Q: A bit of a long shot here. I'm writing from outside London, UK, and am trying to trace a recipe that appeared in the Chicago Tribune back in the '50s/'60s. Told you it was a long shot! I'm looking for a recipe that appeared way back when ... it's "Apricot Sunshine Cake." Apparently it's a sponge cake base with apricot/orange (kind of gel) frosting, and real whipped cream dollops on top. A dear friend's mother cut it out of your paper all those years ago but the recipe has been lost. My friend was hoping to bake this cake for her 55th wedding anniversary which is June 7, so the race is on to find it! I don't have access to the archives and I don't even know if the recipe can be found on there but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.
—Sophie Hughes, Epsom, Surrey, England
A: I looked for an "Apricot Sunshine Cake" in the archives and found just one recipe with that title. It was a recipe for a breakfast dish, mot a sponge cake as you describe. I broadened my archival search by looking just for "Sunshine Cake" and found a number of sponge cake recipes, most with an orange-lemon flavoring. Finishing treatments for these cakes differ. A 1972 recipe, for example, suggested serving the cake unfrosted "topped with strawberries and whipped cream, shortcake fashion. Or drizzle on an orange-flavored confectioners' sugar glaze. For extra glamour, ice it with a fluffy yellow or coconut frosting."
Why all the finishing options? Well, the sunshine cake is an old recipe that's pretty basic, so there are plenty of opportunities for bakers to add their own unique touch — like, possibly, your friend's mother with the apricot flavor.
Sunshine cakes were very popular with thrifty homemakers who would make it to use up all the egg yolks left over after the whites were whipped up into an angel food cake. You can find recipes that call for both yolks and whites, as in this recipe from Oct. 3, 2001 from Raeanne S. Sarazen, who wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune called "Test Kitchen Connection."
Sarazen's cake was an adaptation of a recipe from "Mary Meade's Country Cookbook," written by Ruth Ellen Church in 1964. Church was the Tribune's food editor from 1936 to 1974. She sometimes wrote columns and stories using the "Mary Meade" pen name. In the cookbook, a number of flavor variations are suggested; Sarazen went with lemon-orange. She topped the cake with a glaze developed in the newspaper's test kitchen.
I don't see why you couldn't substitute a little apricot nectar or jam for the lemon in Sarazen's recipe, particularly in the glaze. Spoon whipped cream on top, if you like.
Just to be safe, I would make a few test cakes before the big anniversary celebration on June 7. Recruit your friend to taste what you bake and together you should be able to approximate an "Apricot Sunshine Cake" your friend's mother will recognize. Don't worry too much if the cake you create doesn't match mom's memories; she will be so delighted at all the work and love you've put into it that she won't care if your version misses it by a mile. And, who knows? Your cake might be even better. Let me know how it works out!
Any reader with a recipe for "Apricot Sunshine Cake" is invited to send me a copy. I'll forward it on to Sophie Hughes.
Orange-lemon sunshine cake
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Makes: 12 servings
The cake is adapted from "Mary Meade's Country Cookbook." The glaze was developed in the Chicago Tribune test kitchen.
1 cup sifted cake flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
12 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon each: vanilla, orange juice, lemon juice
1 tablespoon each, grated: orange rind, lemon rind
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1. Sift flour with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Repeat sifting 3 times; set aside. Beat egg whites in bowl of electric mixer until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar. Add remaining 3/4 cup sugar gradually; beat until stiff peaks form. Sift flour and sugar mixture again over egg whites; fold in gently. Set aside.
2. Beat egg yolks, vanilla, orange juice and lemon juice in medium bowl until thick and pale yellow. Fold egg yolk mixture, orange rind and lemon rind into egg white mixture. Scrape batter into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven until top springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Let cool upside down 1-1/2 hours, setting the tube over a bottleneck. Slide knife around cake to detach from pan, pressing knife against pan to avoid tearing cake.
3. For glaze, whisk together all ingredients in bowl until smooth. Drizzle over cake, allowing excess to drip down the sides.
UPDATED: Ask the readers and they deliver. Like Joanne M. Radke of Glen Ellyn, who offers her grandmother's recipe for an apricot sunshine cake. Radke also shared three tips: Don't use low-fat sour cream; apricot brandy can be substituted for the apricot nectar in the cake; and zest a lemon and/or orange into the batter and glaze for more flavor.
Apricot sunshine cake
3 cups sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup apricot juice or nectar
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon each: orange extract, lemon extract, vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup apricot nectar
1. Grease and flour a Bundt pan or tube pan; set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add in the apricot juice, then stir in the eggs, sour cream and extracts; incorporate thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt).
3. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes before inverting onto cake plate. Continue to cool for approx. 30 minutes more or until cake is completely cool.
4. Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl, gradually stir in apricot nectar to create a glaze; drizzle glaze on cake.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.