Sister Eleanor Little (my fifth grade teacher) and I were reunited two years ago at my book signing for my cookbook You Never Cook Alone. Since then she has come to visit our family in North Carolina four times.   I actually wrote about Sister Eleanor in a previous post which also included her mom’s delicious recipe for blueberry cake.

Last spring we were fortunate enough to have Sister Eleanor with us on her 70th birthday.  Her mother had always baked her a cake on her birthday. After her mother’s passing her father kept up the special tradition for his daughter. She had not had a birthday cake since his passing.

When asked what her favorite cake had been she replied, “I always liked marble cake with chocolate frosting.” And so last year I tried my hand at a marble cake with chocolate frosting. Although everyone it, I found it a bit dense. This year I found a recipe in Joy of Cooking which used stiffly beaten egg whites. I used butter for this cake recipe and it was delicious. I found it to be more like a pound cake (which is certainly not a bad thing), but the next time I will use either canola oil or butter-flavored shortening.  Sister Eleanor liked it very much and so I was happy.

I have so much fun with Eleanor. We laughed all weekend long.

(TMI ALERT: I willingly admit that I even peed myself a little this weekend because she made me laugh so hard.)

Sister Eleanor often shares with me her mother’s recipes. Last year she gave me her mom’s delicious blueberry cake recipe. I felt so honored. You must make it, for it is delightful!

This year Sister Eleanor presented me with a gift that quite simply took my breath away. I was so unbelievably touched. This was her mother’s first cookbook, written in 1939. Her mother, Mrs. Little, had married in 1940. I feel so grateful and privileged to have it in my possession.  Two recipes, penned by her mother, can be found on the last page — fudge and applesauce spice cake which was Eleanor’s brother’s favorite cake.

Little Cookbook

Here is the yummy recipe for Sister Eleanor’s Marble Birthday Cake — enjoy!



Sister Eleanor’s Marble Birthday Cake

Sister Eleanor's Marble Cake
Prep Time:
10-20 mins
Cook Time:
30-40 mins
Total Time:
1:00 hour

“I always liked my mother’s marble cake with chocolate frosting,“ my fifth grade teacher said. Then that is what I shall make!




  • 3 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup softened butter, shortening or canola oil
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk or milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract, optional
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate baking squares, melted
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda


  • 3/4 cup butter (1.5 sticks), softened
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2.5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder


For the marble cake:

  1. Generously grease a tube pan.
  2. Sift together into large bowl the flour, baking powder and salt — twice.
  3. In an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with an electric beater, cream the softened butter. Add your granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Add to your creamed butter and sugar your vanilla and almond extract. Now add your buttermilk alternately with your dry ingredients until all is incorporated. Try not to over mix your ingredients.
  5. Divide your cake batter into two mixing bowls and add your melted chocolate, cinnamon and baking soda to one of the batters. Stir well.
  6. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the middle of your oven.
  7. Whip up your egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold half of the beaten egg whites into the light cake batter and the other half into the dark cake batter.
  8. Drop large spoonfuls of half of your cake batter alternately into your tube pan. Now drop the other half of your cake batter in large spoonfuls alternately as well. (Dark on top of light and light on top of dark, etc.)  Bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the chocolate frosting:

  1.  Add cocoa to a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer. Whisk through to remove any lumps.
  2. Cream together your softened butter and cocoa powder until well-combined.
  3. Add sugar and milk to your cocoa mixture by adding 1 cup of sugar followed by about a tablespoon of milk. After each addition has been combined, turn mixer onto a high speed for about a minute. Repeat until all sugar and milk have been added.
  4. Add vanilla extract and espresso powder and combine well.
  5. If frosting appears too dry, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. If it appears to wet and does not hold its form, add more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the right consistency. Just remember you can always add, but you can’t take away.