Saturday, April 17, 2010

Absolute culinary disaster

Or...Sugar Cakes: The Nightmare. (Where's Gordon Ramsay when you need him?)

I always thought that sugar cakes were a Pennsylvania Dutch treat, so you can imagine my shock a few years ago when I asked the folks at the local Amish market (we apparently import actual Amish folks from Ronks, PA into this part of New Jersey to provide us with things like shoo-fly pie and whoopie pies) about them, and got looks that implied I had begun to channel spirits in Arabic. How could they not know about sugar cakes??

I've since concluded that sugar cakes, as I know them, must be a York County phenomenon. Lancaster has apparently never heard of them (Ronks is in Lancaster County). Neither has Linda, who grew up not far from Allentown. And alas, thanks to the aforementioned culinary disaster, I have no photographic evidence to demonstrate just what I'm talking about, so I shall have to describe them and hope for the best. (I can't even find any photos online. Rats!)

The only way I know of to describe a sugar cake is to borrow from the humble (but delicious) whoopie pie. If you're familiar with a whoopie pie, you know that it's sort of like an overgrown Oreo, where the wafers are actually small individual cakes, flat on one side and somewhat domed on the top. In between, there's a creamy filling. (If you're not from areas that have whoopie pies, the first thing I need you to understand is that these are NOT MOON PIES. They are nothing alike. Not even a little. For one, absolutely no marshmallow is harmed in the making of a whoopie pie. For another, whoopie pies look like this. Nabisco totally swiped the idea and now provides a super-processed and preservatived shelf version that they call Cakesters.)

Sugar cakes are like the cake part of the whoopie pie, only without the cocoa. They're slightly yellow, pack a bit of a vanilla hit, and are domed. They usually have granulated sugar sprinkled on the top.

Linda was curious about these treats, having heard me mention them on many occasions, and ventured forth to help concoct them. Little did she know what awaited her.

Gma's recipe is one cut out of the local newspaper. Bear's Department Store was a fixture in downtown York, right on the Square, until I was a small child (I barely remember it), and it was famous for its cafeteria. Gma clipped the recipe for Bear's sugar cakes and stuck it in her box, where I found it. It's not complicated--flour, sugar, vanilla, buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda in a little vinegar...what could possibly go wrong?

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