by Sheila Connolly
This recipe was one I adapted from The Culinary Lives of John and Abigail Adams, by Rosana Yin-Ting Wan, published last year.
In case you didn’t notice, Flag Day was this past Sunday. Don’t worry if you missed it—it’s not one of the major American holidays. In fact, Pennsylvania is the only state that celebrates it, but it took the rest of the country thirty years to notice.
On June 14th, 1777, during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be thirteen alternate stripes red and white” and that “the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” Legend has it that Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross designed the new canton for the flag, which consisted of a circle of 13 stars and a blue background, at the request of General George Washington. (Historians have been unable to conclusively prove or disprove this legend.)
|The Star Spangled Banner, immortalized by|
Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812,
which now resides in the Smithsonian in Washington.
Flag Day was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30th, 1916. But it was not until August 3rd, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.
Anyway, in Paris in April 1778, John Adams wrote in his diary about a cake he shared at an event with, among others, Benjamin Franklin. When the cake was served, it bore three flags whose inscriptions celebrated the actions of the American Congress in creating its own symbolic flag.
The recipe given in the book was reported to be from an 1830 transcription of a recipe written in French from 1789. Let me say only that I hope the historical information is more accurate that the cake recipe as given—I had to make a lot of modifications, or I would have ended up with a sodden mess.
Three Flag Cake
1 package yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup
warm water (see package
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
8 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1/4 cup water
2 Tblsp rosewater (since I was lacking on rosewater, I substituted orange water, which also appears in many early recipes)
1/2 cup sugar
12 Tblsp (1-1/2 sticks) butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cake pan with butter. [Note: the recipe did not specify what size pan. I used a vintage pan that holds 4 cups of batter and it proved to be the right size.]
Prepare the yeast in a small bowl. Make sure it’s fully dissolved.
In a larger bowl, combine the flour, egg yolks, egg whites, water, rosewater, sugar and butter. Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
Pour the batter into the pan. Place the cake pan into the preheated oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool on a cake rack before icing.
The result was interesting: yeasty, of course (baking soda and beaten egg whites were not popular as leavening until the early 19th century), and not too sweet.
And if you should ever happen to try it, raise your glass to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin!
And don't forget Privy to the Dead, which takes place not far from where Betsy Ross's shop may (or may not) have stood, and also close to Benjamin Franklin's grave, where people often leave him offerings (no, not cake!).