Experiments in Mayonnaise

It's not as gross as it sounds.

For someone who was born in the early 90’s, ahead of the millennium and what some predicted would be the beginning of a Jetson’s-like future, I have always been more interested in any other decade of the 20th century.

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As an “adult”, this preoccupation still lingers and it finds me inheriting what others may deem as their old garbage, because “Marley likes old stuff. See if she wants it.” What else does Marley like? Oh well, she sure likes to bake (duh), so she might as well have all these cookbooks. All of them (duh).

I don’t fancy myself a minimalist, but some lines need to be drawn and my line lingers right around the strange and unusual- where I dive right in. Jell-O Salads, cringe-worthy casseroles, codfish balls that are formed into fish shapes?! I’m here for it and I want to keep it alive. Okay, maybe not the codfish balls.

A few favorites

Judging by these…innovations…it would be easy to assume people were just out of touch gourmands, but historically, we know that wasn’t always the case. So many of these recipe oddities were bred out of necessity, often to feed many with very little. If you can get your hands on a cookbook that was published between 1929 and 1940, it is evident that things like sugar, meat, fish, butter, eggs, and cheese were rationed.

This was the era that saw a rise in chipped beef, split peas, and any sort of potato concoction. To show solidarity, FDR’s daily lunch cost 7 ½ cents and consisted of deviled eggs in tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, coffee, and prune pudding. A far cry from the convenient McDonald’s and Diet Coke that some take for granted today.

I’ve often skimmed past recipes for chocolate mayonnaise cake, another Depression-era recipe, but had never dabbled in such sorcery. It makes sense, mayo, an emulsion of oil, egg yolks, and an acid, would fully replace the need for those, at the time, pricey ingredients. I admire this era of experimentation so very much, but something about “The Moistest Chocolate Cake Ever” just never piqued my interest.

Fast forward to last week. Through some channels and grapevine, I was told there was a way to make ganache with a secret ingredient. Mayonnaise. So, naturally, I had to make it.  

Ganache, the multifaceted glaze, icing, filling, frosting etc. is a simple marriage of just two ingredients: chocolate and heavy cream. Unlike the mayonnaise cake, there’s a good chance that I don’t have the necessary ingredient of heavy cream and when I do, it almost always turns to cheese in 48 hours. This day in age, while we’re not faced with rationing, we are reliant on convenience. And there’s nothing more inconvenient than wanting ganache and not being able to make it. Thankfully, we always have mayonnaise.

Rising above the judgment of our nearby grocery store clerks, I stocked up on a surplus of mayo and went to work.

I failed. A few times. Texturally, it was too thin, and then too grainy, and then too stiff, but what held up throughout the entire process was the taste. Introducing the vinegar-y tang of mayonnaise to the chocolate made me a believer. Your traditional ganache, while always great if done properly, can land on your palette as sweet or rich and just stay that way. When the extra milk fat of heavy cream is taken away and replaced with acidic mayonnaise, the taste is cleaner, just barely hits you like a salt and vinegar chip, and is much easier to eat by the spoonful.

It was at this point that I had no choice but to make the mayonnaise cake, mostly because there were 3 jars of the condiment in my fridge. As luck would have it, the rumors were true, and this cake will forever be in my recipe rotation.

The funny thing is, I could have just as easily bought heavy cream and called it a day, knowing full well it would be stocked at the store and that I have the means to pay for it. But, if cookbooks from The Great Depression taught us anything, it’s that good things come to those who experiment.

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