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.
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