My kids' paternal Great Grandma was a master cook and baker, and one of her "signature dishes" was Flop Cake. She never would say why she had given it this name, but no matter. She always baked the moist, almost brownie-like cake in a 9 X 13 pan, with a thick layer of fudge frosting over the top. Somehow, that frosting always came out just right.
Over the years, I have made the cake often, and the frosting even more times, as it has a wonderful flavor good for many other desserts. However, I have come to think that the "flop" in the name for the cake really was reserved for the frosting, as it can sometimes stubbornly refuse to set (but oh, what a wonderful fudge sauce that is) or it can turn to rock-hard fudge candy before the frosting is halfway spread. Even that, however, means you think you are getting a piece of candy along with your cake, so it's not all bad. And so I keep on making it, always with the hope that this time maybe things will work out to that perfect glossy perfection Grandma always seemed to achieve.
It so happens that we were celebrating a seventh birthday last week for one of my grandsons. It was clear that a chocolate cake with chocolate icing would be his choice, so I went searching for a dense chocolate cake--of course with zucchini--with the plan to use Grandma's fudge frosting as the topper. I'd even dig out the candy thermometer to go with the standard soft ball test--surely that would improve my chances at a just right texture.
Well, the cake was a great success...at least in flavor and texture. The appearance? Hmmm...let's just say that it was really good we were eating on the deck and dusk was starting to fall by the time the cake came out. Not being able to see it too well was really quite an asset--maybe I should just include "serve as part of a dinner by candlelight" as part of the instructions.
I suspect that part of the recipe problem is that Grandma sometimes used a coffee cup or a tea cup for her measuring, so I will be doing some investigating on line to find more reliable proportions for the frosting. Meanwhile, I am presenting to you the recipes for both cake and frosting, since the flavors together were wonderful--and the cake was still so good three days on that guests ate heartily and then carried home the leftovers so they could savor every last crumb.
Zucchini Fudge Cake1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c canola oil
2 1/2 c sugar
2 t vanilla
1/2 to 3/4 c baking cocoa (you need at least half a cup, but I like the added chocolate-i-ness of the full three quarters of a cup)
3 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 t soda
1/3 c powdered nonfat dry milk (see NOTE 2)
3/4 c water
1 t cider vinegar
3 c grated zucchini
1 c coarsely chopped walnuts
1. Cream the butter, oil, and sugar together until very well mixed.
NOTE 1: When making cakes, the old-fashioned cooks knew that the secret to a really wonderful texture was to cream the butter or shortening with the sugar for several minutes, until the sugar is almost dissolved. I am blessed to have a stand mixer that has served me well for decades, so I can put the butter, oil, and sugar in the bowl and walk away to prepare the pan for baking or do other things while letting the mixer do its thing. If you have only a small hand-held mixer, do try to spend as much time on this step as you can, at least for special occasion cakes. You will be amazed at the difference it can make.
2. When the mixture is very light and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs, vanilla, and cocoa powder. Continue to beat at medium speed until well mixed and uniform in color, about a minute or so more.
3. Add the vinegar to the water and dry milk powder and stir well.
NOTE 2: If you do not have dry milk powder, use 3/4 c milk instead of the water and dry milk. And of course, if you have buttermilk, you can use that and omit the vinegar.4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Now, starting with about a third of the dry ingredients, add these alternately to the egg mixture with the milk.
NOTE 3: When you are asked to add wet and dry ingredients alternately like this, always start with a third of the dry ingredients, then half the wet, then the next third of the dry, followed by the rest of the wet and then the rest of the dry. Why? This ensures that the mixture will be mixed completely without a lot of over-beating or pockets of dry stuff in the batter when you go to put it in the pan. While it may seem like a lot of extra work, it really isn't, and, trust me, you will be much happier with the results if you use this method instead of dumping everything in all at once!4. Grate the zucchini with a hand grater or in a processor or blender. The shreds do not have to be terribly fine. Do not drain the zucchini; just use it as is.
5. After the batter is well combined, fold in the grated zucchini and the walnuts. Stir just enough to be sure everything is evenly distributed.
NOTE 4: Though nuts are usually optional in recipes like this, I think they are important to include here if possible. The walnuts enhance the flavor but they also will mask any possible "texture" feel from the zucchini.6. Turn the mixture into a well-oiled and floured Bundt pan or a 10 inch tube pan. If the latter is used, you may want to use part of the batter for six cup cakes so that the pan does not get too full. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out just barely clean. For the moistest cake, you do not want to overbake.
7. Allow the cake to cool in the pan 5 to 10 minutes before inverting on a cake plate. Cool well before frosting.
And now, the frosting!
Flop Cake Fudge Frosting
1 1/2 c granulated sugar--NOT powdered
1/3 to 1/2 c baking cocoa
1/2 c milk
2 t cornstarch
2 t butter
1 t vanilla
1. Combine the sugar, cocoa, and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan and stir until well blended. Gradually stir in the milk and then begin heating the mixture over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring often.
2. Cook until a few drops of the mixture form a soft ball in ice cold water ("soft ball stage") or until a candy thermometer registers 235 to 240 degrees.
3. Remove from heat and let cool, stirring occasionally. (Try not to scrape down the sides from here on out, as that can cause the entire mixture to get sugary instead of staying creamy.)
4. Stir in the butter and vanilla and beat for a few minutes until the mixture is glossy. Spread immediately on the cake.
If the frosting does start to harden too quickly, you might be able to get a little milk stirred in to make it spreadable. However, my experience has been that this sometimes just turns the frosting into syrup!
On the other hand, if you can't get the frosting to set at all, you can resign yourself to drizzling it over the cake and hope this "glaze" will eventually harden. You can also beat in some powdered sugar to thicken the frosting, though some of the pure fudge-i-ness will be lost. Or, you can always just turn it into fudge sauce; slice the cake, top with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then drizzle the sauce over the top, as though that was what you meant all along!
As you can see in the picture below, I was unable to get the frosting spread on the cake before it started to harden into chunky fudge. Not very pretty, but the flavor was wonderful...Oh, and there wasn't a fleck of green to give the zucchini away!
(By the way, this still worked for a birthday cake just fine, with candles and a very happy little boy to have the chocolate cake he had asked for.)