Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not so crazy...?

When I was a teen, one of the first cakes I learned to make was clipped from the newspaper. "Real Crazy Cake" was so appealing to me based on its name alone, but I also loved it for the reaction it evoked from my mom (horror at the implied junk food nature of the recipe; I think she suspected it was in league with Ho-Hos, Ding-Dongs, Twinkies--who names these things?--and worse) and the absolute ease of preparation. Grease a square baking pan, dump in all the dry ingredients, top with the wet ingredients, and stir till moistened. Bake. Eat.

The "craziness" of the cake is based in some simple chemistry; any kid who's made the infamous "science fair volcano" knows the secret. Baking soda and vinegar provide the leavening, resulting in a light texture. And the worrisome funny smells evaporate in the heat of the oven--if you didn't know the craziness, you would never guess.

Now I am the parent of three teens, all who have some food quirks (that's probably genetic; I developed my love of biology from dissecting the meat on my plate because I was too squeamish to eat it). Over the years, we have grown into the tradition of lazing around Saturday mornings--it's a big sigh of relief for everyone after a full week--and brunching on a quickly-assembled, freshly-baked something or other. Pancakes, waffles, scones (both stovetop and oven varieties), muffins, cinnamon swirl (which deserves its own post!). And now Crazy Cake has made a reappearance in my baking repertoire.

About a year ago, I came across a gently-loved copy of the "King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook" at our library's used bookstore. And there was the recipe, under a new "adult" name, but with the same crazy ingredients and preparation. I couldn't resist. As I re-read the ingredient list, I realized that Crazy Cake has a lot of good things going for it. It can be successfully made without cholesterol, eggs, or dairy--a good choice for people with health concerns or food allergies. It responds well to improvisation: add in extra healthy stuff, use whatever liquid you have, tweak the sugar content.

The very basic recipe is this:
1 1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs. vinegar
1/3 c. oil
1 c. liquid

And the version that arrived on our table this morning is this--heavily modified from the crazy original, because I just can't leave well enough alone...which, I suppose, is craziness as well...

Pear Spice Cake (because I had overripe pears :-)
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all purpose flour (sometimes I sub in 2 Tbs. ground flaxseed)
pinch salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (this adds a wonderful lemony flavor; I often add more)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. canola oil (I goofed and misread the recipe...and it was fine)
1 c. vanilla yogurt, whisked to liquify it (buttermilk, plain yogurt, or OJ also works)
1 tsp white vinegar
2 ripe pears, cored and diced into bite-sized pieces

Coat a 9x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350F.
In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk to blend. (I find it less messy to mix everything in a bowl and then pour it into the baking pan; I've gotten sloppier in my old age). Whisk together all the wet ingredients, including the brown sugar. Pour the wet into the dry and blend until the flour is incorporated. Stir in the pears; feel free to add 1/3c. or so of chopped nuts. Pour into the baking pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until it tests done.

With the large amount of fruit and the juiciness of the pears, this cake was moist and dense. Use apples instead and you get a drier cake. Leave out the fruit and spices, add in 1/4 c. cocoa powder, use coffee as your liquid, and you get mocha cake. Use an acidic liquid--such as OJ--and you can omit the vinegar.

I tell ya, this recipe begs to be toyed with.

Have to see if there is any left for me to have a taste.


  1. This is a cake to have fun with-I like your pear version and the fact that you are using fruit that needs to be used now. And a simple receipe to use it in. And the thought that every time I have some fruit that should be used-this can be my go to recipe. Thanks! Joan @bakershotline

  2. Joan, thanks for your comment! This cake is also good with those apples that have lost their crispness...they bake into an applesaucy goodness.