"Wacky" Chocolate Cake

All Cakes Considered
TAMPA (2009-11-02) -

Mary Carole Battle’s Mother’s Wacky Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting

Speaking of totally different mixing techniques, All Things Considered did a series one year ago, asking listeners about what foods meant summer to them. Mary Carole Battle of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote in, saying it wasn’t summer unless a wacky cake was involved. She told us about celebrating her birthday when she was a kid. It’s on August 17, and she would celebrate with a friend who also had a birthday around that time. The friend’s mother would put a fancy, store-bought cake in front of her daughter, and Mary Carole’s mother would put a wacky cake in front of Mary Carole.

Michele Norris interviewed Mary Carole to find out how to make the cake, which involves no butter, no eggs, and no milk. In fact, the Seven-Minute Frosting takes more time to make than the cake!

After the story aired, we were bombarded by more listener e-mail. People wrote in about their wacky cakes, which were called crazy cakes, Joe cakes, and WW II cakes. We were told that this cake, with its dearth of dairy products, was a desperate homemaker’s answer to wartime shortages. Regardless of its real name and origin, it’s a fun and easy cake to do, especially with a competent seven-year-old. And it tastes pretty good!

This cake will serve about 8 to 10, depending on how you slice it.

You’ll need:
A 9-inch square or round baking pan

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup cold water
Seven-Minute Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Center a rack and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the sides and bottom of the pan with baking spray.

2. In large mixing bowl, dry whisk the flour, sugar, salt, cocoa, and baking soda together.

3. Make 3 holes, or “wells,” in the dry ingredients. Pour the vanilla extract into one well, the vinegar into a second one, and the oil into the third.

4. Pour the cold water over the mixture, and stir until no longer lumpy. Feel free to use a hand mixer or a pair of Popeye arms (you have been eating your spinach, haven’t you?), which you will need soon for the frosting.

5. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan using our plate-over-pan method and flip it onto a cake rack. Continue cooling the cake and frost it. Or simply frost the top of the cake and serve in the pan for even less fuss.

Seven-Minute Frosting

This makes enough frosting to heavily ice a 9-inch cake, or the top of a cake baked in a 10-inch tube pan.

You’ll need:
A double boiler, real or improvised (see step 2 )
A hand-held electric mixer OR somebody with Popeye arms

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Separate the eggs.

2. Mix the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and cold water in the top part of a double boiler, OR in the top of an improvised double boiler: Use a heat-proof bowl that will fit over a pan with about 2 inches of water, or a small saucepan that will sit inside of a larger one containing water. Using a hand mixer or Popeye arms, beat the mixture for about 1 minute.

3. Place the top over the bottom half of the double boiler (or place the heat-proof bowl into the pan of water). Bring the water to a gentle boil, and beat the mixture on high speed for 7 minutes, or until you have soft peaks.

4. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Beat for 1 or 2 minutes more.

5. Cool slightly, then frost away!

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