Those of my readers who aren’t entrenched in the American Jewish community may not know that Teaneck, NJ is a the Modern Orthodox mecca. Only the true cognoscenti know the real reason behind Teaneck’s success . . . MARBLE CAKE.
Marble cake is THE cake to buy at Teaneck’s kosher Butterflake bakery. Every Friday, hundreds (thousands?) of these cakes fly off the shelves and once you taste one, you’ll know why: it’s a great cake that’s light, chocolaty enough without being overwhelming, and it appeals to kids but isn’t too sickenly sweet—in fact, its chiffony lightness makes it work for grownups, too. So that’s the secret: a cake that everyone loves.
Thanks to our Teaneck relatives, we discovered Butterflake’s marble cake years ago. Our fearless photographer, REG, fell in love with this cake when she was a toddler and we’ve been importing them from Teaneck ever since. Sometimes after a visit to the cousins, we buy several cakes and freeze them for the future.
There are times, however, when we have neither this ur-marble cake in the freezer nor plans to go to Teaneck. When that happens, I turn to my mother’s marble chiffon cake recipe. It’s not quite what Butterflake makes (and it may be impossible to get the consistency of Butterflake’s glaze without some additive I don’t want to know about) but it’s pretty darn close. There’s actually a disagreement in our family: My husband says this is better than the Butterflake cake but my fearless photographer votes for the bakery version.
Actually, I only recently realized that both marble cakes and chiffon cakes are so passé that (like my pink-tile bathroom) they are about to come back into style. I’ve always loved the way that marble cake allows me to bypass the either/or choice of chocolate or vanilla. I also love whipping meringues into light fluffiness though I do wonder which Neanderthal woman first discovered that not only could you eat an egg, but if you separated it and beat it, it would be all light and fluffy and add height and lightness to your baking.
Thanks to my mother’s extensive tutorials when I was her tween sous-chef, I often bake with beaten egg whites. There’s nothing to be scared of as long as you follow these rules:
- Your bowl and utensils have to be (and this is mom’s word and I can still her it in my head) “scrupulously” clean and dry. Any foreign agent will prevent your whites from whipping.
- Break the eggs when they are cold.
- First break each egg into two glasses (one for whites, one for yolks) and then add the whites and yolks one at a time to the respective bowls of other whites and yolks. By breaking eggs that might somehow not separate properly into the small cups, you won’t accidentally introduce the dreaded foreign agent (like a pinprick sized drop of yolk) into your egg whites after you’ve already separated 10 of them.
- Once you have beaten your whites, gently add the other ingredients. If you are pouring a batter into the whites, lighten the batter first with some of the beaten egg whites. That way you won’t be introducing a heavy and potentially deflating mixture into your airy and fluffy whites.
- To properly fold ingredients into egg whites, take a large spatula and lift and fold from the bottom while turning the bowl around 90 degrees with each turn. This allows you to truly mix it all in while being gentle and not breaking up the egg whites.
So without further ado: my mother’s marble chiffon cake recipe in all its mid-twentieth century glory.
Marble Chiffon Cake
1/3 cup coca
1 ¾ sugar
¼ cup hot water
2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 scant tablespoon baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ cup vegetable oil (any light, flavorless oil)
6 large eggs, separated
¾ cup cold water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
½ tsp cream of tartar
2 ½ squares melted unsweetened chocolate
2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tbs. hot water
2 ounces unsalted butter or margarine (yes, margarine because it’s a recipe from the 1960s and that keeps this nondairy for the kosher crowd)
1 tsp vanilla
Lightly grease an angel food cake pan.
For the chocolate part of the marble cake: Mix cocoa, ¼ cup of the sugar and the hot water and set aside to cool.
For the cake: Separate eggs and beat the whites gradually adding cream of tartar until stiff and dry.
Put sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon extracts and mix until smooth. Gently fold in around one cup of egg whites into this mixture and then fold the mixture gently back into the egg whites.
Remove one cup of batter and add it to the cocoa mixture. Pour white batter into pan and then swirl cocoa batter into this.
Bake at 325 for 55 minutes and then at 350 for another 15 minutes.
Remove and cool on rack. When fairly cool, invert and then remove from pan when totally cool. When you remove it from the pan, place it on strips of wax paper so that you can dribble the glaze and then remove the mess and feast on the chocolate droppings, leaving the serving plate clean.
For the glaze: Melt chocolate, vanilla, and butter/margarine in the top of a double boiler. As this mixture is melting, add the water. When it’s all blended remove from the double boiler and quickly whisk in the gently beaten egg–and do your best not to scramble the egg. Add confectioners sugar. When all is encorporated and the mixture is nice and glossy, pour it over cake. You don’t have to cover the sides but there should be lots of drippings on the side. Ideally, you won’t serve this immediately and the glaze will harden a little.