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.

2 comments:

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.