A cake for our times

After teasing you last time with the photograph of my favourite recipe from my favourite baking book, I figured it was only fair to provide the full instructions.

The traditional name for this dead-simple chocolate cake is ‘wacky cake’ – it’s an old fashioned recipe that uses oil and vinegar instead of milk, butter and eggs to produce a moist, fluffy cake. Some people think it originated during WWII, as an ingenious way to get around rationing. Others think it popped up earlier, during the Great Depression, when expensive ingredients like butter and eggs were out of the question in most kitchens.

That got me thinking about what an appropriate cake this is for our own tough economic times. Many of us are looking for areas where we can cut back. As my fellow baking fanatics know, this can be a bloody expensive hobby. It’s not without the occasional twinge of guilt that I load up my shopping basket with butter and nuts and cocoa and mascarponeā€¦ and then make a total hack job of the recipe, throwing Ā£15 down the garbage chute along with my ruined dessert.

You can find more recipes at barbara-luijckx.com

But with recipes like this one you can cut back on cost without compromising taste. And who cares if you ruin it! Maybe good things do come out of economic hardship.

All-in-the-Pan Chewy Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Butter Icing
From In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

The beauty of this cake is that it is all made in the pan.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar (I have used other vinegars in a pinch with no problem)
1 teaspoon vanilla (the real stuff!)
1 cup cool water

1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons milk or water
1 1/2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/176C. Sift flour into an ungreased 8 or 9 inch square baking pan (or round if that’s what you have.) In a bowl, whisk together cocoa, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the mixture to the pan and stir with a fork or whisk to blend.

With the back of a teaspoon make three indentations in the dry mixture – one small, one medium and one large. Pour the vanilla into the small one, the vinegar into the medium one and the oil into the large one. Pour the water over everything. With a fork, stir the mixture until it is well blended. You need to dig into the corners of the pan to make sure you reach any dry pockets! Mix until most of the lumps are smoothed out and the consistency of the batter is pretty much even throughout. There will be small lumps left – don’t worry about this. Don’t overbeat the batter!

Bake the cake for around 30 minutes, until it springs back when touched and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, it’s time to make the icing. I always use my KitchenAid mixer to make icing, and it sure makes the job easier. But a good old spoon is fine too, and good for an upper arm workout. In the mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a medium bowl, sift the icing sugar and cream together with the butter. The mixture will be dry and powdery. Stir in 1 T. of milk or water, then sift in the cocoa powder and cream the mixture again until blended. Add the vanilla, then cream in the second cup of icing sugar. Add as much of the remaining liquid as you need to make a thick, glossy icing.

Sometimes I add less than the called-for amount of icing sugar as I don’t like anything too sweet. I also find that the recipe makes way too much icing. If you’re a stingy icer like me you can probably cut down the recipe by a third – even half.

Ice the cake once it is completely cool. You can take it out of the pan and frost the sides too, but the recipe calls to leave it in the pan and that’s what I usually do. Makes it even easier that way.