This is a recipe that was given to my mother when we lived in Wilton, Maine, in the 1970s. My first babysitter, Jane Edwards (born in 1900), lived across the street with her husband Bob in an orderly white house. I remember eating mint meltaways and Cheetos (on separate occasions) from cut glass bowls in her living room and kitchen on sunny summer days. In winter we dodged the apple trees in her yard on our toboggan once the snow was deep enough. The other side of the yard had a steeper slope, but it ended in a terrifying patch of thistles, so we took our chances with the trees. I don't remember Jane serving this cake, but my mother's recipe card named her as the source, and I've been eating and baking it for as long as I can remember. It's a Maine classic.
This is the perfect dessert for surprise dinner guests or weeknight dinners. It's a rough day if I don't have all of the ingredients on hand. It's also great for kids to help with - very few steps, no pan-greasing, and everything gets mixed in the baking pan.
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 Tablespoons melted shortening, butter, margarine, or canola oil
1 Tablespoon vinegar (whatever kind is handy - I often use balsamic)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 350F.
Mix dry ingredients in an 8" square baking pan. Add wet ingredients and stir until smooth. Bake 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack. Dust with sifted powdered sugar to serve.
About 10 years ago, some good friends came over for dinner. We ate together at least once a week, and any time they came over, their daughter (who was about 6 then) would help me bake something after dinner. I didn't have much in the house (or maybe I just didn't feel like making a big mess), so I suggested making a Wacky Cake. As I got everything out of the cabinets, I realized that I didn't have any cocoa powder. I apologized and explained that this was an essential ingredient, but Kaylee didn't understand. "Why can't we just leave it out?" In 30 years it had never crossed my mind to alter this recipe, and whaddaya know, it was good! I've since tried adding diced dried cherries, sprinkling sliced almonds over the top with about 10 minutes left in the baking time, adding a little almond extract, and other things I don't remember. Some versions worked better than others, but they've always turned out edible.