once upon a pie crust…

Once upon a time, I was in Australia. And I had friends that weren’t familiar with certain kinds of food, so I introduced them to pumpkin pie, buttermilk biscuits, white chili soup, Christmas cut-outs, and no-bake cookies. In return, they introduced me to eating lamb, potato wedges (with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream), pumpkin soup, lamingtons, pavlova, and vegemite. It was an excellent trade-off, but now that I’m not over there, I would give anything to have an Aussie meat pie or sausage roll.

The week before I left Australia, my friends threw me a going-away party. The joke was that they were celebrating my departure, but really, it was wonderful to know that they would miss me. During my final week there, I was so busy packing and doing last minute tasks, that I didn’t really have time to visit everyone, nor did I want to have to break down over numerous goodbyes. So, a massive sendoff from all my closest friends was just perfect.

On the day of my party, I had decided to bring some American desserts for the party, but I was on my very last can of pumpkin. That meant there wouldn’t be enough to make a pumpkin pie for both my friends AND my Aussie family. So, I decided to make pumpkin bars and funny cake.

Now, when I originally planned this post, I couldn’t find some of my recipes, because they had been packed, and I didn’t want to put both recipes in the same post. Reviewing my blog dashboard, I don’t believe I ever wrote that pumpkin bar post, either. So, I’m going to stick with the original plan and write about the funny cake, and give you the recipe for pumpkin bars later. Bear with me, I’ll get it together. This one is three months behind, as it is.

Funny cake is a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. Back in the days when Germans were settling Pennsylvania (you know, in the 1600’s), they were referred to as “Deutsch”, but the word was eventually Americanized into “Dutch”. In that part of the country, you’ll find many foods that are of German origin, which you won’t find any other places in the country. For example, you don’t get “shoo-fly pie” almost anywhere else, and that’s a sad loss, because I love shoo-fly pie. It’s a pie made with molasses, in case you’re wondering.

My dad’s family is from Allentown, PA, and they grew up eating funny cake and other PA Dutch dishes, and so did we. We even have it instead of birthday cake, sometimes. When I heard my older brother got it for his birthday, when I was in Australia, I was very jealous, which is probably why I decided to make some in Australia.

It isn’t a small recipe, as the mixture makes three pies worth. I knew it would be plenty to share with both friends and family, before I left. It never lasts long, at home, because we’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if we can get away with it. Originally, I thought it was called a funny cake because it’s put into a pie crust, but it’s really a cake. But my parents told me that it’s really a funny cake because if you put the cake batter in first, and then pour in the chocolate sauce, the chocolate sauce still ends up on the bottom of the cake. So, you can try the recipe, and decide for yourself why it’s a funny cake.

While overseas, my determination to introduce my friends to pumpkin pie gave me a lot of opportunity to improve my pie crust making skills. Even when the dough was being completely uncooperative, I could “press” it into the pie plate, eventually covering the whole thing, and it would still come out beautifully. This was a good thing, because I would have to make three pie crusts for the recipe, which required me to go buy another pie pan, because my Aussie family didn’t have enough of them. I also found a pasty blender (finally!) at the housewares store, so I could use that instead of a fork! Hooray!

Just for a reminder, here’s the pie crust recipe, first, and then the recipe for funny cake:

Flaky Pastry for 1-crust pie

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp butter (or Crisco)

2 to 2.5 tbsp cold water

Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with pastry blender until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Sprinkle on cold water, 1 tbsp at a time, tossing mix lightly and stirring with a fork. Dough should be moist enough to hold together when pressed gently with a fork. It should not be sticky. Shape dough into smooth ball with hands and then roll. Put crust in 9-inch pie pan and crimp edges.

~

Funny Cake

Cocoa Mix:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Cake Mix:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup margarine

2 eggs

2.5 cups flour

1 cup milk

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

Mix up cocoa mix, separately, and set aside. Cream butter & sugar (make sure butter is soft), then add the other ingredients. Pour cake mix evenly into THREE pie crusts. Then pour even amounts of cocoa mix into cake batter. Chocolate will sink to the bottom, while in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

~

My pie crust making went beautifully. If you’re reading my recipe, one way of making this a “funny” cake is that you can pour the chocolate in after the cake batter, and it will still sink. But you can do it the other way, too, which is how I did it. I poured the cocoa mix in first, so that I had an even amount in each pie crust. Then, I poured the cake batter, evenly, into the crusts. The cake batter will just pile in the middle, for the time being, and the cocoa mixture will sit on the sides, but that’s normal. It will settle down when it’s in the oven.

When your cakes are finished, let them cool for a while, but you can refrigerate them if you need them to cool faster. Unless you have a house that’s prone to ants, though, you don’t need to keep them refrigerated. They’ll probably get eaten too fast to go bad, anyway. I’m sorry, I never took pictures, but when you first cut into the funny cake, you’ll find a flaky crust with a thin layer of chocolate right above it, and then a delicious yellow cake on top of that. But it holds together so well, you can eat it with your hands.

Oh, and by the way, when you look at these pictures, I found out later that I had pulled them out just a LITTLE too early. So, they were a little underdone in spots, though they still tasted wonderful. So, you want the tops to be a little more of a golden brown, not quite so yellow.

At my going-away party, I’m sorry to say (ok, not really), we all ate too much food and dessert, so that we weren’t able to distinguish the deliciousness of some of the new desserts. In other words, my friends were too sugared up to figure out how well they liked the funny cake and the pumpkin bars. Instead, I left them with plenty of leftovers, and brought the last funny cake to Bible study, on Sunday. There, we all chowed down, and watching the guys take several pieces made me feel a lot better (and yes, we mostly ate it with our hands).

When I remind myself that this was over three months ago, I’m amazed that time has flown by so easily. That Sunday was the day I had to pull it together, while I hugged everyone goodbye, one last time. Now, I have my “I-miss-Australia” days, regularly. Whether I’m working on a writing project, involving my Australia blog posts, drinking Russian Caravan tea, or talking to an Aussie friend on Skype (I did that this morning), there are times when I just battle the homesickness. I also think of extravagant (and sometimes silly) plans of how to get back there, as soon as possible. But in the end, it always comes down to this… I need to save up the money.

Yes, I can’t go back and visit my friends, every year, until I have a savings account that will allow me to travel that far, and take 2-3 months off of work. This isn’t just a visit to my friends, but the chance to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Great Barrier Reef, and other places that I didn’t see when I was there. So, it’s a long-term goal that I have to strive for. Accept the tears of homesickness that slaps me, now and then, and just continue to resolve to go back and visit.

And so, I’ll keep my long-term goal in my mind, and meanwhile, I’ll plan to share that pumpkin bar recipe with you, shortly. I know where my recipes are, now, it’s just a matter of pulling the box off my shelf. All you foodies, stay with me until then.

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