15 October 2010

The Cake is Not A Lie

Posted in food, Z-boy at 10:53 pm by Tricia

A few weeks ago, middle son did a project for school where he made cupcakes from a mix and cupcakes from scratch, then had all his classmates rate them. Nothing fancy – no double-blind tests, no counterbalanced design to control for order effects. He just gave ’em the cupcakes and had them rate on a scale of 1 to 10. I helped him make the cupcakes – we picked a yellow cake recipe from The New Best Recipe. It looked better, it smelled far better (less sweet and less fake), it even baked up with a more interesting texture. I have always said that I don’t like cake much, but then I ate an edge piece from a cupcake that overflowed its cup and it was a revelation to me! Wow! I was convinced, right then and there, that it would win by a landslide.

Next day, I was talking him through the statistics and graphing, when it finally struck me: those kids preferred the mix! What were they thinking?? The homemade ones even had a higher spread in the ratings (from 4 to 10, instead of 7 to 10). A four? Somebody rated these revelatory cupcakes with a 4?? So much for the claim that “As easy as the boxed mixes are to put together, nothing can beat the flavor of a home-baked cake.” Apparently America’s Test Kitchen doesn’t have 9 to 11 year olds on their tasting panel!

This week, I needed to make a dessert to take to a party. As I was flipping through cookbooks, looking for something a little more inspired that cookies or brownies, I came across the Red and Black Raspberry Pudding Cake in The All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. I’d been lured in by the “last of the season!” sign on raspberries two days earlier at the Farmers’ Market, so had berries on hand. And I remembered that revelatory cake, so I decided to make this. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the name – would it be gooey inside? It wasn’t – the raspberry sauce starts on the top, but sinks (or the cake rises?) and it ends up in the middle of the cake. It is sort of like a thick jam layer, not gooey at all. It was really really tasty – I would definitely make this again, were I the kind of person to bake cakes!

Raspberry Pudding Cake

3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
3 Tab cold water
2 cups black raspberries (I used frozen blackberries)
1 1/2 cups red raspberries
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest (I used dried lemon peel)
2 Tab lemon juice, or more to taste (fresh recommended; I used jarred!)

1 cup all-purpose flour (I used some leftover cake flour)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tab (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously grease a 9-inch square or 7×11-inch baking pan.

To make the sauce: In a heavy, nonreactive medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and arrowroot powder until well blended. Gently stir in the water, raspberries, and lemon zest until smoothly incorporated. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer, stirring occasionally, just until the raspberries release their juice and the mixture turns translucent, about 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired.

To make the batter: in a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium-high speed until lightened, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth, about 1 minute longer. With the mixer on low, beat in half the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Gradually beat in the milk until evenly incorporated. Add the remaining flour and beat on low until incorporated. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute longer, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Turn out the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly to the edges. Pour the sauce over the batter; do not stir. Just let it sit on top of the cake batter.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is puffed and lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool to warm, at least 20 minutes. Spoon the pudding cake into bowls or onto plates. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or heavy cream, if desired. (We ate it plain!)



  1. Leila said,

    Ah yes. The Kid Taste Factor. I have lamented it many a time… I mean… my kids’ school does potluck picnics at the beginning and the end of the year. Many parents -many of them French- bring delicious deserts, I know I have too.

    What do the kids go for? The luridly coloured cupcakes from the supermarket. Every single time. No questions asked.

    To be honest, fruit goes quickly too, but the kids will turn their noses up at homemade stuff in favour of store bought every time.

    Alas, mine included.

    • Tricia said,

      That leaves more of the delicious homemade desserts for parents, right? :^)

      I’ve given up trying to make kid-pleasing food for pot lucks. I figure other parents can do that, I’m going to make something interesting (to me) and let other people feed my kids. And we usually take a loaf of bread just in case other people take the same approach!

      But it’s good to know it’s not just the uncultured masses at our school who prefer store-bought. I wonder when the good taste switch goes on?

  2. Tracy said,

    Maybe they chose the mix cupcakes because that it is the flavor they are most familiar with. I know I never liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at someone else’s house because they would use different brands of bread, peanut butter, and jelly. And don’t get me started on spaghetti sauce! If someone used a jarred sauce other than what my mom used, I hated it. Kids like the familiar.

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