If Sandra Faulkner cooks for you, it’s not just to fill your belly — the gesture will fill your heart.
“That’s the language of love in my family: cooking,” Faulkner said. “So, if I invite you over and cook a meal for you, it’s meaningful.”
When her daughter, Miriam, was born 13 years ago, her parents came into town to help her and her husband.
“My dad cooked for me for five days,” Faulkner said. “My mom kept everyone calm. My father cooked. That was the support, that’s the love.”
Faulkner is sharing one of her mom’s favorite recipes, a sponge cake.
“It is nostalgia for me. Every time I make it, I think of my mother and my grandmother. It is a forgiving cake and not fussy. It can be fancy or an everyday cake. It is wonderful for breakfast and eaten at a celebration.”
While she considers the recipe to be easy, she said that bakers should be prepared to beat for a while, even if they have a good mixer.
“The real trick is to beat the eggs and sugar together until they’re really fluffy,” Faulkner said, adding that it takes her about six minutes with a Pro Line mixer. “It will be really fluffy; it will have changed color, it will be lighter. That’s incredibly important.
“And you don’t want to boil the milk.”
The versions of the sponge cake are endless.
In strawberry season, Faulkner will make the cake flavored with almond (1 teaspoon almond, 1 teaspoon vanilla). Cut a slice and add strawberries that have been macerated in balsamic vinegar and sugar. Top with whipped cream.
Make the sponge cake very simply with vanilla and cover it in powdered sugar. Or, poke holes in the cake and add rum. There’s an eggnog version she makes for the holidays.
“Try what you like,” Faulkner said. “Of course, there’s enough butter in there that anything tastes good.”
She and her two brothers’ most-loved version of the cake was lemon with a mocha icing.
“I know it sounds so bizarre, and my mom was like, are you sure? But it was the favorite request,” Faulkner said.
Her mother, Barbara, turned 84 on Sunday. Her father, Harold, who is 90, also has a special recipe for pizza, which Faulkner makes.
“The secret to that is pizza flour. You’ve got to buy for-real pizza flour,” she said, adding that she orders hers through a Minnesota company.
Faulkner grew up in the Atlanta area.
She went away to college, earning her bachelor of arts from the University of Evansville in Indiana and her master’s and doctorate degrees in speech communication from Penn State.
Faulkner is a professor of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University where she teaches relational communication, which is the study of close relationships.
Faulkner said that she wasn’t sure she wanted to teach until she was writing her master’s thesis. Although, a former teacher once told Faulkner that she would be a teacher.
“I was just kind of horrified. I wanted to be a neurosurgeon,” she said.
She met her husband, Josh Atkinson, who is also a professor, while they were teaching at Syracuse University in New York. They moved to Bowling Green 15 years ago.
The family lives in a former church that’s been converted into a home on North Grove Street.
The wide open space, with a spiral staircase in the center, soaring ceilings and skylights and modern kitchen, is as eclectic as Faulkner’s cooking.
There are photos and artwork in every nook and cranny.
“It is a great place to have parties. We love to entertain,” Faulkner said.
Her artistic outlook has also branched into how she saves her family recipes.
Faulkner created a recipe card with a poem that she wrote and photo of the sponge cake. The handwriting is her mother’s.
The poem was written during the COVID pandemic after a visit with her parents in Georgia.
I made you cake today
Since I can’t see your face
Through the pixelated screen
Butter and sugar your solution
For a child’s boredom
So many rainy Sundays
And teacher appreciation Mondays
Wish you could taste how
You got it right.
A friend had the poem burnt onto a cutting board, so it’s with Faulkner all the time in the kitchen.
Hot Milk Sponge Cake
2 cups granulated sugar (you can reduce sugar to 1 ¾ cup if desired)
2 cups all-purpose flour (you can substitute 1 cup of almond or whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or flavoring of choice such as lemon or almond)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat your oven to 350° F and grease and flour your cake pan. You can use a Bundt pan, a tube pan, two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans or make cupcakes.
In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whish attachment or a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until light and frothy about 5 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in milk and vanilla and continue to heat until small bubbles form on the outside of the pan and the mixture is hot but not boiling.
Once the egg and sugar mixture has tripled in volume, slowly add the hot milk mixture, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Add the flour mixture in two batches, mixing after each addition until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden-brown color and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with a few crumbs attached. (If you’re using two smaller cake pans, your baking time will be between 25 to 35 minutes. If you are making cupcakes, check them after 12 minutes.)
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack. Dust with powdered sugar if desired. You could also serve with whipped cream and berries. You could pour a glaze over it. Store at room temperature.
Variations: For chocolate cake, add in ¼ cup cocoa with the flour. Frost with chocolate buttercream or chocolate ganache.
You could substitute cake flour for all purpose for a lighter crumb.
For a holiday cake, use one cup of eggnog in place of milk, add 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg with flour, and add one teaspoon of butter rum flavoring in place of one teaspoon of vanilla.