Is Soda a Public Health Threat? And Should You Be Adding It to Cake Batter?

Where food comes from.
April 1 2013 12:24 PM

Table to Farm: Coca-Cola Cake Edition

Slate's show about soda taxes, obesity, and whether you should be adding soft drinks to your cake batter.

Listen to Table to Farm No. 5 with L.V. Anderson and Dan Pashman by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

Slate’s coverage of food systems is made possible in part by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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On this week’s episode, Laura and Dan investigate the controversy surrounding soda and obesity. First, they interview Kelly Brownell, the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology at Yale University and the director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Dr. Brownell argues that obesity is a major public health problem and draws parallels between the soda industry and the tobacco industry. Then Laura and Dan talk to Slate columnist Daniel Engber, who argues that soda taxes are ineffective and unfair. Finally, Laura shares her Coca-Cola Spice Cake with Dan, and they sort through the finer points of the soda debate.

Here’s the recipe:

Coca-Cola Spice Cake
Yield: 12 to 16 servings
Time: 1¼ hours, largely unattended

Oil or butter for greasing the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter
½ cup molasses
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1½ cups plus ⅓ cup Coca-Cola or other cola, or more as needed
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup chocolate chips
2 cups powdered sugar, or more as needed

1. Heat the oven to 350 F and grease a 9- by 13-inch pan. Put the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

2. Put 1 cup (2 sticks) of the butter, the molasses, ¼ cup of the cocoa powder, and 1½ cups of the Coca-Cola in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the 1 teaspoon of the vanilla, then stir in the flour mixture. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then stir them into the batter. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Transfer the batter to the greased pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out mostly clean, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, put the remaining ¼ cup (½ stick) butter, 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, and ⅓ cup Coca-Cola in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the pan, and whisk to combine thoroughly. (If the frosting seems too thick, add more Coca-Cola a few tablespoons at a time; if it’s too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar. The mixture should be pourable but not completely liquid.)

4. Pour the frosting over the cake while both are still warm. Cool and serve. (Store leftover cake wrapped in foil or plastic wrap at room temperature for up to a few days.)

Here are links to some of the things we discussed this week:

This podcast was produced by Dan Pashman.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

Dan Pashman is the creator and host of The Sporkful food podcast and blog, a regular contributor to NPR and Slate, and the host of Cooking Channel's Good to Know.

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