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It’s too bad you can’t hold culinary seances. I don’t need any Blithe Spirit hijinks, but “Really? Ten eggs? No butter?” would do, for starters. A direct line to my great-grandmother’s baking spirit might settle what size eggs are critical for this recipe, and why it doesn’t require any butter or oil.

On the other hand, since my great-grandmother was known not necessarily for precise measurements but for using every pot in the house to cook, as I’m prone to do, she’d probably just laugh. The cake benefits from orange and lemon zest, so if you’re using fresh orange juice and lemon juice (which you should be, if you’ll pardon my saying so), zest those finely and add them to the batter.

Confession time: this is a really eggy cake. If you don’t like eggy cakes, or if your doctor would faint at the number of eggs in the ingredients, you might try one of the other cakes on this blog, or in the book. But if you pair this with a scoop of yogurt over the frosting–and maybe a drizzle of hot orange syrup–a slice of this cake satisfies a fall craving for a bright, simple dessert. (Or breakfast.)

Sunshine Cake

The counterpoint to my great-grandmother’s dark cake, this cake benefits from a carton of small-farm eggs with bright yolks.

9 large or 10 small eggs (if very small, use 10 egg yolks and 12 egg whites), separated
1 ½ scant cups sugar (sift once before adding)
¼ tsp. salt
1 ¾ cups flour
3 tbsp. orange juice (add up to 2 tbsp. more, if you wish)
1 ½ tbsp. lemon juice
zest of half an orange (optional)
zest of one lemon (optional)

Beat yolks until thick and lemon colored, adding sugar gradually. Sift flour and salt together four or five times, and add juices and flour, folding in, alternately, the egg yolks. Beat whites until stiff but not dry, and fold in to egg yolk mixture.

Bake in angel food pan for 1 hour–but test beginning at 40 minutes! Place in oven as soon as it is turned on; set heat at 225°F, increasing by 25° every 15 minutes until—for the last 15 minutes—oven is at 350°F. However, let cool in pan about 1 hour. Before frosting, poke all over with a cake tester to allow frosting to seep in.

Frosting for large cake
4 tbsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. lemon extract
powdered sugar (enough to thicken so as to spread easily)

Mix ingredients together with wooden spoon; gradually add powdered sugar for spreading consistency.

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Now that I know I can whip egg whites into peaks, it’s incredibly satisfying.

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Aside from the vinegar-and-salt trick, I find having techno music playing at ample volume helps when whipping egg whites. I doubt my great-grandmother would approve.

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It’s 6:00 pm. Do you know where your Bundt pan is?

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Doubling the frosting recipe gives you enough to ladle over a slice or two. Bonus.

In a brief detour from recipes of strictly friends-and-family provenance, I give you Mrs. Nováková’s bábovka. The intrepid Mrs. Nováková, doyenne/editor of the Czech section of the publishing house where I used to work, biked merrily to and from work in good weather, and poured homemade hazelnut liqueur for the office, in bad. Sharing an office with Mrs. N. and her team of three giggly (but very sweet) editorial assistants supplied a good eighty percent of my Czech vocabulary. The Czech and English sections occasionally bonded through our mutual love of 1,001 Baby Animals (from the house frontlist), and through mutual outrage at the typesetters and Chinese government censors.

Everyone seems to have a bábovka recipe–and Jakub’s aunt’s recipe is coming up, later this week–but this one is extraordinary, studded with rum-soaked raisins and flecked with orange zest. In a word, fantastic. (Thanks to Petra for sending the recipe–and to Mrs. N., for sharing it.) :)

Mrs. Nováková’s Tvarohová bábovka
Adapted from the original

bread crumbs
1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening or margarine
4 eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
9 oz. cream cheese
raisins soaked in orange juice (or in rum)
zest from 1/2 to 1 orange

Butter a Bundt pan and coat with breadcrumbs (as you would with flour). Set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix together sugar, shortening (or margarine), 4 egg yolks, and vanilla. Sift together flour and baking powder; set aside. To the sugar and egg yolk mixture, add the cream cheese, flour and baking powder, raisins, and orange zest.

Whip the four egg whites into soft peaks. Fold into batter.

Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 45 minutes. (Poke with a cake tester or sharp knife to make sure it’s done.)

The last line of the recipe is Nikdy nezklame: Never disappoints. So any errors in this version are entirely mine.

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Go to your closest farmers’ market. Buy eggs. Break open, according to recipe. Marvel at the deep orange color. Proceed. The results are worth it.

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Batter and an errant orange.

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For Bábovka, you butter the pan and coat it not with flour but with fresh breadcrumbs. It’s a brilliantly subtle layer that vanishes as soon as you eat a piece of the cake–so the first taste you get isn’t sweet, but toasty and almost savory.

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If, unlike me, you have a handheld mixer and can beat the heck out of egg whites, your bábovka will look somewhat more lofty than this one. What I tend to think passes for soft peaks (done by hand in a bowl, by someone without Julia Child’s stamina or copper) clearly doesn’t cut it. But the cake still tastes amazing.

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In a fit of practicality, I froze half, but had to dig it out of the freezer two days later, since we’d devoured the first half of the cake. This morning, we chased the last of it around the platter and had it for breakfast, Prague style.