You know those recipes that you forget you like? Those dishes that go unmade for months and even years without a thought, as if hibernating somewhere in a cozy den of lost recipes? Suddenly you'll visit an old place or spend time with a family member or celebrate a familiar occasion and the food memories will come rushing back to you, reemerging at the surface of everything.
Pudding cakes are like that for me. I hadn't made one in years. But I still love them as much as I ever did, with their magical mix of textures and the way the cakes often sauce themselves. I love how unsophisticated they are, how simple, how messy.
Speaking of messy, the most memorable pudding cake I ever made was for my now-13-year-old son's first birthday. It was a gingerbread pudding cake for that December occasion, a sticky, warm dessert full of molasses and cloves, topped with whipped cream. When the pictures had been snapped and the candle blown out, he devoured it by the fistful, smearing it gleefully all over his face and steel blue sweater with penguin appliqué and matching knit beanie I bought from Gymboree.
The other night when my wife and I had a strong hankering for chocolate after two long days of travel, out of nowhere I remembered my affection for pudding cake. I was able to whip it up quickly with ingredients I already had on hand in my rather empty kitchen, which had gone dormant during our holiday vacation.
The thing that makes pudding cakes like these so wonderfully gooey is that hot water is poured on top of the cake batter just before baking. You allow the water to sit on top and don't mix it in. As the cake bakes, the water drops to the bottom of the cake and becomes a sauce, almost like a thin pudding or hot fudge. Have some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream on hand to scoop on top of the warm cake. If you have any leftovers remaining, this dessert keeps well covered in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully.
Chocolate pudding cake
For the cake batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 9-inch baking pan. Set a kettle of water to boil on the stove while preparing the batter.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until combined. Whisk in the milk, melted butter and vanilla extract until a thin batter forms. Don't worry about a few lumps. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
In another bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder and sea salt. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the cake batter. Gradually pour 1 1/2 cups of boiling water over top of the cake. Do not stir the water in but allow it to sit on top, undisturbed.
Place the pan carefully into the preheated oven. Bake for 35 minutes until the cake is set and the sauce is bubbling. Allow the cake to cool 15 minutes. Scoop the warm cake and sauce into a serving bowl. Top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and serve promptly while warm. Cover leftovers and refrigerate. Reheat cake before serving leftovers. Recipe adapted from Cafe Delites.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.