Sponge cakes are named for their springy texture and airiness. They may be baked in tube pans, loaf pans, sheet pans, layer cake pans, muffin cups and just about any pan you can think of. You can flavor the cakes just about any way you like—they take to all sorts of fillings and frostings. And whipped cream—flavored with vanilla, coffee, chocolate, liqueur—is always a welcome companion.Because we’ll be in the world of foam cakes in the next couple of blog posts, and the techniques to make these cakes are essentially the same, I’ll provide links so that you can review what to do and how to do it at your leisure.
Okay. I know the holiday season is over and we can forget about Mel Tormé singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” until next Christmas. But let’s not forget chestnuts. They are a neglected ingredient in baking: starchy and sweet, they add a unique texture to cakes and tortes. Fortunately, chestnuts imported from France are available year-round in cans, either cooked and left whole, or in purées.
My goodness, but this recipe brings back memories. I began making it decades ago and included it in an episode of my Montana television cooking show, Big Sky Cooking. I had decided to do a show on meringue because I was—and still am—absolutely fascinated by how gloppy egg whites beaten with sugar transforms them into a billowy white cloud-like meringue. I had found numerous recipes for something called Overnight Meringue Torte in newspapers and magazines where a stiff meringue is packed into a tube pan and placed into a hot oven. The instructions said to turn the oven off immediately and leave the torte in the oven overnight, at least 8 hours. But how strange was that? And what was supposed to happen? Magic. That’s what happens. As the oven cools, the inside of the torte cooks to a creamy smoothness—it will melt in your mouth—and its top develops a crunchy crust. After taking the torte out of the oven the top may be all cracked and uneven, and you may scream in anguish.
I found this recipe years ago in a publication whose name I do not remember. I had torn the recipe out and zipped it into my briefcase and I said to myself: “I’ve gotta make this.” Finally, this past Thanksgiving, I kept my promise. Normally our Thanksgiving gatherings are fairly small affairs, but Thanksgiving 2015 was special because our entire family got together. This recipe makes a huge yield. The bars are rich, rich rich, and one bar will definitely satisfy, especially after a big meal and a sampling of a few pies. I followed the recipe as written but I omitted the caramel sauce because I felt that was overkill. Here it is. I measured the flour by spooning it into the measuring cups and leveling off.
When’s the last time you made ladyfingers? What? You can’t remember? And what the heck are they, anyway? Well, they’re sort of finger-shaped sponge cakes made from an airy batter of beaten egg yolks and egg whites and cake flour. I learned how to make them watching Julia Child on the French Chef episode “Introducing Charlotte Malakoff.” I get a thrill whipping up whites and yolks, and Julia made everything look so easy, I decided to try my hand at them. You can watch this episode on Amazon.com. Julia Child, The French Chef, Season 3, Episode 10.
Chiffon cakes, the third member of the foam cake family, are like sponge cakes with the addition of a secret ingredient. They came on the national scene in 1947. Before then, twenty years earlier, Harry Baker earned a reputation for his special cake among Hollywood luminaries. Mr. Baker, an insurance salesman by trade and a cooking hobbyist, would not divulge his recipe. Until, that is, he sold it for an undisclosed sum of money to General Mills. The following year, 1948, “Chiffon cakes became a national obsession” according to Jean Anderson (The American Century Cookbook, 1997). I have a little booklet from 1948, Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, containing many recipes and variations, icings, and serving suggestions. The booklet’s cover proclaims, “Never before such cakes as these. . . an amazing new cake family!”
What to do on a post-Thanksgiving Sunday morning? Why, make chocolate cake doughnuts, of course. My two granddaughters offered to help, and we all had a jolly good time. Oops! That’s my British schooling showing. The photo above shows the results of our happy efforts. I posted a story on chocolate doughnuts a while back, so just click here and you’ll get the recipe and see step-by-step pictures of the whole process. I want to emphasize that the dough is quite wet. That is as it should be. I think it’s best to mix it the night before so that it firms up and becomes quite easy to handle. Resist any temptation to add more flour to the dough or the doughnuts will cook up dry. How do I know? I’ve done it! It’s fine to flour your work surface and the cutters you use as necessary to prevent sticking. Do have fun!
“Ya gotta try the sour orange pie,” our waitress at The Yearling restaurant in Hawthorne, Florida, insisted. “It’s our specialty.” Being citrus lovers, my wife and I perked up and started asking questions. What we learned was this: The pie was most likely a variation of Key Lime Pie with sour orange juice subbing for the lime. It had a Graham cracker crust and was served with a sauce. So we happily asked our server to “Bring it on!”
I happen to love homey, old-fashioned desserts. And in the winter I often bake a batch or two of Lemon Squares. A few days ago I found a huge display of blood oranges at my market and decided I’d try substituting their juice and zest for the lemons. I’ve always loved drinking blood orange juice with breakfast, a habit we got into when living in Italy. At the time, our two sons were very young, and during the winter in Naples we had a contest each morning to see which of us had the glass with the reddest orange juice. We’d each select uncut oranges from the bowl and either my wife or I would be the designated squeezer.
I like lots of apples in my pie, about 5 pounds worth, and I’ve found that by partially cooking the apples first in butter with sugar and spices, the apple flavor becomes concentrated, the apples reduce in volume, allowing me to pack a huge amount of flavor into a pie–and I don’t need to use any flour or cornstarch as a thickener. Another bonus, the apples will be tender. No crunchy apples for me, please.