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I wish I’d met Great-grandma Lettie—despite the fact that she seemed a little scary—and had a chance to bake with her. But I am lucky enough to have the original recipe for her famous Lightening Cake. It’s over 150 years old, but beyond the stains and smudges, I can still make out her surprisingly delicate script.
In recent years, I’ve made Lettie’s Lightening Cake, and as the sweet fragrance of vanilla and strawberries wafts through my kitchen, I think maybe Great-grandma Lettie wouldn’t have been so intimidating after all.
Hope you’ll enjoy her recipe as much as I do!
Soft butter for greasing the pan 1/3 cup milk 6 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 eggs, room temperature 1 1/3 cups sugar 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Confectioners’ sugar
Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat an oven to 350F.
In a saucepan, warm the milk and melt the butter together. In an electric mixer, ribbon the eggs and sugar until light in color and smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt onto the top and fold in with a rubber spatula just until mixed. Add the warm milk mixture and vanilla extract and fold just enough to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Do not over mix.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.
When the cake is cool, with a serrated knife, score ½-inch around the outside of the cake. Place a string, larger than the circumference of the cake, on the score line and cross it so that when you pull the two ends, you cut the cake into 2 equal halves. Alternately, using a serrated knife, cut the cake evenly into 2 equal pieces.
To assemble, spread the jam on half of the cake and top with the second half. Dust the top with powdered sugar.
WILD STRAWBERRY JAM
2 pounds wild strawberries or cultivated strawberries, hulled4 cups sugar2 tablespoons lemon juice
Crush the strawberries and measure 4 cups. Place the crushed berries in a saucepan over medium low heat, add the sugar and lemon and stir until dissolved. Bring to a full boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly until an instant read thermometer registers 220F. Remove from the heat and skim the foam.
If you are using the jam right away, there’s no need to process the jam, just refrigerate it. Ladle into sterilized jars leaving ½-inch space, cover and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool.
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