1940s Wacky Chocolate Cake

One of the many quirks that comes with being a blogger and overall food enthusiast is that of the cookbook. That's right -- I devour (no pun intended) cookbooks the way most people do bestselling novels, reading them page by page like they're stories, making notes and marking off my favorite recipes. I have brought cookbooks with me to the beach, and to read on the train, and its not unusual to find one on my nightstand to read before bed. I have a vast collection in Rhode Island and a pretty decent sized one here in Rome, and if you don't know what to get me for my birthday, I'll love you forever if you get me a cookbook. Some of my favorite cookbooks include, but are not limited to, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma, The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz, anything by Ina Garten, and most recently, my newest cookbook obsession, American Cake by Anne Byrn. 
Ahh, American Cake! American Cake is a cookbook, yes, but also a storybook of sorts, one that covers the history of cake in my home country from the 1650s all the way to present day in great detail, from the earliest ingredients used to the methods of ingredient measurement and baking. As for the cakes? There's the earliest gingerbread, New Orleans King Cake and Mary Todd Lincoln's presidential White Almond Cake, Pound Cake and Strawberry Shortcake and Pennsylvania Dutch Shoofly Pie, Wellesley Fudge Cake and Pineapple Upside Down Cake, "German" Chocolate Cake and "Italian" Cream Cake and All-American Carrot Cake, New York Cheesecake and the more modern Chocoflan and Red Velvet Cake, among many others, all with the stories and history to go with them. Long story short, its a beautiful book, extensively researched and written in great detail, and my hat goes off to Anne Byrn (complimenti!!!) I can't recommend it enough.

I want to make every cake in this book -- I'll get there, one day -- but in the meantime here's American Cake's recipe for "Wacky Cake," a cake that came on to the scene in the late 1940s, a time when quick convenient desserts made with basic pantry ingredients were all the rage. As Anne writes, "...the cake's unconventional preparation had all the drama of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The flour, cocoa baking soda, salt, and sugar are mixed right in the pan, then you burrow three holes into the dry ingredients with your fingers for the vinegar, vanilla, and oil. And finally, you pour warm water over all, creating a giant mess that doesn't resemble cake batter, but behold, the cake slides into the oven and emerges tall and gorgeous, moist and chocolatey." Not so surprisingly then this cake's popularity grew after being shown to cooks at home demonstration meetings (think of it an early form of cooking shows). And the verdict? This cake carries beautifully into this century, deeply chocolate-y but also unexpectedly light for a chocolate cake, the perfect foil for the rich buttery careful-or-you-might-eat-the-whole-batch caramel icing poured over the top, sprinkled with a handful of crunchy pecans, while we're at it. Bonus: if you leave out the frosting, this cake is also vegan -- no butter, no eggs -- which is a rare occurrence on this blog. 

A couple of notes: Feel free to use light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar in the frosting; that's how the recipe was written in American Cake, but I only had dark brown sugar on hand which resulted in a deeper, more toffee-like frosting (nothing wrong with that). This makes quite a bit of cake so feel free to cut the recipe in half. Finally, if you wanted to keep things simple, you could also leave the frosting out and dust this with powdered sugar or serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Looking for more chocolate cake recipes? I have this Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake, these Chocolate Lava Cakes, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, and this German Chocolate Cake. Looking for more chocolate-y recipes? I have these Brownie Cookies, this Brownie Pie, these Fudge Brownies, or this Hot Fudge Sauce. Finally, the Pecan Praline Sauce here reminds me a lot of the Caramel Icing used in this recipe, if you're interested.

1940s WACKY CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients for the cake:
3 cups (390 grams) flour
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
6 tablespoons (90 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (168 grams) vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups (480 mL) warm water

Ingredients for the icing:
3/4 cup (127 grams) light or dark brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons (42 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
A good handful of cup chopped pecans (optional)

Directions:
For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Set aside a greased 13x9 inch pan. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in to a large bowl and then pour into the baking sheet.
With your fingers, make three wells in the dry ingredients. Into one well, pour the oil. Into another, pour the vinegar. Into the third, pour the vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine the ingredients loosely. Pour 1 cup of the warm water over the ingredients in the pan, and stir to combine. Pour the second cup into the pan, and stir to combine well. Place the pan in the oven. Bake the cake until the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 25-30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven to cool.

For the icing, place the brown sugar, butter, milk, salt, and vanilla in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the pan in a large bowl filled with 2 cups of ice. Whisk the icing until it begins to thicken and is of spreading consistency.


Pour the caramel icing over the warm cake, spreading the icing to the edges and corners using a small spatula. If desired, sprinkle on chopped pecans while the icing is warm. Let the cake rest for 30 minutes so the icing hardens and makes slicing easy.


                                                                                           



















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