Serious Eats and Punchfork are on my Morning Coffee list, which opens, all at once, websites that I look at almost every day, even though I don’t like coffee. From there, I follow links to the latest great thing. Because I’m always on the lookout for good chocolate cakes, I often follow links to some recipe for a fabulously moist and easy-to-make chocolate cake. Make it in one bowl! No eggs! No milk! No butter! I can’t believe how good this is because it’s so easy!
Great, yes, but not latest. Almost always, the recipes turn out to be variations of what my grandma called wacky cake. It’s C2’s go-to cake. She brought it to a family 4th of July get-together once, and her sort-of step-grandmother asked what kind of cake it was. “Wacky cake.” “Oh, Wacky Cake. What brand is that?” A little confused about what “what brand?” meant, C2 said, “Well, you just mix up a bunch of stuff in a bowl. I think the cocoa was Hershey’s?” When Sort-of Step-grandma realized that C2 had made it from scratch, she hurried to apologize, profusely, for making such a grievous error in assuming she’d used a mix, when obviously she’d taken such time, effort, and care to produce a from-scratch cake for her family for this very special occasion, and I only asked about the “brand” because it’s so good and tastes so much better than any mix cake I’ve ever tasted. It was sweet that she thought C2 would be offended by assuming the cake had come from a mix, but no apology was necessary, and it’s easier than using a mix.
In my search for the perfect chocolate cake and after years of reading about how good it is, I finally made the chocolate sheet cake recipe from The Pioneer Woman. While I’ve made many of her recipes (always excellent: everyone loves the Crash Hot Potatoes every time I make them – although I bake instead of boil them because I’m lazy and that means one less pan to wash – also, you can never use too much olive oil on the pan) and her site is one of my staples when looking for something new, I think wacky cake is better. And lots simpler to make. I sent some cupcakes to C2 for her birthday and she thought they were wacky cake.
I always assumed my grandma made wacky cake because she was cheap frugal (she’d halve the sugar in recipes, skip egg yolks when called for, etc. I’m not a fan of pale, sour, lemon meringue pie, but then I was raised on sugar sandwiches ((white bread, butter, sugar)) and graham crackers with frosting). Now I realize that she probably used the wacky cake recipe because she lived through the Depression and the rationing during WWII, and that’s all they had. Usually those kinds of hard-times recipes make passable substitutes, but never as good as the real thing with eggs and butter and cream and other luxuries, which is not the case with this recipe. But those recipes that say that wacky cake is so good that it doesn’t need frosting? That’s just crazy talk. As silly as saying that graham crackers are worth eating without frosting.