The Simplest Hardest Cake in the World

love, birthdayWhen we’re first in love, we’ll do just about anything for the new apple in our eye.

Even bake a cake. A cake from a 100-year-old recipe.

At least, that’s what I grumbled lo those many years ago when I began to date the man I now call my guy.

We met in September. He lived in one state, I lived in another, so we dated by commute. But by the end of November, he asked to stay for a weekend in mid-December. I said yes, and in the next breath he said, “Oh, and by the way, it’s my birthday.”

I skipped only one beat and said, “I’ll take you out for dinner.”

He skipped no beats when replying, “Um, what I’d really like is my grandmother’s birthday cake.”


Turns out, since my guy was a little boy, his mom made him a cake from a recipe his grandmother discovered long ago in an old magazine. My guy loved that cake, and wondered if I’d like to bake it for his birthday.

Before I could say, “NO,” I opened my mailbox to discover a sweet love letter, with a yellowed piece of thin paper inside: the recipe for ye old Ski Cake.”cake, grandmother's recipe, birthday

The day before he arrived for his weekend visit, I followed the directions to the last teaspoon, creaming the butter and sugar while “working in” the milk and sifted flour (back in the grandmother’s days, the cook had to sift her own flour). I beat the egg whites and made a meringue and folded it into the cake, per instructions. As easy as ….cake.

Granted, as soon as I took it out of the oven it flattened half its size, but still, I figured that’s how cakes looked in the olden days.

I frosted and set it before my dimpled date on his birthday, and with bated breath waited for him to take a bite.

He bit, and he chewed, and chewed and chewed, before he finally swallowed. Twice.

Averting my eyes, he said, “Delicious.”

I took a bite. The cake was as hard as a rock and tasted like stone.

Despite my failure, we married within a year, and on his next birthday, I tried again.

With the same results.

On our third anniversary, I had a new oven in a different state with a state-of-the-art mixer.

But the same results.

A week before our fourth anniversary, I called my guy’s mom and admitted my dilemma.

“I follow the old recipe exactly, each time, and each time, it’s a bust!” I moaned.

A small effervescent bubble popped between the phone lines. A few seconds after the pop I realized the noise was my mother-in-law’s chuckle.

baking, cake, birthday, ingredients“No one can make that recipe work,” the sweet woman explained. “On his birthdays, I’d race to the store and buy a Betty Crocker white cake mix. He never knew the difference.”

I didn’t find it as funny as she did, but you can be damn sure that I ran to the store and bought that cake mix, and the night before his birthday, in secret, baked the best Ski Cake my guy had ever tasted.

He said so.

And every December, he enjoys my home-baked, best simplest hardest birthday cake in the world.

birthday cake, recipe, Betty Crocker

Ski Cake

31 thoughts on “The Simplest Hardest Cake in the World

  1. This is the best way to start the day! I love this post, Pam! Hope all is going well with you during the holidays. I miss you and look forward to finding some time to connect soon – probably looking like 2014 at the moment as I’m heading home to see my parents on Wednesday. Loving living vicariously through your stories! xoL

    On Fri, Dec 13, 2013 at 7:01 AM, roughwighting


  2. Oh I love it, belly laugh funny! Does he know now? It must be love if he called a rock cake ‘delicious’, for your sake. This reads like these Radio confessions I listen to sometimes where people admit to doing something not altogether totally and utterly honest and transparent, and then readers decide if they’re forgiven. I don’t know that I forgive your mother-in-law though. Why did she wait three years!? Blessings, H xxxxx


    • Now you made ME belly laugh. Radio confessions, indeed. I write BLOG confessions almost weekly!! My guy did not know my ‘secret’ for many years, and his mom kept quiet too. It was a nice bond between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law.


    • It’s just sugar and flour and butter and eggs (although I’m guessing something must be missing from that original recipe). NO ONE ever figured out why it’s called a ski cake. Maybe it was supposed to be a ‘skip’ cake- skip one of the major ingredients and your doomed. 🙂


        • Okay, here you go: “Ski Cake”: 1/2 c butter, 1 c sugar, 2 c sifted flour, 3 tsp baking powder, 1 c milk, 1 tsp vanilla, 2/3 c coarsely shaved chocolate, 2 egg whites, 1 tsp salt.
          Cream butter, work in 1/2 c sugar until very light, sift flour and baking powder into butter and sugar mixture alternately with milk, a little at a time. Add vanilla and chocolate. Beat 2 egg whites stiff. Add the other 1/2 c sugar until you have a meringue. Fold into cake. Bake in 2 pans for 30 min. Turn out and cool.
          Frosting: 1/2 c butter, 1 1/2 c confectioners sugar, 2 egg yolks. Beat until thick, add vanilla, and frost cake. Melt 1/2 pk. chocolate chps and pour over frosting.
          Let me know how it turns out!


  3. My Mother in Law used to make this braided yeast dough breakfast bread with apricots that she formed into the shape of a wreath every Christmas morning – glazed and decorated with red and green candied cherries, no less… was amazing and delicious. After she passed away, I went thru her recipes and came across this thinking I would carry on the tradition. Ha! It had a gazillion steps and would take forever to make, sooooo I got a tube of those round cinnamon buns that you ice, made them in a wreath shape and put on the candied cherries – everyone loved it and a new tradition was born ;). Sometimes it’s just the spirit of the thing….


    • Wait a minute, are you called Pam or Pamela? I just commented on a Pamela’s blog right before yours. Are you both or have I flubbed it by the long version?


      • I love Pamela and encourage people to call me that. But most call me Pam, and my dad and some very close friends cuddle me with “Pammy.” I love all of my name’s renditions. BUT you, I bet, are only a Kathy, not a Kathleen or Katie or Katybuns. 🙂


  4. I would not have made it more than once! You are such a dear woman, first one that was merely dating, then a wife, each time carefully following those difficult directions. I love the “answer” to the mystery, Pamela. I think cake mixes taste fine, by the way, particularly like chocolate and yellow ones, but the frosting, usually tastes best, in my opinion, with the confectioner’s sugar, real butter and real vanilla, with a dash of cream or half and half! I love that frosting the best, my daughter and daughter in law, fortunately for me, use this and treat us all with cake, cupcakes or cookies. I haven’t baked for years! One great thing about passing the ‘torch!’ Smiles, Robin


    • I agree – why go out and buy ‘scratch,’ when the cake boxes produce a fine dessert? And I also agree about the frosting – I make my own with the same recipe your daughters use. Lucky you to have bakers in the family! In mine, it’s always, ‘hey, dear, we haven’t had cake in awhile…”


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