The Wonder of Honduran Sponge Cake

By Rachel Jill Papernick for GalTime.com

Doña Elvira is the most nimble of women. Over sixty years old and she still swings an axe, and carries large quantities of firewood to chop and cook with. Baking and selling bread to support herself and her family has been her life's work. She is sought after for her Marquesote bread and watching her bake is seeing the grace of her years of experience at work.

Doña Elvira's door is divided into two parts. When the upper half is open, it means she's at home and visitors are welcome-welcome to buy mangos, to place bread orders, to ask for a glass of water, or to pass from the entrance way through the dark kitchen and into her large backyard, where oranges, mangos and avocados grow and fall.

Her house sits at the meeting point of two neighborhoods. Just past her shrubs is the base of the steep climb to el barrio el llano. If a visitor walks from the center of town, her house is at the far end of the plateau of barrio lempira. Her house is her soul-A place for weary visitors to rest. From her window she watches the wild boys run down the steep hill to the dusty soccer field below.

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One morning, as she has done for many mornings since her youth, Doña Elvira starts the preparation to make several dozen loafs of bread. She takes extra care to buy leña (cooking wood) ahead of time. During the rainy season dry leña is a rare commodity. The day she actually plans to bake, she knows it will not rain. Her bones and the ants tell her that. After she methodically cleans her eggs, one by one, she places the basket full of eggs to sit on the edge of her indoor pila. The wet egg shells glisten slightly as the rays of the morning sun break through the holes in her tin roofing. She moves outdoors to prepare the dry ingredients in the artesa (a traditional wooden recipient, long and shallow, perfect for kneading dough.)

When the time comes to crack and whip the eggs, she closes the upper half of her door. She has no choice but to shut herself in. The eggs must be prepared with complete concentration. There are so many things that could cause the whites to fall-A woman in menstruation, a man sweating, or simply a persons bad mood-are all things that will cause a perfect meringue to collapse. She cannot risk the distraction.

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Marquesote is a light and sponge-like bread with a decorative meringue topping. Very few women of the countryside have mastered this particular bread due to the skill and labor needed to do the job right. For this reason, the bread is in high demand in the town of Cabañas, where those who can produce it beautifully are bombarded with orders to make more! Marquesote bread is the perfect compliment to a steamy cup of mid-morning coffee or milk.

Ingredients

  • This recipe makes 2 loaves of bread using an 8in x 2in circle pan
  • 6 egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon juice (or a few lemon tree leaves if available)
  • 5 egg yolk
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup white all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

Topping:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoon sugar

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease baking pans (two 9" circle pan or 11"x7"x2" rectangle cake pans ) with butter and flour.

3. In a bowl sift flour and baking soda together and set aside.

4. In a large bowl, beat egg white with lemon juice and leaves until they form a stiff meringue. (Manually, about 40 minutes Or 10 minutes with an electric mixer)

5. Add sugar slowly and continue to beat well for at least 10 minutes.

6. Fold in eggyolk and beat continuously (If using lemon leaves, remove at this point)

7. Add flour mix to meringue through a sifter and continue to beat for 2-5 minutes.

8. Pour batter into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes.

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While baking prepare topping:

  1. Beat egg white with limejuice until a stiff meringue is formed.
  2. Add sugar and continue to beat (If using lime leaves make sure to remove them at this point)
  3. Pour meringue into a small plastic bag, tie closed and snip a very small opening in one corner.

To Decorate:

  1. Remove cake from oven and decorate with meringue, place back in the oven, reduce to 200 degrees and bake for 10-15 minutes longer, or until meringue hardens.

Let cool and remove from pans. Serve with coffee or tea.



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