Traverse City Record-Eagle

Rebecca Lindamood: Foodie With Family

May 31, 2010

Lindamood: Wiping away bad sponge cake

A little while back I was speaking with my friend, Katie. "I am in a terrible mood," she said. "I have people coming over for dinner to celebrate my grandmother's birthday, I still have to clean, I told everyone that I would make Tres Leches cake and I should've known better. I am cursed with these Tres Leches cakes. I can't make a sponge cake to save my life. Every. Single. Time. I ruin it."

She continued, "This time was no different. I don't know what I was thinking. It didn't rise at all and when I poured the milks on it it turned to pudding. Tres Leches pudding. Happy birthday, Grandma!"

To say she was exasperated doesn't begin to describe it. And lest you think Katie just doesn't know how to bake, I promise you she's no slouch in the kitchen. She's a well-respected food blogger. I told her there was no such thing as a kitchen curse. I giggled while encouraging her to try again. She said, "I don't know if I can take the disappointment if I try and fail again. This is bad for my ego!"

Meanwhile, the idea of a Tres Leches cake took firm hold of my brain. As I carried on talking to Katie, I broke out the most well-rounded baking resource on my shelves (King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion) and let it fall open.

You know what's coming right?

It fell open to a recipe for Tres Leches cake. I shared the recipe with her. She had written off that evening's cake and resigned herself to purchasing a bakery Tres Leches cake. I, on the other hand, went to the kitchen to make a cake. In my brain, I scoffed at Katie's curse.

"Cursed cakes? Please. It's all in her head!"

This is what I thought to myself as I flicked the power on my stand mixer and egg whites went flying everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.

"Get it together, Rebecca. Concentrate on not messing up the kitchen, OK?"

This is what I thought just before my hand twitched and I dropped a whisk covered in sugar and egg yolks on the counter and watched it spray sugar sticky thickened yellow goo in very interesting and unpredictable patterns on the counter, then on the cabinets, then on my thigh as it careened off the cabinets and down my leg, and finally onto the floor.

"Alright. That was just unnecessary. Curse my rear. Let's get baking!"

I said this aloud not moments before I knocked the entire canister of superfine sugar off the counter with my elbow. The sugar instantly adhered to what appeared to be hundreds of places that egg had splashed and splattered seconds before.

"Seriously? I need this today? Come on! I can make a sponge cake in my sleep! What is going on?"

This little thought had not finished fully forming in my pea-sized brain before I realized that I had very carefully scraped and leveled my gorgeous cake batter into a pan that I had forgotten to grease.

"ACK! These cakes are cursed!"

I called Katie and apologized.

And then I anxiously awaited the cake's exit from the oven to see what I had wrought.

It was a Mary Poppins cake; practically perfect in every way. It was worth every egg splotch and sugar crystal I had to sweep, scrape and wash out of my kitchen.

Just in case you're wondering, Katie tried the recipe on my enthusiastic recommendation and her cake was perfect, too. The sponge cake demon had been conquered. Hallelujah! The curse was lifted!

If you've never encountered a Tres Leches cake before, you may be wondering why two relatively sane women would go to so much trouble just for a cake. Let me clue you in. The mild sponge cake is doused with a trio of milks; hence the 'tres' in Tres Leches. The sweet mixture of condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream is poured over the cake and allowed to soak in before being topped by mounds of whipped cream and fresh berries resulting in a ultra moist, crave-able dessert.

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