Whenever I work on a show, I’ve been known to spend my day off (Mondays usually) doing some baking. Then I bring in the fruits of my labor – and my KitchenAid stand mixer and oven – for the cast and crew the next day. Not only does this give me something to do on my day off, but by knowing that I am baking for someone else, it helps me control my own sweet tooth cravings. It’s also a nice way to start the work week. Nothin’ says lovin’… However, sometimes, if the mood hits me, I will go ahead and bake at night after I get home from a show, and, sometimes, even in the morning if there’s enough time for the baked goods to cool down properly.
One of my "morning recipes" is a chocolate cake one that I came across in a New York Times article about cocoa powder. It has no eggs, no butter, but the resulting cake is amazingly moist, and has a good crumb. It’s also very "sink friendly", since there’s only one bowl and one measuring cup that needs to be washed afterwards. (Those disposable aluminum cake pans also help in this regard.)
Well, one morning before a matinee at Arena Stage – I think I was doing Damn Yankees at the time – I decided to make a cake to take in for the company. I had already made a cheesecake the night before, but I wanted to bring in something with chocolate too. So, I brought up the recipe for "Amazon Cake" on my computer, scribbled down the amounts on a Post-It note, and proceeded to get to work in the kitchen. I went ahead and doubled the recipe so that there would be plenty to go around – there were usually about 30 mouths to feed.
When I had finished mixing everything up, I noticed that the batter looked very thick, too thick. Oh, I guess I didn’t double the amount of water. Of course, when I went to check the cakes at their designated finish time, they were still a soupy mess… But I did notice that the edges looked like they were cooking up properly. Thankfully, I had started baking early enough that morning, and I was able leave them in the oven to finish baking. Sure enough, after another half hour or so, the cakes looked good. The tops sprung back properly after being touched, and my toothpicks came out clean. So, I just left them in the pans, and placed them in the back seat of my car to cool during the trip in to the theatre.
I placed my goodies on the table in the green room, and gave a brief disclaimer about the cakes. I explained how I had gotten myself mixed up while doubling the recipe, but since the finished products came out looking "right", I went ahead and brought them in. Two brave souls – a bass player and a props runner – were the first people to try the cakes. I cut each of them a slice… Hmm… They have a different texture, and look different on the inside… Hmm... The bass player took a bite of the wedge I had handed him, gave me a questioning look, then stated, "It tastes OK, but it’s definitely not the same as last time." He then proceeded to eat the rest of his slice. The props girl took one bite of her slice, promptly spit it back out onto her napkin, let out a confused scream, "Ewwwww! It tastes like Chinese food!!!" I then took a bite, and, yes, it had a strange hint of "Chinese Food", both in texture – sort of like a steamed rice flour cake – and the chocolate flavor was obliterated by notes of ginger and toasted sesame oil(???). I promptly took them off the table, dumped them into some bags, and threw them in the trash. "Why are you doing that?" asked the bass player. -Here, have some cheesecake.
When this cake is made properly, it really is quite wonderful, and it’s very easy to mix up in the morning, afternoon or evening. If you properly double the recipe, it can be baked in two round cake pans (for a layer cake), or in one 13"x9" pan (with a slight increase in the baking time). I have doubled the recipe successfully since that "Chinese food" incident, but, to be on the safe side, I made two individual batches, side by side.
From "The New York Times"
Adapted from "Cafe Beaujolais" by Margaret Fox and John S. Bear
serves 6 to 8
1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 t. baking soda
1 cup sugar
½ t. salt
5 T. corn oil
1 ½ t. vanilla
1 T. cider vinegar
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla and vinegar with 1 cup cold water. Whisk in the dry ingredients, blending until completely lump-free. Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. Cool before removing from the pan and dusting with confectioners’ sugar, or frosting if desired.