Last week when I was thumbing through my cookbooks in search of a new dessert to try, I was charmed by the intro to Deb Perlman’s Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with Concord Grape Coulis recipe. She writes about how every cook should have an “everyday” cake in their repertoire, something to throw together at the last minute, to take to a friend’s for a last minute dinner or to make at midnight when your kid tells you they have to take a dessert to school the next day. Since I had so recently been in the throws of more intensive dessert making, this Smitten Kitchen cake appealed immensely. And the results were terrific! My guests raved about it, it was moist, lemony, and imminently eatable.
As I was effortlessly mixing all of the ingredients together, it occurred to me that I too have an “everyday” cake, one that I’ve relegated to the back of my brain for if I remembered it easily I’d be making it every other week! This is a cake that I undoubtedly have the ingredients in my cupboard at any given moment, can mix together in 5 minutes while the oven is preheating, and be devouring within 45. I think the reason I haven’t shared it before is because the name my family calls it is off-putting to most people (notice I changed it in the title for fear of turning readers off), but trust me, it’s the best chocolate cake around. It’s my Great Aunt Hazel’s Mayonnaise Cake.
My Great Aunt Hazel, with her shock of short red hair and cigarette dangling from between her fingers, made quite the impression on me even though I knew her only briefly. She and my Uncle Sandy were terrific, booming characters and lived out at the South Side Country Club in Decatur, in a modern home into which one corner had been transformed into a permanent bar. They also had a huge round dining room table with swivel chairs pulled up to it and a proportionately huge lazy Susan on the table filled with permanent condiments. Uncle Sandy spent most of his time behind the bar, as I remember it, holding a can of beer, constantly adding to his enormous beer belly. By contrast, Aunt Hazel was petite and on the move – mostly in the kitchen. She was a fantastic cook and really my mother should be sharing her memories of her dear Aunt here because I fear I’m not doing her justice, but the stories everyone tells of Hazel and Sandy makes me yearn to go back in time and sit at that giant dinner table with them, and this time, share a few drinks and hear their stories first-hand.
At least half of the recipes my mother has passed down to me seem to have come from Aunt Hazel. She was a good Midwestern farm wife and had the culinary skills to match. Her food was hearty, meaty, and also relied heavily on the many new processed foods that appeared with abundance after the War. Like my Great Aunt Bessie (I’ve shared her devilled egg recipe here), Aunt Hazel had a penchant for jello salads (there’s a cinnamon red hot candy recipe for one that I must track down), potato salads, and casseroles. While I might have travelled a long way from my Midwestern roots, there’s most definitely some part of me that loves nothing more than a good chicken fried steak with white gravy and mashed potatoes.
When it came to making my Mayonnaise Cake to share with you guys I tarted it up a bit. I’ve made it in a round springform tin which is nice for presentation’s sake and grated a little bittersweet chocolate over the top. When I used to make this during college I’d just throw the batter in a greased square tin and cut it into squares directly in the pan. I also never really made a frosting of any kind because while I love frosting on its own, I don’t like it with cake very much (I’m weird, I know). However, I must say, this simple mascarpone whipped frosting I concocted makes this cake better! It cuts the cocoa richness just a bit – sort of like eating the cake with a little cream poured over it – which I’ve been known to do for breakfast.
Please, please don’t be put off by the mayonnaise in this. If you think about it, mayonnaise is just eggs and oil, and what good cake couldn’t use either of those? The result is a rich, moist, chocolatey, dreamy cake which I hope you come to love and rely on as much as I do.
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Grease a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl mix together the ingredients in the order listed above. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Mascarpone Whipped Frosting
enough for this cake and then some
8 ounces mascarpone at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In the bowl of a mixer, using the whisk attachment, blend together the mascarpone and sugar until fluffy. Now add the whipping cream and vanilla and beat on high for about 3 minutes, until light and peaks are forming.