Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Birthday cake nostalgia February 9, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Chocolate Crazy Cake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

WHEN MY ELDEST DAUGHTER asked me to bake Chocolate Crazy Cake iced with peanut butter frosting for her upcoming birthday celebration, I was delighted. I’d offered to make her birthday treat, but expected Amber to choose a simplified version of cheesecake or Chocolate Tofu Pie. So when she picked Crazy Cake, I was nostalgically surprised. This is the recipe my mom used for my birthday cakes when I was growing up. And it is the same recipe I used when baking cakes for my three kids.

Although Amber never asked me to craft the cake into a shape like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, snowman or Garfield the cat as I did when she was a child, I considered it. In the end, I’m going with a basic rectangular frosted cake. Maybe I’ll add sprinkles for the grandkids.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother. PEEF is a fictional bear featured in books written and illustrated by Minnesotans Tom Hegg and Warren Hanson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

February brings not only Amber’s birthday, but also that of her brother, just one day shy of eight years younger than her. Their sister, sandwiched between, is 21 months younger than Amber. Yes, I was a busy mom. I baked a lot of Chocolate Crazy Cake birthday cakes through the years, cutting them into designs typically fitting the birthday child’s interests.

A blogger friend gifted me with a copy of the cake design booklet my mom used when crafting birthday cakes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My mom used the Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cake booklet as her guide to creating animal-shaped cakes for me and my five siblings. Her handcrafted designs defined our birthdays because we didn’t receive gifts. Finances didn’t allow and the adage of you can’t miss what you never had certainly applies. My kids got gifts along with personalized homemade cakes. If I were to ask them, they would likely remember the cakes I made and not the gifts received.

Birthdays always cause me to feel reflective as in how the heck are my kids already adults and x number of years old? It seems like only yesterday that I was planning birthday parties with their classmates, mixing up Chocolate Crazy Cake and lighting candles.

And now here I am, looking through my stash of church cookbooks for a cherished cake recipe. I’m feeling all nostalgic, wishing there was a way to ship a Chocolate Crazy Cake birthday cake to Caleb in Indiana.

Chocolate Crazy Cake*

3 cups flour

½ cup powdered cocoa

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups cold water

¾ cup vegetable oil

2 Tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Then add the liquids and mix. Pour into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees.


Recipe source: The Cook’s Special 1973, St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota

The recipe is listed as “Wacky or Chocolate Cake” in the church cookbook. I’ve always known it as “Crazy Cake.” Why is it called “wacky” or “crazy” cake? I don’t know.

Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


26 Responses to “Birthday cake nostalgia”

  1. beth Says:

    I absolutely love this tradition,, and I did the same for mine when they were children. you must have been thrilled that she made this request! my daughters and I still remember those cakes very fondly.

  2. No eggs in the recipe? Maybe that’s why it’s called ‘crazy’? 🙂

  3. I’ve made that recipe and I think the vinegar is what makes it “crazy”. I have made cupcakes, brownies and giant chocolate chip cookies and sent to the boys over the years —- even last year I did. 😊

    • I agree that it’s likely the vinegar and soda reacting to one another that makes this one “crazy” cake. I didn’t send a package of goodies to Caleb this year. Last evening he texted, asking if he should be expecting a package. Now I feel awful. I think a Valentine’s Day package will be heading his way. One time I mailed cookies to him in Indiana and the package ended up in Montana and he got them 10 days late and the cookies were stale. I’ve discovered that it takes a LONG time for mail to get to him, even just a card.

  4. Thanks so very much for sharing the recipe! I love a good 13×9 pan cake with frosting – still try and true and family and friends ask for it too – love that. 🙂 I think I was probably just on the verge of being a teenager when I started making the bunny cake for Easter (got pretty fancy making cake look like a bunny). I love a good celebration and a cake memory to go with it. Happy Day – Happy Birthday to the February Babies – Enjoy.

  5. Eugene Bertrand Says:

    I have a brother that’s 10 months older then me, so for 2 months we’re the same age.

  6. Joan Smith Says:

    When my brother was in Vietnam we sent him a cake packed in popcorn. It did get there.

  7. Valerie Says:

    I have made this crazy cake recipe, and that is the name we always called it. It’s fun to know you made it for birthday cakes all those years!

  8. Michelle Says:

    Now I desperately want to go back in time for that booklet. Copies for sale are dear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.