Chiffon cake

Fresh orange sponge cake: Special sponge cake conjures memory of a long ago Mother's Day and a gift of wild violets. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

These days, so many years later, many things seem like miracles to me. And like the cake, they seem fleeting.

But the triumph of that cake — this cake — is that it can be re-created at will.

And if you haven't a grubby-fisted 8-year-old to fetch you in a fistful of violets, have no worries. The cake is a pretty thing regardless.

Fresh orange sponge cake

Prep: 45 minutes
Bake: 40 minutes
Servings: 12

Note: Slightly adapted from "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book," by Marion Cunningham. You definitely want to measure the egg whites and yolks; eight of my young hens' eggs gave me only 3/4 cup of whites. All ingredients at room temperature, please.


2 to 3 large (softball-size) oranges

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 ¾ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup egg whites (about 8)

1/3 cup egg yolks (about 6)

1 1/2 cups bitter orange marmalade

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grate the rind of the oranges — just the colored part — to get 2 tablespoons zest. Set aside. while you Juice the oranges, measuring out 1/3 cup. Set the juice aside.

2. Combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1 tablespoon zest; rub together with your fingers until thoroughly combined.

3. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl; sift them together twice. Set aside. Put the egg whites into a large mixing bowl; beat until foamy. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar; beat until the whites are stiff but moist, and stand in peaks that droop slightly when the beater is lifted.

4. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thickened slightly; slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the sugar-zest combo. Beat until thick and lemon-colored. Add orange juice and remaining zest; blend well.

5. Sift the flour over the yolk mixture; stir gently until smooth, with no drifts of flour visible. Gently stir one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter. Pour the remaining whites on top; gently fold them into the yolk mixture, cutting down in the center with the spatula, taking it to the bottom and up the side of the bowl, then turning the bowl a bit and repeating until smooth and blended. Spread batter evenly in an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake until a straw inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 40 minutes.

6. Remove the cake from the oven; invert cake. If the pan has little feet, invert onto those. If not, invert over a wine bottle or similar bottle with a thin neck. Let cool completely before removing from the pan. Warm the marmalade slightly; stir in the liqueur. Pour over the top of the cake. Sift the confectioners' sugar lavishly over the top.

Nutrition information:
Per serving: 321 calories, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 92 mg cholesterol, 71 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 162 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at Mother Earth News and the author of "The Feast Nearby."