WND – Vade Retro Me Satana

September 25, 2009

green bean ends

My mother stopped baking about the same time I entered high school, and didn’t start again until well after I’d graduated from college. According to my father when they were first married (or, as my father would rather you say, when at first they were married – because when they were first married implies that they were second married at some later point in time) my mother made pie all the time. I don’t remember this ever being true, but I’ll take his word for it.

I wasn’t a terribly imaginative baker even in high school – chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, banana bread, and very occasionally date nut bread – although I baked a great deal more frequently then than I do now. The Chocolate Wonder Cake recipe below was our mainstay when I was in high school. It was the dessert I made when my mother suggested 20 minutes before dinner that dessert would be nice, or when we had last minute guests, or just because the day called for chocolate cake.

Like 10 year olds everywhere I was flummoxed for years by adults who said things like, “I’m too full for dessert.” Because, how can one be too full for dessert? It’s dessert, it doesn’t need a reason or an excuse. And, if you’re too full it’s clearly because you failed at basic menu reading, which of course should always be done backwards so that you know what you need to leave room for before you order.

Then I grew up and sometime after I graduated from college I found myself going out to dinner and saying things like, “I don’t really want dessert tonight,” or , “I’m too full for dessert.” I feel like my ten year old self is cringing in shame and muttering, “vade retro me satana”. However, I’ve come to realize that most of the time I’d rather have a really excellent appetizer and main course, and maybe some cheese, than have a really decadent dessert. My feeling is that most desserts aren’t worth the indulgence – and if I want one that is I’ll go to Finale where they specialize in desserts (and port!) and the savory dishes are a minor after thought.

I can be lured by the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking as much as the next girl, but if you really want to get me excited you’re far better off deploying strategic portions of foie gras or St. Andre cheese and fresh bread. It’s not that you can’t screw up foie gras, but somehow it seems to get screwed up less often than chocolate cake. That being said, I don’t think it’s possible to screw up Chocolate Wonder Cake, and it and the Butter Sauce are absolutely worth the calories.

Macaroni & Cheese
Roasted Chicken
Green Beans

Chocolate Wonder Cake
Butter Sauce

Macaroni & Cheese
The rule is you can ask for anything you want for your birthday Dinner, and what do people ask for? Biscuits, corn pudding, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese . . . . clearly high fat content starch dishes are everyone’s idea of indulgence.

Recipe previously given:  Macaroni & Cheese

baked macaroni & cheese

Roasted Chicken

roasted chicken

Chocolate Wonder Cake
Chocolate Wonder Cake is a WWII recipe for cake that requires no eggs or butter. It’s also possibly the easiest cake you will ever make. I made it on Tuesday night while the rice cooked for dinner that evening and I was done before the oven had even had time to heat up.

This is not a cake that you unmold to great acclaim at the table – you bake it in the same pan you mix it in. I suppose if you had a fancy casserole dish you could serve it at table, but I’ve only ever made it in ratty, scratched metal pans and hidden them in the kitchen while I served.

1 ½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp white vinegar
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp vanilla
1 cup cold water

Sift the dry ingredients together in a 9×9 pan. Make three indentations and divide the vinegar, oil and vanilla equally between then. Pour the cold water over the top and mix together well with a fork or flat whisk.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.

wonder cake

Butter Sauce
The butter and eggs that you didn’t put in the cake? They’re in the sauce. The cake is tasty in and of itself, but it’s really great with the sauce.

I will warn you, this is a dangerous recipe. You make it to go with the Chocolate Wonder Cake and then you have a little bit of cake left over so you make more sauce to go with it, and then you have sauce left over so you make some more cake to go with it and then you have cake left over . . . .

1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp heavy cream
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together all the ingredients except the vanilla in a pan and cook slowly over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Notes: Or you can do what I do, which is set it over too high a heat, turn away to do something else, forget about it for a few minutes and turn back around to find that some of the sugar has burned on the bottom of the pan. This is not the approved method, but if it happens it’s not a tragedy because it gives the sauce a wonderful caramelized flavor.

chocolate cake & sauce



  1. Ha! I learned how to make the exact same cake recipe from my grandmother, Honey. The three indentations is the giveaway — I’ve never seen that instruction in any other cake recipe. And you’re right, it’s fantastic cake and I’m now looking forward to making it again. Thank you so much for reminding me of its existence. The memories are flooding in.

  2. I read a book recently in which an adult explained to a child that there was a separate dessert stomach. I thought that covered the topic admirably. Of course, there is always room for dessert as there is a separate place that it goes. Can’t remember the book though.

  3. I Googled “dessert stomach” and there are 4,370 entries. I learned that you do not have to be a child to have one and that more women than men have one. If you would like to buy a tee shirt showing exactly where it is, go to http://tinyurl.com/ybr97ds.

  4. […] been making a chocolate version of this cake for . . . .well, actually, for decades at this point, but it had never occurred to me you could […]

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