During the Depression, fresh ingredients like butter or eggs were scarce, and families had to work in the kitchen without their usual staples. These cooks---mostly women---became creative with pantry ingredients and managed to bake cakes, casseroles, and meats in unusual ways, out of necessity.
Probably one of the most common examples of a Depression-era substitution is in the Chocolate Wacky Cake, which uses acidic chocolate and vinegar with baking sodas to form a moist, sticky cake. We were introduced to this dairy- and egg-free cake by friends with food-allergic relatives, but we weren't 100% sold until my own food-allergic daughter found the same recipe in her story book. Amelia Bedelia's bed sheet cake became the new favorite in our house for a long time!
The success of our early kitchen science experiments led us to explore other recipes from that time, and we discovered many kitchen science substitutions in old family favorites from my grandmother's kitchen notebooks. Through them, she has inspired me to experiment with newer recipes as well---like my Aunt Donna's cakes. Her pineapple cake has enough basic baking soda and acidic fruit to puff up generously without any help from me...but her oatmeal cake isn't nearly as easy.
My initial attempt at oatmeal cake replaced 2 eggs with only 1/4 cup applesauce. The result was a bitter, crumbly mess that collapsed as it cooled. Like any good experiments, recipes changed with kitchen science take a lot of practice. So I turned to my notes and some fresh research.
First, the bitterness: Baking soda is the source, and cutting back or combining an acid to match are my options for the fix. I want to keep the soda for its successful rising action, so I will add 1 teaspoon vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar here).
Second, the collapse: This is a sign of too much leavener and/or not enough flour to maintain the airy structure. Egg can contribute some of this support in traditional recipes. Because I kept the soda, I will add 1/4 cup flour to provide sturdiness.
Third, the crumbled texture: The cake was moist but did not have egg protein to bind it together. Many vegan or gluten-free options can add extra "glue" here, but I prefer simple cornstarch. I will try 2 tablespoons stirred into my applesauce before adding into the batter.
Another solution to this group of problems could have been to remove the baking soda entirely, which would improve the flavor amd might prevent the final collapse. But, the cake would be more dense than I would like.
The changes I did try in recipe #2 worked nicely, though. Check out our breads and breakfasts cookbook for the final version!
Hi, I'm Nicole.
ABOUT THE BLOG
An apothecary is a person or a place. Either one implies healing and relates to pharmacy in its truest sense, as a source of treatment and advice.
This blog is my way of uniting my pharmacy training with my efforts to provide a healthy and safe lifestyle for my family. In true apothecary form, I research and prescribe alternative ingredients that work just right in each specific recipe, and I would like to share the results with anyone who needs help making their own family’s kitchen allergy safe and heart healthy.
Nicole Van Hoey's books on Goodreads
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy