Crazy Chocolate Cake

2017 has been a busy one so far. Despite the fact that yesterday was spent curled up on the couch, listening to the wind outside and reading my book for the better part of the day, we’ve been busier than usual in our neck of the woods, with protests, rallies, work events, and a cheeky girls’ trip to Paris already in the bag. This weekend we’re heading to Bath to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little early, and then seeing my favourite band in concert in Glasgow on actual Valentine’s Day evening, so I'm gearing up for another week of awesome. With such a busy month, I was stoked to find a recipe that dirtied only one bowl, was totally delicious (and tasted ‘complete’) even without frosting, required no ingredients I didn’t already have in my pantry AND let me try out a new and weird way of making a cake. Basically, this is the perfect thing to make when you’re craving chocolate cake but trying not to go overboard on labour, ingredients, time or dishes (Oh, and it's dairy-free, in case that was one of your goals for 2017!).

Relatedly, every time I pull a recipe out of the recipe box and it has a title with 'crazy' or 'impossible' or 'unbelievable' in it, I am immediately suspicious that the recipe will contain something weird, like mayonnaise or gelatin or courgettes or Oleo. But this one contains only totally normal ingredients!* It's definitely the weirdest technique I've used to make a cake in recent memory, but it's easy and leaves you with only one dirty bowl, and it's so delicious I'm already thinking up excuses for making another one.

*Recipe does include vinegar, but if you haven't made a chocolate cake with vinegar before, fear not. It seemed so weird to me the first time I made one several years ago (for Judson's 30th birthday) that I phoned my grandmother when I got to that step of the recipe to ask if that seemed normal to her. She assured me that it was, I proceeded, and I quickly learned that the best chocolate cake recipes always contain a spoonful or so of vinegar. The flavour obviously evaporates completely but the texture it leaves behind is moist, light and fluffy- a total win!

The verdict:

4 spoons out of five. Interestingly, Judson, who hates frosting, gave this a three, and I, who literally can't be trusted in front of a bowl of frosting and a spoon, give it a four. I swore I wouldn't do ½ spoons when I started the Recipe Box Project, and it's my blog, so we're going with four spoons. Even Judson acknowledges that 'people who like cake would give it a four or five.'

one year ago: Broccoli So Nice, We Cooked It Twice

the recipe:

Crazy Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and grease a 9x9-inch square pan.
Sift flour, then set aside.
Sift cocoa into a separate bowl, then sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt together, directly into the greased pan.
Mixture will likely have a hill in the middle, but try to sift as evenly as possible.
Make three grooves in the dry ingredients with your finger or the handle of a piece of cutlery.
Pour oil into first groove, pour vinegar into second groove and pour vanilla into third groove but DO NOT STIR YET.
Pour cold water over entire mixture, then beat with a spoon until nearly smooth and no visible flour remains (try not to scrape the bottom or sides of the pan too much as you do this).
Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out only slightly sticky.
Once cool, sift powdered sugar or coarse sanding sugar over the cake and serve warm.

the ingredients:

1 ½ c flour, sifted
3 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 c sugar
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cold water
Optional: powdered sugar or sanding sugar

The Battle of the Carrot Cakes: An Easter Saga

Carrot cake, to me, has always been a take-it-or-leave-it situation. If it’s got raisins in it, obviously it’s terrible. But it’s so often perfectly moist with such a lovely layer of cream cheese frosting, I’ve never been able to completely stay away from it. Eleanor, I suspect, shared exactly my sentiments: it’s a non-chocolate dessert, and as such, it’s immediately suspect. But it has cream cheese frosting (one step away from cheesecake for a die-hard cheesecake fan), nuts, and it’s a veritable classic—all points in its favour. Also, Easter and Lent were always a big deal to Eleanor, so I could see these carrot cake recipes being go-tos for her around this time of year… although in 1950s Florida without air conditioning, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision this frosting melting right off the cake.

Up until this week, I don’t think I have ever made a carrot cake. Having now made two in less than a week, I can tell you with a fair amount of surety that these recipes are practically foolproof. One of them doesn’t even involve a mixer, and both are so perfectly moist you’ll be shocked at how you can slice through them like warm butter. Also, both cakes are dairy-free (except for the frosting).

If you’re not big on Easter, carrot cake is still a good springtime treat—somehow lighter than a chocolate cake, but not requiring any fruit that’s not in season yet. Plus, let’s be real: cream cheese frosting is the best frosting, but so often comes out grainy or just too heavy… not so this frosting. If you’re a fan of frosting, might I recommend (heartily) the below frosted version? It’s the best cream cheese frosting I’ve ever tasted, and I’m already plotting all the future cakes I can top with it.

That said, if you’re heading to a brunch-y Easter gathering, the unfrosted, bundt pan version of this cake is sturdy, easily transportable, comes together with only a large bowl, a whisk, and a grater, and is the perfect weekend breakfast treat.* (If you’re curious how I know this, it’s because I brought it to work to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday, and we all nibbled thick slices at half past ten on a Wednesday morning. We regretted nothing.)

If you’re only going to have a chance to make one carrot cake (which, unless you’re me, is all the carrot cake a normal person can deal with in a single month), then I wholly recommend the frosted version below. It’s moist, fresh, nutty and somehow buttery, despite the fact that there is not a drop of butter in the whole cake. But it’s also a bit fragile (from all that moistness) and it’s going to be a pain to transport it if you wanted to take it to a party. Team it with a strong espresso if you're hosting Easter dinner and everyone will love it. Plus, there’s no divisive fruit in it to make any non-raisin eaters jealous.

If, however, you’re not a frosting person, you’re more into the traditional carrot cake with dried fruit included, or you need to take this cake somewhere with you, then make the bundt version. It’s even easier, faster, and still tasty and moist with the perfect crispness just around the edges. Plus, you can pretty easily convince yourself or anyone else that this one is breakfast food, so it deserves some points just for that.

*The recipe actually calls for an angel food cake pan, which I assume means a tube pan. But I hate angel food cake and refuse to buy a pan specifically for a food that I don’t even like, so I used my bundt pan. It turned out fine, and when I brought it in to work, one guy thought I had carved the cake into a wheel shape, complete with the ridges all the way around. So maybe consider using a bundt pan if you want everyone to think you’re super talented.

The verdict:
Carrot cake 1: Perfect Carrot Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

5 spoons out of five. This cake was so good, we and the houseguests we shared it with all ate it for breakfast at various points. I can’t overstate the perfection of the icing!

Carrot Cake 2: Easiest Carrot Breakfast Bundt Cake

5 spoons out of five. I know the point of pitting these two against each other was to determine which was better, but they were both so amazing I just couldn’t choose. They’re unique enough that I’m glad to have both in my arsenal and will always revert to this one for a brunch situation or whenever I need to transport a cake across town, as this one is the sturdier of the two.

Easter recipes, previously: Easter Bread & Hot Cross Buns

One year ago: Quiche a la Bramafam (Tomato & Caramelised Onion Tart)

The recipe:

Perfect Carrot Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

the directions:

Preheat oven to 150C/300F.
Line 2 8' pans with baking paper on the bottom and set aside.
Cream sugar and oil until fluffy.
Add eggs and beat well.
In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, then fold in carrots and nuts gently, just until combined.
Pour into prepared pans and bake 25-30 minutes until a pick inserted in the middle comes out barely sticky.


Beat all ingredients together, chill frosting slightly, then fill and frost cake once completely cool.

the ingredients:
the cake:

2 c sugar
¾ c vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 c carrots, grated
½ c pecans, chopped

the frosting:

½ c butter, melted
1 c cream cheese, softened
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1 c pecans, chopped

The recipe:

Easiest Carrot Breakfast Bundt Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside.
Mix sugar and oil together in a large bowl.
Add eggs, one at a time.
In a few batches, add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
Add carrots, vanilla, nuts, and dates, stirring well after each addition to make sure the batter is well-incorporated.
Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour until a pick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Let cool slightly, then turn out to cool completely.
If serving immediately, dust with powdered sugar-- otherwise skip it or it will get clumpy.

the ingredients:

2 c sugar
1 ½ c vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 c flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp salt
2 c carrots, grated
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c pecans, chopped
1 c dates, chopped
Powdered sugar for dusting (if serving immediately)