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