Monday, January 21, 2008

Wacky Folks and Crazy Cakes

So, this year started off with the regal tradition of the Rose Parade. Now, a couple months into 2008, Pasadena has already reached the point where it feels compelled to show off its wacky side with the DooDah Parade. Most years (I write most for there are some years where the DooDah Parade never gets going), a set of nonconformist Pasadenans rally together and parade down Colorado Boulevard with a collection of unusual cars, hopped up bicycles, various drag costumes and trucks towing live bands, like our local cover band, Snotty Scotty and the Hankees. We also get to see groups like this one, a band of men and woman wearing French sailor shirts, berets, and carrying baguettes as batons.

Good bread is, after all, a mighty powerful weapon.

For the most part, the DooDah Parade is more for the people marching in it (who seem to be having a swell time) than those watching. As one who watched the latest version of the parade this Sunday, I admit to not "getting" every joke. I don't mind—sometimes I'm just happy to watch people have fun.

But for ECG's birthday, another event of last week, I wasn't satisfied to sit back and watch the fun happen. No, I had to make it happen. As a surprise to him, I pulled together a last minute happy hour that lasted multiple happy hours at a local bar. Fun ensued, the type of fun that involves lots of beer and good jokes. However, with finals looming ahead, I was short on time and didn't get to his celebratory birthday dessert until this weekend, days after his birthday. Even the dessert had to be fun, so I opted for cheerful little bites of cupcakes rather than an elegant tower of a cake. There is something sweetly nostalgic about the combination of chocolate cake and cream cheese frosting, so that's what I set out to bake. Hopefully, these little numbers made up for their tardiness by their I-want-to-eat-ten-at-a-time-ness.

To make the cupcakes, I used a recipe I've made so many times, I know it by heart and can make it without thinking. Although the recipe is now second nature to me, it hasn't always been. The first time I made this cake recipe on my own, without my mother's guidance, I was ten years old. It was to be my last day at school because my family was moving yet again. My best friend at the time, Alison, and I set out to throw our own goodbye party for me, and we decided to bake a cake. We'd bake the tried and true Crazy Cake recipe, so named for it's lack of eggs and its leavening provided by the chemical combination of baking soda and vinegar. I had scribbled my mom's well-worn, handed-down recipe on a piece of paper, for we were to bake at Alison's house while her mom was busy grading papers.

I remember reading the ingredients out loud and the two of us stirring the chocolate batter. I remember pulling the cake, having risen tall and beautiful, out of the oven and admiring it's wonderful warm rich fragrance. I remember proudly bringing it to school and slicing a piece for everyone. And, I remember the grimace on the face of the boy that I had a mad crush on, Alex, as he said, "Man, this cake tastes horrible."

And it was horrible. Dreadful, actually.

In my haste and inexperience, I had written all spoon measurements as tablespoons. It wasn't teaspoons of baking soda Alison and I added, it was tablespoons. Tablespoons of salt. Tablespoons of vanilla. After one bite of the cake, my teacher, usually a very kind woman, didn't even know what to say.

That is how I spent my last day at that school before moving to an entirely different state. I wonder if any one remembers the wacky girl who made the horrible crazy cake that one time in fifth grade.

Rest assured, I've got my units of measurement figured out now, twenty-odd years later. This recipe, when not followed by a confused ten year old, works like a charm, every time. It's moist, chocolate-y, and not only makes great layer cakes (doubled or tripled, depending on the number of layers you're making), but makes pillow-soft, tender-crumbed cupcakes as well.

Crazy Cupcakes

You will need:
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup high quality cocoa
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 cup of water

To make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sift together the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Make three wells in the dry ingredients, pour the vanilla in one, the oil in another, and the vinegar in the last. Pour a cup of water over all, and stir with a large fork until combined and smooth. Pour into prepared muffin tins or liners, filling each about two-thirds. Bake 18-20 minutes, or until the centers of the cupcakes bounce back when pressed lightly. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting, The Way I Make It

You will need:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
6 tablespoons softened butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
powdered sugar—you may need up to 13 ounces, depending on how soft your butter is and how much humidity is in the air
pinch of salt

To make the frosting:
After the cupcakes are completely cool, make the frosting.

Beat together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt together until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Sift in powdered sugar, a half-cup at a time, beating after each addition until the frosting is the consistency you like.

Spread a thick dollop (because everyone loves cream cheese frosting) on each cupcake. If you are feeling like adding a little funky bling, sprinkle a smidgin' of edible gold powder on the top of each.

This recipe makes 12 cupcakes, enough to make quite a few people happy.


Wendy said...

You're baking disaster story is making me nervous. I'm baking the cake for my best friend's wedding in a couple of months and am now wondering what I've got myself into!
Love the sound of the "DooDah" parade. For the name if nothing else.

winedeb said...

Sounds like a Key West parade! Lots of wacky folks here!
Love the cup cake idea. Sounds good and I have a birthday person arriving soon so I may whip these up for her! Yum:D

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks alot for your comment! I've been reading the whole of your blog yesterday and it inspired me alot in gardening, cooking and living greener. I really enjoyed your style of writing.

Thanks for the tip on the book too. I'm going to the bookstore!

Looking forward to more posts of yours! Have a great day!


Shaun said...

Christina ~ Thank you for the photos of the DooDah Parade! It is lovely to see Colorado Blvd. How I miss it (and Celestino's on Lake Ave, just a block south from where Eric works).

The cake disaster is hilarious and reminds me of one in my youth, too. I was about the same age as you were when I made a culinary blunder. I might save that story for my next post.

I love that you cupcakes use oil instead of butter, but that is swiftly equalized with the butter required in the cream cheese icing. Delicious. I'll have ten if EKG won't!

Lucy said...

Bread really IS a mighty powerful weapon. Glad you see that too.

I love reading about others disasterous childhood baking experiments - alas, my Virgoan mother didn't like me 'making messes', therefore she baked while I wished I could join in...

You're so right - everyone does love cream cheese frosting. Preferably from the spoon. He he!

Christina said...

Wendy: Don't be nervous--that happened when I was a child! I know your wedding cake will be fabulous. The DooDah parade is much fun.

Winedeb: Wacky folks = constant entertainment. It's never a dull moment around here, I tell you! These are quite yummy, and if you're a cream cheese frosting lover, as I am, you'll find that you even have some leftover. Oh, yum.

Teresa: I'm so glad you've found this blog inspiring; that is a huge compliment to me. You're welcome on the tip--I think you'll find it very helpful.

Shaun: I don't blame you for missing Colorado Blvd. As frustrating as the traffic and the chain stores can be, it really is a charming street. I can't wait to hear your cooking story--please post it!

Christina said...

Lucy: And this cream cheese frosting recipe makes a ton, enough for plenty of spoon-served leftovers. I think I'll go serve myself one spoon of frosting right now, while I'm at it. Darn it--what I wouldn't pay for a childhood baking disaster as told by you! Oh well. You've got plenty of other great tales to tell. Happy day, friend.

Christine said...

sounds like a berkeley parade! haha except sometimes we get naked people.

mmm...cupcakes...we don't have ovens here at least not in the apts. so we can't even bake anything, not even cake from a cake mix :'(

Christina said...

Christine: There were 6 naked (except for thongs), fine-assed women preceding the DooDah queen. I'm not sure that I've ever seen 6 such perfect butts all in one place--they must have been models. I thought ECG's tongue was going to fall out. I must tell you: I'm so envious of your puppy.

ironnail2 said...

In the late 70's some people from Pasadena moved to the Takilma,OR. area and started the DooDah farm. They built a large dome where they all lived until each family had their own house. When they moved out they started a school in the dome. When the Takilma residents built a community building the school (K-6)moved over there. They still call it the dome school.