You’ll Never Guess the Secret Ingredient in This One-Bowl Cake – The New York Times

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Born out of a scarcity of fresh eggs, chocolate mayonnaise cake was one of those Depression-era recipes that sounds a lot stranger than it tastes.

After all, cakes rely on eggs and fat for tenderness and richness, and mayo is made of exactly those things, plus some salt and vinegar to give it tang.

But you don’t taste the tanginess of the mayo, and if you didn’t tell anyone it was there, they would never know. I have proof. Every time I’ve taught a food writing class, I’ve brought some in to see if my students could guess the secret ingredient. Out of about a hundred students, only one ever got it, because her grandmother used to bake the same cake for family gatherings.

Which is to say, don’t let a lack of eggs or butter stop you from making cake. (Lack of flour is another story.)

And this cake is one-bowl easy, and ridiculously good for the small amount of effort put into it.

[Still hungry? Here are three more snacking cakes from Melissa Clark.]

Start by bringing some water to a boil: You can also use hot coffee or even an Earl Grey or mint tea for more flavor, but I don’t bother.

In a large mixing bowl, put 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (either Dutch-processed or natural). If you want to increase the chocolate, you can also add an ounce or two of chopped bittersweet chocolate. I threw in the last of a bag of chocolate chips that was full when my family started sheltering at home, but that’s been mysteriously vanishing over the weeks, 11-year-old-child-sized handful at a time.

Pour in 3/4 cup boiling liquid, and let it sit for a few minutes, then whisk until smooth. The chocolate will have melted, if you used it, and the cocoa dissolved.

Whisk in 2/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 3/4 cup granulated sugar until smooth. Then whisk in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you have it (or a dash of Bourbon or brandy or just leave it out entirely). Finally, whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour (either all-purpose or cake flour), mixing vigorously to eliminate any lumps.

Pour the batter into a greased 8- or 9-inch pan (square, round, star-shaped, anything is good). Bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when the center is lightly pressed. The deeper the pan, the longer it will take to bake through.

You can frost it with cream cheese frosting or fudge icing or pour on a shimmery glaze. But a sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar is really enough. A thrifty cake at heart, it needs no fancy gilding to shine.

This is part of a series in which Melissa Clark teaches you how to cook with pantry staples. See more.

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