I don’t remember how I first came across a recipe for Funny Cake, but I remember my reaction. “Wait, there is a way to bake a cake inside of a pie crust? And I have never done it?!?”
Very un-thorough research on the internet tells me that this is a classic Pennsylvania Dutch recipe for a breakfast dish. It also tells me that the Pennsylvania Dutch were Germans and were named “Dutch” because people thought that was their language when they said they spoke “Deustch”. These must be a remarkably easygoing people. This is the large-scale equivalent of telling someone that you are Bob from Dallas and that person then introduces you as a man named Dallas and you never correct him and everyone calls you Dallas forever and you just answer to it because, eh, it’s fine.
But back to the cake/pie. It really is the simplest thing ever and I have made it several times and EVERY SINGLE TIME I think I have screwed something up and it didn’t work. Literally, every time. But it does work and it is cool thing to watch if you are the sort of person who sits in front of their oven and watches something bake start to finish just to see what happens. (What? Sometimes its really cool!)
Here is the basic idea: You take an unbaked pie crust, fill it with cake batter and then pour a simple fudge sauce over the top of the cake batter. While baking the fudge sauce seeps down into the space between the cake and the crust, leaving streaks of fudge prettily over the top and creating this lovely layer of fudge between the pie crust and the cake. And it works! (Which doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend using a store bought crust for at least your first one. Don’t waste a homemade crust on your first attempt.)
It’s a fun combination. Unusual and, in my opinion, a little too sweet for breakfast but I have a friend who has requested this as his birthday cake on multiple occasions. It never disappoints and people are always delighted by the fact of it, as am I. It is also super easy to multiply the ingredients and make two or three of these at once. (Just saying, if making one for someone else and one for yourself at the same time is an easy thing to do, then it warrants consideration.)
1 unbaked 9 inch pie crust
1 1/4 cups sugar, separated into 3/4 cup and 1/2 cup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, room temperature
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup hot water
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
First, make your favorite pie crust. Roll it out, press it into a pie tin and put it in the fridge until you are ready to fill it.
Mix together the flour and baking powder in one bowl and set aside. Measure out the milk and pour the vanilla into it and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine 3/4 cup of the sugar, the oil and the egg. Beat on medium-high speed until well combined, about three minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add half the flour mixture. Mix until incorporated and then add the milk and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining flour and mix until no streaks remain. Do not overmix. Pour cake batter into pie crust and spread it evenly.
Make your fudge sauce by combining the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar with the cocoa and hot water. Whisk until smooth. Sauce will be quite runny. Pour sauce over the cake batter.**
Place the cake/pie on a baking sheet to catch any dripping sauce or cake batter. Bake for 30-40 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (The baking time will vary dramatically depending on the oven so keep a close eye on it the first time that you bake it.)
Place on a rack to cool. Cake will keep for a few days at room temperature and longer in the fridge.
** It is this part, the fudge part, that always makes me think I screwed it up. To my eye, the fudge sauce always looks too runny and the fact that it just sits on top of the batter as you put it in the oven always makes me think it will not seep down to form that nice bottom layer. But it always does.
PHOTO NOTE: No one will care about this but me, but I am hugely disappointed in all my photos of this cake. I felt compelled to include one because I thought the visual was important here, but man, what a crap photo. It was overcast that day and I just couldn’t get the light I needed. I may update this photo later. Which may mean baking this cake again. Sigh. My life is so hard.