Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eats: Crazy For Crazy Cake!

Hello! I suppose just about every family has a food tradition that it cherishes but elicits a "huh?" from others. For instance, I know of a family who eats chocolate ice cream with a pineapple topping. Think I'll pass. But in my family, crazy cake with coffee frosting seems to fill the "I never heard of it" role.

This was a very common birthday cake during my childhood, and to this day it often shows up at family birthday parties. It's very easy to make, which is probably one reason why my mother leaned on the recipe - we were a family of 10. And it's inexpensive and convenient as well, since it has no eggs. Not only that, but it tastes delicious - moist and chocolatey. Maybe a little sweet, but not heavy like some cakes made with lots of butter can be. 

I never asked my mom where she got the cake recipe from, but online research seems to indicate it's been around since the 1930's or 1940's. I did ask her once about coffee frosting, since chocolate cakes are more typically topped with chocolate or vanilla frosting. She explained that was to appease my dad - he didn't care much for chocolate, so a coffee frosting made the cake more palatable to him. 

Since it was so popular within my family, I have been surprised as an adult to learn there were people who had never heard of crazy cake. My husband hadn't. When I lived in Indiana and belonged to a women's club, I introduced a couple of friends to this recipe, and both enjoyed it. One of the friends was especially happy, for she'd been in a quandry over what to make for her son's first birthday party. He was allergic to eggs, so her baking choices were limited. At my suggestion, she made crazy cake (though with chocolate frosting) for the party and phoned me afterward to say how well the cake had been received. It was sweet of her to call and I was glad my recipe had saved the day. 

But on to the present. I had volunteered to bring a dinner over yesterday to a family who recently welcomed their second child into the world. Decided to make crazy cake cupcakes - easy to serve and eat. There were some extras for my husband and myself, so here is how one of our cupcakes looked:

In case you haven't heard of Crazy Cake either, here's the recipe my family uses, followed by a few notes:

Crazy Cake

Preheat oven to 350. Grease one 13x9 pan or two layer cake pans. 

Stir together in a large mixing bowl:

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
6 rounded tablespoons baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt

Make three holes in dry ingredients and add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to each hole (ie 3/4 cup vegetable oil total). Add two tablespoons vinegar, two tablespoons vanilla and 2 cups cold water. Mix thoroughly and place in baking pan(s). Bake for about 30 minutes, or until cake tests done. 

Coffee Frosting

Not really much of a recipe here. Start out by blending one stick of softened butter, about 4 cups of powdered sugar and a dash of salt in a large bowl (can use mixer for this recipe, of course). When well blended, add enough very strong coffee to make desired spreading consistency. I use instant coffee for this; easy to get a very strong coffee that way. (How strong you make the coffee depends on how much coffee flavor you want your frosting to have. However, if you make the coffee too strong, your frosting will end up tasting kind of burned. The voice of experience here).  Will likely need no more than 1/2 cup coffee. 

Notes: I used a half recipe to make the cupcakes and got a yield of 14. Cupcakes need less baking time - check at 15 minutes. Mine needed about 17 minutes. 

This cake also goes by the name "Wacky Cake" - like "crazy", this title probably refers to the lack of eggs, with vinegar and baking soda supplying the leavening. More recently, I saw it referred to as "Three Hole Cake" in a Taste Of Home magazine issue - a reference to one of the recipe steps. But you'll never hear me call it that - it makes me think of outhouses, which were sometimes described by how many holes ("seats") they had. Although three-hole outhouses meant less waiting in line outside, I'd just as soon not be reminded of these structures, thank you very much. 

I've seen directions for this recipe that call for mixing it right in the baking pan, but my family doesn't do it that way. It seems easier to mix it in a bowl, I think.

And another important note: while looking up some information on the recipe and its origins, I came across many versions of it on the Internet. Most were basically the same as my family's, except that sometimes the amount of baking cocoa varied. And someone mentioned using cold coffee instead of water in the batter. 

There was one big difference, though, and that has to do with the amount of vanilla. Nowhere did I see as much as two tablespoons of this ingredient called for, as my recipe does. This leads me to wonder if somewhere down the line, a two-teaspoon amount was accidentally changed to two tablespoons. This might have happened when someone wrote out the abbreviation "2 t." as "2 T." - easy mistake. Fortunately, in this case it doesn't affect how the cake turns out, and the extra vanilla probably adds more flavor depth. 

And since it tastes so good, I will leave the larger amount of vanilla in. You may wish to use less if you decide to make it, but do try this recipe if you want an easy, yet delicious chocolate cake! Frosting flavor is up to you, though.


  1. I love crazy cake. I never thought there was anything strange about coffee frosting, but of course I'm used to it.

  2. Thanks for stopping by! But I bet if you ask your friends how many of them have heard of crazy cake, let alone crazy cake w/coffee frosting, you may find it's a new one on them.