Screwball Cake

June 1, 2012

screwball cake

My grandmother used to make this cake and called it “Wet Cake”. She served the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top instead of icing. My husband’s mother made Screwball Cake for every birthday, and her recipe came from the “I Hate to Cook Book”  by Peg Bracken, which was recently republished in honor of its 50th anniversary.

For our wedding, friends made a towering many-tiered Screwball Cake (we have amazing friends) that was enjoyed by all. I have made this cake countless times, with varied icings and fillings. When I was baking professionally this was a popular item in the bakery case. I still make it for birthdays and celebrations of all sorts. It is incredibly easy, has a tender texture and is very moist with a deep chocolate flavor.

Screwball cake is very odd – it contains no eggs or dairy and is leavened with baking soda and vinegar, so is naturally vegan. It adapts very well to cupcakes, you can multiply the recipe and bake it in larger pans, and it keeps for a week without drying out if you wrap it well.

Place dry ingredients in mixing bowl and blend, make three wells in mixture, add oil, vinegar and vanilla.
screwball cake

Mix until a smooth batter forms and no lumps remain. 
screwball cake

Pour batter into prepared pan.
screwball cake

Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean, and the top of the cake springs back if pressed lightly. 
screwball cake

For the icing, beat butter or Earth Balance, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and creamy.
screwball cake

Spread the icing over the cooled cake.
screwball cake
(I got this pan from King Arthur Flour, but it was a seasonal item so may not be available any longer.)

Moist and chocolatey with a generous layer of buttercream icing on top.
screwball cake

Screwball Cake
1 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I like this Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa from King Arthur Flour)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola or safflower oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold water or coffee

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Place flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Use a spoon to make three wells in the dry mixture. Pour oil into one well (it will overflow the well, and that’s okay), pour vinegar into the second well, and pour vanilla into the last one. Pour water or coffee over everything and mix until batter is smooth and free of lumps. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed.

Cool cake on a wire rack. When cool, spread icing evenly over the cake. Keep at room temperature, covered tightly. Serves 6-9.

Buttercream Icing
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or Earth Balance
4 cups (about 1 lb.) powdered sugar
1/4 – 1/3 cup milk or non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until fluffy. Add half the powdered sugar, and beat slowly until well blended. Add the vanilla and 3 tablespoons milk, and beat until fluffy. Add remaining powdered sugar and mix on low speed until blended. Increase speed to high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, adding more milk if needed to make the icing spreading consistency.

screwball cake

Screwball Cake (gluten-free)
1 1/2 cups gluten-free baking blend (see recipe below)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2  salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 cup canola or safflower oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup cold water or coffee

Gluten-free Baking Blend:
4 cups Authentic Foods Superfine Brown Rice Flour (I highly recommend this brand. It doesn’t have the gritty texture that is common in most rice flours)
1 1/3 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
2/3 cup tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour)

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cindy Arpin February 2, 2015 at 11:13 am

I was fortunate to receive this recipe from you 30 years ago! I’ve made it many times, but not recently. Now I will have to! It was always a nice treat to make because it was easy, delicious and it is made with ingredients that I almost always have on hand!


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