Oh, Relax! It's Just a Little Coke!
By Tyler Coates
My father worked for the Coca-Cola bottling plant in my hometown, so we were strictly a Coca-Cola family. This with exception of my pre-teen years, when my acts of rebellion were calling my father by his first name, asking for a Dallas Cowboys Starter jacket for Christmas (our proximity to Washington, DC meant that everyone was supposed to be a Redskins fan), and drinking Crystal Pepsi whenever I had the chance.
Basically, I love Coke: It’s my soft drink of choice. I’ll drink a can in the morning while the rest of you "normal people" drink a cup of coffee (or, you know, something nutritious like orange juice). So when I found out that you could make a cake with Coke in my senior year in college, I decided that it would be my signature dessert.
I had made Coke cake four times before my most recent attempt: once in college with help from my roommate Martha, who was practically a Midwestern housewife, once with my former roommate Kristin, and twice with my ex-boyfriend. I tend to get really tense and worked-up whenever I make an attempt at cooking, so I always needed someone to hold my hand through the process.
I woke up on a recent Saturday morning (uhm, well, afternoon) in a funk: I'm underemployed, I'm single (again), and I have a general sense that I can’t accomplish a damn thing, even when I put my mind to it. Which is why I decided at the spur of the moment to make a Coke cake. By myself. For reals.
So here are my instructions for the best soft-drink enhanced cake you'll ever have (with thanks to Southern Living for the recipe, and apologies to Emily Gould for the food-blogger's shtick).
* 1 cup Coca-Cola
* 1/2 cup buttermilk
* 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
* 1 3/4 cups sugar
* 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/4 cup cocoa
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
* Coca-Cola Frosting
Coke II is not a recommended ingredient.
Since you don’t have any of the materials to make a cake (except a cake pan and – surprisingly! – sugar), make a quick list of ingredients and head out in the 13-degree Chicago weather to the Dominick’s, which you begrudgingly agree is closer than the Jewel (for once your roommate is right, and she shouldn’t rub it in every time she finds out you have shopped at Dominick’s). Also, buy a whisk and a spatula, since you have neither, and then make a quick stop at Walgreens to buy a hand-mixer for twenty dollars. (Congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming an adult!)
Before you mixing your ingredients, make sure to clear the dishes out of the sink. Give your plastic mixing bowls – the ones that your mother bought you from Wal-Mart when you moved into your first apartment in college, which you have since turned into “popcorn bowls" – a good washing, as they have been sitting in your cupboard for months collecting dust. (It has been a long time since you have had the money to spend of frivolous snacks like popcorn.)
Pull out your first ingredients: the two liter of Coke and the smallest bottle of buttermilk you could find. Combine one cup of Coke and half-cup of buttermilk in the medium-sized mixing bowl; set aside. Remember that you need music to listen to while baking, so jump around the corner into the next room and put the soundtrack to The Big Chill into the boombox you have had since you were in seventh grade. (Remember to play “The Tracks of My Tears” twice when you get to it; you’re in that kind of mood today.)
Shake two sticks of butter out of the package, then triple-check that two sticks actually do make up one cup. Place the butter in one of the ugly plastic bowls your roommate bought from Walgreens and place it in the microwave to soften. Heat for about thirty seconds, I guess? (Sure, why not!)
Place the butter in the large mixing bowl and begin to beat it with the electric mixer you bought this afternoon. Second-guess that the speed of the mixer is actually set at low; when you are satisfied it is, be slightly confused that the butter looks like scrambled eggs. Do you think the butter is supposed to look like scrambled eggs?
(Do you remember when you made this same cake for Thanksgiving two years ago, and your boyfriend laughed at you because you were so spastic in the kitchen? Try to control yourself. You’re on your own now and you need to buck up. Relax! How about that time you made a Coke cake with your ex-roommate in her new apartment, only to discover a third of the way through prep that the attachments to her hand mixer were actually still in your old apartment? The outcome of today’s cake will be much better than that one. And you won’t have a boyfriend to laugh at you, because you are alone. Tiny victories!)
Gradually add sugar to the butter and beat until blended. Throw in the vanilla extract, then two eggs. Make sure you remove the large pieces of shell that fell into the mixture. Just because you still can’t crack an egg correctly doesn’t mean you can’t make a cake. Continue to beat the batter until blended.
Combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda. You will probably want to do this in a large mixing bowl, and try to remember that for next time since you only have the smallest bowl left. Also, you don’t need to use an electric mixer to combine dry ingredients. Misconception! Take a wet paper towel and wipe down the microwave and counter, which have become covered in flour and cocoa. Don’t forget to brush off your roommate’s package of cherry tomatoes!
Add the dry mixture to butter mixture alternately with cola mixture; begin and end with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended. This will be tricky, of course, because you have two bowls of ingredients to blend into a third. Think of it like a giant Venn diagram, but with food (and without logic). And you have to do that with one hand, because the other will be holding the electric mixer. You’ll probably regret not buying a mixer with a stand, but remember: you make about a hundred dollars a week right now doing data entry as a temp job while you “hold out” for that administrative assistant position of your dreams. You cannot have nice things right now. That is why you buy your kitchen electrics at Walgreens.
Stir marshmallows into the batter, and don’t hesitate to drop a few extras in there (who measures marshmallows in cups, anway?). After pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees, spray your 13- x 9-inch pan (which you bought specifically for this cake years ago, as it is the only thing you have ever put in it) with some Pam. Even though your recipe says to grease and flour the pan, you don’t need to use flour after the Pam (so, go ahead and rinse it out and then try it with just the Pam this time, okay, big shot?).
Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes (and remember: set the timer – this is not a DiGiorno pizza we’re cooking here). About fifteen minutes before it finishes baking, prepare the Coca-Cola frosting.
Coca-Cola Frosting Ingredients
* 1/2 cup butter or margarine
* 1/3 cup Coca-Cola
* 3 tablespoons cocoa
* 1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Bring the first three ingredients to a boil in one of your nice saucepans (thank God they’re in better condition than your mixing bowls, which is appropriate as the only thing you normally cook is pasta) over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar and vanilla.
Notice that you still have ten minutes left for the cake to bake, and then ten minutes for it to cool before you are supposed to pour the warm frosting over it. Since you overestimated the preparation of the frosting, and you don’t want it to cool and settle in the saucepan, you’re going to want to whisk it for the next twenty minutes.
After exhaustively stirring while waiting for your cake to cool, pour the frosting over the center of the cake. You don’t necessarily have to spread the frosting evenly; just let it do what it needs to. Congratulate yourself on your first solo attempt at cake making with left over Coke and the Seagram’s 7 Crown you remembered stashing in your cupboard. You may be broke, underemployed, and single, but you make a damn fine cake. Cheers!
Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. You can find his Tumblr here.
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