“It’s just not wacky enough.”
The saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and certainly for families in the Depression and World War eras, lack of rations led to the creation of what we know as wacky or Depression cake. These are cakes made without eggs and milk which were scarce, and today many people with egg and dairy allergies have turned to them gratefully for countless number of birthday and family parties.
The email I received yesterday, though, made me laugh because it said, “Unfortunately, the recipe just isn’t wacky enough for my family.” This particular person also needed the cake to be gluten and sugar free in addition to egg and dairy free.
And I’m finding that to be a common problem among folks who send me emails. The world has come a long way: grocery stores, online sites and even restaurants carry gluten free products, nut free foods, dairy free items, and sugar free versions of just about everything. Unfortunately, for the person who is allergic to more than one of these, it can still be difficult to find foods which meet all the needed “free” criteria.
So, this morning, I took a gander at reworking the two recipes sent to me. I had signed up to bring some allergy friendly desserts to the Teacher Appreciation luncheon my children’s elementary and middle schools were hosting, so I decided I’d use the recipes to make cupcakes.
The first recipe sent was for a plain wacky cake calling for 3 cups of all purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp vinegar, 2 tsp vanilla, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 cups of water.
The second recipe was for a chocolate wacky cake calling for 3 cups of all purpose flour, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 2 tsp vanilla, 2 tbsp vinegar, and 2 cups cold water.
For both recipes, it just called for mixing everything together.
1. The flour: Since it needed to be gluten free, I had to decide which type of flour blend to use. Since the recipe is already compensating for the loss of eggs with the use of vinegar and baking soda, I was concerned about the batter’s ability to rise. As such, I decided that Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free Mix which is a blend of garbanzo bean flour, rice flour, cornstarch, xanthan gum, and baking powder would be best.
Why? Because 1) the mix of rice and garbanzo bean flour would allow for the higher fiber and protein without being too heavy; 2) the mix already has the xanthan gum in it which means one less item to mix in myself; and 3) the extra baking powder would help to compensate for the lack of leavening ingredients.
Folks who can have gluten could always use a white whole wheat or red whole wheat to boost the nutrients and fiber in the recipe.
2. The sugar: I decide that I would opt for two different sugar substitutes. For the chocolate wacky cake, I used coconut sugar because I wanted to try a dry substitute and because I thought the brown sugar flavor of the coconut sugar would complement the chocolate flavor better. I used a one for one substitute.
For the plain wacky cake, I opted for Agave, wanting to experiment with a liquid substitute. Also, I had decided I’d turn the cake into a chocolate chip spice cupcake which I felt the Agave would complement better. For the Agave, though, I used half the amount of called for sugar, and added 1/2 cup to the amount of flour needed to counter the extra liquid.
3. The oil: Because I prefer healthier plant oils, I chose to swap the vegetable oil with other types. For the chocolate cake, I used a blend of olive, grapeseed and canola oil which would lend a fruity undertone to the chocolate flavor. For the vanilla cake, I chose to use safflower oil to lend some flavor without overpowering it to the vanilla.
4. The vinegar: Since the recipe didn’t specify, I was presuming they were calling for regular distilled white vinegar. Since I prefer to always add a little “something”, I decided to use a raspberry vinegar for the chocolate cake and an apple cider vinegar for the vanilla cake.
5. The additions: I chose to keep the baking soda, salt and vanilla the same for each recipe, but I added cinnamon and nutmeg to the vanilla cake to make it more a vanilla spice cake, and I swapped the regular unsweetened cocoa powder for Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder to lend a deeper chocolate flavor.
I also decided to throw in chocolate chips to help give the cakes more structure. For the chocolate cake, I added a package of Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips. For the vanilla cake, though, I wanted more of the taste to exude from the batter so I put a package of Enjoy Life mega chunks into my food processor and ground them to tiny pieces which I incorporated throughout the batter.
6. The assembling: The original recipes called for simply mixing everything up. Since I wanted to make sure the batter would fully incorporate all the necessary ingredients for adding structure and leavening, I opted to do the cake batter in steps. First, I mixed all the dry ingredients minus the chocolate chips/pieces together. Then I used a spoon to incorporate the chocolate chips/pieces into the dry ingredients. Then I mixed all the wet ingredients minus the vinegar together. Finally, I added the liquid mixture to the dry mixture, adding the vinegar last and mixing until everything was well-blended. By doing this, I ensured that the effects of the vinegar would last through putting the batter into the muffin tins and into the oven.
7. The cooking: Since I needed to bake for the luncheon and because I wanted to see quickly if the structure of the batter would hold up, I opted to make cupcakes instead. I lined 24 muffin cups per each recipe with muffin liners and scooped batter into each cup all the way to the top of the muffin liner, being careful to simply scoop the batter in without squashing it down. Then I baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, turning them halfway through the cooking time.
Upon removing them, I left them in the muffin tins for about 15 minutes before removing them. This allowed the cupcakes to begin their cooling inside the tins which allows the structure of the cupcake to gain stability before being removed. After the 15 minutes, I removed the cupcakes to wire cooling racks to cool completely.
8. The new recipes:
For the chocolate wacky cupcakes, the new recipe was: Mix 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free flour with 2 cups coconut sugar, 1/2 cup Hershey’s Special Dark Unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tsp baking soda. Then add one 10 oz package of Enjoy Life chocolate chips. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup healthy blend oil (olive, grapeseed, canola mix) with 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups cold water. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture with 2 tbsp raspberry vinegar. Blend well. Gently scoop mounds of the batter into 24 lined muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. Cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.
For the vanilla spice wacky cupcakes, the new recipe was: Mix 3 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Biscuit and Baking Gluten Free flour with 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, and 2 tsp baking soda. Food process one one 10 oz package of Enjoy Life chocolate mega chunks into tiny pieces and add to the dry mixture. Set aside. Mix 3/4 cup safflower oil with 1 cup Agave, 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 cups cold water. Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar. Blend well. Gently scoop mounds of the batter into 24 lined muffin cups, filling to the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking time. Cool in tins for 15 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.