Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cooking disaster

Maple sponge: it's not what's for dinner.

For those of you just joining us, a little background: I found this recipe for maple sponge, in my grandmother's handwriting, in my mom's old recipe box. Here's how Gram had written the recipe down:

MAPLE SPONGE (6 servings)

1 envelope Knox gelatine
1/2 cup cold water
1 1/2 c Br sugar
1 c boiling water
whites 2 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts
dash salt

Soak gelatine in cold water 5 min Put sugar + hot water in saucepan bring to boil and let boil 10 min. Pour syrup gradually on soaked gelatine cool + when nearly set add stiffly beaten egg whites + nut meats, put in mold + chill.
Custard:- 2 egg yolks, dash salt, 1 tbl sugar, 1 c milk, 1/2 tsp vanilla

I was intrigued by the minimalist ingredients, the simultaneously specific yet vague instructions (what was I supposed to do with that custard?), and the raw eggs. I decided that this would be my entry in Retro Recipe Challenge #4: Go on the hunt for old recipes that work well in fall. The word "maple" conjured images of a New England autumn for me. The presence of a jello mold promised festivity. I had no idea what this dessert was supposed to be -- brown sugar gelatin? -- but I thought I'd give it a whirl.

RRC4 requested a couple of things I can't provide, like the year this recipe was first published and where it came from. I have no way to prove it was originally published between 1920 and 1980. All I can say is, look at the recipe card:

It's made out of some thick, manila-colored paper and Grandma's handwriting is starting to fade. I'd say that Maple Sponge reeks of 1960s culinary folly. I'm guessing, of course, because I don't remember Grandma or anyone else ever preparing and/or serving this dish.

I was confused by the directions for custard at the end. Was I supposed to pour it over the prepared "sponge" or mix it in? It was typical of both Gram and Mom to omit such directions. I read the recipe over the phone to my sister Mary, who's an excellent baker, and she thought the custard should be mixed in. I agreed and set about preparing Maple Sponge.

It mixed up easily enough, although the brown sugar/gelatine combination didn't seem to be setting very well and the whipped egg whites refused to be incorporated. I ended up dumping the maple mixture, egg whites, and custard mixture into a big bowl and attacking it with my hand mixer. Everything resolved into a thick, creamy, light brown mixture that I poured in the jello mold and put in the fridge to set. After it had been chilling for ten minutes or so I remembered the chopped walnuts. I opened the jello mold and saw that the contents were really starting to firm up, so I just sprinkled the walnuts on the surface, hoping they would sink into the sponge but knowing they would probably stay right where they were. I let it sit for another hour or so.

When I unmolded it, the maple sponge was an unholy mess. Shall we take a look at it?

Looks kinda like a messy pumpkin pie, right? That light-colored stuff is the beaten egg whites, which separated from the rest of the sponge and floated to the top of the mold -- when I unmolded the gelatin the meringue of course got flipped to the bottom, taking on the appearance of a pie crust. Good thing the egg whites stiffened and set, because they're the only thing keeping the runny goo in the center from pouring out all over the counter.

I gave Sean a serving (meaning I plopped a mound onto a saucer; a bowl would have been a better choice) and asked him to give me his honest opinion. He took a bite and declared it "slime-alicious." Later he described maple sponge as "flan's northeastern bastard stepchild." He asked me what I thought, so I tried it myself. The first word that came to mind was "foamy." I knew exactly which ingredients had gone into the making of it, yet the result didn't taste much like any of them. I can best describe the gooey center as tasting like dark Karo syrup and an overpowering amount of vanilla whipped to a frenzy. The whole mess went into the trash. Then we each enjoyed a slice of lemon cake that Sean had picked up at the supermarket.


Curtis said...

The lemon cake was delicious.

Elle said...

Very interesting. Perhaps the gelatin brown sugar stuff and egg whites make the molded sponge and the custard is a topping?? Very brave of you to share this. Old recipe instructions often leave me scratching my head in confusion. Thanks for giving it a go. Glad you had yummy lemon cake to eat anyway.