When I was originally preparing to write this column, the women-in-comics community suddenly was besieged with what seemed like an usual number of dispiriting incidents. In the worst example, Janelle Asselin was subjected to a week of horrific threats and attacks online because she expressed an opinion about a comic book cover. Gross anti-fangirl merchandise was spotted at a con. Conventions expressed hostile attitudes toward cosplayers who just wanted to feel safe and welcome. And so on.
I looked at the front page of this site in the middle of all that and tweeted, “My next food column for @womenoncomics may stick out in the sea of awfulness they’re covering. “Sexism…threats…ooh, appetizer recipes!” But in the ensuing discussion, I realized that even in the middle of a crisis – ESPECIALLY in the middle of a crisis – people still need to eat. You can’t fight the bad guys on an empty stomach. And that reminded me of one of my favorite minor comic book characters: Ma Hunkel, the Golden Age Red Tornado.
If you aren’t familiar with her,this Wikipedia article gives you the broad strokes of her history. I first encountered her about 10 years ago, when Geoff Johns reintroduced her during his wonderful run on JSA. That version of her story may be the most familiar to modern readers, and I love it. In the 1940s, Abigail Mathilda “Ma” Hunkel was a big, tough woman who was inspired to fight crime in her neighborhood by her children’s admiration of Green Lantern. She wore baggy, red long-johns and a stew pot with eye-holes cut out as a helmet, disguising her identity and the fact that she was a woman. She spent several years punching gangsters and keeping her neighborhood safe, then entered witness protection in 1950 after testifying against a criminal gang. Decades passed, and when the last member of the gang she testified against died, members of the JSA found her to let her know it was safe to come out of hiding. Her crime-fighting days were long over, but she became caretaker of the JSA mansion. And she cooked for the team, because she liked to. Ma Hunkel could tell you: eating gives you fuel, but it also can provide pleasure and a sense of community.
I love that Ma’s Wikipedia entry cites her cooking skills in the “Powers and Abilities” section. Your kitchen table can be a rallying point for the people you care about, in good times or bad. Sure, I felt a bit frivolous writing a recipe column while everything was on fire, but this is what I have to contribute. I love comics, and no one can make me stop. I make treats to serve at my shop fairly often because I like to, and I enjoy fostering a sense of community among our customers. Today, my symbol of defiance against those who think girls don’t belong in a comic shop is a fluffy, pink cake I’m naming in honor of my favorite member of the JSA.
Ma Hunkel’s Pink Lemonade Chiffon Cake
My recipe is based on this one from the excellent Baking Bites blog. Chiffon cakes were invented by a man named Harry Baker, who knew a thing or two about discrimination himself (go read this article if all the news stories referred to above weren’t depressing enough). Introduced in 1927 at Los Angeles’ legendary Brown Derby restaurant, the cake became a sensation. The recipe finally was released to the public in 1948, just in time to become a staple of mid-century home baking. The most traditional recipes are citrus-flavored, and a chiffon cake’s light texture makes it ideal for spring and summer occasions.
This recipe has a strong lemon flavor. Any lemon will do, but if you can find Meyer lemons, use them – they have a sweeter, milder flavor than standard lemons.
5 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/3 cups sugar + 1/4cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lemon zest
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup canola oil
Several drops red food coloring
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Heat oven to 325F.
In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, 1 1/3 cups sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a small mixing bowl, mix the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, canola oil and red food coloring. Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix well. Is the batter pink enough for you? Add another drop or two of red food coloring if you like – this is your last chance.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip egg whites until they look foamy. Add the cream of tartar and 1/4 cup sugar, then beat the mixture until the egg whites reach soft peaks. You will have a fluffy meringue, and your major concern now is making sure it stays relatively fluffy.
Add about 1/3 of the meringue to the flour mixture and fold it in. This process is tricky because you don’t want to squash the air out of the egg whites. The air incorporated into them is what gives the finished cake its signature texture. Add in another 1/3 of the egg whites and fold them in, then repeat with the rest of the egg whites. Keep gently folding the mixture until it’s all pink with no white streaks. Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan.
Bake for 55-65 minutes. The cake is done when it passes the toothpick test. The surface of the cake should spring back when you press it lightly – don’t squish it! Set the tube pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool completely.
When it’s cool, you may need to run a thin knife around the inner and outer edges of the cake to loosen it from the sides of the pan. Then flip the pan over and plop the cake onto a serving platter or cake stand.
Drizzle with lemon glaze (recipe below). The cake is already very lemony, so some may feel that this glaze is overkill. Chocolate and citrus complement each other well, so if you prefer, make a chocolate glaze instead. (Shortcut: Buy canned frosting and pop it in the microwave for about 20 seconds. The heat will thin it, so you can stir it up and drizzle it over the cake. Voila – “homemade” glaze.)
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2-3 Tbsp milk
In a small bowl, mix the melted butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Begin adding the sugar, just a little at a time, mixing every bit in until it dissolves. Then add a bit more and mix. Repeat until you have incorporated the whole cup of sugar. Is it too sour? Add a little more sugar. Is it too thick? Add a tablespoon of milk and stir it in. Keep adding milk in tiny amounts until the consistency is right. You should be able to drizzle is easily off the tines of a fork, but you don’t want it to be so thin that it soaks into the cake.
You have to add the sugar to the lemon mixture slowly. If you dump it all in at once, the sugar will just absorb the lemon into a small clump of extremely lemony sugar surrounded by a bunch of dry confectioner’s sugar. Then you’re in trouble, so respect the chemistry.