This Thanksgiving my family decided not to make our traditional pumpkin chiffon pie because of my current food intolerances. Sadly for me this year this amazing pie that was carefully crafted and perfected over 50 years by my maternal grandmother contains eggs, so it’s off my menu for a while. How very thoughtful of my family to make this sacrifice on my behalf though, I was truly touched.
Before I could get too caught up in the guilt associated with voluntarily or involuntarily imposing my food limitations upon others my mom announced she would be making Wacky cake. This substitution for our holiday sweet was nothing short of stellar and we were all quite excited.
You may have heard of the iconic Wacky cake, it has been around before the World War II. It is an eggless and butterless cake because eggs and butter were rationed during wartime and often the average family never saw these common staples. The necessity for cake, however, did not diminish for those on the homefront and a delicious and suitable substitute stepped in to fill the gap and sweet tooth of the Nation. In today’s parlance wacky cake is vegan. It is also tremendously delicious!
I have fond memories of scarfing down still warm slabs of dense, chocolately Wacky cake in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Our highly gifted school cook, Frances, made Wacky cake at least once a month and served it heavily dusted with powdered sugar.
My sister taught me how to make Wacky cake and I recall that she did this so that I could make it when I got home from school so that she could have it but she hotly disputes this! Mom recalls that she first received the recipe from her high school and college friend, Susie Jones.
Whatever the source, Wacky cake is a wonderful recipe. The cake has a very rich chocolate flavor from cocoa powder, like a devil’s food cake, and has a fine crumb.
Instead of getting its leavening from eggs the recipe uses baking soda and vinegar which produces a quick but short rising period. The lack of eggs and butter in the recipe results in the cake being less flexible than a egg-based cake so care must be taken if you plan to unmold it from the baking pan. The cake uses oil instead of butter and therefore one could conceivably say that this is a “heart-healthy” cake if a light olive oil or grapeseed oil is used, due to the oil’s antioxidant properties.
Traditionally the cake is mixed right in the baking pan, dusted with powdered sugar when cooled and served straight from the pan. This spared the cook additional dishes to wash up, saving money on soap powder. My mom’s piece de resistance was to instead top the cake with a thick, rich, bittersweet ganache.
It was heavenly.
Look how thick the ganache is on this slice of cake, how it glistens and shimmers. I do love chocolate.
1 1/2 c flour or cake flour
1 c sugar
3 T unsweetened cocoa (we used to use Hershey’s but mOm used Valhrona)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. good vanilla
1 T vinegar (white or cider)
5 T vegetable oil (grapeseed, light olive oil or canola)
1 C cold water
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
If you wish to unmold the cake, butter the bottom and sides of a cake tin and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, and then butter that paper too. In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add on one side of the bowl the vinegar, on another the vanilla and on another the oil. Add all of the water and whisk together swiftly and quickly pour into the cake pan and bang it into the oven.
If you are going to serve it out of the pan, sift together the dry ingredients as above directly into your baking pan (an 8″ x 8″ square Pyrex), then make three holes in the dry ingredients. In one hold put the oil, the vinegar in the second and the vanilla in the third. Pour over the cold water and mix well with a fork and bake.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs. A bit of care must be taken when baking wacky cake to not over-bake it or it will be perilously dry.
Unmold after cool, if desired (using the wax paper lined pan) and cover with ganache, or sift over a blizzard of powdered sugar.
Once you add ganache to this cake there is no going back. In fact, after making this ganache I feel like putting it on everything.
1/2 c + 2T heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. butter
5 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 T good bourbon (optional)
Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl. Heat up the cream until it is very hot but not boiling, and pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is smooth. Add the butter at this point and the vanilla and the bourbon, if using. If you are not using the bourbon in the ganache, shame on you and just drink that tablespoon.
Keep stirring the ganache with a spoon, not a whisk, until it begins to thicken. When it is thicker than gravy, pour/spread it over the cooled cake. If you want those attractive dribbles down the side of the cake pour it on when the ganache is a little bit thinner, slightly thicker than chocolate syrup or caramel sauce. I prefer it on the stiffer side so that I can spread it over just the top of the cake.
If you like, you can make a double batch of ganache, and spread half of it over the top, and then let the remaining ganache thicken a bit more so that you can spread the sides of the cake.
Be sure to do what we did and carefully clean the mixing bowl with our greedy fingers and tongues.
The finished Wacky cake with ganache was utterly delicious and was perfect with the last bit of red wine from our Thanksgiving dinner.
The best part of Wacky cake is that it is so simple to make, you can bake it up right before dinner or as an after school treat like I used to.