For years, I’ve listened to all of my older relatives rave about my long-deceased great grandmother Rose’s graham cracker cake. I never had the opportunity to taste it, as she passed away while my mother was pregnant with me, but everyone loved how pudding-like, dense, and delicious the cake was.
Rose never shared her secret of how to make it with anyone, but did leave behind a very cryptic recipe card with no instructions other than “beat egg whites separately.” Several relatives had tried it, but none could duplicate the pudding-like consistency. One of my cousins recently e-mailed me a scan of the card and I found the challenge to be irresistible.
Her recipe seemed to be a variation on an early American classic.
First, her recipe called for 3/4 pound of walnuts, which I decided to finely grind instead of chop.
Second, I decided to try 2 different techniques to incorporate the fat into the flour: one with creamed butter and sugar; the other with melted butter. There was a split decision, but it seemed as though the melted butter version was the winner.
The only other clue I have to go by is that one of my cousins who tried to make the cake once had to let the batter sit for an hour or so before baking and came up with something a little closer to what everyone remembered.
Rose used to do huge batches and bake a cake for everyone in the family, so I’m sure her batter used to sit for a while. The question: did it sit before the egg whites were folded in, before the finished batter finally went into the oven, or both?
I ended up letting the batter sit for 15 minutes before adding the egg whites. I then baked one pan of the batter immediately and let one pan sit for an hour before baking.
The result: they’re both delicious, but the extra hour of resting did nothing to help the cake and perhaps even hurt it a tiny bit. Either way, now I know what the fuss is all about.
Rob Bleifer, Executive Chef