Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chocolate Wacky Cake

Here is the sort of picture you are much more likely to see on Cake Wrecks than on Pinterest.

It's chocolate wacky cake alright, you can tell just by looking. But in fact, the title of the post refers to the name of the recipe: it's "wacky" because it contains vinegar, but no butter, milk, or eggs. (It's also sometimes called Depression Cake because the recipe was popular during the Great Depression, when those ingredients were hard to come by.)

You can find the recipe at the end of the post, and I think it's a great one to have in your baking arsenal. It's as quick and easy to make as cake from a boxed mix; the lack of dairy and eggs make it good for a group of little ones that might include food allergies (sorry, gluten-free folks); it's deliciously moist and chocolatey, pleasing kids and grownups alike; and it's very close to foolproof.

My girl and I collaborated on this cake for her birthday celebration at school last week. (Actually she won't turn 6 for another month and a half, but her teacher--a summer baby herself--assigned days to celebrate each of the kids with summer birthdays during the last few weeks of school. I won't lie, this has made for some very bad behavior some afternoons as she comes down from yet another sugar high I didn't even realize she was having, but I think it is a very sweet idea and worth it in the end.)

I asked her to draw what she wanted the cake to look like and this is what she came up with.

Then, after I baked and frosted it she took care of the decorating. (You know about using a toothpick to sketch out writing or other decorations in the frosting of a cake, right? And then if you mess up you can just smooth it out with a knife and start over. I didn't learn this trick until recently and let me tell you, it is sheer genius.)

Overall this was not a very frugal project (those little tubes of gel icing are expensive!), nor a particularly organic one (I also bought chocolate frosting in a plastic tub, because there is only so much I can handle making on a school night). But for me there was a lot of pleasure in being able to invite my girl to dream up what she wanted, and then help her make it come to fruition. Sort of the cake version of what I was talking about earlier with the dresses: Yeah, we can make that.

We also had apple juice, and I made a last-minute dash to the grocery store on the way to school for the party (couldn't find birthday candles the night before, and needed a lighter too since I forgot the matches on the kitchen counter). And as she was walking to the front of the room so her classmates could sing to her, she said, "Mom, I love you." I suppose that sounds really generic written down and out of context, so you'll just have to believe me that in the moment, I could tell that what she really meant was, "This turned out exactly like I wanted it to."

So I couldn't be prouder of that wacky, cake-wreck-y cake up there. Sometimes its good to let go of our own ideas of perfection and let someone else's shine.

Chocolate Wacky Cake

Adapted from Savory Sweet Life.
Makes one 13x9-inch sheet cake, or two 9-inch round cake layers.

3 C. all-purpose flour
2 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C. cocoa powder
3/4 C. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 C. water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk or wooden spoon.  Add the wet ingredients and stir until well combined. 

If you are making a sheet cake, grease the pan with oil or nonstick cooking spray. If you are making rounds (and want them to come out of the pans neatly), prepare the pans with oil and dust with cocoa.

Pour the batter into the pan(s) and bake for 35-40 minutes for the sheet cake, or 30 minutes for the rounds.

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