Yin for Yang: My Mother’s Marble Cake

I hope everyone had a rockin’* New Year’s Eve on Thursday night.  The HH and I enjoyed a very relaxed, casual dinner at our place with my friend the Nutritionista and her husband (more Indian food, Caesar salad, and bubbly: the boys drank champagne; the gals had sparkling water and cranberry juice).  Many thanks to you all for your lovely new year’s wishes!  There’s no doubt that 2009 was made better for me because of all of you.  🙂

I’ve been doing some ruminating** about the year to come and, as usual,  wrote up my 5-year plan (and will share some of the outcomes with y’all–a bit later).  But for now, it’s time for that marble cake post I promised!

Although Chiffon Cake was her specialty, for special occasions (or if she just didn’t have enough eggs in the house), my mom would bake her favorite marble cake.  It was a light, single layer in a square pan with a visible marbling pattern on top and running through each of the slices. Though I ate my fair share of the cake, I always wondered, why is she spoiling a great chocolate cake with so much vanilla? 

Okay, I’ll concede that the dual flavors do render the cake prettier than an all-chocolate, monochromatic brown, what with those deep golden swirls intermingling throughout with the chocolate. Apart from the aesthetic appeal, though, I could never understand why someone would choose to eat a slice of cake that’s half vanilla when they could have one that was entirely chocolate. Just me, I guess.

As I got older, I learned that, in the world of favorite flavors, you’re either a chocolate person or a vanilla person. Sure, you can claim to like both, but when it comes right down to it, most people favor one over the other.  Take my cousin Marketing Guru (MG), for instance.  When my sisters and I were kids, we’d spend a few weeks every summer visiting my Boston cousins.  One of the highlights was the drive along Route 9 to Friendly’s ice cream parlour (particularly exciting, since Friendly’s doesn’t exist in Canada), where we’d eye the mind-boggling array of flavors on the chalk board.  Inevitably, the scene went something like this:

Server [leaning over the counter to see our six year-old faces]:  Hi, there, kids, what can I get you today?

Ricki: What flavors do you have?

Server [reading the board]: Okay, well, let’s see; today we’ve got vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, butter crunch, purely pistachio, cookies ‘n cream, Vienna Mocha Chunk, fudge swirl, peanut butter chocolate cup, mint chocolate chip, cherry cheesecake, maple walnut, chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate almond chip, Neopolitan, orange mango smoothie, butter pecan, cherry vanilla, black raspberry, coffee, peppermint stick and Royal Banana Split Sundae. 

MG:  I’ll have vanilla.

Ricki:  I’ll have chocolate.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate just a wee bit.  Sometimes I took Double Chocolate or Chocolate Fudge and sometimes MG took French Vanilla. 

I th0ught of MG and our ice cream forays after I’d baked up this marble cake.  I mean, doesn’t MG deserve to love his vanilla as much as I love my chocolate? Maybe, I reasoned, vanilla serves an essential purpose for those of us who favor chocolate: unassuming vanilla serves to help us appreciate chocolate all the more, just as jalapenos help us appreciate the soothing cool of yogurt, just as camping in the rain helps us appreciate our snuggly beds at home, just as winter helps us appreciate the long, dry heat of summer (though to be honest, I don’t need any help appreciating summer, even if winter didn’t exist.  I’m sure I would love summer even without the snow and sleet and ice and bone-chilling mornings and snow shovelling and fifteen layers of woolens and cars refusing to start and frozen toes inside clumsy boots.  But you get the idea).  

Since then, I’ve developed a newfound regard for vanilla and all that it stands for. 

Hello, Vanilla.  I’ve neglected you in the past, but now I realize how unfair I’ve been. We need you in our lives, Vanilla. After all, you function as an essential foil for chocolate, highlighting it wherever you go. You are the airy, radiant yang to chocolate’s brooding, dusky yin. Vanilla, I appreciate how your aromatic perfume sits in contrast to the tannic, bittersweet scent of chocolate in that marble cake. Your light, swirling curls and whorls of gold compel me to notice my favored flavor all the more intensely.  With you, Vanilla, I appreciate the uniqueness of chocolate all the more. 

Vanilla, I couldn’t do without you. Vanilla, You. Complete. Me.

Oops–got a little carried away there (apologies to Renee Zellweger).  But vanilla does complete this marble cake, and I finally “get” the appeal of marble as opposed to all-chocolate. So bake some up for yourself, and enjoy a little slice of flavors in perfect harmony.

* That would be in the “lots of great music, fun, friends and family” sense of the word, not the “Dick Clark on TV” sense of the word.

**That would be in the “thinking long and hard” sense of the word, not the “eating like a cow” sense of the word.

[Until January 4th, you can also win a chocolate-based baking kit!  Click here for more info and to enter.]

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Last Year at this Time: Chickpea Pancakes and Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce

Two Years Ago: Pear and Ginger Mini-Loaves or Muffins

©2010 Ricki Heller

[Disclaimer: this post may contain affiliate links. If you buy using these links, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission from the sale.]

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  1. Seriously? It looks beyond delicious! I love vanilla and chocolate so can only imagine that this would be dreamy!

  2. This sounds like a fantastic recipe! I bet the sucanat adds lots of flavour.

  3. Ricki! The cats looks fantastic. I am going to make it for my inlaws visit this weekend. Happy New Year to you and yours! Thanks for the idea of a five year plan…need one of those! Cheers.

  4. I laughed and laughed when I read this.. you may not have grown up in New England but you got the experience for sure at Friendly’s (did you ever try the Bailey’s Ice Cream Parlor on Rte 9? It was a classic..sadly long gone)..it’s an essential part of our childhoods here! I’m totally with you on the chocolate thing too..for me it was always the mint chip or mocha fudge at Friendly’s..if it didn’t have chocolate, I wasn’t touching it! I’ve grown to appreciate and even love vanilla too as an adult. This cake looks delicious..I am planning on firing up the oven on this cold snowy Saturday to give it a try. Happy new year and thanks for a sweet little trip down memory lane 😉

  5. My mom used to make marble cake all the time- I am pretty sure it was the Duncan Hines mix. How times change 🙂

  6. i always thought i loved chocolate more than vanilla, but when i read your story and thought about it – it’s vanilla that has my heart. i do really love me some chocolate, but vanilla and i will always be BFFs! i can’t recall the last time i had marble cake (and it very well could have been never), or the last time i’ve had cake. i’m gonna have to give yours a whirl soon, Ricki – and make it gluten-free so i can enjoy many, many tasty pieces of it. mmmmmmmm! i need more vanilla, chocolate, and cake in my life. thanks so much for another rock’n recipe!

  7. Very funny! I think I’m in the vanilla camp: I’d rather have vanilla ice cream than chocolate, but if there’s chocolate pieces mixed in I’m doubly happy.

  8. Just for the record, sometimes I would get Butter Crunch! Never did understand why someone would ruin perfectly good vanilla ice cream by making it chocolate. This blog posting was enlightening. You had me at cake!

  9. Sounds perfect with the agave & spelt–although I think I’m still stuck on chocolate 🙂

  10. Great post. I agree you are either a chocolate or vanilla person. I am definitely more in the vanilla camp.


  11. Love the story! Yum that marble cake looks heavenly

  12. Marble cake brings back childhood memories – though, just like the ones Meghan had, it was made from the Duncan Hines mix. This one looks so much better to me! I can’t wait to try it and I’ll have the perfect opportunity to do so very soon – yay!

  13. my mum made marble cake too – I never had your thoughts of vanilla spoiling chocolate because I loved its pretty swirls (like yours) but I do understand that there are chocolate people (me) and vanilla people (e) and that vanilla is really on the earth to make sure some people don’t want the chocolate and leave more of it for types like me!

    btw – a toothpick or skewer is also good to marble without getting the mixture too mixed up

  14. Oh I know what you mean! Though I do love and appreciate both flavors, I’m a vanilla person at heart. This cake looks like a lovely and tasty compromise for both though. 🙂

  15. MMMMMMMMM,…what a georgous marbled cake this is!!

    Yum Yum Yum!

  16. Lauren,
    If you’re a fan of both, then you’d really enjoy this cake!

    It’s not overpowering. . . but it does make its presence known.

    Thanks–hope it’s a hit with the in-laws (though I’m guessing you meant “cake”?) 😉

    Glad you enjoyed the nostalgia! We went there so many times, I may as well have lived at the place. . .but no, never tried Bailey’s. (Brand loyalty, and all!)

    Cake mixes were a no-no in our home since my dad would only eat homemade. But once in a while for birthdays we snuck one in. . . my sisters and I LOVED them!

    Yes, I think we all need more cake! Interesting how this made you appreciate vanilla. Maybe I need to take another look 😉 Oh, and let me know how it works out GF!

    Yes, I’m a big fan of vanilla IF it has chocolate mixed in with it (which means I’m still a fan of chocolate, I guess).

    Glad to know–I’d forgotten about that one! And speaking of cake, remember your mom’s tunnel of fudge. . .?? 😉

    Who needs the cake? Let’s just have the chocolate! 😉

    Vegan Epicure,
    We should split a piece of marble cake, I guess 😉

    Thanks! 🙂

    I think almost everyone used the mixes. . .my mom was *very* old-fashioned that way. I’d love to hear how it turns out if you do give a try!

    I love your take on the vanilla/chocolate dichotomy! And thanks for the tip re: toothpicks, etc.–I think my swirls are pretty big in comparison and a more dainty pattern would look better on this cake. 🙂

    How could I have taken you for a chocolate person?! Okay, now I have to go back and re-read all your blog posts w/ chocolate recipes!

    Thanks so much! And it’s not just good looking, it tastes good, too 😉

  17. i always chose watermelon sherbet at friendly’s 🙂 this cake looks fabulous, and i always am a sucker for a good marble!

  18. This might just have to be my birthday cake tonight! I must say I am very much on the chocolate side of the vanilla/chocolate debate, but, this cake looks so good and your argument for vanilla appreciation so eloquent, how could I resist this cake?! 🙂

  19. As a child I wouldn’t have wanted someone to mess up my vanilla cake by adding chocolate. But now I’ve seen the light (or the dark if you will) and am just fine with chocolate in my cake, or instead of cake, or as the only flavor in my cake. You know what I mean. I love the way a marble cake looks and tastes and your mom’s looks yummy. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  20. AMAZING. That cake looks ridiculously fluffy and moist, I cannot wait to make it!

    Haha, you are like me, nothing can come between me and my love of all things chocolate. People ask me my favorite ice cream flavor and I say chocolate, with chocolate chunks, with chocolate sauce and chocolate sprinkles. And a side of chocolate. 😉

    Thank you for this recipe, I am in love already.

  21. Shannon,
    I think I was there before the days of such exotic flavors! Watermelon does sound delish, though. 🙂

    Well, Vanilla it is, then (I’m an equal-opportunity flavor promoter) 😉 Happy Birthday!

    Glad you’ve “seen the dark”–ha ha! I suppose balance really is better in the long run. . . .

    Voracious Vegan,
    You are definitely my kinda gal! We need to go out for chocolate together some time. . . “with a side of chocolate”–great!! 😉

  22. lovelovelove marble cake.

  23. Gracious, what a decadent and delicious looking treat!!

  24. That cake looks gorgeous Ricki, I love the swirls. As to the ice cream, I would have a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of mango smoothie. I like chocolate ice cream and fruit ice cream or sorbet together. Mmmmmm! Oh no, now I am craving ice cream 🙁

  25. stopping by via tastespotting. Love your site! This cake looks yummy.

  26. I must admit that I’m a vanilla person, as much as I love chocolate. I don’t really like chocolate ice cream even. Though I do love actual chocolate and other chocolate-y things. So this cake is perfect for a person like me! Looks delicious.

  27. Any chance of successfully making this with Ricki’s all-purpose Gluten- free flour mix? We had Marble cake every Saturday at parents home. I’d love to be able re-create it, (and the happy feelings associated with it.)

    • Bridget, I should think it would work, as long as you don’t replace any of the other ingredients. When you measure the flour, use the volume measurement (1-3/4 cups) rather than the grams. You might need to add a wee bit more flour if it’s too soft (maybe 2 Tbsp)–just a guess, but so far any other recipe I’ve revamped with the AP flour has worked. Let me know how it turns out if you do give it a try!! 🙂


  1. […] I saw this recipe for marble cake on Diet, Dessert and Dogs, I knew I had to try it and that it would be a perfect […]

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