Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Wacky Cake: Frugal, Vegan ... Delicious
Long ago and far away when I was young my brothers and I had the good fortune of being nourished by wonderfully talented cooks: our mother, our step-mother and our grandmothers. All four went above and beyond the call of duty by making sure that we were not only getting decent nutrition, but that we enjoyed all that we ate.
When they weren't feeding us food that kept us healthy, they were doing very bad things, like feeding us too much Wacky Cake. Now, remember, in the 70's vegetarianism was just taking hold here in the U.S. and moms and grandmoms were still of the 'June Cleaver' variety; that meant dessert every night. Having been products of the Depression and World War II eras or, in the case of our mom and step-mom, having been fed by someone who was the product of the Depression and World War II eras, one of the more popular cakes to make was Wacky Cake.
Prepared in one pan without eggs, milk or butter, it was not only fast, but thrifty and filled the dessert slot as well as any time consuming 3-layer chocolate cake could. The origins of this are very unclear. There are thoughts that it sprung from rationing days when eggs and butter were scarce, but in all of the literature I've come across from that time, there is no mention of using vinegar and baking soda to leaven a cake. I'm sure it came about around that time, though, as other evidence points to it, but the earliest writings I've found in my own cookbook cache is in a cookbook dated 1956.
Whenever it was born, it's something I turn to again and again for several reasons. It's cheap (about $2 without icing not over $3 with), it's easy, it's fast and everyone loves it. No child ever had a clue that their cake was made from what seemed like a basic salad dressing. No, we saw moist and dark chocolate cake covered in white frosting and didn't care what it was made from. My own kids are the same. I think they each took turns looking a bit perplexed the first time they caught me making it, but they soon forgot what went on behind the scenes once the cake was in front of them.
This is the version I use, so often that I don't refer to a written recipe in fact, and the icing that follows is also the one I use most and a variation for anyone who would like a little something different.
This cake was originally meant to be baked in a 9x9 square pan, but we've since outgrown that. In other words, you can cut this in half just fine and still have a delicious cake. The sugar seems a bit hefty, but the price you pay for cutting back - a dry cake - isn't worth it to me. This is one of the moistest cakes ever and the sugar is the reason for that.
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons vinegar
3/4 cup oil
2 cups water
Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a 9x13 pan.
Make three holes in the flour mixture.
In one put vanilla; in another the vinegar, and in the third the oil.
Pour water over all and stir well.
Bake at 350 degrees F until it springs back to the touch or a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean - about 25 minutes.
1 stick margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup milk
Melt margarine and add vanilla and milk. Add powdered sugar until desired consistency - loose but spreadable. This thickens as it cools.
**As a variation, I add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the flour mixture and add a cinnamon chocolate buttercream icing to the top.
Cinnamon Chocolate Buttercream
1 cup butter - softened
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Powdered sugar - about 4 to 4 1/2 cups
Milk as needed
Cream butter until fluffy and add vanilla and cinnamon. Add cocoa and mix well. Add powdered sugar and milk until icing forms and is thick and spreadable.