A friend who became a June bride in New York recently called to lament about her wedding cake. "I love chocolate," she said, "and I've always wanted a chocolate wedding cake of four or five tiers -- the kind that the Drake Hotel in Chicago made famous years ago."

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"The pastry chef refuses," she moaned. "He says a dark cake like that would be more appropriate at a funeral than at a wedding. After endless discussions we compromised on a chocolate cake with white frosting, but I'm miserable about it."

According to JoAnn Bongiorno, director of public relations at the Drake, the first chocolate wedding cake was served at the hotel in the late '50s. It was the creation of the hotel's famous pastry chef, Lutz Olkiewicz, and although Olkiewicz left a few years ago to lead the research-and-development team at Sara Lee, his recipe and the tradition live on.

To Olkiewicz, a native of Germany, a chocolate cake was the natural way to celebrate a great event and he thought it a good idea to suggest the option to a bride-to-be. "I love the idea," she responded, "but my mother would have a stroke." We may only guess that the mother was a secret chocoholic, for she agreed to throwing tradition to the wind and serving chocolate cake to guests at the wedding.

Since that time, according to Bongiorno, the chocolate wedding cake has been favored over a white cake three to one at the Drake. Raul Cuevas, the assistant pastry chef who has been making the cake for five years, claims that it takes him about five hours to bake and decorate the five-tiered cake, which will serve up to 70 people.

The recipe for the chocolate wedding cake was always a carefully guarded secret. But a few years ago, Bev Bennett, food editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, convinced Olkiewicz to give her the recipe. Bennett scaled it down to the version that follows for a three-tiered cake to serve 70.

For best results, use only the finest quality cocoa and chocolate. A wide selection of both is available by mail from Madame Chocolate, Inc., 1940-C Lehigh Ave., Glenview, Ill. 60025. According to Elaine Sherman, Madame Chocolate herself, Olkiewicz always used a Swiss chocolate called Carma (which she carries).

The wedding cake should probably only be attempted by the cook with a good kitchen scale and some baking and cake-decorating experience. For those who don't need to serve 70 in the next few days, we include Olkiewicz's luscious Devil's Food Cake, which comfortably serves 12 to 14 and is still a favorite at the Drake today. THE DRAKE'S CHOCOLATE WEDDING CAKE

(60 to 70 servings)

This cake is so large that the ingredients were measured by weights during testing rather than volume and the volume measurements are approximate conversions.

1 pound plus 1 tablespoon (2 cups) shortening and extra for pans

2 pounds plus 1 cup sugar (5 cups)

1 pound plus 4 ounces cake flour (5 cups) and extra for pans

6 3/4 ounces (1 2/3 cups) cocoa powder

3/4 ounce (1 tablespoon) salt

1 1/8 ounce (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) baking soda

3/4 ounce (2 tablespoons) baking powder

4 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 pounds eggs (12 eggs), beaten together lightly

Basic chocolate buttercream filling (recipe follows)


1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup creme de cacao (optional)

Royal icing (recipe follows)

Chocolate fondant icing (recipe follows)

Ganache mix (recipe follows)

Cream shortening and sugar. Measure flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda and powder into a large mixing bowl and combine with creamed mixture. Add 3 cups buttermilk and the vanilla and mix for 5 minutes. Add the eggs and remaining buttermilk and mix for another 5 minutes.

Grease and flour 9-inch, 12-inch and 16-inch cake pans. Pour the batter evenly into the pans. Place in a 350-degree oven and bake for 40 to 60 minutes depending on size of pan. Test cake for doneness. Remove from oven, allow to cool about 15 minutes, and turn out onto cake racks to complete cooling. (At this point the cake layers could be well-wrapped in foil and frozen until needed.) See note below.

While cake layers are cooling, prepare chocolate buttercream filling. Set aside. Make a sugar syrup: boil water, add sugar and allow it to dissolve. Add vanilla. If desired, creme de cacao can be added to the syrup off heat.

Cut each cake layer to level off, then drizzle top with warm sugar syrup. (This syrup keeps the cake moist, a must if it's being prepared a couple of days in advance.)

Cut each cake layer in half. Set the largest cake layer on a larger serving plate. Spread a layer of filling; then add the other half and set aside. Repeat with 12-inch layer, and with the 9-inch layer. Refrigerate layers several hours to allow the filling to firm up.

Meanwhile, prepare the royal icing. Remove the cakes from the refrigerator and cover the sides and top of each with a thin layer of royal icing. This isn't meant to be a flavoring, so it should be kept very thin. (The royal icing keeps the cake moist and sealed.) Allow this to dry at room temperature until a crust forms on the icing, about 4 hours (or only 25 minutes with a fan blowing directly on it).

Place cakes on wire rack. Prepare the chocolate fondant icing, which should have an easily spreadable consistency and not be runny. Cover the cake layers completely with the icing, using a spatula to leave a film about 1/10 inch on top and sides of cake. Let cakes dry at room temperature until glaze becomes shiny, firm and dry.

Assemble the 3 cake layers tiered fashion with plastic dividers. (Note: it is not advisable to stack the layers without dividers as it would be too heavy.)

Then prepare the ganache mix. This will be used for the roses and other decorations for the cake. (This could be made in advance with the roses and other decorations and set aside.) Decorate with ganache roses and other flowers as desired.

NOTE: Removing the large cake layer from the pan is a 2-person job. To expedite the procedure, place one large cake rack or sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil on top of the cake, seal it around the edges and, with hands across the top for support, quickly flip the cake over. This cake is very tender and will break apart if this procedure is not followed. BASIC BUTTERCREAM FILLING

1 pound (2 cups or 4 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 pound ( 3/4 cup shortening)

20 ounces (4 1/2 cups) confectioners' sugar

1 cup egg whites (about 9 large), at room temperature

1/2 tablespoon salt

20 ounces (2 1/2 cups granulated sugar)

Measure butter and shortening and blend together until creamy. Add confectioners' sugar and beat until fluffy. Set aside. Beat egg whites with salt until whites are reaching stiffness. Heat granulated sugar in a very low oven and then add gradually to whites. (The warm sugar will dissolve more easily in the whites, according to Olkiewicz, and the egg whites will be more stable.) Continue beating in sugar until stiff egg-white peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the shortening mixture very slowly and gently, making sure there are no lumps of egg white.

Note: If you wish to make a chocolate buttercream, combine 1 pound of basic buttercream mixed with 5 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa. ROYAL ICING

(Makes about 6 cups frosting)

3 cups confectioners' sugar

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 egg whites

1 cup boiling water

Mix sugar, cream of tartar and whites together in a bowl. Add boiling water. Beat at high speed with electric mixer for 6 to 10 minutes, or until frosting is thick enough to stand in peaks. CHOCOLATE FONDANT ICING

4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 cups confectioners' sugar

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

Combine granulated sugar, cream of tartar and 2 cups water in saucepan. Bring to boil and boil without stirring until mixture becomes a thin syrup, 226 degrees on a candy thermometer. Cool until slightly above lukewarm, 100 degrees. Gradually stir in confectioners' sugar, using more, if necessary, until frosting is thick but pourable like a pancake syrup. Stir in melted chocolate. Work quickly with this chocolate, frosting the cakes (this glaze goes over the royal icing) before the chocolate thickens and hardens too much. If this happens, place over boiling water for a minute. GANACHE

3 pounds semi-sweet chocolate

1 to 1 1/2 cups whipping cream at room temperature

Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over boiling water. Cool chocolate to 120 degrees. Stir chocolate by hand while slowly pouring in cream, a third at a time (start with a total of 1 cup cream, more can be added later). This will soften and thicken to the consistency of custard. The ganache should harden and thicken. Place the pot with the chocolate in a bowl of crushed ice to hasten the cooling. Stir constantly with wooden spoon until the mixture is ready to stiffen or harden.

Then immediately remove from ice and return to heat briefly and soften. Repeat this hardening and softening process. When chocolate is heated a second time it should reach the consistency of whipped shortening. Then the ganache is ready to spoon into pastry tube to be piped out for roses and other decorations. Use as desired, adhering roses and other decorations to the cake with little icing. THE DRAKE'S DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE

(Makes two 9-inch cakes)

This cake improves with overnight chilling.

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature plus extra for pans

2 cups sugar

3 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa mixed with 1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup each buttermilk and dairy sour cream, blended together

1 cup raspberry preserves, melted and sieved

3/4 cup apricot preserves, melted and sieved

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line them with buttered waxed paper. Sift the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and the sugar. Then beat in the yolks and the vanilla. Finally beat in the cocoa mixture.

Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and fold them into the batter. Turn the mixture into prepared pans and bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out dry. Cool for 10 minutes on a cake rack, then remove the cakes from the pans. Peel off the paper and cool on racks.

Halve the layers horizontally. Set 1 layer on the rack. Brush it with raspberry preserves and top it with the second layer and then more raspberry preserves. Repeat layering with the remaining cake and preserves. Glaze the outside of the cake with apricot preserves.

Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir until melted, but be sure not to let the chocolate temperature exceed 90 degrees. Pour the melted chocolate over the cake, smoothing the top with a spatula. Tap the wire rack to make any excess chocolate drip down the side. Smooth down these drips with a spatula, if desired. Chill to firm the chocolate.