Eric Akis: This Father's Day, give Dad a chocolate cake

Eric Akis

Sunday is Father’s Day and if kids out there want to help make Papa Bear a chocolate cake to celebrate, I have a recipe for you. It’s not difficult to prepare, but I recommend adult supervision when measuring and mixing, and assistance when checking the cake for doneness and removing it from the oven.

My recipe is for an old- fashioned-style chocolate cake where the batter actually gets mixed right in the pan. In old cookbooks, recipes for these kinds of cakes have names such as crazy cake and wacky cake. That’s because when these recipes were first published, it did seem kind of nutty that you could mix the batter right in the pan, not a mixing bowl, and still have the cake turn out splendid.

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To make it, you mix the dry ingredients together in the pan, make a well (hole) in the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients, and mix until a batter is formed. That process is why is these kinds of cakes are also referred to as “hole-in-the-middle” cakes.

When making them, as with any cake, it is important to thoroughly mix the dry ingredients together to ensure they are evenly distributed. But don’t do it too vigorously, or some of the dry ingredients could fly out of the pan.

When adding the wet ingredients to the dry ones, be sure that the two are completely blended. To ensure they are, after mixing the batter, check the corners and bottom of the pan to make sure there are no dry ingredients hiding there. If there are, mix them into the batter.

As with any baking recipe, when making this cake it is important to measure accurately. When you do, for dry ingredients, always use standard measuring cups and spoons and make level measurements. When measuring liquids, use a glass-measuring cup and have it sitting flat on a surface, to ensure it is level.

When measuring flour, if yours has been sitting around for a while and looks compacted, give it a good whisk or stir before measuring. That will aerate and lighten the flour, and make it closer to what it was like when purchased.

To make portions of my chocolate cake recipe extra special for dad, I’ve topped them with whipped cream, Vancouver Island strawberries and homemade chocolate syrup, which you will also find a recipe for below.

Mix-in-the-Pan Chocolate Cake

Once cut and plated, this rich, old-fashioned-style chocolate cake gets even more divine when you top it with whipped cream, strawberries and chocolate syrup.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Makes: nine cake squares

• vegetable oil spray

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cocoa (see Note)

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup plus 1 Tbsp buttermilk (see Eric’s options 2)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 or 2 pints Vancouver Island strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 cup whipping cream, whipped until stiff peaks form (see Eric’s options 3)

• homemade (see recipe below) or store-bought chocolate syrup, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly coat an eight-inch square baking pan with oil spray. Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt into the pan and, with a small whisk or fork, mix until dry ingredients are well blended. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, then pour the buttermilk, oil and vanilla into it. Now mix until a smooth batter is created.

Set pan in the middle of the oven and bake 40 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently touched in the centre, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake pulls out clean. Cool cake on a baking rack to room temperature. Cut into squares and set on plates. Top each piece of cake with a dollop of whipped cream, some strawberries and a drizzle of chocolate syrup, then enjoy.

Note: If your cocoa has been sitting awhile and developed lumps, whisk it through a fine sieve into a small bowl before adding it to the pan.

Eric’s option 1: You can make the batter for this cake in a bowl, then add it to the pan. To do so, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, now mix in wet ingredients, then spoon the batter into the cake pan.

Eric’s option 2: The cake won’t be as rich, but you could replace the buttermilk with 1 cup homo or two per cent milk and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Without the acidic buttermilk, you’ll need the lemon juice to active the baking soda.

Eric’s option 3: Instead of whipped cream, serve the cake with scoops of ice cream, such as vanilla or strawberry.

Eric’s option 4: If you would like to make icing for this cake, place 1/4 cup soft butter, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/4 cup milk and 1 cup icing sugar in a bowl and beat well to combine. Spread the icing on the cake. Refrigerate cake to set the icing, before cutting into squares.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Preparing chocolate syrup at home is easy and you may already have the ingredients in your pantry to make it. This recipe could be halved.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Cooking time: a few minutes

Makes: two cups

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place ingredients in a small pot and bring to a simmer over medium, medium-high heat. Whisk and simmer one minute, until smooth syrup is created. Transfer syrup to a heatproof jar and cool. Seal and refrigerate syrup until needed. It will keep for a few weeks.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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