The Chocolatiest, Quickest, Most Rewarding Treat for No Effort at All: Amazon Cake

Thank god for the internet, that’s all I can say.

This afternoon I got a little stir-crazy—I’m just finishing one of my long-term on-site freelance gigs, which means I suddenly have my days free. I’ve got plenty to do: There’s the freelance stuff I can do in my pajamas; the apartment hasn’t had a real, thorough clean in, um, well…; and my To-Do list before junior arrives currently has 22 separate items on it. So how do I decide to spend my newly abundant free time? Baking an Amazon Cake.

I cut this recipe out of the Times several years ago and used to make it fairly often, whenever I wanted a hit of deep chocolate flavor with minimal effort, minimal fat, and minimal cleanup. There are no eggs in it, nor butter, nor animal products of any kind, so it’s both pareve and vegan—but for once, it’s also incredibly satisfying. The whole thing comes together in ten minutes, mixed by hand, but it’s tasty enough to serve to company—especially if you went the extra step and frosted it. (You could also double the recipe and make a traditional layer cake out of it.)

So where does the internet come in? Well, sometime between my moving in with Stephen a few years ago and now, I lost the clipping. After twenty minutes of painstakingly turning in my recipe binder—even the non-dessert sections—I finally realized that the original article must still be on the Times’ site. Sure enough, here it is, in an article about cocoa powder. And it’s by Regina Schrambling, no less, whose tart, sometimes head-scratchingly oblique commentary I read faithfully on her blog Gastropoda. Her description of the cake is as good as I can hope to achieve, so I’ll quote her directly:

Cocoa works best in recipes that are designed for it. . . . Even something as simple as the classic Amazon, or black-bottom, cake found in so many cookbooks uses no dairy products or eggs, only vegetable oil and vinegar with cold water. The cocoa reacts to the combination to produce the darkest, moistest cake seen outside the photo on a box of mix.

I can’t explain exactly why this happens, but Regina’s absolutely right: This cake is as picture-perfect, moist, and easy to make as a mix, but it’s 100% homemade.

Amazon Cake
From The New York Times
Adapted from Cafe Beaujolais by Margaret Fox and John S. Bear
serves 6 to 8

1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa [I used Double-Dutch Dark]
1 t. baking soda
1 cup sugar
½ t. salt
5 T. corn oil [I used canola]
1 ½ t. vanilla
1 T. cider vinegar
Confectioners’ sugar.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla and vinegar with 1 cup cold water. Whisk in the dry ingredients, blending until completely lump-free. Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. Cool before removing from the pan and dusting with confectioners’ sugar, or frosting if desired.