The Expat Kitchen

For those of us who live overseas our kitchens are the means through which we create a home.
Our kitchens are probably the same as yours but with a few twists. We bring things from all the places we have lived, taste memories and smells, and blend them into our new lives. For example your mothers roast chicken may sport a new Harissa glaze, and the curry you learned to make from your Amma, or housemaid, in Asia becomes something your children identify with as "home food". We don't love Laksa or Mee Goreng or Shwarma because street food is trendy, we love them because those foods are identified with a place, and people. The boundaries of our culinary worlds are a little blurred, and our kitchens reflect that.
When we go home we pack our suitcases with "essentials" to bring back with us. I often wonder what custom agents think when they see suitcases filled with peanut butter, tortillas, gatorade packets, and feta cheese. We visit grocery stores when we travel in the hopes of finding a longed for item, and when we find those things in our host country, we hoard. Even though we stockpile favorite foods we are quick to throw open our pantries to each other, to share our cache of chocolate chips, canned chipotles peppers, or vanilla extract.
There are some recipes however that we will never change. No matter where we live, or how many times we have moved, some recipes evoke such a strong memory of home that we would never dream of tinkering with them. This chocolate cake is one of them. My babysitter Stephanie taught me how to make it in elementary school. It was my favorite after school snack and I took pride in being able to make it myself. It's not a fancy cake but it is perfect for a lazy weekend afternoon at home.

Chocolate Crazy Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
This cake is vegan, the frosting however is not. The cake goes by many names, wacky cake, crazy cake, depression cake.....the baking soda interacts with the vinegar giving the cake its rise.
Spoiler alert: This is not a deeply gooey chocolate cake. It is very moist and lovely, but not super chocolatey. You can try to mess around with it, increase the cocoa powder or add chopped chocolate if you want, but when I make it, I don't change a thing.
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup strong coffee

Preheat to the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 9-inch square or round pan.
In a medium size mixing bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt  and sugar. In a glass small bowl combine the vanilla, white vinegar, vegetable oil and coffee. Pour the liquids over all the ingredients and stir the ingredients together until you can’t see any more flour and the batter looks fairly well homogenized.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is springy and a tester inserted in the center comes out dry. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack, then cut and serve it from the pan.

Variation: Instead of frosting this cake with the buttercream I have also had this cake sprinkled with 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon before baking. It is excellent!

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
2 cups confectioners' sugar
½ cup butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes until very fluffy.
Add vanilla and 2 tablespoons of milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more milk if needed for spreading consistency.

1 comment:

  1. I love the doing without, improvising, and sharing of overseas life. Truth is, my life is so full, here, that I have often found I didn't really need those horded items after all. Just yesterday, I was looking at some jars of roasted peppers I was sure I had to have here, last summer. I am going to have to set a specific goal to use them now as they're not coming up naturally in my cooking lineup.