Angel food cake


Moms love to cook for their sons.  Curt’s mom once provided me with the recipe for her sour cherry pie – “Curt’s favorite” – along with the already-made crumb topping.  My own boys are starting to love some of the things I make – chicken pot pie, for one – and you’d  better believe that’s the stuff that’s in heavy rotation now.

Well, my own dad’s mom was no exception – she made this Angel Food Cake at his request, or even when he didn’t request it, just because she knew how much he loved it. Of course, the rest of us loved it, too.

This cake was most often served with peaches or strawberries in sauce. I also remember that it was so tall and fluffy that it had to be cut with a very sharp, serrated knife. Otherwise it’ll squish down and that defeats the whole thing.

I haven’t personally tried making this, but I am reminded now that I should.  Meantime, I will reprint her recipe here for the record. If you make it, check back and leave a comment to let me know how it went.



2 cups egg whites (Grandma didn’t say how many eggs it takes to make 2 cups. Probably the better part of a dozen!)

1½ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Sift together one cup of sugar with the flour.
  2. Beat the egg whites until they are frothy. (Much easier with an electric mixer, but knock yourself out if you have a hand-crank egg beater.) Add cream of tartar and vanilla extract and continue beating until peaks form.
  3. By hand using a spoon, gradually add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and beat, then add the sugar/flour mixture, gently folding into the eggs in 4 equal parts.
  4. Pour batter into an angel food cake pan.  (Oh, crap, this is a show-stopper. I don’t own one of these. Therefore, step #1 should probably be, run to Target and buy an angel food cake pan.)
  5. Bake at 375 degrees until browned and feels “springy” to the touch.

Admittedly, Grandma’s card was a little skimpy on the details. Because I lack the direct knowledge that would be immensely helpful in posting this recipe (but why let that stop me?), I had to turn to the internet to fill in the blanks. Alton Brown’s recipe from The Food Network looks good, and although the ingredients are different, I have to believe the technique is similar. His helpful details include:


  • Use 12 of the freshest eggs you can find, because they are easier to separate, and they should be close to room temperature
  • Food-process the sugar so that it’s super-fine
  • He suggests cake flour because of its finer texture
  • He also includes instructions for testing for doneness, and requires that you leave the cake upside down to cool for an hour in the pan before attempting to remove it from the pan.
  • The tube pan should be UNGREASED! I would have thought grease, and Grandma’s card didn’t specify. Alton (and others) say no grease, so there you have it.


Picture by musicpb on Flickr
Picture by musicpb on Flickr




Party planning

I was digging through Grandma Sara’s recipe box to find something good to share. It seems that the recipes that impressed her most were for desserts. There are cookies, cakes, pies galore.  Also, a good number of casseroles… but mostly sweets. I’ve selected a couple to share in the coming weeks.

I also found two notecards that appear to have outlined holiday menus and quantities of food, presumably for future reference. For example:

christmas-1991-menuShe didn’t specify how many people were at the meal, but included quantities to make a turkey, stuffing, mashed and baked sweet potatoes, plus 4 pies (mince, pumpkin, and two pecan).

Then we have Thanksgiving from 1985:

thanksgiving-1985-menuHere, she lists what she prepared for 15 people. It seems an 18 1/2 pound turkey was the right size to feed the crowd, however, two pounds of mixed vegetables and 4 boxes of yellow beans were too much, as were the large tossed salad and two packages of potato rolls.  I’m sure as I filled my own plate on my 19th Thanksgiving,  I most assuredly skimped on the vegetables (can you say afterthought?) in favor of the mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing. Funny, she doesn’t even mention stuffing on this list; probably because it was a given, because in those days, you didn’t cook a bird without stuffing some seasoned bread into the cavity first.

The other thing she doesn’t mention is how she always used to put out two gravy boats – one that contained the giblets, and one that did not. I always thought she did this as a favor to me, but relatives, correct me if I’m wrong. I was a non-giblet girl. Still am.  Always will be. I’ll cook them and give ’em to the cat, but don’t you dare sneak them into my gravy. Blech.

When I’m planning a party or big meal, I do something she used to do – I will sit out all the serving bowls and utensils and label them ahead of time with what food goes in which one. That’s the kind of stuff I can handle. And, while I will write down a menu ahead of time, for grocery shopping purposes, I have never kept it and made notes about whether the quantities were appropriate or that everyone took their “polite bites” but nothing more of a certain dish, or notes on timing the cooking of things or… anything remotely helpful.

Now that I’ve discovered my grandma’s cards, I may have to start doing this. And what better opportunity than this weekend, when the members of my church choir and their families are scheduled to come over on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Christmas. Of course, this party’s more of a covered dish. I agreed to provide a ham and paper supplies, plus electricity, running water, climate control, and places to sit. And that’s about it. I really know how to throw a party, don’t I?

Molasses Cookies

It was the rare visit to Grandma Sara’s house when there wasn’t a plate of cookies to share, and if there wasn’t, profuse apologies would ensue. Molasses Cookies were in Grandma Sara’s heavy rotation. In fact, I have three separate recipe cards in her handwriting, and I remember asking her to write it for me a few times. On one of the cards, she wrote:

This is not Grandma Daisy’s but tastes as close to hers as I can find.

Grandma Daisy was her mother, my great-grandmother. So, I’m double-dipping in the grandma category, but more than that, I’m sharing a recipe that my own grandma really tried to make as close as possible to what her mother made. I think that’s cool.

This recipe makes a good-sized, soft, cake-y cookie. Anyone familiar with Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish cooking would recognize these.  These were never in anyone’s “Christmas cookie” repertoire, but were made year-round. Of course if you ask me, you could fill a tin of these, stick a bow on it, say “Merry Christmas,” and it would all be the same thing.

None of my recipe cards say how many cookies this recipe makes. I think it’s several dozen, but it’s been a while since I made them.  Now, however, these are on my brain, and this usually means I’ll have to make them soon. If I do, I’ll post pictures and update with quantity.

Molasses Cookies

1 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup baking molasses
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 cup dairy sour cream
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg (for eggwash)

In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add 1 egg and molasses and beat well. Add vinegar and sour cream and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Gently stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Do not overbeat.

Drop by teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet (or you can use baking parchment). Allow room for them to spread.   Beat the other egg; using a spoon, press gently on top of cookie and spread a bit of egg on top. (Or, skip the egg and sprinkle with sugar… but I always remember egg on top of Grandma Sara’s cookies.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

These are great served warm and the way I see it, can also pass as something you might call “breakfast.”

Grandma Sara’s Butter Brickle

Here’s one you’ll want to add to your holiday cooking list, and I’m telling you right now, plan on making a double batch because it goes fast. This is Grandma Sara’s butter brickle, or English toffee. She made it every year at Christmastime, and a batch of this, placed in a special piece of pottery, was the coveted gift in our family gift exchange for years!  I learned to make this many years ago, but even though I follow her recipe closely, I still say hers tasted better.


2/3 c. sliced almonds, crushed, divided into 2 parts
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 bag (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate is okay too, because really, when does milk chocolate not work, anyway?)

All you need to make this awesome stuff.

Prepare pan: Line a cookie sheet that has sides (jelly roll pan) with foil, then butter the foil (or spray with PAM). Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of crushed sliced almonds. (Or more than that if you really dig nuts.)

Prepared pan. Feel free to use more almonds.

Place brown sugar, butter and vanilla in heavy saucepan. Cook on medium to medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until candy thermometer reads 300 degrees (hard crack stage).

Do NOT stop stirring! It takes longer than you think it will, so wear comfortable shoes and don’t be in a hurry.

It's almost done!

Remove sugar mixture from heat and pour it evenly over almonds on cookie sheet. Sprinkle it with chocolate chips. Wait several minutes to allow chocolate chips to melt, then spread them evenly over sugar mixture. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup of almonds over top of melted chocolate.

Allow to cool completely (refrigerate to speed the process, or put it outside if it’s cold out), then break into smallish pieces. Store in a covered container in a cool location. Hide it from your spouse and children, because once they find it? It’s as good as gone.

UPDATE, 7 DECEMBER 2010. I’ve added a few photos, but it seems I neglected to snap a shot of the finished product.  Coincidentally, Ree (Pioneer Woman) posted a similar recipe with much better photos. Go check it out!

Update, 22 November 2011. Finally – a photo of the finished product:

Butter Brickle
Butter Brickle. Yum.

Amish-style Sugar Cookies

So, I have this great idea for this blog, and I’m so anxious to get started, but I need to sort through my grandma’s recipe box and figure out what I’m going to post first. It’s a little bit overwhelming! But then it occurred to me that over on my other blog, I wrote a while ago about making sugar cookies in the Amish or Pennyslvania Dutch style, the same as both of my grandmas made.

Hop on over to my other blog and check out that post – it even includes photos – and promise me you’ll send me a dozen if you end up making them because they are soooo good.