“Interesting.” That’s the phrase my way-too-polite friend Lacey uses to describe the evenings when my vegetarian cooking efforts are..less than successful. Lacey is so polite, in fact, that my friend Michael and I have taken to gauging her true opinion of the new recipes I continually attempt by intensely scrutinizing her face as she takes her first bite then counting the number of servings she takes. Because while Michael and I will readily admit that my experiments are occasionally revolting concoctions too good for the garbage can, “interesting” is about as harsh as Lacey gets. Particularly memorable “interesting” dishes have included frozen Indian vegetables that tasted like toothpicks and a kohlrabi stew that the dogs rejected without tasting. (Including my weenie dog who’s known to eat..well I won’t go into it here…)
“Interesting-in-the-Lacey-sense-of-the-word” is what I initially thought when, while flipping through my brand new, hot-off-the-press copy of America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution, I first read a recipe for chocolate pudding cake. Fueling this impression was an author’s note that conceded that the cake sounded like “a recipe for disaster.” Mainly this is because, after preparing the batter and sprinkling it with sugar and cocoa, you act like you have forgotten your cake outside during a summer rain–i.e. you pour an entire cup of boiling water over the pan. Also, who bakes cakes in a slow cooker?
Like most of the food I make, the cake was, appearancewise, a bit of a disaster. But like all concoctions involving chocolate, butter and sugar, it was a beautiful disaster, a chewy brownie pavement pockmarked with with gooey puddles and tiny islands of still-firm chocolate chips. If this sounds good to you, you can probably start making it right now: As the cook book authors note, the ingredients are all “pantry staples.”
Chocolate Chip Pudding Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder. (The recipe calls for Dutch processed, which I didn’t have. I happened to have a tin of Scarfenberger natural cocoa powder, which worked very well.)
2 tea spoons baking powder. (Because I live at 5,000-plus feet, I reduced this to 1 and 1/2 tsps, with good results.)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup whole milk (I used 2% because, again, that’s what I had. It was fine.)
4 table spoons unslated butter, melted
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. As I do with most recipes that call for chocolate chips, I doubled the amount.)
1 cup boiling water
One of the revelations of Slow Cooker Revolution is that the side of crockpot opposite the control panel can get very hot, burning half the food. To solve this problem, the ever-resourceful America’s Test Kitchen authors came up with the idea of creating an “aluminum foil collar” to insulate this section of the pot. To create the collar, fold heavy-duty foil until you have 6 layers. Use the layered foil to create a strip that is about 16 inches long and 4 inches wide. Use the strip to line the wall of the pot opposite the control panel. (No need to line the bottom of the pot.) The food will hold the strip in place. Spritz the pot and the foil strip with non-stick spray.
Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Whisk milk, butter, egg yolk and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add milk mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add chocolate chips. Put batter in slow cooker. (My batter was very stiff and barely covered the bottom of my crockpot, which is a very standard 6.5-quart Cuisinart. ) Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. Sprinkle over batter. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the entire cake. (I know, weird.) Cook on HIGH until the top of the cake cracks, the sauce bubbles and moist crumbs cling to an inserted toothpick. America’s Test kitchen suggests this takes 90 minutes. I checked mine after 85 minutes and sections of the top were a little dark. I’d suggest keeping an eye on it the first time you make it since slow cookers vary by model.
You’re supposed to let it sit 10 minutes before serving with a dollop of vanilla ice cream but come on who really does that…