I know what you’re wondering on this weirdly warm Saturday night in the middle of winter: You’re wondering, “Is there anything Genie Abrams won’t do to advance the culinary sciences?” And the answer, gentle readers, is, “Hells, No!”
For example, I have just come upstairs from an adventure in the kitchen that involved my eating 15 ounces of cake. Here, i’ll do the math for you: That’s one ounce less than a pound.
It was a bit much, i must say, but it was all for Science. Some of us must suffer. And it was angel-food cake! Kind of.
What happened was, my ex-sister-in-law (i have a whole collection of these, but the ex-sister-in-law in question is Sue, who lives in South Carolina) forwarded me an email that said you could make “lovely cakes for one,” perfect for those of us who live alone, simply by stirring together the contents of two one-pound boxes of cake mix — one an angel-food mix, and the other one ANY OTHER KIND, in a gallon-size, zip-closing bag — and then putting 3 Tablespoons of that mixture and 2 Tablespoons of water into a small microwavable container. Stir, nuke on high power for 1 minute, and VOILA!
(It’s called “3-2-1 Cake,” because it’s 3 Tbsp of the mix, 2 Tbsp of water, and 1 minute in the microwave: Get it?)
Put some frozen strawberries around this cute little cake, or on top of it, or frost the damn thing, whatever … and you’re all set. You can then store the rest of the dry mixture on a pantry shelf — no need to refrigerate or freeze, since it’s just cake mix. And then, for months to come, as long as you’ve got water, a microwave, a microwavable container and a minute, you’ve got yourself a cake!
I had questions. What size must this “small microwavable container” be? Would my 5-Tablespoon cake be lying there an eighth of an inch high in the bottom of one of my containers? Or, would it rise too high and spill out over the top of it? Also, do you have to “grease and flour” the little container, the way you do a Bundt pan when you’re making a regular angel-food cake? And why do you have to combine the angel-food mix with a regular one? Could you use just angel-food cake mix? Or, just regular cake mix?
Sue didn’t know. “Why don’t you experiment,” she said.
Results: 1. I am happy to report that NO, you do NOT have to “grease and flour” the microwavable container. i performed my experiment three times tonight, using three different containers, and none were greased and floured. All three cakes i made fell quite readily onto the plate when i inverted them.
No, sticking to the container was not the problem.
2. Here’s the problem: These cute little cakes taste no better than regular angel-food cakes. That is to say, they taste quite a bit like Nothing, only more rubbery. i did defrost a one-pound bag of strawberries and put them in a bowl with sugar; with that topping, the little cakes are vastly improved. Even that process was not without problems, however: Yes, somehow, i managed to screw up defrosting strawberries. Straight from the freezer, i dumped them all onto a plate and nuked them for a minute. When i took them out, half of them were not only defrosted, but actually quite hot; specifically, the bottom half of each strawberry. The top halves of them were still frosty! Back into the microwave they went, flipped over like pancakes; this time, they emerged hot and squishy. Not bad-tasting, especially after i added the half-cup of sugar to them; but not quite what you want on your rubbery little angel-food cake.
3. As for container-sizes: The first one i tried was the smallest Rubbermaid microwavable “servin’ saver,” the bottom of which forms a square just 1 1/2 inches on a side. The vertical sides of this container angle outward so that at the top, it’s 2 inches wide and long. Also, it’s 2 1/2 inches high. This was the first container i tried, and the little cake that came out, being taller than wide, and a bit tippy, was adorable: It looked like a wee, drunken stovepipe. And while the top was airy like a normal angel-food cake, the part nearer the narrow bottom grew more and more dense and rubbery. The second container was my supermarket’s generic smallest: 4 1/2 inches long, 2 inches deep, and 2 1/2 inches high. The cake that came out was OK but odd-looking: It rose only an inch high, and to me it looked too big for one, yet too small to share with a friend. For my last experiment, i used a small, straight-sided, Pyrex oven dish, 4 1/2 inches in diameter. I doubled the recipe so i used 6 Tablespoons of the mixture and 4 Tablespoons of water.
To be proportional, I intended to double the time in the microwave, to 2 minutes, but then for some reason i had the feeling that that would be too long, so i arbitrarily took the cake out after 1 minute and 40 seconds, rather than 2 minutes.
PERFECT! This one was perfect. It fell easily from its container, just as the other two cakes had; but it had quite a nice texture, compared to them. The one in the generic container, i swear, when i went to cut it, i pressed the knife down all the way to the plate, sawing back and forth, and the cake just bounced right back up. i finally had to stab at it, point first, like a kid jabbing eye-holes in his snowman with a carrot. Only later did i realize that the container said on it: “Microwave reheatable only.” OOPS! Maybe that’s why the sides of that container seem a little squishy now.
I never did try using only angel-food cake mix, or only regular cake mix. That experiment will have to wait for another day.
Finally, fellow science students, a note about cake-types: i used an angel-food mix that had two bags inside the box: one for the “flour mixture” and one for the “egg-white mixture.” Maybe that’s how they all are, but it surprised me. Anyway, i used both bags in this recipe as though they had been one. And for my “any-other-kind” of cake mix, i chose my supermarket’s generic “Price Chopper Incredibly Moist White Cake Mix.” It says on the box, “Just add egg whites and oil.” A lot of the other mixes on the shelves at that supermarket said, “Just add eggs and oil.” Hmmm … I wonder if it would have made any difference if i’d used one of them.
But, like the single-type-of-cake-mix experiment, that’s for next week, same time, same station, here on “Fun-Food Science Network!”