In my family, ever since I can remember, when it’s your birthday, you get to choose the entire menu for your birthday meal. No restrictions. Well, none beyond what you know the cook is capable of.
My first big attempt at carrying on this tradition turned into a bit of a flat tire when Merle requested a pie I had never heard of—Lemon Sponge.
My grandma was a Lemon Meringue pie-baker, but that, Merle said clearly, was not the pie he was after. So I went looking for a Lemon Sponge Pie recipe. My first attempt at making it turned out to be more like pudding than pie. So I monkeyed around with the ingredients, plus I picked up a few hints from my favorite pie-baker at our local farmers market.
So I was ready when our son-in-law, whose favorite desserts have a big lemon flavor, asked for—Lemon Sponge Pie—for his birthday meal last week. I love this pie. It is light and screamingly lemon-y, and I feel old-fashioned when I make it, probably because the recipe asks for things that you can’t find in boxes.
Try it. One hint before you start—make sure you’ve got enough time to stick the baked pie in the fridge for 2-3 hours before serving it so it sets up well.
Lemon Sponge Pie
Makes 8 servings
Prep Time: 30-40 minutes
Baking Time: 40-45 minutes
Chilling Time: 2-3 hours
¾ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
3 eggs, separated
3½ Tbsp. flour
½ tsp. salt
juice and grated rind of 2 lemons (enough to yield ½ cup juice)
¾ cup hot milk
9” unbaked pie shell
1. Cream sugar and butter together using an electric mixer. (It’s hard to get anything creamy going when you’ve got so little butter, so just beat them together the best you can.)
2. Add egg yolks and beat well. (Things will get creamier when you add the yolks.)
3. Add flour, salt, lemon juice and rind. (Get yourself a good zester and you’ll love this step.) Blend thoroughly.
4. Blend in hot milk. (Continue to use the mixer, but be careful not to splash yourself since this turns the batter thin.)
5. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Don’t stir them in. You want the whipped whites to kind of float on top of the mixture.
6. Pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Continue to bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until top is nicely browned.
We just celebrated my mother’s birthday, too, and she picked chocolate cake. We eat so few desserts that I really like to make the birthday person’s request from scratch. That means I’ve never ordered a decorated cake, primitive as it sounds. But this is one simple cake and amazingly easy frosting.
Confession: If we have leftover cake, we eat more than we mean to. So I decided to impose some discipline on myself. The recipe below makes a 9” x 13” cake. I have an 8” x 8” baking dish—and I decided that a cake that size would easily be enough for the 7 of us who were coming to Ma’s birthday dinner. With a little quick math, I found that I could split the ingredients in half (well, technically, I multiplied the individual ingredients by .55 to get it exactly right!) and have a full-looking baking dish, plus plenty of cake for all of us. It worked.
Moist Chocolate Cake
Makes 15-18 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Baking Time: 35 minutes
2 cups flour, sifted
1¾ cups sugar
¾ cup baking cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
½ cup oil
1 cup strong hot coffee
1 cup milk
1. Sift all dry ingredients together into a good-sized mixing bowl. (You sift to get rid of any lumps in the ingredients.)
2. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add the oil, hot coffee, milk, and eggs. Beat just enough to mix well. (The batter will be lumpy.)
3. Pour into a greased 9” x 13” baking pan. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
4. Spread slightly warm cake with Quick Caramel Frosting below (or any other favorite).
Note: I found that when I made a smaller cake using an 8” x 8” baking pan, I still had to bake the cake for 30-35 minutes.
Quick Caramel Frosting
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk
1¾-2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
1. Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and cook over low heat two minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Add milk. Continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil.
3. Remove from heat and cool.
4. Stir in confectioners sugar until frosting reaches spreading consistency.
Note: Use only half the amounts of ingredients called for if you bake an 8” x 8” cake—unless you want very thick frosting!