Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Little Yellow Box: Favourite Recipe #1 - Wacky Cake... by Barbara (Ruth)

I'm excited to begin my series on recipes from my mother's Little Yellow Box. First up, Wacky Cake.

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? "Wacky Cake."

Well, it turns out that, more than just being a Henderson family favourite through the 60s and 70s (and today, quite frankly), this simple little cake has quite a history of its own.

This isn't the exact one we had, but it
was very similar. Pretty young Grandma,
wouldn't you say?
Mum found this recipe in a war-time cook book. More of a pamphlet, really. I don't have it anymore, but I remember recipes that had helpful instructions like "add enough flour," or "bake in a hot oven until done". I suppose just about every good housewife knew how to cook back then, and knew how much flour was "enough" and how hot an oven needed to be!

Wacky Cake, so the story goes, was a recipe born out of the scarcity of eggs and milk. Depending on which source you believe, it goes as far back as the first world war, but is mentioned more in the 30s and during the second world war. The use of vinegar in the recipe causes a reaction with baking soda that ensures it is light and fluffy, thus making up for the lack of eggs and milk.

The cake is chocolatey and delicious, and - believe it or not - vegan (before vegan was even an idea), and literally takes 5 minutes to prepare. This cake was a staple at our house - whipped up quickly to satisfy starving teenagers, prepared for birthday events when eggs were left off the grocery list, or just made for afternoon tea. Not only does the mention of Wacky Cake stir up fond memories, but it is a favourite to this day in all the extended-Henderson households!

I hope you enjoy it:

Wacky Cake
1.5 C Flour
1 C Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
Salt (How much, you ask? The recipe doesn't say. I use about half a teaspoon.)
3 T cocoa
5 T shortening (I use canola oil.)
1 tsp vanilla
1 T vinegar
1 C water

This recipe is supposed to be one that you can mix, bake, and serve in one pan. I prefer to mix it separately because I use Pam to prepare my baking dish. Stirring after spraying the pan makes the Pam less effective.

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
2. Add the wet ingredients and stir until mixed. (I use a whisk because it keeps it light and airy.)
3. Pour into prepared pan.

That's it.

Oh - I guess you want to know how to bake it? Well, your guess is as good as mine, since those instructions aren't in the recipe. I baked it at 350 for 25 minutes, checking frequently. I used a 9x13 pan, so baking time would vary if you use a square pan.

Once it's done, let it cool and sprinkle it with sifted powdered sugar once it's cool. That's all there is to it!

Unless you're a Henderson and want marshmallows on top. In that case, skip the powdered sugar. Instead, use scissors to snip regular-sized marshmallows in half, and place them evenly on top of the cake after it cools a little. (You can also use those multi-coloured mini-marshmallows.)

Place under broiler, watching constantly - they suddenly go from white to black if you're not careful. When the marshmallows are golden brown, you're done.

And that, my friends, is Wacky Cake. Warning: there will be no leftovers.


  1. The marshmallows did me in, and now I HAVE to try this! I was even thinking about a drizzle of caramel over the top might be yummy!!!

    Thanks for sharing, Ruth!!!


  2. I love heritage recipes! The ones we remember from our childhood are often the best.

  3. Wow - I am going to try this one for sure!! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have a very similar recipe for an egg-less chocolate cake. Mine has a bit of vanilla and crushed apples, instead of shortening. I like to top it off with home-made dulce de leche (caramel)...yum! I really want to try out this recipe. Let me know if you would like mine. Great post!