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CELEBRATING AMERICA'S MOM : For Marion Cunningham's birthday, 100 cooks, bakers, writers and restaurateurs threw a surprise party at the Robert Mondavi winery


Combine olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, cheese, sour cream, salt, pepper to taste, chives and basil leaves in blender or food processor. Blend until well mixed and herbs are chopped.

Do not overmix. Dressing should retain some lumps of Cheddar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. For thinner dressing, add small amount of water. Serve cool or cold over wedges of lettuce and basil sprigs. Makes 1 3/4 cups dressing.

Each serving contains about:

225 calories; 268 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 22 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.7 grams fiber; 88% calories from fat.

"Marion's always talking about meringue," says baker Flo Braker, "so I decided to bring this cake." It's got all the best qualities of a great white cake combined with the rich sourness of lemon meringue pie.


3 cups sifted cake flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Lemon Filling

Meringue Frosting

Grease and flour 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using electric mixer, cream butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy. Scrape batter from sides of bowl occasionally. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Spoon batter into cake pans and spread evenly. Bake on rack on lower third of oven at 350 degrees about 40 minutes or until wood pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pans about 10 minutes. Gently tap pans on side, then invert cake layers onto rack to cool completely.

Cut each layer in half to make 4 layers. Spread Lemon Filling equally between 3 layers. Top with remaining layer. Frost top and sides of cake with Meringue Frosting. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

566 calories; 164 mg sodium; 232 mg cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 78 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; trace fiber; 40% calories from fat.

Lemon Filling

2 large eggs

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

6 tablespoons strained lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 6 pieces

In 1 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk briefly to combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add pieces of butter and place saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly over entire bottom. Cook mixture without boiling until it begins to develop body and thickens. Remove from heat and pour through stainless steel sieve into bowl.

Cover surface with plastic wrap, vent to allow few small slits in plastic with tip of paring blade, allowing steam to escape while cooling. Refrigerate (curd will thicken). Makes enough to fill one layered cake.

Meringue Frosting

1/4 cup water

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup large egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine water and 2/3 cup sugar in 3-cup saucepan. Place over low heat, stirring, to dissolve sugar. Increase heat to medium-high and boil, without stirring, until candy thermometer reads 235 degrees. (Wash down any sugar crystals clinging to sides of pan with brush dipped in cold water.) Near end of boiling time, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to whip until whites are stiff but not dry.

With mixer running, pour syrup onto whipped whites. Continue to whip on medium speed, about 3 minutes more or until thickened and forms glossy, stiff peaks. Add vanilla. Cool to room temperature, about 8 to 10 minutes. Makes enough to frost 1 layered cake.

Bradley Ogden, chef/owner of Lark Creek Inn in Marin County, arrived at the party carrying this cake, with "Happy Birthday Marion" written across the top. It ended up sitting in front of Cunningham, who kept urging her friends to taste it. Ogden sent us the recipe, which we modified slightly.


Vanilla Cake

Custard Filling

Chocolate Glaze

Bake Vanilla Cake 1 day ahead or in enough time to cool completely, at least 2 to 4 hours. Make Custard Filling 1 day ahead or in enough time to cool completely, at least 4 to 6 hours. Make Chocolate Glaze and set aside to cool.

Turn cake upside down and cut into 2 layers. Fill with custard and frost with cooled glaze. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

694 calories; 521 mg sodium; 135 mg cholesterol; 46 grams fat; 70 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0.6 grams fiber; 59% calories from fat.

Vanilla Cake

4 egg whites

1 cup milk

3 cups cake flour, sifted

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups butter, melted

1 vanilla bean, seeds only

Combine egg whites and 1/4 cup milk in bowl. Resift cake flour with sugar, baking powder and salt into mixer bowl. Add melted butter, seeds from vanilla bean and remaining 3/4 cup milk.

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