Friday, 3 April 2015

Super healthy chocolate cake aka wacky cake (no eggs, butter, dairy and ... chocolate)

Super healthy chocolate cake aka wacky cake (no eggs, butter, milk and ... chocolate)

Making an healthy yet delicious cake - and an healthy dish in general - is sometimes easier than one could think. 
No need to find particular or exotic products, or to use substitutes for regular (and unhealthy maybe) ingredients, or to search for innovative recipes developed and tested by gurus of healthy eating. 
All you need are few staple, cheap ingredients available even in the pantry of cooking-hating people and - here is the real surprise - an old, often forgotten and underrated recipe, developed when people had access to a much more limited number of food items than nowadays, and some products that we can have everyday (and often try to limit for healthy reasons, like meat or cheese) could be eaten just once in a while or reserved only for special occasions (think chocolate or coffee). 
Due to the scarcity of available ingredients, or to their high price, people were forced to be creative and inventive in order to develop"smart" recipes able to transform few basics products into tasty and satisfying dishes, some of which imitating or trying to reproduce richer and expensive ones.

And this is the case of this recipe whose origin has something legendary. From a geographic point of view, the cake is American but it's not totally clear when it was created: some stories tell it was developed during the Great Depression, the severe worldwide economic downturn in the 1930s; others say the recipe was one of the results of rationing during World War II, when milk, butter and eggs were scarce; and there are even legends dating the cake back to the pioneers era, 

No matter the correct date of origin of the cake, for sure it was a period of tight economic circumstances. When most of the ingredients typically used for a cake batter - eggs, butter, milk and even baking powder - were not available or too expensive; not to mention chocolate! 
But even then people wanted to eat good and comforting food. So the inventive housewives of that period, using few basic and cheap ingredients - mainly flour, cocoa, sugar, oil, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda - and taking advantage of a favorable, and very likely unknown, chemical reaction between vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, created a surprisingly soft, moist and chocolatey cake. 
A recipe that should be rediscovered now that we all try to eat healthy, light yet tasty food. 
Super healthy chocolate cake aka wacky cake (no eggs, butter, milk and ... chocolate)

As the ingredients are very basic, so the preparation method is really straightforward; the ingredients can even be mixed directly in the baking pan (maybe when foods were scarce also kitchen tools were not so many). What you have to do is in fact pouring the dry ingredients in the pan (or a bowl as I do, following my "modern" way of making cake batters), making three holes with your fingers and pouring oil, vanilla and vinegar in them, a brilliant technique to prevent vinegar and bicarbonate to mix (and react) too early, then compromising the softness of the cake. 
This unusual technique may be the reason why this cake is often referred to as "wacky cake"; or maybe the name comes from the original combination of oil, vinegar, bicarbonate (sounding more like the ingredients for a salad dressing than for a cake) and cocoa. Nobody knows for sure. 
But for sure the cake is absolutely pleasant and soft, and keeps very well for several days (for me, it is at its best the second and third day). 
I was a bit skeptical the first time I made it, even after reading only positive words about it, but the result was better than any expectation. 
When I make this cake, it's because I want something light and healthy - even if actually craving for a chocolate baked good - and therefore I use to have it plain, sometimes with some icing sugar or cocoa powder sprinkled on the top. But it is also perfect as a base for decorated or layered cakes.

Considering that there is no egg or dairy in it, the cake is suitable also for a vegan diet. 

A final comment on the amount of the different ingredients: compared to the original recipe, my version has less sugar and oil (as usual though) but, for my taste, is perfectly sweet and moist. If you have a very sweet tooth you may ligthly increase the quantity of sugar, while there is no need to add more oil.
Super healthy chocolate cake aka wacky cake (no eggs, butter, milk and ... chocolate)

Super healthy chocolate cake aka wacky cake (no eggs, butter, milk and ... chocolate)
makes one 23x23 cm (9x9 inch) cake  
230 g all purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
180 g sugar (white or cane granulated sugar)
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar)
1 teaspoon  pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons vegetable oil 
300 ml cold water 
Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).
Grease or line with parchment paper a 23 cm (9 inches) square baking pan.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a bowl, add sugar and combine (to make everything even easier you can do the mixing directly in the baking pan). Make 3 holes in the mixture, two small and one larger.
Pour vinegar in one of the small depressions, vanilla in the other and the vegetable oil in third larger depression.  Pour water over all.  Mix rapidly until smooth (it is important to be quick, otherwise the vinegar will react with baking soda - chemistry is very important when cooking- and the cake won't turn out soft and moist as it should).
Transfer the batter in the prepared pan, if needed. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes until the top is shiny and ; if tested with a skewer, the cake should still have moist crumbs (pay attention not to over-bake, or you will have a dry cake).  
Let the cake cool before serving.  
You can top or fill the cake with any frosting of your liking or just sprinkle some icing sugar or cocoa powder before serving. 
Super healthy chocolate cake aka wacky cake (no eggs, butter, milk and ... chocolate)

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