Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recipes: A Delicious, Versatile Cake (and Cupcake, of Course)

Continuing on with the cupcake theme this week, I figured it just wasn't fair to taunt you all with picture after picture of cupcakes and not give you my favorite recipe.  I don't believe in keeping recipes secret, and want to share it with as many people as possible.  It's as easy as a box mix, and so much more delicious.

My grandmother was a professional cake decorator of some renown in Iowa decades ago.  Family lore says that the governor once told his daughter, "I don't care who you marry, as long as  you give me enough notice to get a cake from Berta M."

On of my grandmother's many, many wedding cakes.  Do you recognize the royal icing lace points from the gingerbread house at the Sugar Plum Fairy party?  One of the many things she taught me.
This is the incredibly easy, delicious, moist, no-fail chocolate cake recipe she always used, and I grew up loving. It's actually a vegan cake recipe (though be careful serving to vegans, as many icings are not).

Crazy Cake (also known as Wacky Cake and a few other names)


  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups water

Mix ingredients.  Pour in a pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35ish minutes for a 9x13 pan.   Test with a wooden skewer to see if it's done (mine always takes longer than the recipe says in my oven).

It's that easy.  No special techniques, no creaming ingredients to just the right texture.  Dump it in a bowl.  Mix.  Pour.  Bake.  I think it's actually easier than making a box mix, and the taste is so much better.  It's moist, it's a little more dense than store bought mixes (which I prefer--you can tell it's from scratch!), and it freezes gorgeously if you're even considering making your own wedding cake.  

If cupcakes are on your mind, this recipe makes 30.  Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (check the time the first time you make them, because ovens vary dramatically!)

Now, I'm going to share my secret with you.  The recipe isn't the secret.  The obvious insight it took me 20 some years to have is.  One day it hit me:  if I don't add the cocoa powder, this recipe doesn't have to be a chocolate cake.  Simply replace the cocoa with flour, and start adding other flavors.

Once I figured that out, the possibilities were endless!  I've made peanut butter, key lime, lemon, coffee, vanilla chai, vanilla, vanilla caramel, strawberry, cherry, coconut lime cakes and more!  

Here are a couple of my favorite variations:

Lemon Crazy Cake:
Follow the recipe above, but omit cocoa, replace with flour.  Add the zest of one lemon (two if they're small.  The lemons off of the tree in my backyard are HUGE).  Add two or three tablespoons of King Arthur Flour's Lemon Powder (depending on how lemony you like your cake to be). 

Make bright and delicious lemon soak with simple syrup and fresh lemon juice.  Brush each layer of the cake liberally with your soak--it can take way more than you think.  My pastry-chef mother puts at least 4oz on each layer of the cakes she makes, more for larger cakes, and just squirts it on with a squeeze bottle.

  If you're making cupcakes, you can inject the syrup in the center of the cupcake using the blunt syringes you can get from the pharmacy for squirting medicine into your baby's mouth.   


This version of the cake is divine, and even my die-hard chocolate-loving husband says this is his favorite.  Paired with vanilla IMBC--heaven!

Vanilla Caramel Crazy Cake:
Follow the recipe, but omit cocoa and replace with flour.  Double the vanilla to 2 teaspoons.  Add a good dose of vanilla caramel flavored powdered coffee creamer (not sugar free!), somewhere around 1/2 a cup.  I never measure that part, sorry.

 Mix and bake as usual.  I've made an apple filling to go with this for caramel apple cake, and it's also exceptional with a dulce de leche filling.  

See?  Easy!  Go crazy!  Lavender lemonade cake?  Sure!  Earl Grey with Cream and Sugar cake?  Sure!  (Ack!  Now I want to throw a tea party with tea flavored cupcakes!  See where this kind of flexibility can lead you?)  You now have, with a little imagination, a fabulous, easy, inexpensive cake recipe in any flavor you can imagine.  

1 comment: