Cake in a Saucepan


Some of our old family recipes go back to generations of frugal Midwesterners and further to New England roots, but others have even more interesting back stories. The origins of this cake fit in that latter category.

Back before food stamps, “commodity foods” were distributed to clients of our county’s Department of Social Services. With one of their social workers in the household, I had access to the recipe folders  prepared to help recipients use the fairly significant amounts of the basic foods distributed each month.  Peanut butter and oatmeal (along with processed cheese, dried egg powder, etc.) were very commonly included, so it was important to suggest ways to use up these otherwise bland foods.

It was in one of these recipe flyers that I first found a recipe for an oatmeal cake with a broiled peanut butter topping instead of frosting. The cake was moist, flavorful, and easy to prepare, so I made it often for our family. In the years since, I have worked out several variations of what we fondly came to call “welfare cake” but none of these had included chocolate.

One of the things I have always liked about this cake is the ease of making it–in a saucepan no less. Quick to make, quick to clean up, this was a natural for a mid-week dessert for a group of hungry kids.

While not at all a “health food,” the somewhat reduced sugar and fat amounts along with the increased protein and fiber from the oatmeal and peanut butter help justify serving it at the end of a simple sandwich and salad meal. Probably the longest part of the prep is waiting for the oatmeal mixture to cool before adding the eggs, but you can use that time to mix together the peanut butter topping ingredients. Overall, a nice moist cake that is good warm or cold.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake with Peanut Butter Topping

1 1/2 c water
1 c rolled or quick (not instant) oats
1/3 c butter
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 1/2 c flour–either unbleached or whole wheat
1 t baking soda

1.  Combine water, oatmeal, and butter in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook about 1 to 2 minutes.

2.  Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, stirring until the chips are completely melted. Set the mixture aside to cool slightly. (Prepare the Topping while this is cooling.)

3.  When the oatmeal is cooled to lukewarm, stir in the sugars and eggs and beat well.

4.  Sift or mix the flour and soda together and add to the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan. Stir just enough to be sure the mixture is completely blended.

5.  Pour the batter into a well-oiled 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. (If using a glass pan, heat the oven to only 325 degrees.)

6.  When the cake is just done–a toothpick inserted in the center should come out without any liquid batter adhering to it–remove it from the oven and quickly pour the Topping over it, spreading it as evenly as possible. You will need to spread it back toward the middle, as the tendency will be for the very liquid topping to flow away from the higher center to the edges.

7.  Return the cake to the oven, on the highest rack, for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the topping is beginning to bubble around the edges.

Allow to cool well before cutting.


1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c peanut butter

1.  Combine the sugar and water in a large bowl or 2 cup measuring cup and microwave, covered, for about 3 minutes, until the sugar is totally dissolved and the mixture has come to a rolling boil.

2.  Remove the sugar mixture from the microwave and stir in the peanut butter. Stir carefully, as the syrup is very hot.  As you can see, it’s really kind of ugly at this stage; that’s okay!


Sprinkle with chopped peanuts while the topping is still warm.

Leave a Reply