. Stir over the heat, until butter has melted and everything has combined. Pull off the heat. If your saucepan is not big enough to hold the rest of the ingredients, transfer to another large mixing bowl. Let cool a bit.
  4. Add the flour/sugar mixture and stir till just combined.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, baking soda and add to the batter.
  6. Stir in the marshmallows and pour into the 9 x 13 pan.
  7. Bake for 35 to 45 or until a skewer come out almost clean from the middle of the cake.
  8. For the icing: In a saucepan over medium high heat, stir together the butter, cocoa powder and soda. Stir until butter has melted and everything has combined. Pull from the heat and stir in the confectioners sugar and the chopped nuts if using. Pour on the cake and spread evenly while the cake is still warm. Let the icing set and them serve. The chopped nuts can also be sprinkled across the top of the cake after spreading the icing on the cake if you don’t want to mix it into the frosting.


Sources:

Adams, Jocelyn Delk. Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories. United States: Agate Publishing, 2015.

Anderson, Carol. “The Coca-Cola Cake – Short on Nutrition But Sinfully Delicious”. The Free Lance-Star. February 16, 1994.

Bell, Annie. Annie Bell’s Baking Bible: Over 200 Triple-tested Recipes that You’ll Want to Cook Again and Again. United Kingdom: Octopus, 2020.

“Boys Shirts in Old-Fashioned Styles”. McCook Daily Gazette. December 23, 1999.

Brown, Warren. United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State. United States: ABRAMS, 2014.

Byrn, Anne. American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes. United States: Rodale Books, 2016.

Byrn, Anne. The Cake Mix Doctor. United States: Rodale, 2003.

“Cakes”. Gadsden Times. March 9, 1967.

Cicero, Linda. “Coca-Cola Cake Will Quench Sweet Tooth If Not Your Thirst”. The Miami Herald. April 7, 1994.

Day, Cheryl. Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking. United States: Artisan, 2021.

Day, Griffith., Day, Cheryl. Back in the Day Bakery Made with Love: More Than 100 Recipes and Make-It-Yourself Projects to Create and Share. United States: Workman Publishing, 2015.

De Proft, Melanie. “Family Weekly Cookbook”. Lewiston Morning Tribune. July 21, 1957.

Douglas, Ron. America’s Most Wanted Recipes Just Desserts: Sweet Indulgences from Your Family’s Favorite Restaurants. United States: Atria Books, 2012.

Dowel, Sharon “Coca Cola Cake Brings Hope It’s Real Thing”. The Daily Oklahoman. May 16, 2001

“Galveston News-Tribune Cookbook”. The Galveston Daily News. November 22, 1959.

Griffin, Dot. “Dot’s Dashes”. The Saint Mary’s Oracle. November 2, 1967.

“Her Favorite Recipe”. Wilmington News-Journal. March 12, 1969.

“Homemaking In Robeson”. The Robesonian. January 29, 1964.

Jordan, Christy. Sweetness: Southern Recipes to Celebrate the Warmth, the Love, and the Blessings of a Full Life. United States: Workman Publishing, 2016.

Kleinman, Dena. “Cooking With Cook: Dishes to Swear By”. The Gainesville Sun. June 28, 1990.

Kleinman, Dena. “When it Comes to Clever Cooking, Coke is it”. Star-News. August 22, 1990.

Spears, Grady., Naylor, June. The Texas Cowboy Kitchen. United States: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011.

The New Great American Writers Cookbook. United States: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.

Williams, Kate. “Bump Up Your Dessert’s Flavor By Putting Coca-Cola in Cake”. Daytona Daily News. March 7, 2018.Willis, Virginia. Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company [A Cookbook]. United States: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale, 2011.

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