Aunt Mar's Birthday Cake

My Aunt Mar lived across the street from us when I was a child. She was really a great aunt, my paternal grandmother’s sister. There was a huge weeping willow tree in her back yard where I set up housekeeping as often as I could. The willow leaves reached right to the ground all the way around; doesn’t every kid love a hidey-hole? Aunt Mar always seemed to have something wonderful baking in her little kitchen and her house always smelled like lemons. She gave me empty spice cans, bowls and spare kitchen utensils to play with under the tree where I had a just-pretend kitchen going. Oh the things I cooked under that tree! I mixed spices with dirt, stones, leaves and nuts and served the dish to dolls I had lined up like children.

Aunt Mar was generous in her kitchen too. She invited me to help her roll out her lemon or date cookies. She made both on a regular basis and brought them over for the rest of my family. Of course, I had already sampled….more than once.

I have many of her recipes and smile when I notice she used lemon flavoring in many of them. I automatically think of her when I smell that flavoring. She never used extract, always flavoring; I know my father’s family were strict teetotalers, so the reason could have been as simple as the alcohol content in extract. Who knows? She was a sweet, pretty woman, soft spoken, a stalwart member of the Methodist church and had wonderful slightly curly, soft, white hair which she kept tucked neatly under a delicate hair net, barely visible.

But the really important thing about Aunt Mar was her sponge cake recipe. As far back as I can remember, on all of our birthdays, we waited with baited breath for her to arrive with our birthday cakes. We loved them. My aunt was sweet enough to write down all her recipes when I married and the birthday cake was among them. And yes, I continued the tradition and made the identical cake for each of my children until they were grown and gone. It is really a very basic recipe with old fashioned 7 minute frosting. Of course, the cake called for lemon flavoring which results in a slightly different flavor than other sponge cakes. I use extract in my recipe and had to adjust the amount as it is stronger than flavoring. It’s really not that unusual a sponge cake recipe but it does make a picture-perfect birthday cake- all that fluffy frosting. And when Aunt Mar added the birthday candles, we thought it was enchanting!

Aunt Mar’s Birthday Cake

Ingredients:1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
6 eggs, room temperature
1 1/3 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 cup cool water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 teaspoon lemon extract

Place room temperature egg whites in a bowl and beat until foamy. Add 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks. Slowly add 1/2 cup sugar and the vanilla, beat until stiff peaks and set aside.
In another bowl, beat yolks until lemon colored. Add lemon extract and the remaining sugar.
Sift the flour and the remaining cream of tartar. Beat the flour and cream of tartar into the egg/sugar mixture alternately with the cold water. Fold in egg whites carefully by hand and pour into an angel food cake pan. Bake 350° for 1 hour and cool upside down on a funnel.

Sift some confectioners sugar on a cake plate. Run a knife around the edge of the cake pan and around the center. The cake should release easily. Invert on the cake plate. (My aunt always served the cake top side down, but this is your choice.)

Frost generously with 7 minute frosting.

Seven Minute Frosting
2 unbeaten egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 Tablespoons cool water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place all ingredients except the vanilla in the top of a double boiler. Beat constantly with electric beater while it cooks for 7 minutes or until at least double in volume and holds stiff peaks. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Beat again to mix.


  1. I loved that post! Your aunt Mar looks so lovely and prim and proper in her little black dress. Her cake and cookies too!
    I was wondering if I could replace the 1/2 cup of water with juice? Have you tried that?

  2. I had to write here too:-) to tell u again how muc i loveee ur Aunt Mar:-)
    I wish i had an aunt like that who would write me a book , the day i get married ,filled with all the good things to find the way to my guys heart:-)
    What extract do u use?
    Bdw , the flavoring u talk about in the cookie post , is it any or close to these?


    or any of this for that matter...




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