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Blessed are the Bewildered

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Let's get kooky with Krazy Kakes, kids!

I once mentioned ''Crazy Cakes'' on a thread where Trillian was looking for pareve cake recipes, but at the time I never followed up with empirical testing. However, for reasons that escape me now, I recently felt motivated to try out this classic example of Depression-era ingenuity. In a word: YUM. Grab the nearest rugrats and drag 'em into the kitchen, 'cause it's edu-tainment time...

The word that jumps out at you in the recipes is vinegar -- in fact, it's the use of vinegar that puts the "crazy" in "Crazy Cake." Of course, the vinegar is there to activate the baking soda and thus create the little gas bubbles that give the cake its light texture.

Traditionally, some cake recipes called for eggs beaten to a foamy consistency to provide the necessary air bubbles. "Angelfood" cake uses nothing but beaten egg whites as leavening, while ''sponge'' cake, by the oldest definition, uses both the whites and yolks of eggs (which may be beaten together or separately) but does not require baking soda or baking powder for additional leavening power. Baking powder, by the way, is just sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) combined with one or more acidic salts, such as cream of tartar, so that you don't need to add an acidic ingredient to make the NaHCO3 fizz -- just water.

Incidentally, the use of anything other than yeast to raise cakes seems to be a surprisingly recent innovation -- the oldest printed recipes for egg-leavened sponge cake are only from the early 19th century, while baking powder was not perfected until the second half of the 1800s. (And Irish soda bread was apparently devised around 1840.)

Anyway, "crazy cakes" were invented during the Great Depression, when eggs (and dairy products) were often scarce luxuries. Besides the fact that no eggs are needed for leavening, the recipes called for cheap vegetable oil rather than cream or butter to give the cake a rich, moist texture.

Here's a typical recipe:

KRAZY KAKE

INGREDIENTS
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* * *
3/8 cup (1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold water

DIRECTIONS
Sift flour, sugar, salt, soda, and cocoa together into 8x8 inch ungreased cake pan. Make three wells. Pour oil into one well, vinegar into second, and vanilla into third well. Pour cold water over all, and stir well with fork.

Bake at 350 ° F (175 ° C) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Frost with your favorite icing.


This will turn out beautifully, although I prefer to fork-mix all the dry ingredients in a deep bowl before dumping them into the shallow cake pan -- that way I can be quick and vigorous without scattering clouds of flour-dust everywhere. (And then you only have to rinse out the bowl with water, since it never had anything sticky in it.)

Also, you may ask: what's the point of making the three separate wells? And the answer is: if you're a grown-up cooking by yourself, there's probably no point at all. But if you're being assisted by childruns, then the wells are absolutely vital because they give everybody something to do.

Finally, I just recently noticed that raspberry extract is now available at my local supermarket, next to the more familiar bottles of vanilla, peppermint, and orange extracts. So I substituted the raspberry for the vanilla in the same quantity, and the cake was fucking awesome. I assume that peppermint or orange would also yield F.A. results, but I'm not sure about the ideal quantity to use.

Now, before we get to other variations, let me draw your attention to a wonder of modern engineering that I recently found in the dollar bin at a local craft store:



The real thing is a sheet of stiff plastic the exact proportions and thickness of a credit card, only with all these punch-out pieces that you can assemble into a teeny little dinosaur. As modeled here amidst some potted cacti and succulents, thus creating a cheap-ass Diorama for my computer desk:



Not only are they inexpensive (6 cards to a $1-pack, each with a different dino species) and super-spiff, but they're the perfect thing to while away the time until the CRAZY CAKE comes out of the oven.

Speaking of which, if you get tired of the chocolate, I devised this variant a couple days ago:

KRAZY KARROT KAKE

INGREDIENTS
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
* * *
1/4 cup finely-grated carrots (packed down)
* * *
3/8 cup (1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold water

DIRECTIONS
Dump flour, sugar, salt, soda, and spices into bowl; mix thoroughly with fork. Add the grated carrots and mix again until carrot-shavings are evenly distributed. Spread flour mixture in 8x8 inch ungreased cake pan. Make three wells. Pour oil into one well, vinegar into second, and vanilla into third well. Pour cold water over all, and stir well with fork.

Bake at 350 ° F (175 ° C) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Frost with your favorite cream-cheese icing.


You could also leave out the carrots, in which case it would be a "spice cake." But one important caveat: I tried a piece of the carrot cake when it was still warm from the oven, and the baking soda really made its saline/soapy presence known -- bleeeccch. After the cake had cooled completely, though, I was relieved to find that I could no longer taste the baking soda. This was much less true of the chocolate crazy cake; although it does have a little bit of that soda taste if eaten warm, it would seem that the cocoa's own bitterness does a better job of canceling the undesirable flavor. In either case, the message is that "crazy cake" recipes should be served at room temperature, or even chilled.

P.S. I didn't take any pictures of my baked creations because, well, they're fairly pedestrian, and visually indistinguishable from what you'd get using a cake mix. The Krazy Kake is all about the "lunacy" of the ingredients, man -- smash the mind-shackles of rational pastries!

However, this Sunday morning I'm finally getting around to baking the fancy-ass canape bread using the star-shaped tube I got from AFW. Right now the dough is in its first rise, but when it's done, I'll try to get some photos. Assuming that it doesn't explode in the oven, killing us all.

Posted by throbert on Mar 02, 2008 12:43 am

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