Montana Public Radio

Greg Patent Vs. The Orange Puff Cake Recipe

Nov 3, 2019

Maeta Heatter - who died recently at the age of 102 - was known as the "Queen of Cake," thanks in part to her 1974 cookbook, "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts."  The moment that 'Food Guy' Greg Patent discovered it, he resolved to bake all 267 recipes in the book. Eighteen months later, he'd done so--except for the recipe on page 107 for Mildred Knopf's Orange Puff Cake.

Heatter waxed poetic about the delicately-textured sponge cake; she baked it so often for her father, radio commentator Gabriel Heatter, that she took to calling it "Daddy cake." But in Greg's oven in Western Montana, elevation 3,200 feet, it would rise promisingly, then suddenly sink to a height of two inches.

Greg accepted the chemistry challenge of tweaking a recipe that worked perfectly at sea level. After years, he discovered the crux of the problem: placing the cake into a pre-heated oven. Gas bubbles in the batter must finish expanding before the proteins around them can start to set, and by placing the cake into a pre-heated oven, the proteins set before the gas bubbles had quit expanding.  "You'd see the cake rising and rising - it's doing great - then all of a sudden: ppsshhewww. It was like you'd let the air out of the tires. I was flattened. I can't tell you how many eggs I went through."

Orange puff cake contains no added fat. It's four inches high, delicately-textured and orange-colored. Serve it sliced, drizzled with creme anglaise, with fresh strawberries. And if you're in Montana, don't bake it in a pre-heated oven.

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 11/3/19. Listen weekly on the radio at 9:53 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)