The other day when I picked Eli up from school, he grabbed my hand and started to pull me back inside to the lunchroom.
“C’mon, Mama! We need to get a recipe from Chef Ric!”
“Wacky cake? Is that like our crazy cake?”
“I don’t know. I just know it’s a good chocolate cake.”
So we found Chef Ric and we compared notes. Indeed, his wacky cake is just like our crazy cake (or your cockeyed cake, or 6-minute cake), except he uses apple cider vinegar and I use raspberry. I’ve always imagined that the raspberry vinegar gives the cake a little fruit note in the background, perhaps deepens the chocolate flavor a bit, but suddenly talking to our school chef I wasn’t so sure. Does it really make a difference, or is it all in my head? Tonight, with no particular investment in football’s Super Bowl, Eli and I decided to test the theory by making three different crazy cake batters: one with plain white vinegar, one with apple cider vinegar, and the last with raspberry vinegar.
Tony then served me my own coded cupcakes and the results from our limited sample are pretty decisive: the vinegar doesn’t matter. The kids and I each identified only one vinegar correctly and Tony didn’t even get one. The vinegar Eli and I got right (apple cider) was also our least favorite, so we won’t use that again. But given that white vinegar is less than a quarter of the price of raspberry vinegar, from now on, I’ll save it for salad dressings and other places I can really taste it.
Now, I’m really not a Cooks Illustrated, recipe-testing kind of cook. I am fairly imprecise in my baking, I measure casually, and I am always tinkering with recipes. But I do love a cooking project inspired by my children, and I love it when the cooking includes a bit of science. It was a nice change to be more careful baking these cakes so that each one would differ only in its vinegar, and fun to think about how best to keep track of which was which. But Eli definitely summed up the experiment best: “The thing I like about it is you get three cupcakes.” No argument here.
Edited to add: we shared some sample cupcakes with Chef Ric and his kitchen staff and (drumroll) we are impressed — but not surprised — to report he identified the three vinegars correctly!
pretty funny! when I first posted this recipe years ago I remember writing “don’t bother using the good vinegar.” Then, it just happened that I had two bottles of raspberry vinegar, so I started using it–but that was also around the time I started using coffee for the liquid and adding chocolate chips, so I didn’t really have a control group to test against–I just knew what I was getting was now better. Maybe back to the cheap vinegar now, though!
I’m sure the coffee gives the cake more flavor, but we never have decaf around for me to use (no way I’m using real coffee around here!) But I am curious now to try balsamic vinegar sometime…
I love Eli keeping it real.