Whether wacky or crazy, cake is on the menu on this week’s food pages at the  Los Angeles Times. Their food section is one of the best in North America, in my opinion, as they always manage to stay a step or two ahead of most other papers in covering the food scene.

With wacky cake, however, they take a step back. It’s called wacky — or crazy — because the cake is made without eggs, milk or butter and yet it bakes up moist and delicious. LA Times food writer Emily Dwass has gone to the source to find out who invented this particular cake — which requires no bowl or beaters for mixing, just an unbuttered square cake pan and a fork to stir the ingredients together.

Dwass writes: “While some cookbooks place the origin of crazy cake in the 1970s, food historian Lynne Olver, a reference librarian who created the website Food Timeline (www.foodtimeline.org), says that the cake existed as early as World War II, when rationing forced bakers to deal with shortages of key ingredients like eggs and butter.

“‘I bet you could push that recipe back even further,” says Olver, adding that though the cake may have been born from necessity, by the 1970s women’s magazines played a role in making crazy cake seem modern and trendy: “You were not just making a cake, you were conducting an experiment.”‘

I somehow missed that trend and was unfamiliar with wacky cake until a friend told me about it long after the craze had passed.

Like Dwass, I was skeptical that something so basic and simple – flour, cocoa, baking powder, vinegar, vegetable oil and hot water – could bake into anything appealing. So I tried it and was amazed that it actually worked. It’s easy enough for kids to make, and I’ve had far worse “box” cakes, though admittedly crazy cake isn’t something you’d take to a four-star dinner party. Well, maybe to a Seventies party where everybody wears tie-dye and peace signs and gets a big case of the munchies. . .

Dwass delves into the chemistry of cake baking and taps food scientist Harold McGee for an explanation of what happens when the ingredients come together and have the heat put to them. She also provides several recipes, one for the traditional chocolate cake and another for a poppy seed cake. Apparently there are hundreds of variations on the original recipe, but if you’re interested in being a wacky little baker yourself, read her piece first. Before you go crazy!