For a Sensuous Valentine's Day
Yesterday I looked at the calender and realized - wow! - it's almost Valentine's Day! Time to unveil the recipe I've spent the last several "snow days" perfecting: a luscious treat for (gluten-free) lovers - cake made from Mile High Pancake mix.

First, a bit of history: on Valentine's Day 20 years ago I asked my now-wife, Leslie Bryan, to marry me. Hence the day is loaded with significance, and I always want to do something special for it.

What can be more special than home-made cake?

Mile High Pancake Mix has many of the ingredients you'll find in a standard cake mix, just not in the same proportions. I recently sat down with a calculator to see if a cake recipe could be derived. The results are impressive in their simplicity: Additional sugar, eggs, and melted butter, plus spices and technique.

The recipe and procedure below make a delightful sponge cake. Like a great love affair, it's perfectly sweet, a little tart, pleasingly spicy and very tender. It's also pretty easy, but lovers might want to forget that part.

The specified quantities make a 5" diameter circular cake, but can be doubled for a 9" circular pan. I've frosted my version with a blood orange glaze, a delicious option but an option nonetheless.

For the record, I also decorated mine with a confetti scattering of citrus zest. This is a treat designed not solely for the camera.

When it comes to spices I strongly recommend grinding or pounding fresh cardamom seeds and fennel. You can of course use pre-ground spices, but they won't have nearly the pungency.

Finally, on the off-chance your Valentine doesn't like one or several of the ingredients, the basic ratio of Mile High Mix to sugar to butter to eggs is standard for all cakes. If you cream the butter and sugar first, then add flour and eggs, you'll have a denser "pound" style cake. Mix it the way this recipe suggests and you end up with sponge cake. Either way you can add whatever flavors you (or your Valentine) love.

Spicy Sponge Cake with
Blood Orange Glaze

Serves 2, generously


For the cake
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated granulated sugar
2/3 cup Mile High Pancake Mix
1 tsp Spice Blend (see below)
7 TBLS unsalted butter, melted but cool
Another 1 TBLS of butter for greasing the pan

For the spice blend
1 TBLS cardamom seeds (from green cardamom) or ground cardamom
1/2 tsp fennel seeds

For the frosting
1 TBLS melted unsalted butter
1 tsp heavy cream
1 tsp lemon juice
2 TBLS blood orange juice
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp citrus zest

Additional Needs:
5" circular baking pan
Baker's Parchment
3 medium bowls (large bowls if doubling recipe for 9" pan)
mortar and pestle or spice grinder
hand or stand mixer

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 5" circular cake pan, then cover bottom and inner sides with baker's parchment. Add a thin layer of butter to the parchment.

2)  Using a mortar and pestle, pound cardamom pods. When outer husk is loose, separate from inner seeds and discard. Measure 1 TBLS of cardamom seeds and 1/2 tsp fennel seeds and pound or grind to a fine grit. Put 1 tsp spice blend and pancake mix in a medium bowl. Stir well to blend.

3) In a second bowl, add sugar and eggs. Beat with hand-held or stand mixer on high until mixture is foamy and tripled in volume.
(Note: This step will proceed more quickly if you float the second bowl in a bowl of hot water - about 130 F. The goal is to dissolve the sugar quickly but not cook the eggs.)

4) Fold flour blend into sugar-eggs mixture. When integrated, fold melted butter into mixture. Integrate and pour immediately into cake pan.

5) Bake 24 - 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and dry, turning pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking cycle.

6) Remove cake to cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan. Place on serving platter.

Make the frosting:
Put melted butter, orange juice, lemon juice and heavy cream in a medium bowl. Mix on moderate speed while adding sugar. Beat mixture well.

Pour or spoon frosting over cake, allowing it to drool decoratively down the sides. Serve immediately, or at the conclusion of a quiet dinner for two.

And top it off with an exquisite Valentine's eve.


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