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Crazy? Maybe just a little goofy

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Alcatraz Women's Club Cook Book (available at the island's bookshop and a few other stores in San Francisco; unavailable on Amazon at the time of this post, but here's a review) has a recipe for crazy chocolate cake, which was the first time I had seen a recipe of this kind. It doesn't contain eggs or butter and is very easy to make... you mix everything right in the baking pan!

I have a great recipe for an egg- and butter-free chocolate cake so I knew these kinds of cakes would work, but what was curious about the Alcatraz cake was the mixing method: dry ingredients are put into an ungreased baking pan, three holes are made in the mixture and a wet ingredient is poured into each of these holes before being stirred together and baked. I have wanted to try the recipe just as an experiment, but I also wanted to know the science behind this mixing method. I've never been able to get an explanation for it.

And then the LA Times food section published a story by Emily Dwass, "Mad for crazy cake" on Jan 20 and lo and behold, it was about this cake (also called wacky cake). The article started out with an explanation of Shirley's crazy cake with cream cheese frosting, but it was the picture of the poppy seed crazy cake that got me really interested. After all, nothing says CRAZY like poppy seeds, right? Before you try the recipe though, please read a follow-up article where the recipes were actually tested: "Notes from the test kitchen: Crazy cakes". You can also read the comments from those who have tried the recipe ­­– which is why, in the end, I decided not to follow the recipe exactly.

I would do the "crazy" part ­­– make holes in the dry ingredients and fill them with the wet ­­– but I would use the recipe for my tried-and-true eggless, butterless chocolate cake from a now-defunct British magazine (it has a regular method of whisking the ingredients in a bowl and the cake is baked in a greased and lined pan) and adapt it for use in a poppy seed cake based on the explanation given by the LA Times. The cake came out moist and spongy, and went well with the passion fruit glaze. Besides, I like the "seediness" of both cake and accompaniment!

Serves 8-10

100g unbleached bread flour
50g unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
85g caster sugar
2 tablespoons blue poppy seeds
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50ml vegetable or sunflower oil
1½ tablespoons golden syrup
150ml milk
The hole story: (clockwise from left) oil and golden syrup; vanilla extract; and vinegar
  • Preheat the oven at 180°C. Sift together flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt; stir in sugar and poppy seeds. Place dry ingredients into a 21cm square baking tin. With the handle of a wooden spoon, make three holes in the mixture. Put vinegar in one hole, vanilla extract in the second, and oil and golden syrup in the third. Pour milk over the mixture and stir ­­– quickly but smoothly gently ­­– with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth (don't take too long as the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda will start to react immediately and this is what causes the cake to puff up. Science... don't you just love it?).
Spongy and firm to the touch
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, until risen and centre is springy to the touch. A toothpick or skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Cool the cake in tin; when cool, cover tin with foil and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavours to meld and the moist texture to develop. Eat the next day, served with passion fruit glaze. (I don't know how the folks at the LA Times got the cake out of the tin since it wasn't greased. I had to slice it in the tin but each slice came out nicely.)
Passion Fruit Glaze
Makes ½ cup
Pulp from 4 passion fruit
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix pulp and sugar. Heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes; turn down heat. Mix corn starch with 1 tablespoon water and stir into the pulp mixture; simmer until slightly thickened.

Poppy Seed Crazy Cake on Foodista


  1. The cake was lovely, would not have been able to tell there was no butter or egg by the texture and taste. Not too hot on the passion fruit glaze though. The taste was ok but they looked too much like tadpoles.

    All you need now, Marty, is to make a passion fruit loaf which will combine your passion for bread with your newfound love of the tadpole fruit. I challenge you.

  2. Unfortunately, this is a family blog and I can't put down the less-than-complimentary name I called you when I read your tadpole reference! :)

    I don't know if bread and passion fruit go together but I'll do some research and see what can be done.


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