My Dad’s Favorite Chocolate Birthday Cake

Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have turned 59 today, and I’m sure the day would have been filled with all sorts of jokes about how he was only one year away from being really old and over the hill. However, life happens, as it tends to do, and my dad passed away 13 years ago, a week shy of his 46th birthday, due to complications from leukemia. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him, and miss him. This past Christmas, my grandma and I were talking about recipes, and she asked if my mom ever gave me the recipe for my dad’s favorite birthday cake. I couldn’t remember it, so my mom dug it out for me, and I decided that this year I would make his favorite cake to commemorate his birthday. My mom’s recipe card was titled simply, “Mom Norris Choc. Cake”. Let me tell you – my dad had some tremendously good taste when it came to cake, as this is not your ordinary chocolate cake. It’s a rich, moist chocolate cake with a river of cream cheese filling running through the middle, and it’s topped with a combination of chopped walnuts and sugar. It’s amazing. And I’ve decided that I’m going to make this every year on April 12th.

I asked my grandma where she got this recipe, and she said that one of the women she worked with back in the 60’s shared it with her. She made it, and my dad, who was in his early teens at the time, loved it, and so she made it for his birthday every year after that. Once my parents got married, my mom took over making it for him each and every year. I couldn’t remember the cake, and my mom said she stopped making it when my sister and I were pretty young since my dad got a “borderline cholesterol” blood result from the doctor and he had to start watching what he ate. Incidentally, that result did not stop him from sneaking Snickers bars at work. Many times we would stop by his office to visit, and my sister and I would see the wrappers in his waste basket. We relished ratting him out to my mom, of course. What little snitches we were!

Celebrating my dad’s birthday is, of course, bittersweet. There are so many things I wish I could share with him and do with him on a daily basis that I can’t, but I am grateful for each and every day that I got to spend with him. He was a jokester – I was doused with cold water more times than I can count, he continually hid rubber snakes for my mom to find (she is absurdly afraid of snakes), and he even won a Friday joke contest on a local radio station. I think he secretly loved having a tomboy daughter – he played catch with me and hit me grounders to practice fielding when I played softball. We threw footballs back and forth. He would change clothes after work and challenge me to a game of H-O-R-S-E out back. And I’m sure he loved nothing more than seeing me, his 8-year-old daughter, pour into his hockey equipment (helmet, shin guards, gloves, and all), grab my street hockey stick (pink blade and all) and declare that I would be the first girl hockey player ever. We always had tons of fun, and I never doubted how proud he was of whatever I was doing.

This cake is for him – to celebrate what an awesome dad he was and for the time I got to spend with him.

Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you and miss you.

One year ago: Classic Egg Salad
Two years ago: Honey-Vanilla Sour Cream Pound Cake

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Filling & Walnut-Sugar Topping

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes


For the Walnut-Sugar Topping:
2 cups chopped walnuts
½ cup granulated sugar

For the Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
2 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan; set aside.

2. Make the Walnut-Sugar Topping: Combine the chopped walnuts and the sugar in a small bowl; set aside.

3. Make the Cake Batter: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the water, vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, mix together until just combined and there are no traces of dry ingredients. Set aside.

4. Make the Cream Cheese Filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until soft and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue mixing until light and fluffy, another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs and the salt and beat until thoroughly combined and smooth.

4. Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Slowly pour all of the cream cheese filling over top, trying to distribute it as evenly as possible (do not try to spread it after you pour it). Pour the remaining cake batter over top of the cream cheese filling. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the walnut-sugar mixture.

5. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let cool completely before serving.


133 Responses to “My Dad’s Favorite Chocolate Birthday Cake”

Comment Pages 1 2 3
  1. Rosie on April 12, 2012 at 12:49 am

    This looks good hun. I am in love with all you do. Not being a stalker or anything. lol


  2. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on April 12, 2012 at 1:12 am

    This is just so sweet. I’m sure your dad would be so proud of this. What a delicious looking cake!


  3. Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen on April 12, 2012 at 1:35 am

    What a lovely post! I’m sure it doesn’t make the pain of losing a parent any easier, but at least you two shared some wonderful memories together.


  4. Jessica on April 12, 2012 at 2:34 am

    You are such an amazing woman. Even though your dad and dear grandparents are up in heaven, you still stay strong. I love your recipes! Keep it up!


  5. katie on April 12, 2012 at 3:03 am

    That looks like a fabulous cake and what a lovely cheerful way to remember your dad


  6. Mindee on April 12, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Miss my dad too..funny caring honest loving father who has a really sweet tooth. We don’t commemorate his B’dae after he’s gone..its just too painful & sad for all of us till now.


  7. Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious on April 12, 2012 at 3:42 am

    It sounds like a wonderful tradition, baking this gorgeous cake every year.


  8. valeen on April 12, 2012 at 4:12 am

    The cake looks delicious. Love the story about your dad. What a a great way to remember him!


  9. Mireia on April 12, 2012 at 4:18 am

    What a great cake, and the story behind it is even better :)


  10. Shellie Cadogan on April 12, 2012 at 5:05 am

    Thank you for sharing…..huge hugs for you today.


  11. Kiri W. on April 12, 2012 at 5:58 am

    Mmmm, I an see why your dad would love this – sounds to die for!


  12. Johna on April 12, 2012 at 6:10 am

    I am sorry for the loss of your dad. He sounds like a great guy!
    I think this cake definitely is drool-worthy! thank you for sharing!


  13. cooking rookie on April 12, 2012 at 6:16 am

    This must be a wonderful cake from a wonderful daughter!


  14. Linda Nortje on April 12, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Thank you for sharing this special recipe. Even though, your Dad does not age anymore … Happy Birthday to him, it is after all his birth date that’s being celebrated.


  15. Penny Wolf on April 12, 2012 at 6:58 am

    I like to think we are still with the ones who have crossed over, just in such a different way. I talk to my parents ALL the time :)
    His birthday cake looks wonderful!


  16. Jeri Barry on April 12, 2012 at 6:58 am

    What a wonderful tribute to your father. He certainly sounds like a perfect example of what a father should be. I just love how food, and the memory of specific recipes shared by loved ones elicits such vivid memories and brings us together. Thank You.


  17. Lily on April 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Thank you for the recipe and thank you for sharing the beautiful memories of your dad…I thought it was such a beautiful way to remember someone dear to you in a happy way…I will do the same starting this year on May 7th, which would have been my dad’s 80th birthday…


  18. Lauren at Keep It Sweet on April 12, 2012 at 7:01 am

    What a great way to honor your dad’s memory and celebrate his life!


  19. Katrina on April 12, 2012 at 7:05 am

    This is such a special post, and a great way to remember your dad. I can see why he loved it so much – it sounds fabulous!


  20. AnnaG on April 12, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Beautiful post — your Dad would be proud! :)


  21. Carla on April 12, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Well…….this morning, this post made me happy (for a delicious chocolate cake recipe), sad (for the loss of your Father), happy (for the wonderful relationship you had with your Dad). I will make this cake and it will make me think of you and your Dad…….. they will be happy thoughts. Thank you for sharing.


  22. abigail on April 12, 2012 at 7:35 am

    my dad always get me to make a buttermilk pound cake with vanilla buttercream frosting for his birthday. i use the buttermilk pound cake recipe from allrecipes. it is so moist. my dad likes it so much that every time someone else has a birthday that he knows he gets me to make it for them, lol. there is nothing like making your father happy when you are a daddy’s girl.


  23. Melissa on April 12, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Looks wonderful! I love when you can tell that a recipe has been passed down, because a lot of recipes that were around during times of war have no eggs in the cake (due to rationing). Anyways, this looks so yummy and I’ll be craving it until I can have a bite myself!


  24. Betsy on April 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

    What a lovely post. I truly can’t wait to make this cake! Happy Birthday to your Dad! What a great way to remember him.


  25. Blog is the New Black on April 12, 2012 at 7:52 am

    What a nice post! :)


  26. Jessica @ Portuguese Girl Cooks on April 12, 2012 at 7:56 am

    What a beautiful post.


  27. Claire @ Live and Love to Eat on April 12, 2012 at 8:11 am

    I’m glad you have great memories! My thoughts are with you today! <3


  28. Lori on April 12, 2012 at 8:20 am

    You have me crying over my breakfast! This is so sweet and the cake looks delicious, too. I agree….make this cake every year in honor of him. Thanks for sharing.


  29. Anna on April 12, 2012 at 8:48 am

    That is a serious looking cake – seriously yummy, that is! Mind if I borrow it for Saturday? It’s my mom birthday and she’s a major chocolate, and walnut, fan.


    • Michelle on April 16th, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      Absolutely! I hope your mom loves it as much as my dad did!


  30. Genny on April 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

    What a sweet way to remember your dad! Your cake looks delicious!


  31. Erin @ Brownie Bites on April 12, 2012 at 9:12 am

    What a wonderful way to remember your dad and do something special for his birthday. :-) He most definitely had good taste in cake, because this one looks amazing!


  32. Cassie on April 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

    What a great way to remember your dad’s birthday. The cake is stunning! You are in my thoughts today, Michelle.


  33. Dee on April 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

    It’s amazing how food brings up such strong memories. It looks delicious and I’m sorry that your father was taken so early.


  34. Bakeaholic on April 12, 2012 at 9:46 am

    This cake looks absolutely divine! I’m sure dad would have loved this. Thanks for the recipe.


  35. Paula on April 12, 2012 at 9:49 am

    This was a beautiful post and thank you for sharing such lovely memories of your Dad with us. How very sweet that his favourite cake is going to be made by his daughter every year to commemorate his birthday. It does look delicious.


  36. Kathy@sugarrushbaking on April 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

    What a sweet story and a good way to remember your Dad. The cake looks amazing and one I will surely try.


  37. Georgia on April 12, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Happy Birthday, Dad! What a wonderful way to spend time with him. They are always with us – in our hearts and minds.


  38. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Pepper on April 12, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Oh, I’m so sad, what a wonderful story and a wonderful cake. Your Dad would be so very proud of you.


  39. Eileen on April 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I’m sorry Michele. I lost my mom 13 years ago too so I know how you feel. I’m sure your dad is smiling down on you. Your cake recipe is so unique – love it! Anything with cream cheese in it is a friend of mine – lol…


  40. Quinn on April 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

    This looks amazing, and I plan on making it this weekend. :-) Thank you so much for sharing the recipe and your memories. No matter the time, the loss never gets easier but I’m sure he is very proud of his daughter. All the best to you!


  41. Martha T on April 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I think celebrating the lives of those we have lost is a huge part of living life.

    I have several recipes that are tied directly to people who were loved and lost by “friends” I have never met. This will go into that collection and your dad will be remembered by my family as well. ♥


  42. elisa on April 12, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for sharing this story-I’m all choked up here at work. looks like a delicious cake too!!

    I bake so many things since I love trying new recipes but it’s so nice having a favorite so that traditions could be made and treasured!


  43. Cassie on April 12, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Your dad was a wonderful man. I know my dad misses him a ton too, he was such a special friend. What a sweet way to keep the memories alive each year. No doubt he would be very proud of you today. All the best!


    • Michelle on May 15th, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks, Cassie! They were definitely special friends, and your dad remains such a blessing to my mom. He helps her so much. I hope you’re doing well! A belated congratulations on your wedding!


  44. Judith Q Stewart on April 12, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Oh My Goodness…my Daddy’s b’ day is a few days away…I miss him so much. I am a gardener…and he loved this about me…and I loved his love of nature.
    he also had a sweet tooth…loved all good food celebrated in our wonderful Italian kitchen. you are so sweet to post this heartfelt tribute to your Dad…who left behind a beautiful daughter, who fills our hearts and tummies.
    god Be with you and your family.


  45. Debra Kapellakis on April 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Thank you for sharing the memory of your Dad and his favorite cake. I printed it and will treat my family and myself to it soon. My Dad will be 71 this year. He is fine. I have seen him only three times in 21 years. (finaces haven’t allowed me to travel there and he doesn’t fly)


  46. Laura Dembowski on April 12, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Michelle, Your story made me cry. It was so moving to read about your dad. I’m sorry he’s not still around for you. I will treasure my dad even more after reading that. Thanks for sharing this story.


  47. SamCyn on April 12, 2012 at 11:54 am

    What a heartfelt story! And the cake sounds like it could easily be a winner at my home…I look forward to making it and sharing your story with my husband. Thanks for sharing :)


  48. Anita at Hungry Couple on April 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I also lost my father when I was young so I can relate. Your dad’s favorite birthday cake looks delicious, though. It’s easy to see why he loved it. Nice post.


  49. Mercedes (Satisfy My Sweet Tooth) on April 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I can see why this was your dad’s favorite cake. I think it is wonderful that you celebrate him each year on his birthday with one of his favorite treats. Baking can be very healing and therapeutic.


  50. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking on April 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    What a wonderful cake and a loving tribute to your late father. I’m sure he’s looking down on you with great admiration and affection for preserving his memory in your baking. Thank you for sharing.


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