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My Mother’s Cookbook

Frosted Cakes: Seven-Minute Frosting, 1234 Cake, Pound Cake Torte and Carrot Cake

by Margaret Cullison

Merely the thought of cake makes me want to sink my teeth into a delectable slice. The appeal of cake must be rooted in some primal urge for indulgence, because people of all ages like this satisfying dessert. Seniors relish the joy of having an elaborately decorated cake placed before them honoring another year in their lives. Children love cake with equal glee, talking in advance about the colored sprinkles and decorated frosting they want on their next birthday cakes.

At family gatherings, my grandchildren always respond first when asked, “Who wants cake?” They shout out the word as if cake had magic properties…and it does. After they’re gobbled down that first slice, their parents put the cake out of sight, hoping the kids will forget about it. This trick only fools the youngest among them.

I suffered from cake envy after attending a friend’s birthday party when I was six or seven years old. She had an April birthday, and her cake that year looked like a lamb with white frosting and coconut curled fur. The cake completely enchanted me. I knew my friend’s mother hadn’t made the cake herself. We always had homemade birthday cakes at home, but that didn’t impress me nearly as much as the magic of Sandy’s lamb cake.

Mom had lost confidence in her ability to bake light and fluffy cakes after her first efforts collapsed while baking. She did make a mean chocolate cake, which she baked in an oblong cake pan for our birthdays. Flat cakes hardly have the allure of a round layer cake, but her Seven-Minute frosting rose in delicate peaks as white as new-fallen snow and tasted great.

My mother attributes the recipe for Seven-Minute frosting in her cookbook to her friend, Ruth More. I have another recipe she typed on an index card and sent it to me when I first started cooking. My effort to make that version flopped. The following recipe looks easier, or am I just hoping I might still be able to master the art of making this fluffy delight?

Seven-Minute Frosting
2 egg whites
¾ cup sugar
½ cup light Karo syrup
2 Tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat over double boiler.

My Note: Mom’s directions are woefully brief, so this is the more detailed process she wrote for me.

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in top of a double boiler. Place in bottom half of boiler over boiling water. Beat continuously for seven minutes or until frosting stands in peaks. Use a spoon a time or two during the early part of cooking to loosen mixture from bottom. Fold in vanilla before spreading on cake.

In 1977, I flew to Iowa from California, with my two youngest sons, step-son and second husband. My older brother, Ben had moved back to our hometown with his third wife and her little boy, and his daughter and two sons were visiting from the East coast. Rounding out the group, younger brother Alan and his wife, son and daughter had just returned from his year of teaching law at the University of Khartoum.

We gathered for dinner one night to celebrate my two nieces’ late June birthdays. Ben arranged for a friend, a professional photographer, to arrive after dinner to take our picture. We didn’t lack for amateur photographers in the family, but he wanted a picture of all of us assembled once again in our family home. A prescient decision, because Dad had been ailing, and this would be the last time we were all together with him.

In the resulting picture, Alan’s family wears African clothes from their time in Sudan. Mom looks trim and energetic at 73, but Dad is frail compared to his former vigorous self.  Ben’s family is outfitted in quasi-hippie style, and his oldest son has his arm draped casually around Dad’s shoulders. I’m decked out in a tie-dyed outfit from a recent visit to Tahiti, and the younger boys are poised to escape outside for one last game in the twilight.

After several failures of my own, I had learned to bake layer cakes, so Mom asked me to make one for the party. There would be 17 for dinner, requiring a bigger cake than I’d ever attempted. We found a recipe for a three-layer 1234 cake in her collection. This yellow cake dates back to the 17th Century when portion ratios made recipes easier to understand for cooks who couldn’t read.

Mom wanted to use the old glass cake stand in the china cabinet, a relic from past family occupants of the house. She had a fondness for that cake stand but, because she only made flat cakes, rarely used it. I knew better than to try making Seven-Minute frosting on that warm afternoon, so frosted the cake with an easy marshmallow frosting (see My Mother’s Cookbook: More Recipes from Relatives).

The result looked spectacular when I presented the cake to the girls for candle blowing. Uncertain that there’d be enough for everyone, I waited until they all served themselves cake and ice cream. When I got to the cake, there wasn’t a crumb left for me!

My mother often asked me to make this delicious cake for her in the ensuing years. The almond flavoring adds a nice, subtle flavor.

1234 Cake
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Cream the butter and add the sugar slowly. Beat for 10 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating 3 minutes for each one. Add flour and milk alternately.

Pour equal amounts of batter in three 9-inch round greased pans, lining bottoms with circles of waxed paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees, until toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center of cake.

Invert pans on cooling rack and let stand for 10 minutes before removing cake. Frost when cake layers have cooled.

My Note: Put toothpicks between layers to hold them in place.

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