Monday, August 26, 2013

The Kids are Alright

This has been the summer of family. My brother, sister-in-law and the niecettes 5 came for an extended visit. They rented an apartment down the block from mine, and for the first time in over ten years, I lived within walking distance from my brother, albeit for a mere two months. Of course, the last time I lived near my brother, he didn't yet have five wonderful daughters, so this was a little bit of a new experience for me.

It was nice having my nieces living down the block from me. It was nice popping in for dinner, or just to say hi. It was nice having them raid my bookshelves, and my friends' bookshelves, because my nieces are nothing if not voracious readers. It was nice taking them to the Botanical Gardens and to the park and to the bookstore. It was nice having them in my everyday life. It was nice having them in my kitchen.

The kitchen part only happened at the way end of their trip, a few weekends ago. I had had various niece-aunt cooking projects planned (homemade pasta! caramel brownies! Marcella Hazan's pasta sauce!), but alas, this summer was a busy one on all fronts, and somehow, they never came to pass. And then, on Friday, on a total whim, I decided I needed to bake and also on a whim, my two middle nieces decided to bake with me. There was a lot of negotiating of turns (it's my turn to mix, no, it's mine  I want to pour. Why did you let her pour? You get the picture. ), but all in all, it was a good time. There was even some bowl licking.

When I was a kid, my mother used to make a vegan chocolate cake that we called Wacky Cake because it didn't contain eggs and that's just wacky. It was one of the first things I ever baked on my own. It's a fun recipe for a kid, because it involves digging holes in the dry ingredients and then watching the volcanic eruption of baking soda and vinegar doing their explody thing as they meet (see, science is fun!). I haven't made Wacky Cake in years, because even though it is an excellent cake, I have grown up and moved on to more, er, mature things (sort of, not really. Explody things are never not fun)- by which I mean coffee and beer. I like to call this cake the Everything You Need Cake, because it contains everything you need in life- chocolate, coffee and beer. Mrs. Larkin on Food 52, from whom I adapted this recipe, calls it Fudgy Stout Chocolate Cake, and that's a fine name, but personally I feel that my version really gets to the heart of the matter. I know what's important in life.

Everything You Need Cake is basically a more complex version of Wacky Cake. Like Wacky Cake, it's vegan and it gets its lift from that spectacular vinegar-baking soda combination. The two cakes are also incredibly versatile. You can double the recipe, you can cut it in half, you can bake it in a loaf pan, or cut the baking time and make cupcakes. Awesomeness all around. However, unlike Wacky Cake, Everything Cake is not afraid of deeper flavors, which is where the coffee and beer come in. And maybe, when introducing my nieces to vegan chocolate cake, I should have started with Wacky Cake for tradition's sake. But I guess part of growing up is taking traditions and then making them your own so they can, in turn, be passed on to someone else to be changed again.

Everything You Need Cake

Adapted from Mrs. Larkin on

A note: Mrs. Larkin suggests using Guinness Stout in this recipe. I use whatever beer I have on hand, which is usually something a good deal cheaper than Guinness. Still, I happen to like dark beers, so whatever I use is usually fairly rich and bitter and malty.

1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark beer
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Sift  the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk in the sugar. In a measuring cup, combine the beer, coffee, water, vanilla and vinegar. Add to the dry ingredients. Mix until combine. Pour in vegetable oil, whisk vigorously until you have a smooth, loose batter.

3. Pour into a greased and lined 8 inch cake pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool. Serve plain, or with a mocha glaze like the one in this recipe