Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

So hey, did I ever tell you about the time I met Betty White? I'm so serious! It was several years ago, before her glorious resurgence of late. I’d watched The Golden Girls obsessively for many years (during its first run, as a young girl unnaturally drawn to observing the lives of aging Miami women, and then again in reruns as part of a post-lunch relaxation ritual during college), so as you might imagine, the meeting was one of the more mind-blowing moments of my years spent in Los Angeles.

The best part about meeting Betty White was that she was exactly as you’d hope Betty White would be—vibrant, chatty, funny, an incredible lively sparkle in her eye—even though I was an absolute stranger to her. Even better, she was even more charming than I’d imagined she’d be in person. It was very hard not to hug her. I’ve had the chance to meet a bunch of fancy, high-profile people over the years that I’d admired for one reason or another, and there’s nothing grosser than meeting someone you’re a fan of and finding out they actually suck. Well, not this time—I left that brief meeting an even bigger Betty fan than before, and was so impressed by her awesomeness that I’m still talking about it years later, even finding a roundabout way to connect it to Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Just hang on a sec—I’ll get there.

So several months back, after the release of their latest book Baked Explorations, I got to meet the positively darling baking superduo of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito at a book signing event here in San Francisco. And I’d say they would be manically pleased to know that meeting them conjured up Betty White-meeting-level feelings. They are seriously hilarious and adorable and every bit as entertaining and warm-hearted as their cookbooks. Thank God.

I mean, after my multiple gushings about the guys and their terrific recipes, I’d probably have required therapy had they been unenjoyable in person. But within five minutes of their presentation at their signing at Omnivore Books, not only had they cracked the whole place up with their Odd Couple-esque banter, but they also dropped mad knowledge, such as the fact that Cher, Liberace and Vincent Price all have published cookbooks at some point. Who knew? The Baked boys, that’s who. Quirk and humor are as important to their books and their business as bold flavors and dreamy textures and I totally love them for it.

Since falling in love with those Baked boys all over again, I’ve read their latest cookbook cover to cover and bookmarked it like mad within days of receiving it, but until recently, I’d had yet to actually bake anything from it. I know. As it turns out, being up to your eyeballs in sugar for your own little cookbook will throw such kinks in your best-laid baking plans. But on a recent foggy Sunday, I was so drawn to this simple, soulful cake (no electric mixer required!), I had to make it happen. Because, hello—chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting, people.

The great thing about this cake is how fantastically versatile it is. Its earthy oat flavor and nubbly crumb plays so fantastically with the chocolate bits and sweet cream cheese frosting, it’s perfect for a weekend/eat-straight-from-the counter-by-the-hunk sort of situation. But it would be lovely in elegant slices for company (dusted prettily with a smidge of cocoa powder as you see here) or even made into a layer cake for a birthday or somesuch. Like a mimosa-soaked brunch with Betty White and the Baked boys in attendance, you really can’t go wrong here. And with that last sentence, I think I've created my new mental Happy Place.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito's Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented

This recipe includes the genius step of tossing the chocolate chips in a bit of liquor and then tossing them in a bit of flour. It gives a touch of great flavor to the cake and also keeps the chips from all sinking to the bottom of the cake. They recommend bourbon or Scotch, but I'm thinking Frangelico, dark rum, Kahlua or Grand Marnier would also be awesome. If I didn't have any booze on hand (unlikely), I'd probably just use a touch of water to moisten the chips and get the flour to adhere.

For the cake:

8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon bourbon, Scotch or other complimentary liquor (see note)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup rolled oats (not steel cut or quick-cooking)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups boiling water
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the cream cheese frosting:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
5 1/2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.

In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips with the liquor, then with 2 tablespoons of flour to evenly coat the chips. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, place the oats and butter. Pour the boiling water over the top. Allow to sit for about 30 seconds, then stir until the butter has melted. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in the cooled oatmeal until well-combined. Fold in the remaining flour, followed by the the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toohtpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.

To make the frosting, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla just until combined. Spread on the cooled cake. Chill the cake for about 15 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

CakeShauna Sever