If you cook, you know what it is. From “What’s for dinner?” to “I didn’t realize I was out of eggs…” to “I need to come up with a dessert for the party tonight!” It takes many forms, desperation, and it sometimes calls for desperate measures. I uncovered a recipe recently that answers that call–“Crazy Chocolate Cake.”
(I prepare this recipe on the May 4 edition of Earth Eats, a program of WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. You can find Earth Eats at this link.)
When I say “uncovered,” I truly mean it. I was looking for some quick thing to bake to go along with the fresh strawberries I had bought one day. Flipping through the “C’s” in my recipe file, my eye landed on this one, which I had written out longhand with no attribution, date, or anything to indicate I had ever baked it. No smudges, drips, stains, notations, or corrections. That day I couldn’t be bothered even to stir up batter for shortcake to go with my strawberries, so I decided this untested, but very simple, crazy cake would be just the thing.
It’s the simple formula and procedure that make this Crazy Chocolate Cake appealing. I did an online search to find other versions, and most of them mirrored my own recipe. I was drawn to the origins of Crazy Chocolate Cake and learned this type of cake, lacking milk, eggs, or butter, comes from the “desperation” category of recipes. During desperate times such as the Great Depression or the World Wars, some ingredients were in short supply or expensive to purchase. (My economist husband would remind me those two circumstances go hand in hand.) Home cooks had to improvise or use alternative ingredients for things lacking in the larder. This cake was often called War Cake, Depression Cake, or Wacky Cake, to fit the times.
Pie recipes were often altered to fit the ingredients on hand. Our own “official state pie,” the beloved Sugar Cream Pie, certainly falls into that category. You could say we’ve moved from desperation to convenience when it comes to the Sugar Cream Pie, as Wick’s Pies offers the definitive version, ready-made, in the freezer section at your local grocery! (We’ll talk more about that in a future Indiana Home Cooks Podcast episode.)
But a desperate situation can also come about because the home cook is simply out of one of the ingredients called for, or lacking time to create an elaborate dish or dessert. That’s where I was as I sought a quick and easy recipe for a baked accompaniment to fresh strawberries. The Crazy Chocolate Cake contains no milk, eggs, or butter, requires no electric mixing, and no mixing bowl! All ingredients are stirred together in the baking pan. When the cake is cooled, it may be frosted, but I prefer a simpler approach–a light dusting of powdered sugar. That’s all this rich, moist cake needs.
Occasionally in the coming months, you can hear recipes from Indiana Home Cooks on Earth Eats, a program on WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. It airs on WFIU-2 (101.9 FM) Fridays at 7:30 p.m., and on WFIU-1 (103.7 FM), Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. Earth Eats is also a podcast, where you can listen on demand, whenever you want.
Susan’s Crazy Chocolate Cake
Pre-heat oven to 375º
Measure directly into a 13” x 9” cake pan, un-greased and un-floured:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
Mix these dry ingredients thoroughly in the pan, using a fork or wire whisk. Make three wells in the dry ingredients (two small and one large well). Assemble the following ingredients:
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp vinegar
- Scant 2/3 cup canola or other light oil
- 2 cups cold water
Into one of the small wells put vanilla, and into the other small well put vinegar. Finally, pour the oil into the larger well. Carefully pour the 2 cups water over all. With a fork or whisk, stir thoroughly, making sure to incorporate all dry ingredients and the oil. Take it slowly at first, so as not to slosh anything out of the pan. The batter will have small lumps. That’s unavoidable mixing by hand, and it’s fine.
Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in center should come out clean when done. Cool completely on a rack.
To serve, dust individual cake pieces with powdered sugar. Delicious with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, or crème fraiche.