Chocolate Wacky Cake with Strawberry Glaze

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We are maybe starting to thaw out here. Up until last weekend, the weather in Chicago was legit killing me. These are the things I’ve noticed about my life over the course of this 700-month winter: The upside is, we’re getting really good at staying home, watching scary movies, and eating in; the downside is that I’m getting even worse at socializing. It doesn’t help that I mostly work from home anyway, and even when I have to leave my apartment to do research, I’m busy with documents, not people. But now when a friend asks to meet up, my first reaction is, “Meet up?? Outside?!” Also, there is a Melisa-shaped indent in my couch.

However, another upside is that I’ve had a lot of time to work on my blog-baby, which is the mostest fun. Which leads me to today’s recipe: Chocolate wacky cake! (Not to be confused with the Chocolate Funny Cake I made last year.)

This cake checks a lot of boxes. It’s chocolate! It’s cheap! It’s low-fuss, using only one pan! It’s vegan! Am I a vegan? No! However, I thought it was important to mention this fact, as so few of the historical recipes that I post here are also vegan. Like, none of them. This blog runs on butter and eggs.

Anyway, let’s get into wacky cake. My first experience with this cake was about a year ago, when I thought to myself, “Dang, I want some chocolate cake, but don’t want to go to the store to buy a box of cake, or, like, make a cake from scratch. I just want it here. Now.” Then I made this cake, and realized making it was exactly the amount of work I was willing to put in, and it was exactly the taste my mouth was looking for.

Like funny cake, wacky cake’s name is derived from the wacky way that its unexpected ingredients come together to form something quite familiar. Those interested in the science of baking might have fun with this recipe: Since this cake is made without any eggs, butter, or milk, vinegar does a lot of the heavy lifting. Without eggs in the batter, the vinegar and salt work together to strengthen the gluten, which is what supports the cake.

Mentions of  “wacky cake” began appearing in newspapers as early as 1944, during the last year of World War II. The first recipe for it that I found was in 1946. Also called three-hole cake, crazy cake, or WWII cake, the recipe was created in response to the wartime shortages facing home cooks, and a variation of the cake probably had it’s beginning during the Depression, when home cooks were facing similar shortages. There was a Depression-era “crazy cake” recipe being printed in newspapers before the war, usually including one egg, but omitting butter, and sometimes milk, and using no vinegar. In newspapers after the war, it seems that “crazy” and “wacky” cake become interchangeable. However, if you search for “crazy cake” online today, most of these recipes include vinegar. Even when ingredients became readily available after the war, the wacky cake earned its popularity over the years because of the low cost of the ingredients and the ease of preparation. It later became a quick go-to recipe to throw a dessert together in an bind.

If you’re not sold on the idea of a tasty vegan cake made with low-cost ingredients, perhaps you’ll be attracted by the fact that you only use one pan to make the cake. The one-pan method likely comes from the popularity of the so-called dump cake during WWII, which was created before WWI, and involves exactly what you’d expect: all ingredients are “dumped” into one pan, stirred, and baked. When making wacky cake, it’s probably harder not to use a single pan, due to the chemical reaction that you need to direct by separating the vinegar from the other ingredients before adding hot water.

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Chocolate Wacky Cake with Strawberry Glaze
Makes one 9×5-inch loaf, or 1 8×8-inch square cake. The recipe below is a version of the recipe taken from The Pittsburgh Press, March 6, 1946.

Ingredients:
For cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup natural cocoa powder (non Dutch-pressed)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup hot water or coffee
For strawberry glaze:
8 tsp strawberry puree
1 cup powdered sugar

Instructions:

For cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In an ungreased 8×8-inch, or 9×5-inch loaf pan, sift together the flour, sugar, soda, cocoa, and salt.

Make three wells in the dry ingredients with your finger or a spoon, about an inch apart.

In one hole, add the vinegar, in another in the vanilla, and in the third, add the vegetable oil.

Finally, pour the hot water or brewed coffee (I suggest using coffee for added richness) over the top of everything and stir slightly to mix.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool in the pan completely before attempting to remove it. Once completely cooled, move to plate, frost, and enjoy!

For strawberry glaze: Add about 1/2 cup of hulled and quartered strawberries to a saucepan and heat with 3 tbsp of water. Cook over low heat until the strawberries become very soft.

Blend in a food processor, or with an immersion blender, until very smooth, then strain into a bowl.

Using the strained liquid, add one tablespoon at a time to 1 cup of powdered sugar, until you reach the desired consistency.

Once the cake has fully cooled (wait at least a few hours) and been removed from the pan, pour glaze over the cake and enjoy!

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This cake is shockingly moist (like, truly shocking) and fluffy. It’s not quite as rich as regular chocolate cake made with butter and eggs, but damn if it’s not good!

You should definitely make sure that you use natural cocoa, not Dutch-pressed (which is also sometimes called European-style or alkalized). Dutch-pressed cocoa is washed with a solution of potassium carbonate which lessens its acidity. However, for this cake, that acidity is needed to strengthen the gluten to help the cake rise.

And this berry glaze is the perfect way to use not-quite-ripe (or frozen!) berries. But, if you throw together this cake, and are just so excited by how quick and easy it was to make that you eat the whole thing right away without frosting… I’m not going to judge you.

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Toll House Inn Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Did you Super Bowl on Sunday? For once, we went a Super Bowl party. A very special one, too, because our friends Jen and Rasmus hosted, and we made Korean dumplings and gimbap while watching the game. Then we got to enjoy the labor of our work during the last two quarters for the traditional commercial-judging and nail-biting.

Sadly, this post–about the super cookie, the champion cookie, the chocolate chip cookie–would have been even more special if the Patriots had won on Sunday, because February 6 marks the 230th anniversary of Massachusetts becoming a state, and because the recipe was invented in Massachusetts. In fact, the chocolate chip cookie is the official state cookie, after being nominated by a class of hungry third graders in 1997.

The Toll House Cookie–now known simply as the chocolate chip cookie–was invented in 1930 at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. The owner of the inn, Ruth Graves Wakefield, is given credit for the creation. It’s often said that she invented the cookie by accident, having added chopped chocolate to create a chocolate cookie. Grave Wakefield disputed this later in life, claiming that she hadn’t meant to make a chocolate cookie at all, but was instead trying to change up the butterscotch nut cookie recipe that was already made at the inn. She even called it the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, which would imply that she planned for the chocolate chips to remain in pieces. (In fact, while Graves Wakefield was not a professional chef, she had attended the Framingham State School Department of Household Arts, and worked in the 20’s as a food lecturer and dietician. Before her chocolate chip cookie recipe took off, she was known for her lobster dinners and other dishes created around historical New England culinary traditions.)

For the first version of the recipe, Graves Wakefield simply chopped up pieces of a Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate bar. As chocolate chip cookies increased in popularity, rumor has it that she worked out an agreement with Nestlé: Her recipe could be printed on their chocolate bar, if they would provide her with all the chocolate she needed. In 1939, one year after her recipe for the Chocolate Crunch Cookie was published, Nestlé began selling their chocolate in tiny pieces, the first version of what we now know as chocolate chips. It’s likely that, with the onset of World War II, chocolate chip cookies became even more popular, with soldiers regularly requesting them in their care packages. While it’s fair to say that Ruth Graves Wakefield was probably not the first person to throw chocolate pieces into a cookie, she is responsible for making the chocolate chip cookie a household name and one of America’s favorite things. A figure from 2013 puts annual American chocolate chip cookie consumption at around 7 billion.

While the Nestlé chocolate chip packages still print the “original” chocolate chip cookie recipe on them, I found that on October 5, 1939, newspapers in three different states all published the recipe for Grave Wakefield’s Original Toll House Cookies (I couldn’t confirm that this was the exact original recipe from Graves Wakefield’s 1938 Tried and True cookbook). That recipe varies slightly from the one now found on Nestlé products. And even though this is one of the most basic recipes there is, I suspect you’re going to like it.

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Toll House Inn Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 24 2 1/2-inch cookies.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
7 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chips or chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat with hand mixer until the butter and both sugars are fully combined. Add egg and beat until combined.

Sift the flour and then measure out 1 1/2 cups. Add the salt and stir together. Set aside.

In a small cup, combine the hot water and the baking soda. Stir to combine.

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the hot water mixture to the butter-sugar mixture. Beat with a hand mixer until just incorporated. Add another 1/3 of flour and hot water, beat, and continue with the last 1/3 of each.

Beat in the vanilla with a hand mixer, and stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (optional) with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed.

Scoop 1 1/2 tablespoon dollops of dough onto the cookie sheet, 12 per sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Remove from oven, allow to cool for five minutes on the pan, then remove to a cooling rack and enjoy!

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I’ll admit it, I am such a boring cookie eater. As a child, I would painstakingly avoid both the nuts AND chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies. That’s right, the only part of the cookie I was interested in was the cookie part. However, these actually might be one of the best chocolate chips cookies I’ve ever had. First, they are thin, which I love. And the best part is they are not super crisp. There is slight crispiness around the edges, and the centers stay nice and chewy. Perfect!

So, happy birthday, Massachusetts. You may not have another Super Bowl win this year, but you’ll always have chocolate chip cookies.

Salted Honey Cantaloupe Popsicles

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We are rolling into summer, like, whoa. I still have a few things left on my summer food bucket list. Last weekend, I finally had a Polish sausage at a baseball game, so scratch that one off. Others include: making the Oreo cookie dessert that my mom used to make me when I was a kid, making a sour cherry pie, figuring out a non-cake dessert for Alex’s birthday next week, making a galette, because #summerofgalettes, visiting Spinning J for pie and a float, eating tacos at Rojo Gusano, having fried chicken and margaritas on the patio at Honey Butter Fried Chicken, and drinking Grasshoppers at every available location in the city. This is my life. Endlessly dictated by where to eat and what to make next.

Another bucket list item is to eat as much cantaloupe as humanly possible. I’m well on my way. I might be turning orange. I also just learned that what I have been eating and loving my whole life is muskmelon! Not cantaloupe! We’re sticking with calling it cantaloupe here, though, because I just can’t think of it any other way, and I am vehemently opposed to calling it muskmelon because it’s not exceptionally flattering.

Last year, my friend Kristina sent me this recipe for salted honey cantaloupe jam. We added to our list of must-makes. We still haven’t gotten around to making a jar, but there I was staring at another cantaloupe, thinking to myself, “What can I do with you?”

I don’t know why my immediate thought in the summer is not always “Popsicles!” But I got there. Eventually.

Salted Honey Cantaloupe Popsicles

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Salted Honey Cantaloupe Popsicles
Makes 6 popsicles.

Ingredients:
3 cups cantaloupe, thoroughly washed, rind removed, cubed
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Instructions:

In a saucepan, add cantaloupe, water, sugar, honey, lemon juice, and salt. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for about 5 minutes, just until fruit becomes soft enough to mash with the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Using a blender or food processor, blend until the mixture is smooth.

Pour 1/3 cup of mixture into each popsicle mold. Leave about 1/4 of an inch at the top of the mold to allow for expansion.

Freeze the molds for about 1 hour, or until a popsicle stick inserted into the center holds straight. Continue to freeze for another 4 hours.

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I started my research trying to figure out where cantaloupes/muskmelons originated. Instead of learning much about that, though, I got swept away in a story about how a cantaloupe helped win World War II. Stay with me here…

In the 1920’s Alexander Fleming discovered mold growing in a petri dish, after returning from a summer break. After further testing Fleming discovered that the mold contained a powerful antibiotic. Years later, a German-Jewish doctor, Ernst Chain, discovered Fleming’s writings about the antibiotic, which because of lack of interest had been mostly neglected after its discovery. Shortly after England entered World War II, men were dying in battlefields, not from bullet wounds, but from infection. Chain, and his boss at Oxford University, Howard Florey, thought that this powerful antibiotic could be the answer to preventing thousands of deaths. However, they were unable to secure funding to continue their study in England, or anywhere else in war-ravaged Europe.

Instead, they looked West, to the United States. They approached the US Department of Agriculture, only a few decades old at that time, about working together to develop a way to mass produce Penicillin. In July, the two doctors arrived at the USDA’s offices in Peoria and began working with the team in America to create large batches of the antibiotic by combining it with corn steep liquor, but soon realized that they needed a more resilient mold to adequately increase their yields.

After spending weeks testing various moldy items, Kenneth Raper, a mycologist (fungi scientist) at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, found what he was looking for in an overripe cantaloupe bought at a Peoria grocery store that would become known as “Moldy Mary”. The mold strain on the cantaloupe was 50 times stronger than that which was originally discovered by Fleming. Raper sent the strain to collaborating scientists throughout the country to find ways to mutate the mold and boost production. By 1944, 100 billion units of Penicillin were being created by pharmaceutical companies, in large part, to treat Allied troops after the D-Day Invasion. As presumed, Penicillin was able to save thousands of soldiers’ lives, and is thought to be partially responsible for the success of the Allies, and failure of German forces, who were still using less advanced drugs to treat infection.

My favorite melon. Patriotic. Saving lives. Amazing! Long story short, you should make popsicles. They don’t even have to be these popsicles. Just make some popsicles. It’s already July for crying out loud! Popsicles are awesome. Do I even have to tell you that?