Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Cake You Want

Festive, no?
This is my current favorite quick cake. It’s the rich red-brown color of Devil’s food cake, chewily chocolaty, and with that almost preternatural moistness that I usually associate with a banner on a box that says “Pudding in the mix!” Speaking of which: it is more or less as difficult and as tasty as cake-mix cake, and I mean that in the best possible way. Seriously. My oven takes 6 minutes to preheat to 350—and I end up having to wait, because the batter is already in the pan. No creaming (there’s no butter), no adding the eggs one at a time (there are no eggs), no alternating with the milk (there’s no milk). It’s just you and your whisk, and it means that if you’re like me, constantly trolling for dinner invitations, and someone finally says, “Fine, but bring dessert,” then you can be out the door with a still-hot cake 41 minutes later. Which is all I need.
But this is how I really like it. It gets that kind of sticky top that I really admire on a piece of cake.

The Cake You Want
Active time: 5 minutes
Total time: 41 minutes

This is very gently adapted from a recipe on epicurious called “Easiest Chocolate Cake,” that I got as a dirty photocopy from my friend Jonathan, but that seems to come from a book called Organic and Chic by Sarah Magid. All I did was remove the word “organic” from each ingredient (but please, do consider it), change the directions a hair (e.g. I like to make it in one large pan), and, oddly, given the whole “organic” thing, add the spelt flour. Look, that’s how I am. I dare you to make this and use the spelt flour and imagine this couldn’t be cake from a mix. And I don’t mean the flaxy kind of cake mix either.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup spelt flour or whole-wheat pastry flour (or another cup of white flour)
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 cups cold water

Heat the oven to 350. Butter and flour one 9- or 10- by 13-inch pan or two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans, or place liners in 2 muffin pans for 24 cupcakes. Or use that insanely gross PAM baking spray (Now with real flour!) that I love.

In a large bowl, sift (or, um, whisk, because you’re lazy) the dry ingredients together.

In a medium bowl (or large measuring cup), measure the vanilla extract, oil, vinegar, and cold water.

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until the dry ingredients disappear, but before you’d win a prize for world's longest mixing.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes for the big pan, 30 minutes for the layers, and 24 minutes for the cupcakes.

Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool—or leave it in the big pan.

Serve plain or with ice cream or whipped cream, or dust the cake with powdered sugar. Or frost, if you must.

I am almost sure that you already have the ingredients.

A whisk here. . .

. . . a measure there. . . 

. . . and I made the batter while you were reading photo captions.

You can let your kids lick the mixing bowl without that weird feeling of what if they get salmonella? even if you usually let them anyway.

Ready to bake.

Baked. I like to press the palm of my hand to the hot top of a cake. I don't know why, and I don't want to talk about it.

This was just for the photo, since we were bringing the cake to a friend's house. But what are you going to do--not really let the kid eat the cake? You have to let them. So I brought 2 pieces less than a whole cake.

Our whipped cream was behaving unpicturesquely.

Mythbusters is what they're watching.

It must have been some serious busted myths!


  1. dale in denver4:21 PM

    I am lazy so I love the Whisk the dry ingredients direction. I let my kids lick the batter - whether eggs are used or not. I love to touch the top of a cake. The whipped cream with sprinkles makes it look very fancy, without all the fuss. I love that you took a cake, minus two piece, to a party - and let your kids have more at the party. Were we separated at birth?

  2. Absolutely true. Finished mixing just as oven beeped that it was preheated!
    Hero status conveyed upon you.
    Thank you!!

  3. I do let my kids lick the spoon with raw egg mix on it but I wouldn't lick it myself, and I always feel a bit icky about it. This cake recipe looks delicious and I will be trying it soon!

  4. Love the rich dark brown and the simple dollop of softly whipped cream - your title nailed it, it is the cake I want.

  5. I've been searching for a new chocolate cake recipe. Can't wait to try this one!

  6. Julie6:24 PM

    This is the BEST cake ever! I call it the vegan cake (as I make it for my vegan friends) or the allergy cake (for the friends that can't have eggs). When I first started making it I thought "I hope this is a nice substitute" but then SO many people rave about it (non vegan and allergy free alike), I'm thinking it's better than any chocolate cake with eggs!

  7. Your oven takes 6 minutes to preheat? Jealous!

  8. Really, seriously, I have to tell you how much I needed this recipe tonight. I didn't make it (because I can't actually cook), but it was so lovely to read it after a field trip day and cranky parent chaperones (and I don't even know why, it was such a great field trip to see Annie). Now I'll go back to wondering if I might actually be able to pull this recipe off some day!

  9. WHAT?! This is totally my go-to cake! It's one of those "my grandma's secret recipe" cakes that is EVERYONE'S grandma's secret recipe. In the recipe I have you: mix the dry ingredients; make 3 reservoirs; put the oil, vanilla, & vinegar in each; dump the cold water on top. That way it's like a one dish cake. And more like a volcano science fair project.

    We dust it with powdered sugar and then heat up some frozen fruit with raw sugar for a syrupy fruit compote(ish) topping. THE BEST!

  10. Froilyn- Philippines12:21 AM

    Yum! I'll make this on Mother's Day.

  11. I like to make black bottom cupcakes, which has a very similar, crazy-easy batter, but then you put a dollop of sweetened cream cheese with chocolate chips in it. It's the best cupcake ever for those of us who love not the super-sweet frosting. And it makes kids giggle to say "Black Bottom Cupcakes". Here's the recipe: http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/06/pot-bellies-black-bottoms/

  12. Yum! Can't wait to try this as this recipe. Many many times.

  13. tracyp9:26 AM

    At our house we call that Wacky Cake, I assume due to the "non-traditional" ingredient list. It is my go-to birthday cake recipe as I have a kiddo with dairy, egg and peanut allergy. The cake stands up to shaping if you need a cake of a certain shape, and can be made ahead and frozen to be pulled out and iced for your occasion. Love it! (I also love the slightly sticky top, but it also means that you have to let it dry out a bit before you can ice it neatly, or do an annoying "crumb coat" first.

    1. Okay! It turns out we're late to the party with this recipe. Who knew?

    2. Good to know, as I've been making this as cupcakes (perfect) and was wondering how this would hold up as a 2-layer birthday cake for my dairy-free son!

  14. have you gone vegan on us?

    1. Oh, no, no! Not at all. I am not +looking+ not to use butter and eggs--it just so happens that I truly love this cake! Although, just between you and me, I am on day 3 of a week-long self-defined mini-cleanse: no meat, no packaged crackers or snack food, no fried food, no sweet stuff. There was a no-alchohol intention too, but that already seems to have fallen by the wayside. xo

    2. Well, hey, you can't give up *everything*!

    3. OMG, if I can consider these part of a "cleanse," I will die happy. I made them as cupcakes a few days again (my best-ever cupcakes, in terms of looks/texture/taste!), and made them again today with the addition of chocolate chips. They're AWESOME b/c my older son is lactose intolerant. (As it turns out, he's also not really into chocolate, so, well, guess I need to eat them all!)

      My younger son, however, can't get enough.

  15. kathy cornett11:32 AM

    Can you use all spelt flour for gluten-free friends? And did you make that whipped cream? A client once brought me a half eaten cake to a baby shower. Now that I thought was kind of weird.

    1. I have never tried, kathy. And that is indeed kind of weird. These were our very close friends, and so truly not as weird as it might seem.

  16. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Can you use wholemeal all purpose flour (as opposed to wholemeal pastry flour?)

    I'm definitely going to try this recipe - if only to satisfy my inner rebel (what a cake with no milk, eggs or butter?!!) :)


  17. Ok, so I just made this and (you may want to cover your ears - or eyes Catherine) made a delicious nutella cream cheese frosting to go on top. It is rich in a I-can-only-eat-one-slice kind of way for which my thighs are thankful and so so tasty in a nutty chocolately kind of way for which my mouth is thankful. This recipe is perfect and easy and delicious! From the bottom of my stomach, Thank You.

  18. Jennie5:34 PM

    Ha! I too like to put my hand on top of a cake when it's fresh out of the oven. For sponge cakes, this is the best way to tell if they're done. So...it's practical and pleasurable.

  19. Ellen W6:05 PM

    @ Kathy - spelt flour is not "safe" for those of us who are gluten free. I've found if I measure my gluten-free flour mix by weight instead of volume, I can substitute it in most cake recipes. I'm thinking I may try this with coconut oil since I've got some in the pantry.

  20. Anonymous7:40 PM

    Our one-pan Wacky Cake recipe says it came about due to wartime shortages. We made this version tonight. Yum!

  21. We're hosting a Saturday gathering and I was planning a cake for my husband's soon to be birthday. This is fate! Now, I can make a cake that is a. easy b. yummy and chocolatey and c. doesn't make my lactose allergy bestie go running for her lactate! Thank you!
    Also, on the subject of PAM, thank you for alleviating me of my guilt and shame. Sometimes, it just works like a charm - what else can make your pan prep so easy or (another type) toast your baked wontons to the point that your craving for crab rangoon didn't end in take out!?! Still, I'll continue to hide it in the back of the cabinet and only use it when desperate.
    Merci Beaucoup!

  22. The hand on the cake thing is how Ma Ingals 'sweetened' Pa's favorite corn bread (it's been a while...maybe it was not corn bread. But what else would pioneers eat?) Do you remember? It was all the sweetening he wanted. This still strikes me as so dear and romantic.

  23. Anonymous11:11 AM

    1) Sunshine state mom, that's the first thing I thought of, too!
    2) Bon Appetit published this recipe a while back and it's now the only chocolate cake I ever make. And it's vegan! And you'd never know!
    3) If you happen to have 2 cups of cold coffee sitting around -- and if you're me, you do -- you can substitute it for the water. It doesn't make it taste mocha but it deepens the chocolate flavor further.
    4) I am still hoping you'll find the time to give us recycled-sweater-blanket instructions one of these days.

    1. Anonymous2:53 PM

      I made it last night with the coffee and it WAS so pretty and dark and somehow better- thanks!!

  24. it never ceases to amaze me how often LHOTP comes up in my life - I spent half of yesterday talking about it! and here it is again!
    i am SO making this cake - but i think it will be sweet enough with the TWO CUPS of sugar? does it really need that much? I usually cut the sugar WAY down in ALL recipes but i know (from experience) that you can't do that with hot coco. . . is chocolate cake the same?

  25. This recipe is going international - many thanks for that - I'm going to be making it in France next week thanks to American friends on Twitter who were talking about it .... I just had to get my paws on it!

    Much appreciated

  26. Actually, you are the cake I want. (-: (Ooh, that might really be over the edge in sounding stalker-ish. Totally don't mean it that way!) I am very excited about this cake (now I mean the actual cake). Chocolate, yes, easy, yes, tasty, yes! I'm in!

    And, by the way, can one win a prize for World's Longest Mixing because sometimes I'd really like to win a prize and I feel that a mixing one might be within my reach (but actually, as soon as there really was a prize people would probably be mixing for 27 hours straight, so perhaps I ought to rethink)?

  27. Anonymous2:58 AM

    This is the main cake I make (kid with dairy and egg allergy). Great suggestion on the coffee in the comments. I also do muffins/cupcake size for taking to birthday parties and addition of coconut is nice too.

    Heather G

  28. I'm not going to add anything that hasn't already been added except that I too had a kid with multiple food allergies and this was also our go-to recipe. I could whip up cupcakes for him to send into school with no notice. I love how kid friendly the recipe is as well. My son has thankfully outgrown all the allergies, so now we have to feed him those foods whenever we can, so we have been missing what we used to call the Magic Chocolate Cake mix! :) We will be whipping one up soon though because of this post!!!
    ps: I LOVE Ben's hair!!!

  29. elsimom10:47 AM

    This came at just the right moment - I made one for my daughter's sleepover birthday party, and another one as a thank you for the neighbor. We didn't do the "healthy" flour this time - although I intend to do it in the future - but I didn't want a house full of 10 year olds complaining about the weird cake.
    We sprinkled chocolate chips on top instead of frosting - and it was awesome! I don't consider myself a "cake" person (so many other desserts I like better - and often store bought and restaurant cakes are not really that good.....) and I love this cake!
    Once again - a recipe from the Ben and Birdy blog (or as it's known to my husband - "you know -the pulled pork lady") is a hit!

  30. I have a current fave chocolate cake recipe, but I'm gonna try yours since it looks so fabulously easy.

    And there's no need to talk about your cake touching. If people don't understand, they just don't understand.

  31. I just made this cake and we LOVED it. And.... it is the first cake batter that my kids have been allowed to lick the beaters from, so they loved the BATTER too! It is now gone. sob. Thanks so much for the great recipes and as usual, the laughs.

  32. Okay this cake must be made. Thanks for sharing. Broke down and bought the Snow Child at Powells. Why haven't I started reading it yet? Perhaps the pile of parenting books on my bedside table is the reason, all about back talk and rudeness, which brings me back to the cake which must be made.

  33. PS I too like to lay my hand on the top of the cake when it's cooling. What is that?

  34. Wait, no beets?! A shonda. Here's one with beets: http://eatwithjoy.org/tag/chocolate-beet-cake/

    No, but seriously, I love your site. xo.

  35. Great cake! I can't wait to try this cake. Love the serious faces of the kids.

  36. I made it yesterday for my daughter's big ONE OH :-) She loved it! oh! I also used whole wheat that I ground in my ... erm... wheat grinder? It was delish! Thanks!

  37. I have tried it but it's color not came as yours !!!

    cake stand