Today, I’m sharing a recipe with a big old root system behind it- Yellow Cake with Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Icing. The cake we’re going to use is just a boxed mix because, well it’s not the cake that is important here, it’s the icing – My Grandmother’s old fashioned peanut butter icing to be exact. This cake will forever me endeared to be for one reason, my great aunt Red.
Red was my great grandmother’s sister. Her given name was “Stella” but I took to calling her Red when I was just a girl due to her insisting that her hair be dyed red at all times. She used to come and stay with my Grandparent’s house often and I was pretty close to both her and my great grandmother, whom we all called simply by her name, “Lela”.
Red was a young one, having been born sixteen years after Lela in the modern year of 1918. Red and Lela were very close and I was their tag along. Whenever Red was visiting, my mother would always be sure to take me by there and let me to spend a day or two with the them. Their birthdays were one day apart and Mama even started checking me out of school so that I could go take them gifts and be there for cake on the day they both celebrated (my siblings still don’t know about this!).
Lela passed away in 1991, when I was seventeen. I didn’t get to see Red nearly as much after that. She got in a “bad way” as folks say it and wasn’t able to get out much. Six years went by. I did see her some, but her health was declining and her birthday was coming up.
She had a daughter in California who wanted to visit and it was silently understood that Red might not be with us too much longer. Her daughter wanted to make a big event out of her birthday, so she rented a banquet hall at a hotel and invited a large crowd for a grand celebration.
As Red’s daughter went about making plans for the party, she asked Red what kind of cake she wanted. She had planned on ordering a grand cake from one of the local bakeries to match the status of the nice banquet hall and fancy decorations she had planned. Red, with a defiant streak to match her hair color, stated plainly “Lucille makes my cake”. Her daughter apparently had missed the tradition which had grown over the years of my grandmother making Stella’s favorite cake for her birthday each year and Red growing ever fonder of it, looking forward to this fudgy peanut butter icing on her special day. So in the end, Red got her way.
I was going to college and living with my Grandmother at this time (Lucille, Lela’s daughter and Red’s niece). Granddaddy had just passed away so it was just Grandmama and myself living together as “roomies”.
The day of Red’s party arrived and I drove Grandmama the two hours to the hotel where the party was held. The two of us walked into this hotel lobby, to this fancy banquet hall with flowers and balloons, folks all dressed up and Red in the middle of it all looking pretty as a picture with a corsage her daughter had surprised her with.
Enter my Grandmother carrying a glass 9×13 Pyrex dish with a Duncan Hines yellow cake and homemade peanut butter icing.
Red was thrilled. It was just what she wanted.
These memories are so precious to me today. I was so blessed to get to spent the early years of my life surrounded by these wonderful people and these years of my life are so much richer as a result. Red, Lela, Grandaddy, and Grandmama may not be physically sitting around our tables like they used to, but they remain very much an important and very special part of my life. I always get a nice little tear duct cleaning thinking about them whenever I have a bite of this cake.
For the icing, you’ll need: sugar, shortening, peanut butter, milk, vanilla, and margarine. Exact recipe at bottom of page.
Tips for success with this recipe:
- The boiling of the icing is the most critical step. Make sure it comes to a rolling boil and then stay right there, timing it. I suggest adding one minute to be on the safe side but don’t go over this as the icing will scorch.
- You absolutely must have your cake done and ready the moment the icing is done.
- Once your icing is finished, remove it from the heat and use a wire whisk to quickly stir in peanut butter and vanilla until icing thickens a bit and starts to lose some of its shine. It should still be pourable.
- Don’t try to spread the icing once you’ve poured it, instead, pour it evenly over the cake so that no spreading is needed
- Most important tip of all: Unless you lived through the Great Depression, I strongly encourage you not to use this on anything other than a sheet cake. Only those who have the crown of wisdom that comes through age and hardship can ice a layer cake with this.
In a large sauce pot, combine sugar, milk, shortening, margarine, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once it reaches a boil, let boil for two to three minutes without stirring. Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla and peanut butter. Beat until icing is smooth and starts to lose it’s shine.
Immediately pour onto cake.
Allow to cool before serving.
A nice layer of peanut butter fudge icing!
Can you see why Yellow Cake with Old Fashioned Peanut Butter Icing is such a special cake?
This is a sight to behold. Guess what? It seems like it was a gift from above, but as a precious reminder of my past and their connection to the future – this is my daughter’s favorite cake.
Red’s birthday has already passed but, Happy Belated Birthday, Red. I look forward to spending it with all of you again someday.
- Duncan Hines yellow cake mix made according to package directions and cooled
- 1- 1/2 Cups sugar
- 7 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 tablespoons shortening
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup creamy Peanut Butter
Prepare cake mix in a 9×13 pan as directed on package. Allow to cool.
In a large sauce pot, combine sugar, milk, shortening, butter, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
Once it reaches a boil, let boil for two to three minutes without stirring.
Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla and peanut butter. Beat until icing is smooth and starts to lose it’s shine. Immediately pour onto cake. Allow to cool before serving.
This post was originally published in July of 2008. I updated the photos in August 2019.
Stella “Red” and Lela, 1988
My Great Aunt and Great Grandmother
Click here to see the chocolate version of this icing!