LIFE CYCLE OF THE MUG CAKE
I am new to the mug cake/brownie racket and to be frank uncertain I am wholly on board. Staring into the depths of my Dr. Oestker’s Chocolate Individual Mug Cake Mix it smelled and looked good, sure, but I couldn’t quite figure out just…what a cake was doing there in my mug. Seemed like it had gotten lost. Perhaps I lack imagination. Or am a classicist.
Yet, if I were a mug-cake eater, I very well might—so many snacks to try in the world—might—buy Dr. Oestker’s Instant Chocolate Individual Mug Cake Mix again. Especially if somehow frosting got brought into the works, as frosting is 70-80% of my cake-ingesting motivation.
I crossed paths with Dr. Oestker’s Instant Chocolate Individual Mug Cake Mix striding in typical first-world gatherer fashion at the grocerying store. I halted in front of the display arrested by: 1) mug cake mix? 2) the latchkey food for adults factor I find so intriguing and 3) the old-timey moniker “Dr. Oestker’s” sounded like a line of orthotic shoes and intriguingly unappetizing for a nom de gateaux (also: “Dr.”?) 4) I was intrigued by the dimensions of the small narrow box as they are much like a chicken noodle soup mix I OD’d on one revelatory winter in the impecunious days of my extreme youth. I tell you that soup had the strangest noodle fragments swirling like schools of noodle sardines in a vast chicken-soup-colored-sea. I’d eat out of the pan in my coat, staring out the large, drafty windows at the weak winter light, feeling careless, free, and totally doomed at the same time.
Ahem. Anyway! Dr. Oestker’s Instant Chocolate Individual Mug Cake Mix is as instant as it gets. 4 tablespoons of milk, a few stirs, a carousel ride in the microwave and VOILA: cake. After greasing one’s mug (it is too bad I am uninclined to double-entendres) it is possible to slide cake out onto a plate. Doubting Gilmore has reservations. Still: package says.
While not exactly predisposed to disappointment, my expectations were in alignment with reality, I think, being as this product is more on the astronaut end of the food continuum. That it might be more cake-flavored (have you tried Birthday Cake MnMs?) than actual cake seemed not impossible.
But (v) small, happy surprise (hang on to ‘em tight, kids, we have some harrowing timez ahead), it became indubitably cake. Reminiscent of lava cake only with a commitment to go the distance of cooked, the center squishy rather than liquidly.
And, by Betty Crocker, I thought it tasted better than alotta box/oven cakes. You know that aftertaste following a big bite of DuncanPillsburyHines? Like your mouth is a vaulted ceiling in a cathedral where the floors were recently cleaned and a faint miasma of disinfectant hovers in the eaves? And while you’re glad the floors are clean and sure you can’t quite say the smell is prohibiting a religious experience, it may be mitigating it? I attribute that taste in box cake to whatever sinister machinations have to go down for cake mix Xtreme shelf life.
So I’ve described in laborious metaphoric terms ways how Dr. Oestker’s Instant Chocolate Individual Mug Cake Mix is not bad. But how was it good? I would say how the food on a French airline tends to more like a literal interpretation of food, as in food. Or, if you’ve ever worked catering, as the night wears on, and you are bored and hungry and footsore and hate your goddamned bowtie and you notice an abandoned dessert plate. You find yourself squirreling the cake away behind a vase and furtively snack on it later, deciding the risk of discovery and germs was fully worth it in this case. Does that make it sound good? I thought it was good.
-Gilmore Tamny is the author of My Days with Millicent, which OE has been serializing.
-This review first appeared in The Boston Hassle.