Fall is charity season. If you’re a baker, you know what I mean — you’re starting to get the calls to donate to auctions and bake sales and special events to raise money for the hundreds of worthwhile organizations competing for our dollars.
Maybe I get more requests than the average home cook — one of the few downsides associated with sharing my kitchen meanderings with you. I’ve learned to stop saying yes when I just can’t fit any more into my schedule, and I do try and mix it up a little, choosing different organizations every year.
Whether you are a spectacular cook or just enjoy puttering around the stove, you likely have been and will be asked to give something to a bake sale. Unfortunately, the quick pickers have already chosen snowballs and brownies and the other items that bake up fast and transport well.
My nemesis has always been the cake, and these are my go-to options because they bring in the biggest bang for the buck without the nuisance of figuring out how to wrap up something covered in icing.
Chocolate chiffon cake with fudge sauce
This is a tender, moist, flavour-packed cake that is not as difficult as you may think. It transports perfectly and stays fresh for two days. The sauce is plentiful and you can keep a taste for yourself to serve on ice cream or to dip a berry or two.
I always include instructions with a donation that comes in parts. This one goes beautifully with fresh chopped or macerated fruit or berries.
The sauce should be microwaved barely long enough to make it fluid, unless you would like to serve it warm, of course.
Just a note about flour for you less experienced bakers. When a recipe calls for cake-and-pastry flour, you can usually substitute without ruining the recipe, but the softer cake flour will result in a more tender crumb. It is not, however, a one-to-one substitution. For every cup of cake flour, reduce the all-purpose by two tbsp. For this recipe, you would need 1-1/2 cups all-purpose.
I get a lot of questions about sifting and whether it matters. It matters. When the recipe calls for “sifted flour,” you sift more than you think you will need and spoon the sifted flour into the measuring cup carefully so as not to compact it. Then I always resift with any other dry ingredients being added with the flour. It is so worth that extra few seconds, especially when using cake flour because it tends to clump.
Last question — cream of tartar is a stabilizer for egg whites and also an acid to activate baking soda. Yes, you can leave it out, but at your peril.
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tbsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
3/4 boiling water less 1 tbsp. (11 tbsp. in total)
1 tbsp. vanilla
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1-3/4 cups sifted cake-and-pastry flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar (divided)
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
8 egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate (or semi-sweet if you prefer)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (no other)
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. vanilla
Whisk cocoa and espresso powder into boiling water to make a thick, smooth mixture. Cool to room temperature and whisk in vanilla, egg yolks and vegetable oil; set aside. Sift together (already sifted and measured) cake-and-pastry flour, half (3/4 cup) of the sugar, baking soda and salt. Add cocoa mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until there are no streaks of flour.
Beat egg whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. Add remaining 3/4 cup sugar slowly, beating until you see firm, glossy peaks. Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate batter — this lightens it so the rest of the whites incorporate more easily. Fold in remaining egg whites — using a large rubber scraper, cut down through the middle of the batter and gently scoop it up and around. Continue until the texture and colour are homogenous.
Spoon batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Rub a knife blade through the middle of the batter to release air bubbles. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes. The top will look dry and there may be a few tiny cracks in the surface.
Turn upside down on a wire rack and cool completely. Run a long, thin knife blade around the edges, pushing it into the pan so you don’t cut into the crumb. Do the same around the tube in the centre and remove the cake.
For the fudge sauce, melt all ingredients together over lowest possible heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Turn off the heat while there are still a few pieces of unmelted chocolate and continue to stir. If mixture doesn’t seem completely smooth give it a quick whisk.
Traditional sponge cake
When I was a young girl helping my mother prepare for a church bake sale, we would often make six of these. You can buy them now in the store, plain and ready to dress, but those don’t hold a candle to the texture and taste delivered by this classic recipe.
This cake is large so you can slice it into three layers and fill with any fluffy frosting or filling you like. My favorite is lemon pie filling. Then I smother it in lightly sweetened whipped cream. For the bake sale table, let it go as is and allow people to choose how to serve it — ice cream, fruit or any sweet sauce dresses up a plain slice just fine.
6 eggs, divided
1/2 cup cold water
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. each vanilla and lemon extract
1-1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Beat egg yolks in a large bowl until thick and lighter in colour. Add water and continue beating until mixture has about tripled in volume and is very thick and creamy — this takes several minutes so don’t short-change the step.
Beat in sugar and flavourings until batter is smooth. Fold in flour that has been resifted with salt, working only until there are no streaks; set aside.
In a clean bowl and using clean beaters — even a drop of fat will prevent you from getting the volume you need — whip egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until firm, glossy peaks form. Fold egg whites into batter then spoon into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 325 F for one hour. Turn upside down onto a wire rack and cool until it is just slightly warmer than room temperature. If you cool completely in the pan, the top will become a little crumbly.
As with the previous cake, run a long, thin knife blade around the edges and remove cake. Place top down on a plate for serving or transport.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.