Wacky Cake and Blissful Icing
October 24, 2015 by Leslie Anderson
As the prevalence of birthday cake flavored foodstuffs proves, most people have a singular idea of what a birthday cake is. It’s a white or vanilla cake with very strong frosting, and most likely sprinkles. I think this became the defacto birthday cake only because so few have tasted the bliss that is Wacky Cake.
Long before I was born, my grandmother was in the grocery store trying to wrangle her three sons. As always, they were a handful. Some random woman, seeing my grandmother struggle to keep her kids in line and get out of the grocery store before the next ice-age, approached her with a recipe, claiming that any hardworking mother could use such a simple, easy, and inexpensive cake recipe. I would have thought the lady daft, but luckily my grandmother was a more trusting sort, because this cake became the birthday cake in the Anderson family.
It’s a moist, spongy, chocolate cake that has this beautiful … one might say ‘tang,’ to it. As a kid, I looked forward to every birthday as if it were my own and ate Wacky Cake until I either felt sick or got in trouble. Being such a moist cake, remnants were always left on the pan, and I’d break out a butter knife to scrape off as much as I could to secretly get more. I might have had a bit of a sweet tooth.
I’ve outgrown my sweet tooth, but not my love of Wacky Cake. It’s rich, but not overwhelmingly sweet, and that subtle tangy flavor gives it depth.
If you’re unfamiliar with wacky cake, you’re probably wondering about the name. As a kid, I never second guessed it; what’s in a name? As an adult, I’ve come to understand that it’s wacky because it doesn’t use dairy. That’s right, folks, it’s a vegan cake. A delicious vegan cake that no one would know was vegan because it was created by omnivores for omnivores during the Great Depression, when eggs and milk were prohibitively expensive. Thing is, even when the economy stabilized, people kept this recipe alive because it’s that darn good.
The Andersons didn’t (and continue not to) have many traditions, but Wacky Cake is one I hold dear. Even in my own house, eating it takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s one of my absolute favorite recipes, and definitely the nearest to my heart. (I can’t believe I just used that expression.)
And that’s just the cake. Now let’s talk icing.
I don’t know what to call the sort of icing my grandmother topped Wacky Cake with, other than blissful. I find most icing overly sweet and lacking complexity. It’s not that I need ‘sophisticated’ icing, so much as I cannot handle a tidal wave of sweetness unless there’s something else going on, too. This icing is sweet but light, tasty without being overwhelming, and perfect when paired with the more full-bodied flavor of Wacky Cake.
Blissful Icing (as I have now dubbed it) makes use of Crisco, which is a 1950s housewife ingredient if ever there was one, and I know that Crisco isn’t the most natural thing in the world, but leave those concerns for another day. I’ve yet to find another recipe for icing this complementary to Wacky Cake.
Blissful Icing specifically requires regular, non-powdered sugar. I think powdered sugar tastes ... weird, so I like using normal sugar, but it does make it longer to prepare the icing.
The other day I baked some Wacky Cake without realizing I didn’t have any Crisco. In an attempt to find a recipe suitable to top my beautiful cake, I tried several different styles, and none of them were right. I ended up eating the cake plain. It was still freaking delicious.
And now for the recipes!
Wacky Cake Recipe
- 1.5 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 0.25 cups cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 0.5 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 0.33 cups salad oil
- 1 cup water
There are two ways to do this.
The first, the way I always did it, is: combine everything in a mixing bowl. Turn on mixer, beat until smooth.
Some people specifically love this recipe because you don’t need to use a mixer, though. Another way to handle this is to combine and mix all the dry ingredients in the 8x8 ungreased dish you intend to bake in. Then, make three depressions in this mixture. Pour oil into one divot, vinegar into second, and vanilla into the third. Then pour water over all, and stir well with fork.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Let it cool before icing.
- 1 cup sugar
- 0.33 cups Crisco
- 0.5 cups butter
- 0.5 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and Crisco. Turn the mixer on to blend until it’s a paste. Then (slowly) add the sugar and flour, followed by the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer up high. Really high.
Let it mix for at least 15 minutes, but be careful. Once I wasn’t paying attention, and the icing inched its way up the side of the bowl and ended up spraying my dorm room. Another time, it was mixing so heartily that it wobbled right off the counter and again sprayed icing everywhere. So, take it from me, check on the icing every few minutes and scrape down the sides.
You’ll know when it’s ready, because it’ll be light and fluffy and the grittiness of the sugar will have been beaten away.