Chocolate-Mayonnaise Loaf Cake
for the cake:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1/3 cup cocoa unsweetened "natural" cocoa powder, not Dutch-processed or drink mix
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
for the (optional) glaze:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons half and half OR whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 1 standard loaf pan. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and sugar. Stir in the mayonnaise, water, and vanilla and beat until a smooth batter forms.
- Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 45 minutes or until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack then invert and cool completely on the rack.
- If glazing, whisk together the glaze ingredients and pour over the cooled cake prior to serving.
As I mentioned in my post about the chocolate-prune juice cake, I’ve been doing a lot of research into cakes and baking over the past year. One cake that kept that coming up that wasn’t related to what I was looking for was mayonnaise cake. I really can’t get a huge read on when it first came on the scene but many sources claim it became popular during the depression because it didn’t use fresh eggs, milk, or butter. This is possible. I don’t know about the availability of commercial mayonnaise back then (it really only hit the stores around 1911) or its pricing but if you were making your own mayonnaise, you’d have to have access to a lot of eggs so I’m not sure I buy this. Some of the recipes for mayonnaise cake call for the addition of 3-4 eggs as well. Personally, and without any hard facts to back me up, I think this falls more into the category of what I think of as a “make do” recipe where you are making something quick and easy with what you have on hand. Which, if I am honest, is my very favorite type of cooking, sweet or savory. That ease is another part of its appeal. Cake mixes came on the scene starting in the 1930s and I think this cake filled a lot of the same gaps that cake mix does. It is quick–simply mix and go, no need to let ingredients come to room temperature, no creaming together of butter and sugar- and easy enough even a very inexperienced baker could make it. You don’t even have to break an egg.
I’ve actually been wanting to make one for a long time but it did seem like a lot of mayonnaise when during the pandemic we have had a hard time finding it on the shelf. We were excited to find this jar and then I realized it expires pretty soon so I’m making some mayo-rich ingredients to use it up. I did not create a recipe that used extra eggs because that seemed to defeat the purpose of using mayonnaise. I decided to make it in loaf form because it is such an easy, one-bowl cake that it seemed better suited to a simpler, snacking cake than a layer cake with lots of icing. I love loaf cakes and wish they were more popular! So easy to slice, perfect for packing in a lunch box or sharing with friends and while they take some time to bake, they are tasty with just a glaze or simple icing.
The cake this actually reminds me the most of is another old-fashioned cake I see in the archives–Red Devil Cake which is very similar (possibly a precursor?) to the Red Velvet but generally made without added food dye. Red Devil Cake used unsweetened, “natural” cocoa powder (what is very common in American grocery stores–Hershey’s is natural cocoa powder– and is the default in many American recipes) which is very acidic and reacts to baking soda to make for a lighter, fluffier baked good. It also has a naturally reddish color that can be present in the finished food. Other acidic ingredients are normally in recipes that call for it which further enhanced the color. Using Dutch-processed cocoa (which until rather recently was very difficult to find in American grocery stores) doesn’t give that same effect because of a difference in the way they process the beans which removes a lot of the acid giving it a smoother taste and texture.
I like natural cocoa myself, it is really what I think most of us here in the US grew up using homemade baked goods. In Europe, Dutch-processed became the default but the big brands here really stuck to natural.
I digress! This cake reminds me of Red Devil Cake because it is very rich chocolate with a hint of red color but instead of buttermilk or and uses an unusual acidic ingredient–mayonnaise! Mayonnaise unfairly gets a bad rep for spoiling picnics and cookbooks but it is actually is one of the last things to spoil thanks to the vinegar in commercial mayonnaise. This same vinegar reacts with the other ingredients to make a light and fluffy cake with truly minimal effort on your part. This cake used ingredients that came straight from my “pantry” and within 5 minutes it was in the oven baking. You can’t beat that!
I do admit this cake has a horrible name. If mayonnaise doesn’t put you off, loaf might but it is really, really good! I don’t think people would know it was mayo that was adding that depth of flavor, fine crumb, and moisture to the cake if you didn’t tell them. I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and an oil-based chocolate cake. Complete worth making even if it wasn’t a novelty!