Lots of things can be persuasive when deciding on a recipe to try out. Important things, like the tastes of the people you’re making it for, and how much time it (is meant to) take. Practical matters like whether you can get all the ingredients for it (all those possibilities for yuzu juice and quinces – not necessarily together – are having to take a back seat for now. The inclusion of chocolate tends to move a contender higher up a short-list, too. But a silly name, now, that always grabs the attention. Whether it can keep it (let alone live up to it) can be another matter...
I was trying to decide on a cake that might lend itself to being taken to a brunch. Something not so indulgent that it was too much of a dessert – some people don’t like too much (obvious) sugar early in the day* – but with a sufficiently distinctive flavour so as not to just fall by the wayside with the toast. It was going to have to compete with bacon after all, and that can be tricky. The idea of a cake that included ingredients that might be consumed at breakfast time (not, in this case, bacon...) appealed to me. So I went looking for cakes with orange juice, coffee or tea, maybe a streusel topping or some fruit. Trying to narrow down quite what I was looking for was a bit of a challenge.
And then I came across a wacky cake. Just what on earth is a wacky cake, anyway? Turns out, it’s a cake that doesn’t use eggs, milk or butter in the batter. Some are even wackier and get mixed directly in the cake tin. It apparently originated from wartime rationing, and uses vinegar and baking soda to make the cake rise. Vinegar in a cake might sound less than appealing but the cake did indeed rise and (somewhat to my surprise) was very more-ish.
The version I tried out was a sticky orange wacky cake (although if butter and eggs were in short supply in WWII, one can only wonder where on earth people were getting oranges, in days when they were such a treat you were lucky to get one in your Christmas stocking**). Leaving aside historical accuracy (because I don’t want to start getting all Heston Blumenthal and looking for a mock turtle or some other culinary anachronism to be made impossibly delectable), this is a good recipe if you’re looking for an orange cake that doesn’t also involve almond meal***.
If you feel like getting wacky in the kitchen, here’s how to make a sticky orange cake of your own...
Sticky Orange Cake
Adapted from a recipe at The Kitchn
What you need
3 cups plain flour
1½ cups white sugar
½ cup soft brown sugar, tightly packed
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Zest of one orange
2 cups of orange juice (I cheated and used bottled juice for the cake)
2/3 cup low-flavoured oil (I used grapeseed; olive oil tends to be a bit too heavy and dominate the flavour, I’ve found)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup orange marmalade
1½ cups icing sugar
Juice from the orange you zested earlier, strained
What you do
1. Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line two 9-inch round cake tins with baking paper (I used springform pans, and found they worked well – I’m never keen on trying to extract a cake from a regular tin and risking it disintegrating – or getting dropped!)
2. Sieve the flour white sugar and soft brown sugar and add the baking soda, salt, and orange zest. Mix until well combined.
3. Separately mix together the orange juice, vegetable oil, vinegar, and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk quickly and thoroughly. If it looks a bit like it’s bubbling and expanding slightly, that’s a good thing, and is the reaction between the ingredients starting to happen.
4. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake tins and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cakes are set, springy when gently prodded, and a cake tester inserted comes out barely clean.
5. Let the cakes cool in the pans before removing them. And let them cool completely before icing them (speaking from experience, as somebody who has had beautiful cakes in puddles of icing far too often).
6. Spread the top of one cake with marmelade, and place the other cake on top of it. Allowing a bit of the icing to escape down the edges gives it a rustic and tasty look, I think (but I’m messy, so potentially biased...).
7. Sieve the icing sugar and add the freshly squeezed orange juice, a teaspoon at a time, until the icing is a spreadable consistency. Pour the icing onto the top cake, and arrange using your spatula / butter knife / spoon of choice for this purpose (I like a small, angled metal spatula).
The cake had a squishy but light density (which does sound like a contradiction in terms) and the orange flavour really came through. I’d be keen to try it using freshly squeezed juice in the cake as well as the icing, next time. I found the taste grew on me – while it initially seemed quite simple-tasting, it was easy to be tempted back for a bit more. It kept well for several days, though becomes squishier in the middle when left – I’d like to try it again in a larger cake tin, perhaps cooked at a slightly lower temperature and for longer (a risky business, messing with cooking times and temperatures) to do a single layer version.
I think I'll definitely be experimenting with wacky cakes again. Have you tried them? I'd love to hear about your wacky baking – or just mildly eccentric baking if you prefer!
* This is a preference I just can’t relate to. Just like breakfast cereal can be eaten at any time of day, so can dessert. Although perhaps for every meal in a day, it might be going a bit far. Unless it’s a special occasion. Or there’s an ‘r’ in the month. Or...
** So I’m reliably informed by those who lived through post-war frugality in England, which hadn’t exactly been rife with tropical fruit (not that an orange really qualifies as tropical, but you hopefully get my drift) in any case.
*** Much as I could eat cakes with almond meal until I turned into a friand, sometimes there’s an urge to try something a bit different. That, and it avoids the need to try to compete with sticky and almondy cakes done so beautifully by friends recently as well!