In search of the perfect (cup)cake


When I was in high school, gourmet cuisine was not on the menu. This isn't to say the food wasn't enjoyable - the chili billies (corn chips with a thin chili and too much cheese) still hold a special place in my heart. But the best item at the cafeteria seemed so simple, but to this day, I still can't replicate it.

The chocolate cake.

By the time I saw these little gems, they were tightly wrapped in cling wrap, an almost-black, super dense cake and bright white, super smooth frosting. Stacked in piles, each piece - 3" by 3" by 2" - could be had for $0.50, if my rose-colored memory is working correctly. Somehow, the clear wrap never stuck to either the frosting or cake, and both were gooey without being messy. Truly a wonderful (and likely very caloric) way to end one's school lunch.

Fast forward to now - I consider myself a fairly accomplished baker, and have a good idea of the chemistry involved in cake making. I prefer cupcakes for a variety of reasons, but no matter how I try, I can't seem to replicate the school cafeteria recipe. In my memory, at least, the cakes were very dense, almost oily, and didn't crumble at all. They were obviously made in a large sheet, but (perhaps due to their denseness) there wasn't a "rise" or consistency change on the top of any pieces (they were all flat-topped). The frosting was more like a cream cheese than a buttercream, but I have a feeling the fat was all oil. It was also quite sweet, and while it didn't drip down the sides, it wasn't stiff in the least.

I've tried scratch recipes and boxed mixes. I've replaced butter with oil and added sour cream, yogurt, and mayonnaise in varying amounts (mayonnaise is awesome in baking - really). My target cake was always cooked through, but I've even tried lower temps and shorter cooking times. All I've gotten are very delicious cupcakes that are wonderfully dissimilar from what I'm looking for.


What do you think? Hints, suggestions, advice? If you're looking to try something close, head over to Los Amigos High in Fountain Valley - they might still sell them. Otherwise, Sprinkles Cupcakes in Newport has a density that's close, but not exact (but good nonetheless). I'm sure I can figure out the frosting, but there's no point until I figure out the cake.


I fear that the need for lard, or crisco, is necessary to make that cake. My mom used to use crisco in her frosting for bake sales when I was little and there was no other frosting like the crisco, like oil, keeps the cake moist, but without it falling apart.

Crisco's no problem (it's vegan), I've just never used it. I'll have to try it next - it's scary, but probably works very well =)

I've been meaning to try using mayo in cake but have been putting it off -- now you've reminded me. As for your chocolate cake -- what about using buttermilk?

Also, I think when you taste something really good as a kid and try to replicate a memory as an adult, it is extremely difficult to get it just right. One of the first things I ever baked were pumpkin cookies using a recipe out of a really old, dusty library book I found in the backroom as a library aide in 7th grade. But I lost the recipe since then and haven't been able to recreate them! I hope you will have more luck. :)

I very distinctly and fondly remember those black chocolate cakes with the white frosting. I'd say they were exceptionally oily and oh so sweet and delicious.

If you're serious about it, you could find out who supplies food to Los Amigos and contact them. I'm sure it's a food manufacturer or distributor. Eventually someone has to have an ingredients list and nutrition information somewhere. It might take a few phone calls and/or emails, but I'm sure it's worth it if you are left with the ability to concoct those magical little black and white bricks of orgasmic chocolatey goodness.

Oh and you probably remember this also, but the cake portion also had chocolate chips in it if I remember correctly. Can't forget those.

I'd forgotten about the chips, though I remember that there were occasionally mini chips on TOP of the frosting.

Step one is going to see if they still have them at all - I can only imagine schools change things up a bit over 10+ years. I can write to teachers there and find that out pretty easily. Then I just have to get a hold of one, and see if it's as good as I remember.

LOL! oh my gosh, i cannot believe you remember the cafeteria cakes, so fondly. i am on a mission to track down the recipe for you from the district. by golly, anyone who has gone through so much trouble to replicate that thing is worth the effort.


FLF, (foodie love forever)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Doss published on February 3, 2009 3:19 PM.

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