Homemade chocolate cake is good for the soul, but if you're away at college like me, the dining hall dessert table might be the closest thing. I don't need to tell you, but dining hall cake being 'close' to homemade cake is like penguins being close to parrots. In a spurt of inspiration from the disappointment of tasting dining hall cake, I decided I wanted to make my own. The only problem is that I don't have ingredients or skills to bake from scratch and a store-bought cake mix clearly doesn't count as homemade.
My solution falls somewhere in the middle: The Chocolate Cake Mix Upgrade
Step 1: Ingredients
Before you start, you have to determine how you're going to acquire the following materials. If you're lucky, your general store on campus will have everything you need. If you're not, or if you're a real adult, you'll have to go to the store. This is the hardest part, but I believe in you.
1 package of chocolate cake mix (if you're feeling fancy go with the 'Devil's Food Cake' mix)
1 box of instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup of sour cream
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
4 large eggs
[Optional: powdered sugar or icing for topping]
You'll also obviously need a cake pan (or cupcake tins) and an oven. I used a 9" x 13" pan, but this part is up to you.
Step 2: Preparation
First, preheat the oven to 350°F and grease your pan(s) generously.
This is where a lot of recipes will tell you to carefully mix the dry ingredients first then, in a separate bowl, mix everything else, then mix on low speed, then high, then medium, then do 20 jumping jacks, etc. But we're not having any of that.
Just take everything and mix it in a big bowl. Bonus points if you enlist your friends as laborers in exchange for cake. The batter is going to be super thick so if your arm gets tired, this is where you can make use of your friends.
Go ahead and taste the batter after you've mixed it completely. You might want to just stop here and eat the batter raw; it's really good with ice cream. (Forget about those 4 raw eggs. What's salmonella?) The rest of the instructions are optional.
Step 3: Baking
Once you've had your fill of cake batter, pour the rest into your pan. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the batter evenly across the pan. Don't worry if it looks a little empty (no, you didn't eat that much cake batter) because the cake will rise while baking more than you might expect.
Put the pan onto the center rack of the oven and set a timer for 25 minutes. My cake took about 30 minutes to cook, but everyone's oven is a little different and if you're using a wider pan or multiple smaller pans, the cake will cook faster.
Once you reach the 25 minute mark, it's sink or swim time. To see if your cake is done, poke a knife or a toothpick straight down into the center. When you pull it out you might have a couple different results:
1. Covered in lots of gooey batter = Needs a few (2-3) more minutes
2. Minimal gooey batter = Perfect!
3. Comes out clean = Take it out right away and you can save it from being burnt.
I've attached a picture of the perfect 'poke test' as a reference.
Step 4: Cooling / Serving (The Best Part)
Once you've decided that your cake is done baking, set the pan on the stove to cool for about 10 minutes. If you have a wire cooling rack, that would be ideal, but any food-safe flat surface will do.
Run a knife along the edges of the pan and get ready to move the cake. To do this, place a cutting board or similar dish on top of the pan and then quickly flip the contraption over while holding the board tightly to the open face of the pan. Lift the now upside-down pan carefully off of the cake and marvel at your work.
Technically, you're supposed to let the cake cool completely before you frost it or cut it, but that's no fun. Plus, I didn't have any frosting so I just covered the thing in powdered sugar.
Pour yourself a glass of milk, call your friends over, and dig in! I believe that cake tastes the best when it's either hot from the oven or cold from spending a night in the fridge. Maybe you can use the leftover cake (if there is any) as homework fuel for the next day.
Whatever your plan is, I hope you enjoyed this recipe and experience as much and my friends and I did!