Great Cake is Good Chemistry

In the simplest terms, baking is nothing more than a chemical reaction between ingredients that produce a very pleasing end result. As with most chemical reactions, any variation on the recipe will result in disaster; or worse, no cake. When I came across several recipes that seemed to “break” all the rules of baking that I knew to be essential I knew I had to do some baking.

During war times, when baking supplies were often in short supply, many resourceful American women devised a variety of “make-do” cakes that were not dependent on traditional ingredients. Wacky Cake is one of those Make-Do Cakes that stuck around.


This Wacky Cake is mixed right in the pan with unusual ingredients. It may be wacky, but it works!

Wacky Cake

Yield: 6-8 servings

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup cocoa powder

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

5 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the prepared pan. Make one large and two small holes in the dry ingredients. Add the oil to the large hole and the vinegar and vanilla extract separately into the small holes. Pour the water into the pan and mix until just a few streaks of flour remain. Immediately put the pan in the oven.

Bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan and serve. This cake is best on the day it’s cooked.


In 1966 Ella Helfrich of Houston, Texas won second place in the annual Pillsbury Bake-Off for her Tunnel of Fudge Cake. While the original ingredients to make the cake are no longer available, this recipe makes a very delicious substitute.

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

Yield: 12 servings


½ cup boiling water


Believe it or not, there is a rich, creamy tunnel of fudge hiding in this cake.

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups of all-purpose flour

2 cups finely chopped pecans or walnuts

2 cups of confectioners’ sugar

¾ cup of cocoa powder

1 teaspoon of salt

2½ sticks of butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup packed light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract

5 eggs at room temperature


4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

1/3 cup heavy cream, very hot but not boiling

2 Tablespoons light corn syrup

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 12-cup non-stick Bundt pan.

Whisk the boiling water and chocolate together in a small bowl until melted and smooth. Let the mixture cool slightly. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, nuts, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes) with an electric mixer set on medium. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the chocolate mixture until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly beat in the flour mixture until just incorporated.

Pour the batter in to the prepared pan. Bake the cake until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top feels springy when touched, about 40-45 minutes. Take care not to over bake this cake. Do not test with a wooden pick.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Let the cake cool completely (about 2 hours).

While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze. Place the chopped chocolate in a small mixing bowl; pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate; add the corn syrup, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Let the hot mixture sit for 3-5 minutes and then whisk to combine. Whisk until the glaze is smooth and the chocolate is completely melted. Let cool for 25 minutes or until thickened.

Drizzle the glaze over the top and sides of the cake. Let the glaze set before serving, about 25 minutes.


It took all my strength NOT to preheat the oven for this Cold Oven Pound Cake. Surprisingly enough, this recipe worked. The cake will rival any traditional pound cake recipes; the crumb is tender and fine and the crust was deliciously crisp like classic pound cake.

Cold Oven Pound Cake


Oddly enough, this Cold Oven Pound Cake MUST be started in a cold oven. It will not work in a preheated oven.

Yield: 12 servings

3 cups of cake flour

1 teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 ½ sticks butter, softened

2 ½ cups of granulated sugar

6 large farm fresh eggs, room temperature

Grease and flour a 16-cup tube pan. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. In a measuring cup mix the milk and vanilla together.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer set on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one third of the flour mixture followed by half the milk mixture. Repeat with half the remaining flour mixture and the remaining milk mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Set the oven to 325°F and turn it on. Immediately put the cake into the oven and bake, without opening the door for 70 to 80 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack; flip the cake and cool completely.

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