The Sunday Roast

Welcome back to The Sunday Roast. I've got some great news: I made a website —! I have some experience with CSS, HTML and general site builders, so I figured I'd give creating a home for all my past newsletters a shot so that readers and future readers can peruse my content whenever they want. I've even created a page dedicated solely to all the recipes I've made so far, including my top tips for success, so anyone can pull up a favorite featured recipe to try out during quarantine. I hope everyone enjoys the website, and please feel free to leave comments, like and share any of the blog posts to let me know what your thoughts are!

This month: I debuted my site after weeks of hard work! Please give it a visit to see old newsletters and each recipe I've made so far. I also did a little photoshoot in my kitchen of the beautiful baby blue backsplash and decided I loved the photos enough to make it my new signature background! You'll find the top of the newsletter now looks different to match the site's design. Also, my subscriber count is at 78, and I want to hear from every one of you about more diverse subjects I can cover.

Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local's story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.

A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
Discover The Sunday Roast's new home

Meet Mary Ellen.

This is my great grandmother, Mary Ellen Egan — born in 1887. I never met her sadly since she passed away after my twin aunts were born in 1967, but I talked to my grandmother, Ann Egan, about her mother-in-law to learn about a family matriarch and where an important family recipe came from. 

My grandfather, Phil, who unfortunately passed away last year in August, was one of Mary Ellen's eight children. She was a stay-at-home mother, and while Egan is a very Irish name, her maiden name was Robinson and she was German. And just like my grandpa, Mary Ellen was born and raised in Albany, NY. She eventually married my great grandfather — also Philip — who moved from Connecticut, and stayed in Albany to raise my aunts, Winnie, Phyllis, Peggy, Betty and Aggie, and my uncles and grandpa, Skippy, Phil (or Buddy) and Vince. My grandma tells me that Mary Ellen was hard of hearing and usually sat around to listen, rarely speaking up until she had to give her two-cents worth. She did laugh a lot, however. Mary Ellen either lost her hearing at a young age or through childbirth, my grandma says.

Mary Ellen was known as a baker to her friends, family and neighbors, and she showed her love and kindness through baking homemade treats. 
The story behind her recipes.
When I told my roommate I was making mace cake, she looked at me confused and I knew what was coming. No, this recipe does not involve mace spray, as you can see from the photo above. Mace, which I will describe more later, is a lovely, nutmeg-like spice that pairs well with curries and cakes. My grandma tells me it's likely that Mary Ellen kept this spice around for whenever she needed it. 
One day, Mary Ellen — ever the baker — decided to spice up (literally) the typical white cake she made for her family to change things up. She baked and cooked staples for her Irish family of 10 who lived in a small home and made do with what they had. Perhaps she was sick of just alternating between chocolate cake and white cake, my grandma says, so she reached for the mace in her spice cabinet and shook a teaspoon of it into the cake batter. Then, she reached for some shredded coconut and patted a bit onto the frosting. The end result: a perfectly moist, unique and flavorful cake that the entire family loved — a cake that wasn't just coconut.

The love for this cake grew and grew as it was baked for many birthdays in my family. My great Aunt Phyllis decided it was her favorite — mostly because it reminded her of home, my grandma says — and my grandfather loved it, too. So my grandma decided to keep the tradition and learn to bake the cake to remind them both of home. That then evolved into Phyllis requesting the cake every year for her birthday. My family has a tradition of the matriarch cooking a homemade meal and birthday cake per the birthday person's request, then the whole (available) family gets together to celebrate. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to do this lately due to the pandemic, but it's one of my favorite traditions. 

According to my grandma, some of the kids decided they hated coconut, so she adjusted the recipe to only put coconut around the sides of the cake — which she continues to this day. Then, she tried putting it on half the cake, but she noticed we started only eating the coconut half, so she returned to putting it on the sides. She also adjusted the white cake recipe to one that is more buttery and moist. But since then, my mother, my aunts, my cousins and I have been baking my grandma's revised mace cake recipe and enjoying it each year with a scoop of ice cream alongside it at family birthday celebrations.

The mace stays in the cake for my family, and it's a recipe I hope to keep passing down to my children. Try this wonderful cake in honor of Mother's Day and let me know all your thoughts!

The recipes.

Mace cake

This is my favorite cake because it's so moist, buttery and flavorful at the same time. It's more than just your typical, plain white cake — and the crunchy coconut is the perfect add to the sweet, creamy vanilla buttercream.

Top tips from me:
1) Make sure to soften your butter fully before starting your cake batter. You may need to take it out in the morning and bake in the afternoon.
2) Grease AND flour your cake pans! This will make it easy to pop them out.
3) Make sure to cream your butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until they are smooth and creamy with no lumps.
4) Sift all your dry ingredients together — especially the mace — to make sure there are no lumps in the batter and that the mace is spread evenly throughout.
5) If you're doing a layer cake, bake the cakes for a shorter amount of time, about 25 minutes, to avoid burning them. Sheet cakes will take about 45 minutes. 
6) I suck at decorating cakes, but this one's flavor matters more than its appearance. Put handfuls of coconut around the side so any frosting blemishes are covered up.

To prep the cakes, you'll likely only need about 20 minutes. The baking time depends on what form your cake is — sheet or two layers or three — but cooling time is about an hour before frosting. This cake will serve many many people!

2/3 cup of softened butter — 1 and 3/4 cups sugar — 2 eggs — 1 tsp vanilla — 2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour — 2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder — 1 tsp salt — 1 ground mace — 1 and 1/4 cups milk — about half a bag of shredded, sweetened coconut

- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour baking pans: 13 x 9-inch for a sheet cake, or two 9-inch or three 8-inch for a layer cake.
- In large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Beat 5 minutes on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and mace. 
- Mix dry ingredients into wet on low speed, alternating with milk, until fully incorporated.
- Pour batter into pan(s) then bake 45 minutes if sheet cake, 25-35 minutes if layer cake, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- IF MAKING A LAYER CAKE: Cool the cake in the pans for about 7 minutes before flipping out on to a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool for at least 45 minutes before frosting. To frost, make sure bottom layer(s) have even surfaces, then apply and spread a half-inch layer of frosting between each layer. Once layers are stacked, frost top then sides with a similar thickness. If the first layer is a crumb coat, feel free to apply another thin layer. Decorate the top however you'd like with leftover frosting, then lightly pat handfuls of coconut onto the sides of the cake until fully covered.
- IF MAKING A SHEET CAKE: Cool the cake in the pan for at least 45 minutes. Fully frost the top of the cake, then sprinkle coconut over the top.

Mace, the spice used in this recipe, is actually a ground spice made from the lacy, red outer coating of the shell around the nutmeg kernel. The covering is dried and ground into the spice my family knows and loves.

Mace can be rare to find and expensive, but it is a very similar flavor and scent to nutmeg. It's considered a little more subtle, so if you think nutmeg can be too strong — try mace!

According, mace is also used well in savory dishes like stews, curries, sauces and homemade pickles, in addition to sweet treats like this cake. Garam masala also contains mace, which is in turn used in a bit of Indian cuisine.

Vanilla buttercream frosting

This sweet frosting is just the perfect amount of sugar to balance the mace in the cake. Plus, the recipe makes the ideal texture of buttercream for frosting a layer cake — a rare feat. 

Top tips from me:
1) Again, make sure your butter is softened. But, not too soft or the frosting may split with slightly melted butter.
2) Sift your powdered sugar to keep the frosting smooth and creamy.
3) I provided the measurements the recipe calls for in the situation of a layer cake, but I had to make even more (about a half batch) to make sure my cake had no blind spots or looked naked, then used the leftovers to pipe the little swirls on top.

It'll only take a few minutes to blend up the buttercream. Frosting the cake, however, may take a while if you're not skilled at it (it took me about 30 minutes to bring it to a level I was okay with.)

1/2 cup butter — 4 and 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar — 2 tsp vanilla — 3 tbsp milk

- Blend butter and sugar until creamy. Add vanilla and milk and beat until the frosting is smooth.
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Emily Martin · 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW · Washington, DC 20500 · USA

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