Sometimes, we do dangerous things because we want to see what happens. I’m referring to amateur street racers, or habitual shoplifters, or the thin squirrel who once stole a ketchup bottle from my dumpster and almost certainly died from flavor overload. In all of these circumstances, curiosity may kill and/or incarcerate the cat—but it certainly enriches the cat’s life, if only for a moment.
This is the ethos behind Stove Cake, a cursed invention I devised during my sophomore year of college. Stove Cake is exactly what it sounds like: boxed cake mix made on the stove. It’s the same idea as a pancake—batter cooked over a single burner—but much more scientifically improbable given the large surface area and volume of the average cake.
I invented Stove Cake after getting tanked with a competitive swimmer known as “Skid Mark Gabe.” Upon returning to my spider-infested college apartment, I decided that I urgently required a large slice of cake. Unfortunately, my oven was busted, as was often the case. So I improvised, popping the cake mix and the requisite ingredients into a saucepan and stirring the mixture until cake chunks began to form. I ate the finished product directly out of the pan with a fork, threw up, and went to bed.
As you might imagine, Stove Cake is not a good cake. It’s nearly impossible to achieve an even bake on the stovetop, and you have to keep stirring the mix to avoid a burned crust on the bottom of your pan. “But mug cake!,” you might exclaim, pointing to every college student’s favorite microwave dessert. Yes, yes—but unlike Stove Cake, mug cake is made in the microwave, which blasts the batter with a somewhat even level of heat and creates a thoroughly steamed product. You can’t get the same effect on a stovetop burner. The result is a chunky, texturally confusing cake omelette that barely scratches the surface of what a cake should be.
So, why would anyone make Stove Cake? College misdeeds aside, here are some scenarios in which you might resort to baking Stove Cake:
- Your only cooking implement is a hot plate
- You live in a little elf house and your oven is too small to fit a cake tin
- An evil wizard has taken up residence inside your oven and does not wish to be disturbed
Here I am, an adult with a fully functioning oven and zero evil wizards. And yet, something called me back to the days of Stove Cake. Maybe it was the same nostalgia that drove me to revisit Boone’s Farm and discover that it actually wasn’t that bad. Maybe I was just wickedly curious. Either way, I found myself skittering around my kitchen, muttering to myself in a Bilbo Baggins voice, “After all, why not? Why shouldn’t I make a Stove Cake?”
Cackling maniacally, I reached for the one box of cake mix I had in my pantry: Duncan Hines Perfectly Moist Strawberry Supreme. I dumped the ingredients into a large pot, whisked for a few minutes, popped the lid on the pot in hopes of achieving a steam effect, and began to simmer the mixture on low.
I checked the batter a few minutes later and found that it was still 100% soupy. Impatient and craving crap cake, I cranked my burner up to medium-low. After about 60 seconds, I had achieved a small fleet of bubbles—a cake foam of sorts. Cake was forming, that much was certain.
As the cake continued to firm up, I periodically stirred the mess so it wouldn’t burn on the bottom. Did I lick the batter off the spatula after every stir? Yes, of course. All in all, it took about 10 minutes of low and slow cooking to form something remotely edible. The result was an ugly, gloppy, sticky mess. I ate several spoonfuls before dumping the rest into the trash.
My conclusion: Stove Cake is stupid! Don’t make it! I tried, and I failed. It’s best left in the corner of my brain that I reserve for collegiate misbehavior, right next to manhandling a rare copy of Moby Dick in my university library.
I will, however, offer the following word of advice if you’re weirdly committed to stovetop baking: try a proper steam. One website suggested using a “super-sized pot with a tight-fitting lid” as a steamer. You can try sticking one of these on the burner and placing your cake tin inside. “The heat from your cooktop will warm up the air inside the pot, baking the contents.” The site also recommends creating space between the walls of the pot and your baking tin or tray, allowing the hot air to circulate. I’ll give it a try soon, but I may need a few weeks to recover my cake-loving sensibilities.