Introduction: Pennsylvania Dutch Funny Cake
Similar to coffee cake, Funny Cake is one of those foods that is quite sweet, not at all healthy, and hard to eat in moderation and yet is somehow an acceptable dish to serve for breakfast. At least I think it is. Originating in eastern Pennsylvania with the Amish and Mennonites, Funny Cake is a simple yet satisfying treat that combines two irrefutably good desserts: pie and cake.
In my mind, Funny Cake is funny for two reasons:
- It is a cake baked baked inside of a pie crust.
- There is chocolate frosting on the bottom of the cake.
There is another school of thought that offers an alternative comedic interpretation: the chocolate icing is applied to the top of the cake batter before baking and mysteriously works its way to the bottom before being removed from the oven. I do not endorse this method of cake frosting, nor am I amused by the mystery of frosting diffusing through cake batter. However, for the sake of experimentation, I have made two Funny Cakes for this Instructable: one that employs the proper method of applying the chocolate frosting before the cake batter and a second that was made with frosting on top of batter.
Now, let's get started!
Step 1: Ingredients
Funny Cake (2 cakes)
- 2 pie crusts (store-bought or homemade)
- 1/2 cup shortening (Crisco preferable to butter)
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa
Homemade Pie Crust (2 crusts)
- 3 cups flour
- 1 cup shortening (butter, Crisco, or a mix of both)
- 2/3 cup ice water
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 pinches sugar
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 egg (optional)
- 1/2 tbs. apple cider vinegar (optional)
Step 2: Make the Pie Crust (optional)
If you'd prefer to use a store-bought crust you can go ahead an skip this step.
Because the focus of this Instructable is on the Funny Cake and not the crust, I'll only cover these details briefly. If you'd like more help on the pie crusts, here are a couple Instructables on making pie crusts:
Here are the steps I take to make my pie crusts:
- Mix 3 cups flour, 1 pinch salt, 2 pinches sugar, and a 1/2 tsp. baking powder in a medium-sized bowl
- Slice the 2 sticks of butter into 8 pieces each
- Use a pastry blender (or a knife and fork) to cut the butter into the flour
- Stop once the flour/butter mixture forms pea-sized balls
- Gradually add 2/3 cup of ice water, mixing with a pastry blender or fork
- Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- Combine a single whisked egg into the mixture
- Use your hands to combine the mixture into 2 equally-sized balls of dough
If you don't plan to immediately use the pie crusts, wrap the dough balls in plastic wrap. The will last in the fridge just fine for a couple days before rolling out. You can also freeze any leftover dough for at least, I dunno, a month or two.
Step 3: Prepare the Chocolate Filling
- Boil a little more than one cup of water
- Add 1 cup of white sugar to a medium sized bowl that can withstand boiling water
- Add 1/2 cup of cocoa powder to the white sugar, mixing the two together with a fork
- Add 1 cup of the boiling water to the sugar/cocoa mixture
- Stir together and set aside.
- Don't worry if the mixture is very liquidity, it's supposed to be.
You may have noticed I don't refer to the chocolate stuff by a consistent name. I mean, even within this post I've used three or four different terms for it. What is it? Icing? Filling? Frosting? You decide. In the end, it still tastes good. It's sugar and cocoa powder, how could it not?
Step 4: Mix Together the Cake Batter
- With an electric mixer, cream together the 1/2 cup shortening and 1.5 cups sugar
- Cream together basically just means mix. Here's an Instructable on creaming butter and sugar.
- Mix in 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Alternating with 1 cup of milk, add the following:
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Mix until the ingredients are well-combined, but not past that point
You're ready to add the batter and chocolate to the pie shells! Next step!
Step 5: Roll Out the Pie Crust
If you've made your own pie crusts, you'll need to roll them out before they'll be much use. Again, the focus of this Instructable is on the Funny Cake, so I'll just cover these steps in brief.
- Let your dough ball come to room temperature on the counter if you've kept it in the fridge
- Cover your rolling surface, rolling pin, and dough ball in flour before doing any rolling
- Flatten the dough with a few heavy rolls and then flip it to its other side
- Roll the dough evenly into a circle until it's about 1.25x as large as your pie plate diameter
- Transfer the rolled out crust into the pie plate
- Trim the overhanging edges with a knife
- Use your favorite method to create some sort of upstanding ridge with the crust
- The ridge should be high enough to contain the expanding cake batter, maybe a 1/2 inch over the edge of the pie plate.
Step 6: Add Batter and Chocolate to Pie Plate
We've arrived at what is the most contested, perilous step in the baking of a Funny Cake. Do we add the chocolate directly into the pie crust, topped with the cake batter? Or do we add the cake batter and coat the top in chocolate?
Method One (Correct)
- Pour half the chocolate mixture into each of the empty pie crusts
- Using a measuring cup, gently dollop blobs of the cake batter on top of the chocolate
- Try to spread out the batter as evenly across the chocolate as possible, avoiding gaps
Method Two (Ill-advised)
- Dollop half of the cake batter into each pie crust
- Even out the batter with a spatula
- Pour half of the chocolate mixture over each of the pies
- The chocolate will pool on top. It's okay.
Whichever method you choose, be sure to split the cake batter and chocolate evenly between the two pies. If one pie shell is bigger than the other, you may need to compensate by adjusting the amount you add to each one.
Step 7: Bake in the Oven
Okay, you're almost done!
Bake the pies at 375 °F for approximately 50 minutes.
- Look for the cake batter to turn a golden brown color.
- Cover the edge of the pie crust in aluminum foil after 30 minutes if the crust is becoming too brown.
- After about 45 minutes, open the oven and give the pies a little shake. The cake batter shouldn't jiggle much at all if they're properly baked.
- A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake portion should come out clean.
Remove the pies from the oven and let them cool. If they look especially appetizing, go ahead and dig in.
Step 8: Eat!
Okay, you've done it! Serve the Funny Cake by the slice. I think Funny Cake makes a good breakfast, but I'm happy eating it pretty much any time of the day. Do you think the chocolate should go on the top or bottom? Try it for yourself and let me know how it turns out!