I'll admit it, I have a bit of a mean streak sometimes. My inner monologue skews toward the snarky and bitchy most of the time, but you'd scarcely know it, because most of the time I manage to keep those thoughts to myself.
A couple month ago, the girls at lunch were talking about how much they hate mayonnaise. I mentioned that mayo was a common ingredient in chocolate cake in the 1940s and 1950s, as a byproduct of wartime rationing. They were completely disgusted. McNulty, in particular, said that the very thought of it made her want to throw up in her mouth.
If you think about it, it kind of makes sense. What is mayonnaise after all, besides an emulsification of eggs, oil, and vinegar? Nobody would raise an eyebrow if you told them your cake contained eggs and oil, and vinegar does actually factor into chocolate cake recipes on occasion.
Right away, the seed was planted that I needed to make a mayonnaise cake and trick all my friends into eating it in order to prove them wrong. I knew Cake Day would provide the perfect opportunity, but because I'm only a little bit mean, I decided to wait for McNulty to take her maternity leave. It seemed overly cruel to trick a pregnant woman into eating something that she claimed to find nauseating. So I laid in wait, making a maple cake instead while I bided my time.
I have to say, I was a little concerned when it came time to make the actual cake. The batter smelled overwhelmingly of mayo, conjuring thoughts of chicken salad more than delicious, delicious cake. But I baked it off anyway, hoping for the best.
Thankfully, the cake emerged from the oven transformed. Not only did it smell like chocolate cake instead of mayonnaise, when I went to taste the trimmings generated from assembling the layers, they were pleasantly chocolately and exceedingly moist, with a tender, if slightly uneven crumb. I even liked the frosting, which is pretty uncommon for me. It was on the stiff side, so it was difficult to spread on the cake, gathering lots of cake crumbs as I went along. Still, given how rare it is for me to actually like a frosting, I would consider trying this again if I ever had an occasion for a chocolate-on-chocolate layer cake.
When I went to serve it to my friends, I stayed quiet. I let the compliments roll in: the cake was moist; so chocolately; it was delicious; another success for Haley. When they were about halfway done eating, I dropped the bomb and told them that they could all tell McNulty that they had eaten mayonnaise cake and lived to tell the tale.
Suddenly, about half the table lost their appetite. Only one lady finished her cake; the rest ate a couple more bites and picked at it throughout the remainder of the lunch hour with excuses about the cake being too rich to finish. One of my friends who had been singing the praises of the cake only seconds before looked ill, and didn't take another bite. Clearly, prejudice is hard to overcome.
I'm not sure I would make this cake again, not because of the mayonnaise factor, but because I believe there are probably better chocolate cake recipes. If I do have a group of mayo-hating friends that I need to trick in the future, I have now learned the secret of mayonnaise cake -- don't tell anyone what's in it until they are done eating. Otherwise, you're going to end up with a bunch of unjustifiably wasted cake, and nobody wants that. Maybe someday cakes will be judged solely on flavor and not the content of their ingredients, but until then, mayonnaise cake will have to hide its condiment origins...
Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
adapted from Bon Appétit
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 c. boiling water
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 c. white sugar
1 c. (packed) dark brown sugar
1 1/3 c. mayonnaise (do not use reduced-fat or fat-free)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 c. powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Combine chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in medium metal bowl. Add 13/4 cups boiling water and whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder into another medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat both sugars and mayonnaise in large bowl until well blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with chocolate mixture in 3 additions, beating until blended after each addition and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Divide batter among prepared cake pans (about 2 1/3 cups for each).
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 20 minutes.
Run small knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Carefully invert cakes onto racks and let cool completely.