Pennsylvania Dutch Chocolate Funny Cake

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Rarely do I post on weekends, but today I am making an exception. My schedule was all thrown off after I caught a head cold earlier this week that really knocked me out. I tend to go years without getting very sick, but I feel like I’ve had about 2 colds a month since November. My immune system is officially on my list. Anyway, when I can’t taste food, I have absolutely no desire to cook or bake. I mean, really, what’s my motivation?

Toward the end of the week, though, my head was less congested and my taste buds were finally working properly again, which gave me a little time to try the newest recipe on my list: Funny Cake Pie. And it couldn’t be a more fitting recipe April Fool’s Day! This recipe is no joke, though.

Funny cake pie, or just funny cake, is a traditional recipe in the Pennsylvania Dutch community. The recipe consists of vanilla cake batter poured into an unbaked pie shell. Chocolate sauce is poured over the top of the cake batter before baking. As the cake bakes, the chocolate pools underneath the cake, creating a pretty, dark layer between the cake and the pie crust. It’s said that the pie was called “funny” as in “unusual” because of the flip-flop of the chocolate syrup and cake.

Unlike most, this is a recipe that you will often see directly associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch community. I mistakenly thought that the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” specifically applied only to the Amish. Turns out, Pennsylvania Dutch applies to the extremely large groups of people of all religions, who immigrated from what we today know as Germany, who then settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries. In this case, “Dutch” does not indicate a connection to the Netherlands, but is instead a misnomer for “Deutsch,” the German word for “German.” Pennsylvania Dutch is actually a mix of several different German dialects, as well as American English. After the second World War, the dialect was almost completely discontinued, except by traditionalist religions. For example, if you ever hear Amish or Mennonite groups conversing (which I often do because the train I take to visit my mom goes right through Indiana’s Amish country), you will still hear this dialect spoken.

While I couldn’t find any in-depth history on the origins, the recipe has been made in Pennsylvania Dutch communities for several generations and seems to have had a revival in the 1950s and 60s, with home bakers often substituting the chocolate out for things like caramel, or… orange sauce… That was such a weird period for food. I guess caramel doesn’t sound half bad.

Onto the cake! Er, pie! Cake pie!

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Funny Cake Pie

Pennsylvania Dutch Chocolate Funny Cake
Slightly altered from the recipe on the Maple Springs Farm website.

Funny Cake Pie Ingredients:
For Cake:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

For Chocolate Sauce:
1/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp, sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup water, warm
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp espresso powder, optional

Funny Cake Pie Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the pie crust, you either use a 9-inch store-bought pie shell, or, if you would like to make your pie shell from scratch, I like this recipe from Epicurious. (Note: their recipe is enough for two pie shells, and you will only need one.)

In a small bowl, or large measuring cup, combine sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and espresso powder (optional). Slowly stir in the warm water until everything is dissolved. If still warm, allow to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and oil with a hand mixer. The mixture will still be quite dry at this point. Add in one egg at a time, beating to completely mix before adding the second egg. Add in the milk and vanilla, and beat until everything is consistently combined.

Slowly add the flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, beating with a hand mixer in between additions, only mixing until the threads of flour disappear. Continue until flour mixture is gone.

Pour the cake batter mixture into the pie crust. Then pour the chocolate sauce over the top of the cake batter.

Bake for approximately an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool slightly. Cake can be served warm or at room temperature.

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I really didn’t know what to expect. My first concern was that the cake would cook faster than the pie crust, leaving me with raw dough under the cake. That didn’t happen though. Somehow, both cake and shell cooked perfectly together. The cake was slightly dense in texture, much like a pound cake, and not overly sweet. The chocolate layer was just sweet and moist enough to balance out the carb layers sandwiching it. The best description I can give is something along the lines of chocolate-croissant-muffin? Perfection, really. It’s hard to believe that I’m only just discovering it, and that figuring out how to combine cake and pie was not, in fact, my life’s work up to this point. I’ve seen it mentioned that this cake is sometimes eaten for breakfast. So, I’m not saying you should go make it right now, but… what else are you doing?

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Grapefruit Pudding Cake for Fannie Farmer’s Birthday

Fannie Farmer
(Source)

Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Massachusetts on March 23, 1857, the oldest of four daughters. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Farmer’s family placed a premium on education and it was expected that she would go to college, rather than marry right after school. Unfortunately, at age 16, Farmer suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and unable to walk. She would eventually regain the use of her legs, but would never have full function again. Instead of going to college, Farmer was looked after by her parents, and spent the time learning to cook.

At age 30, she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School, and spent the next 9 years excelling in the study of “domestic science,” as it was known. After graduating, she took a job as an assistant to the director, and in 1891 she became principal of the School.

What do we owe to this turn-of-the-century domestic scientist? Modern baking in the United States. Prior to Farmer’s work, baking instructions were conversational and inconsistent (when you see old recipes, you might notice that no baking temperatures are given, or “as much as you like” accompanies an important ingredient), but she developed the “level measurement” system that we all take for granted today. Critics said she was taking the art and creativity out of baking. However, standard measurements allowed for adjustments in standard, measured ways, and also allowed for recipes to be transmitted to the next generation, without anything being lost in translation. Recipes improve, multiply, flourish, all because bakers are now able speak the same language–thanks to Fannie Farmer, the so-called “Mother of Level Measurements.”

In 1896, Farmer published a cookbook, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, full of recipes that used her level measuring system. Little was expected to come of the book, and at first only 3,000 copies were printed. Instead it became hugely popular, and extremely influential, so much so that it is still in print today, under a new, more accurate name: the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Years later, the book was updated by another amazing woman food writer, Marion Cunningham, who, in 1979, was hired to revise the Fannie Farmer Cookbook  for contemporary audiences.

Initially, my only goal was to bake a dessert from Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book to celebrate her 160th birthday. But skimming through the recipes I found online from the first edition were leaving me less than inspired. There were plenty of cakes, pies, desserts, and puddings. I love all those things, don’t get me wrong, but nothing was jumping off the page.

That’s when I stumbled onto a recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake, a Marion Cunningham recipe from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I have been so into pudding lately, of all sorts. I was not really a fan of snack packs as a child, but I did love the warm chocolate pudding that my mom made me as a child (I wrote about that here). Last fall, I wrote about a cornmeal-based “Indian pudding.” And just earlier this month, I made my friend Sarah’s grandmother’s bread pudding. Definitely a theme. I had lots of grapefruit on hand, but only a few lemons, so that’s what I used. You could also make this recipe with the traditional lemon. The recipe is exactly the same, just do not add salt and sub in 1/3 cup lemon juice for the the grapefruit and lemon juices in the recipe below.

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Grapefruit Pudding Cake
Slightly adapted from Lemon Pudding in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, by Marion Cunningham, 13th Edition

Grapefruit Pudding Cake Ingredients:
2 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup, plus 2 tbsp sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1 tbsp grapefruit zest
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt

Grapefruit Pudding Cake Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Add butter to a large dish. Beat for 30 seconds with a hand mixture until smooth. Gradually add all but 1 tbsp of sugar, mixing between each addition, until everything is incorporated and very smooth.

Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating between each egg yolk addition until fully incorporated.

Add in the milk, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, zest, flour. Beat just until everything looks well incorporated and uniform. The mixture will be foamy.

In a separate bowl, use a hand beater to beat the egg whites until they turn just white and begin to combine. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp sugar. Continue beating for a few seconds until soft peaks form. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to gently fold the mixture into the egg yolk batter. Continue to fold until the the mixture is uniform, then stop immediately. Your batter will look lumpy and foamy.

In at least a 2-inch deep baking pan, place your empty 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking pan, around, but not into, the baking dish. Pour enough water so that it fills about halfway up the side of the baking dish.

Pour your cake batter into the baking dish and slide into the oven.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, being sure to not let it get too brown. It should be light and golden. Keep an eye on it, but try not to open the oven door often.

This dish can be served after it has just cooled, or it can be served chilled.

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What you have when you remove it from the oven is a sponge cake floating over a delicious grapefruit custard. This might very well be my dream dessert. In one dish! It’s magic. I can’t wait to try it with another fruit juice, or chocolate. It’s a fantastic recipe to celebrate an amazing lady. Happy birthday, Fannie!

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Mom’s Mashed Potato Pancakes with Cheddar and Scallions

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Ah, Christmas is over. I hope everyone had a great one. I still get a little sad after Christmas. Our tree looks so bare now!

Since it’s Hanukkah now, too, I’ve been seeing all sorts of delicious-looking latke recipes online. I also learned that making and eating fried foods at Hanukkah is a nod toward The Miracle of Oil, in which the Maccabees took back the Temple of Jerusalem, lighting the menorah with the only oil they were able to find, enough for just one night. The oil, instead, burned for eight days, instead of only one, which allowed time for fresh oil to be pressed. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the celebration of The Miracle is where the tradition of eating fried foods, such as latkes and sufganiyot, comes from.

Admittedly, I grew up in an extremely culturally homogenous place, so I had no ideas about latkes before I got to Chicago. I ordered “potato pancakes” at a restaurant after I moved here and what came to the table were latkes. Not what I was expecting, but definitely not a disappointment. I had grown up with my mom’s potato pancakes, which are different. It doesn’t use shredded potato and, instead, makes use of leftover mashed potatoes. If you’re like us, you had mashed potatoes for Christmas, or Christmas eve. And also for every other meal. I am swimming in mashed potatoes this time of year.

This is a super easy recipe and is a perfect breakfast after holidays, where you can no longer look forward to opening presents, but you can instead look forward to your bounty of mashed potato pancakes!

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Mom’s Mashed Potato Pancakes with Cheddar and Scallions

2 cups mashed potatoes, cold or warm, not hot
2 eggs
2 tbsp ricotta cheese
5 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
Sprinkle of paprika, optional
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
2 medium scallions, sliced
Oil for frying

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Just coat the bottom of a frying pan with oil. The oil is ready for frying when you start to notice small waves.

Add 1/3 cup scoops of your mix to the hot oil. (If you would like your pancakes a little more “pancake-shaped,” use a small spoon to flatten the sides of the scoop out before the pancake fries.)

Allow the pancake to fry until you are able to easily move it with a spatula. Then, flip and allow to fry on the second side.

Once done, remove from oil and allow to drain on a paper towel.

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The texture will not be like that of a normal pancake. What you’re getting here is a crispy outside and a warm, creamy, potato center. (Plus, cheese and scallions!) You do not have to serve these with bacon. I am just working on my winter fat layer.

Also, completely unrelated to potato pancakes, did I tell you we have been cat-sitting since early December? Our friend is vacationing in Asia and needed someone to watch his extra-large, extremely awesome cat. Of course I volunteered. Important note: If you have an extra-large, extremely awesome cat that you need someone to cat-sit, give me a call. I’m a professional now.

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This is said cat in all his stocky glory. Isn’t he handsome? After having him around, all other cats seem so dainty.

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