Is it still real cake if it’s sprayed from a can and baked in a microwave?

August 4

Two Harvard students have made eating a fresh, hot dessert incredibly easy. (Courtesy John McCallum and Brooke Nowakowski)

You’d be hard pressed to think of anything that better exemplifies the trend toward instant gratification than the phenomenon known as sprayable food. In recent years, offerings have expanded from marginal items such as whipped cream topping to a growing selection of more complete foods that include fruit mouse, pancake batter and even coffee. But it’s a potential new grocery-shelf product, developed by a pair of Harvard students, which may indeed take the cake.

It’s called, well, Spray Cake and comes in the form of a premade batter that’s been neatly pressurized and packaged in a ready-to-use aerosol canister. Simply press the release mechanism and a rich, goopy mixture flows out from the nozzle to be shaped into a cupcake or whichever layout one has in mind. Toss the concoction in the microwave, and in about a minute you’ll have yourself a moist, freshly-made dessert.

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Here’s an example of a final product involving Spray Cake. (Courtesy John McCallum and Brooke Nowakowski)

Though it’s not exactly “cake in a can,” it may well be the quickest, most convenient way to do cake. Even powdered mixes, which help simplify the process, still require mixing in additional ingredients, such as eggs and vegetable oil as well as having some degree of patience for oven baking. With Spray Cake, “you can simply pull it off the shelf, make one cupcake, then put it back in the fridge and it won’t go bad,” Brooke Nowakowski told the Boston Globe.

The idea came about while Harvard student John McCallum was pondering various possibilities for a finals project for his cooking class. One of the recent lectures happened to be on the molecular interactions that cause cake to rise, which made him curious as to whether, instead of using baking powder, the same reaction can be carried out with propellant gases used in aerosol cans. After all, it’s the gas bubbles (carbon dioxide), released as baking soda or baking powder is heated, that gives cake its spongy texture.

With the help of Nowakowski, McCallum began testing the idea. His dorm roomed was turned into a kind of lab kitchen, where they experimented with combining aerosol technology with different recipes until they hit upon a formulation that produced batches that tasted the way a delicious cake should.

The concept does seem gimmicky, but McCallum and Nowakowski say they’re dedicated to ensuring that Spray Cake is organic and of a high standard. Recently, Joanne Chang, an esteemed pastry chef and owner of the Flour bakeries in Boston, was brought in for a taste test. Her reaction? She described the half-vanilla, half-chocolate flavored test cupcake as needing a bit more salt, but overall, approved of the results.

And while Chef Jurgen David, the International Culinary Center’s senior coordinator of Pastry Arts, told ABC News that aerosol-canned cakes won’t ever match the quality of ones baked from scratch, what comes out of the microwave is still, in fact, cake. To make his point, he added that bakeries often resorted to a similar approach whenever a cake had to be whipped up in hurry. In this scenario, the batter is put in a whipped cream container and leavened with air bubbles as it’s transferred into a separate cup to be heated.

“It doesn’t taste weird,” he told ABC News. “It still has the cake-like texture.”

For now, McCallum and Nowakowski, the recipients of a $10,000 prize for winning first place at this year’s Harvard College Innovation Challenge, are searching for the right distributor to help them commercialize their idea.

“We want the batter to be organic and kosher certified,” McCallum explained to ABC News. “We want fresh cake batter, not some overly processed food.”

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