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Magic custard cakes and Impossible pies

"This nifty recipe creates three completely different textural layers using basic, pantry staple ingredients and just one batter. While it looks like a high effort, multi-step cake, this one-pan-wonder actually requires very little elbow grease or washing up." Queen

On the left Magic custard cake from The Cook's Room (the most tempting looking version I came across) and on the right Donna Hay's Lemon and coconut impossible pie. The magic and the impossibility comes from the fact that you make just one cake batter, and whilst cooking it separates out into three layers. Magic! But then virtually all cooking is metamorphosic magic is it not? The difference between the cake and the pie is that for the cake you separate out the eggs and fold the beaten egg whites into the batter at the end, and for the pie you just chuck everything into a bowl and whisk it all together - or even simpler - throw it all into a blender. Child's play.

Which is sort of why I'm looking at this. I have begun planning for the weekend's cooking class and asked for suggestions for dessert. My grandsons' mum suggested a few things that included custard tart, or a slice. Which made me think of magic cake because somewhere or other I came across this recently and added it to my list of potential subjects. I mean it did look more than a little bit magic. Now I don't know whether we shall have a go on Sunday but I did think I would do the post part of it.

The most interesting thing about this - to me anyway - is that neither The Guardian, nor any of my usual go to cooks and chefs have a recipe. Not even Coles or Woolworths, although Taste has a few. They are not the best looking ones though. Why should this be? Is it not gourmet or peasant enough for the gurus? Is this a bit like the chip butty in that it belongs to a particular class of people? In this case that class would be, I think, Instagram followers; Pinterest followers - apparently the magic cake has been dominating Pinterest boards since 2015; and food blog followers - particularly Jo Cooks. Maybe daytime television cooks.

Why? Lots of the presenters of the recipes I found referred to Jo Cooks as where they found it. She is Romanian by birth and says that she initially found it on a Romanian site which claimed it as a Romanian dish. As she herself says, there is no evidence for this. But nobody else has come up with a better origin story.

In spite of all the fuss about this particular genre of cake though, Jo seems to be mostly into dinner dishes. And there are a lot of them on her website, and I have to say that most of them look pretty nice if not outstandingly different. But then we can't all be Heston can we? And we don't want to be either. We want easy and delicious. She has published a cookbook and has been writing her blog since 2011 - 10 years. Twice as long as me - and she has made a career from it.

Now I'm not sure who are the people who frequent Instagram and Pinterest boards, or read food blogs such as this one. Though as an aside I believe my granddaughters and their mother have become fans of Recipe Tin Eats. So I'm guessing it's young to middle-aged people - mostly women - Yummie mummies perhaps - who are interested in food but don't want anything too hard. Unless it comes to decorating birthday cakes, when it seems to me, they will go to extremes. I thought they might be the same people who read Coles and Woolworths magazines so I checked them out too - but nothing. And possibly I found this even more surprising than nothing in The Guardian. I even began to wonder whether this was perhaps an Australian thing. But surely nothing can be that parochial in today's interconnected world can it? And no - at least one of the recipes I found is American.

The Impossible pies seem to be claimed by the Americans in fact - 1960s America, although again, there is no actual origin suggested. There is the same lack of recipes from the celebrity cooks though, although slightly more success with the Impossible genre. And in the Impossible genre there were several savoury versions, which tended to be called Impossible quiches (not quiche because no pastry) although to be honest those did not seem to separate out in the same way as the cakes. They were really rather more like a frittata.

Donna Hay though had four 'Impossible' recipes. One is at the top of the page, and the other, is, I think veering away from the Impossible pie thing into the Chocolate Fondant pudding. She calls this Magic chocolate molten puddings. It's actually even simpler than the cakes and pies as it only has four, three really - there are just a couple of extra egg yolks - ingredients - including the posh dulce de leche. Still it shows how one basic thing gradually evolves into something else as people tinker with it. Maybe it started with the 'throw everything in together' impossible pie until somebody though to separate the eggs and add the beaten egg whites at the end, thus making a more cake like top layer.

And why does it all magically separate out?

"The thin, wet consistency of the batter is baked at a much lower temperature than a usual sponge cake. This allows it set very slowly, giving the ingredients time to separate into three layers based on their density. The layers will vary in thickness based on your oven temperature, so we advise double checking with an oven thermometer for perfect results every time." Queen

When you look into it though it's not quite as simple as it sounds - particularly for the magic cakes because:

"One of the keys to this recipe is to have all the ingredients at the right temperature. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature, the butter is melted and cooled, and the milk is lukewarm. Also make sure you beat the egg yolk mix well, as well as the egg whites, before you combine the two."

Then, if you are making it with children there is the egg separation problem! So maybe better to stick with the impossible pies. I can't remember now which author gave the above instructions but they were certainly reiterated by others. Taste has a rundown. It also takes quite a long time to cook - anywhere from 40-70 minutes. And some people were very precise about the size of the pan - if you don't have that right the layers won't separate properly. So I'm now beginning to wonder if it's one of those 'super easy' recipes that is fraught with all sorts of disaster.

Anyway here are some of the most tempting - and just interesting - versions that I found. Nutella magic cake - Jo Cooks; Magic three layer custard cake - Recipe tin Eats/Jo Cooks; Gingerbread magic cakes - Foodness Greatness; Coconut rough magic cake - Queen; Lemon magic cake - Jo Cooks; Matcha custard cakes - Raspberri Cupcakes; Chocolate magic cake - Jo Cooks

As for the Impossible pies you could try these: Impossible pie - Australian Women's Weekly; Apple and custard impossible pie - Taste and Impossible pie - Jo Cooks

If I had to choose I think I would go for the Magic cake at the top of the page, the chocolate or lemon version and maybe the Impossible pie from Jo Cooks. But I'll have to wait and see if this is what the children want to cook. They might choose something else altogether. And I don't think we'll be able to have any of the coconut iterations because David doesn't like coconut, although coconut may have been the taste of the original Impossible Pie.

And by the way various people suggested serving with berries and cream, or even putting some berries in the mix.

Potentially easy but not quick. Not a lot of washing up though.

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