The Art of Microwaving

It was freshmen year at Arcadia, and my new friends and I were looking for a sugar high. Dessert was on our minds, but what could we do? We were craving a delectable chocolate brownie topped with a melty vanilla ice cream. But our first-year residence halls were not equipped with ovens, and the dining hall was closed for the night.

“I got it,” my friend said, opening his laptop to play us a YouTube video on how to make cake-in-a-mug.

Inside my mug, I beat the egg, mixed in the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder, then stirred in vegetable oil and milk. We watched the the batter rise inside the microwave. In just three minutes our cake was done: instant gratification in a mug.

These memories from three years ago have inspired my Honors Project, a two-credit course required for all students in the Honors Program. Each student proposes a project that addresses subjects outside their major. In my class, there are students building a miniature replica of the Titanic, painting murals, managing the biology department’s online presence, and writing books.

When thinking about the topic for my project, I knew I wanted to do something fun since I would be so stressed out with thesis, but I also wanted to do something that would benefit others. Cooking is my favorite hobby for unwinding. And I’ve always wanted create my own recipes. I immediately thought back to my first year at Arcadia, when I was confined to a microwave for cooking my own food. It hit me. I’ll create a cookbook for college students focusing on microwaveable meals made in a mug. Grub-in-a-Mug was born.

There are many variations of the cake-in-a-mug recipe online, including red velvet cake, cookie dough, strawberry, peanut butter, and Nutella. With my cookbook, I want to expand beyond desserts and feature main meals and snacks. I’ve never made a book before, so I reached out to Gretchen Haertsch, who teaches in Arcadia’s English department, to be my mentor, since she has experience in book making and an interest in food. I also met with Janet Greenstreet, Administrative Assistant in the English department, to talk about food photography. She gave me excellent advice on painting the story of the recipe through using different table cloth fabrics, mug shapes, and props in the photos.

I spent a weekend doing research on mug recipes and noted culinary methods and techniques. After reviewing recipes, I developed my own, including a richer version of the classic chocolate cake mug recipe that my roommate has named the Chocolate Coma Cake. Adapted from a popular devil’s food cake recipe, the Chocolate Coma batter incorporates instant chocolate pudding to amplify the cocoa powder, and sour cream to add moisture to the cake. I’ve also started testing out my egg fried rice recipe, which still needs to undergo a few more trials to get the rice fluffy in the microwave.

While developing my recipes, I was surprised by the amount of math needed to adjust measurements. I scaled down a 12-cup devil’s food cake recipe into a 2-cup recipe that would fit inside a mug, converting cups to tablespoons and tablespoons to teaspoons.

Once my recipes are fully developed I plan on brainstorming photography ideas for the cookbook with Haertsch and Greenstreet. Even though it seems that this project will require a ton of work, Grub-in-a-Mug is exactly the fun activity I need when taking a break from thesis. Plus, it’s a good excuse to make a ton of cake.

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