Daffodil Cake

Whimsey rules with confections. Marzipan is particularly prone to blithe abuse, finding itself fashioned into all sorts of flowers, fruits, animals, even people or parts thereof. Cakes also endure such treatment, particularly occasional cakes, but even “every day cakes” are fun, and daffodil cake is as light-hearted as it is light.

Of course daffodil cake doesn’t have daffodils in it no more than a hummingbird cake has hummingbirds or Girl Scout cookies are made out of girl scouts (daffodils happen to be poisonous) but it’s (partially) yellow and springy. This is an old recipe, appearing in Fannie Farmer and Betty Crocker books during the 1940s, a sure sign that it was probably being made and passed around at church bazaars and served on spring weekends long before then.

Daffodil cake is a combination sponge and angel food cakes, which are both made with a meringue without oil or butter, but the yellow parts of a daffodil cake contain egg yolks—as does a sponge cake—and the white parts do not—as does an angel food. (Chiffon cakes, which appeared on tables at about the same time, are a meringue cake with oil.) You will not find an honest mix for any meringue cake in the grocery store; you’re going to have to make it from scratch, and it’s best to make on a clear, cool day because we all know that you can’t make a good meringue when it’s raining, don’t we?

12 large egg whites
1 cup sifted cake flour or sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar (total)
2 teaspoons vanilla
11/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon lemon or orange extract
Finely grated lemon peel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the lowest position. In a very large mixing bowl allow egg whites to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Sift together flour and 3/4 cup sugar 3 times and set aside. Add vanilla, cream of tartar and salt to egg whites. Beat with electric mixer on medium to high speed until soft peaks form; gradually add 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Sift one-fourth of the flour mixture over egg white mixture and fold in gently. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, using one-fourth of flour mixture each time. Transfer half of batter to another bowl. In a small mixing bowl beat egg yolks on high speed for 6 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Add lemon extract, mix and gently fold yolk mixture into half of egg whites. Alternately spoon yellow batter and white batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and swirl with a spoon to marble. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert cake in pan and cool completely before loosening cake to remove from pan. Flip cake onto a plate and sprinkle top with finely shredded lemon peel and powdered sugar; serve chilled.

Syracuse Salt Potatoes

My experiences with people from upstate New York have always been cordial. My first Latin professor at Ole Miss happened to be from the Finger Lakes region, and he was the bluff, jovial sort you’d hope to find teaching such a subject. When I was in graduate school I met a man from Buffalo who is a scholar of the first water in the beautiful, convoluted study of blues music. Then I met Jake, a man of depth and parts, who though from Syracuse, is thoroughly adjusted, acclimated and otherwise oriented to living in central Mississippi. Mirabile dictu, he likes it here; mind you, he finds room for complaint,  but we all here have that in common.

Once long ago Jake mentioned a dish unique to Syracuse: salt potatoes. When I said I’d like to make them, he said, “You can’t.” Salt, he explained, is not the problem; you can use any pure salt you like, but you can’t use just any potato. The authentic, die-hard, “you will go to hell if you don’t do it this way” recipe demands new russet white potatoes (grade “B” I’ve been assured by my buddy from Buffalo, who is conversant in the matter); not red, not bakers, and most certainly not sweet. Such spuds to my knowledge (which is admittedly limited) are not grown nor sold in the state of Mississippi. I snagged a sack of small bakers a while back, and Jake said they “might work” but “weren’t right”. Then came the day when we went to the Farmer’s Market and found a basket of new Yukon Golds, a variety developed in southwest Ontario, which is in spitting distance of upstate New York. We both knew that while these potatoes are not the original russet-type that the Irish salt miners in Syracuse prepared for meals during their grueling work days, the best compromise possible was made. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Bring eight cups water to a low boil and stir in two cups salt. Likely not all the salt will dissolve, depending on the softness or hardness of your water (soft water will hold more salt). The potatoes will sizzle while boiling because of moisture leaching out of the skins. Once the potatoes are done through, remove them with a slotted spoon into a colander and let them dry until a salt crust forms on the skins. Serve hot with melted butter for dipping.