Full disclosure: my mom does not make cake from scratch; I did not grow up in a family where cakes were baked, aside from the occasional boxed mix. My maternal grandma did, but my mother never. Even pancakes, waffles and shortcakes are made with Bisquick. Now this is the same woman who, as far as I know, has never bought a pie crust but rolls them out without thought, a task that I dread. Same with cut out cookies. The moral of which is we all find different tasks laborious and/or intimidating in the kitchen. I hate rolling out pie crust and would cheerfully buy one. So truly nothing in this review is meant as judgment.
Having said all that, I gotta admit I just don’t get it. Camilla V. Saulsbury’s Piece of Cake!: One-Bowl, No-Fuss, From-Scratch Cakes starts with the premise that more people would be willing to make cake if, like cake mix, it only involved dumping all of your ingredients into one bowl and mixing and then dumping into the prepared pan. Saulsbury bemoans the complexity of contemporary cakes; I would argue she is looking at the wrong recipes. I contend–and have told my mother so, much as she rolls her eyes at me for not rolling out pie crust–that a basic bundt or pound cake is a lot less work than most cookies or any other dessert for that matter, short of blondies and brownies maybe. I have made several cakes from the book, and I found the pressure to get the butter the right temperature a lot more stressful than I ever did getting 2 bowls dirty for a cake (softened butter, in the recipes that use butter, is beaten into the dry ingredients, so it must be soft enough to blend, not just break into tiny lumps). So from that perspective this book was not for me–but then again clearly I am not its intended audience, since I make cake all the time. And if you are more willing to make cake from scratch as a result of using this book, then buy all means go buy a copy today!
This is not say, however, I regret buying the book. On the contrary, I am very much enjoying the book just because its cake collection is creative, exhaustive and delicious. I have had some trouble with some of the cakes sticking (a Cardamom Vanilla Pound Cake was absolutely divine but because the cake was not pretty I am resolved to try again before sharing), a problem which might be occurring because my butter was not soft enough (I rarely remember to set my butter out early enough to become room temperature). The first cake I made from the book is what you might think of as the ancestor to the one bowl cake, the Wacky Cake (also known, according to Saulsbury, as War Cake, Depression Cake, Joe Cake, Dump Cake and Crazy Cake). Moist and chocolatey, one would never guess it is also dairy and egg free (hence its appeal during the Depression and wartime rations).
- 1 1/2 cups (189 g) AP flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder not Dutch processed
- 3/4 t baking soda
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 t white vinegar
- 1 1/2 t vanilla
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips (regular sized will sink)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper and spray with an oil/flour combo, such as Baker's Joy.
Whisk together the dry ingredients, the first 5 ingredients. Set aside.
Pour the oil, vinegar and vanilla into the dry ingredients. Pour the water over the top. Stir just until blended, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottoms and sides of the bowl. Working quickly (to preserve the chemical reaction between the vinegar and baking soda, which leavens the cake), pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the miniature chocolate chips over the top of the batter in the pan. Place the pan into the oven.
Bake for 27-32 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the oven comes out with only a few crumbs attached. Let cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Turn the cake out and peel the parchment paper off of the bottom before slicing. Garnish with powdered sugar or whipped cream.