Oh, Fudge!

Ilustrated ad from Life magazine in 1941, featuring a square Wellesley Fudge Cake, an older man eating a slice of cake, with the tag line, "Wellesley Fudge Cake made with Baker's Chocolate is a taste you never outgrow!"

Wellesley is well known as an excellent liberal arts college—but also as a decadent chocolate cake.

Wellesley fudge cake was inspired by the treat students at women’s colleges in the late 1800s made in illicit late-night fudge parties, simmering butter, chocolate, and sugar over gas lamps or portable stoves. It’s unclear who wrote the first Wellesley fudge cake recipe, but by the 1920s, many establishments in the Vil served it, including the Blue Dragon Tea Room, Seiler’s Restaurant, and, most famously, the Wellesley Tea Room, run for many years by Alice Coombs, class of 1893, and her sister, Grace Coombs, class of 1894.

In Favorite Recipes of Wellesley Alumnae, compiled by Wellesley-in-Westchester for the 75th Anniversary Fund of Wellesley College, Alice wrote that she found the recipe originally in a Boston newspaper. By the 1940s, the cake became nationally known, thanks to ads like the one above by Baker’s Chocolate Co., which ran in Life magazine in 1941. In American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes, food writer Karyl Bannister is quoted as saying that Wellesley fudge cake is “in the bloodstream of all New Englanders.” In 1981, a copy of a recipe for the cake was included in the town of Wellesley’s centennial time capsule, where it is waiting in the town library to be opened in 2081.

The cake is still famous on campus. Abigail “Marty” Martinage ’24 tweeted in 2021 that the frosting is “literally the most unforgiving substance I have ever worked with.” But they assure us they have since made it with better results. (Pro tip: Apply the frosting when it is still warm.) Try it yourself—we’ve included the recipe currently used on campus on page 70. Also, join the Alumnae Association on March 9 at 7 p.m. E.T. for a presentation on the history of Wellesley sweets and a cooking demonstration. Find out more at alum.wellesley.edu/wcaa-presents/wellesley-sweets.

Wellesley Fudge Cake


2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup hot water
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3½ cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup butter, softened
1½ cups packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup half-and-half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Cake: Heat the oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In another small bowl, whisk hot water with the cocoa powder until smooth. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix until incorporated. Add flour mixture, buttermilk, cocoa mixture, and vanilla, and mix until incorporated. Divide evenly into the baking pans.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes.

Frosting: Sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa. In a saucepan, heat butter, brown sugar, salt, and half-and-half over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until small bubbles appear, 4 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens slightly and turns deep golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the chopped chocolate and the vanilla and stir until smooth. Slowly whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa until incorporated. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes until the frosting reaches the desired spreading consistency. Frost the cake generously.

Serves up to 16.

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