Showing posts with label antique recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antique recipes. Show all posts

Friday, September 20, 2013

Feather Cake

by Sheila Connolly

I'm not really obsessed with the past, but it seems to follow me around. I was innocently doing some online genealogy research when what did I stumble upon but an entire file of recipes from a small group of Connecticut newspapers, all dating to the early 1880s. (See?  I can't escape!)  So of course I printed them all out.  There's a nice trove of apple recipes in there that I'm sure I'll find a use for.

Just had to throw this in--my new old sifter
Whether or not I ever cook most of these, they make fascinating reading.  For one thing, the quantities are often huge, like nine eggs and a pound of butter and a loaf of sugar.  Units for dry ingredients are often given by weight.  Temperatures for baking are given as moderate or quick (if given at all).  Now and then an odd implements is thrown in, like a hair sieve (to the best of my knowledge, that's a fine sieve made of stiff horse-hair—no, I don't have one).  Some puddings (and some non-sweet items as well) are boiled for hours.  And everything is beaten, and beaten, and beaten…before the benefit of electric appliances.  I keep imagining the wrists on women back then—I wouldn't want to wrestle with any of them.

Of course I had to try a recipe, and one that appealed to me was called Feather Cake.  I don't know why—the end result is not exactly as light as a feather.

I endeavored to follow the directions, but I'll admit that I could use some serious wrist training, so I used my trusty stand mixer (which has been around for a while—my mother remembered seeing her father get his fingers stuck in the beater part of one, when she was a child).

I'm not sure what's going on here, but
it scares me
You will note that while this recipe uses both baking soda and cream of tartar, which we today would recognize as baking powder, back in 1880 you often had to deal with them separately.  I had to check my trusty Joy of Cooking for an explanation:

--If you're making your own, mix 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda, and 1/8 tsp salt. Then use it fast—it doesn't keep.

--there are apparently four kinds of baking powders/sodas:

·         Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).  To use to make things rise, must be used with an acid ingredient such as sour milk, buttermilk or molasses

·         Tartrate baking powder:  baking soda combined with tartaric acid (huh?).  Fastest reaction time, so bake quickly once the dough is mixed.

·         Phosphate baking powers (forget it—you'll probably never see this)

·         Double-acting baking powder:  baking soda combined with sodium aluminum sulfate and calcium acid phosphate. This is the baking powder of choice in Joy of Cooking, because it doesn't start working until the dough heats up, so you aren't racing around like a crazy person trying to get everything mixed fast.

Okay, that's more than you ever wanted to know.  But note that in this recipe, the baking soda is mixed with the milk first, and the cream of tartar (twice the amount of soda) is mixed with the flour.


1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar

1 cup milk
1 tsp baking soda

1 cup flour
2 tsp cream of tartar

3 eggs, separated

2 cups flour

[I cheated and added some vanilla extract.]


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees [this was not mentioned at all in the original recipe]

Cream together one‑half cup of butter [the recipe didn't call for softened—but remember, there were no refrigerators in general use in 1880, so it would have been at room temperature] and two cups of sugar.

Dissolve the soda in the milk and beat into the sugar-butter mixture

Sift together the flour and the cream of tartar and add to mixture, beating well.

Beat the yolks of three eggs and add them to the batter. Beat the whites separately until stiff and fold them to the mixture.

Add the rest of the flour in four parts,  beating well between each successive addition.



Butter two middle‑sized tins [I'm beginning to wonder what the Victorian's considered medium or large—most portions seem huge by modern standards]. 

Pour in the batter and bake for 20-30 minutes in a moderate oven. [Nope, nowhere near cooked through after 30 minutes in my modern oven—took more like 40.]



Cool. [The original recipe didn't say a word about cooling the cake, or how/when to remove it from the pan.]

Most of the old recipes do not tell you to frost the cakes.  In some cases you may add cream, whipped or not.

As a cake, it was nice enough—a little dense, but flavorful, and it keeps well.



And there are so many more to try… PLAIN CAKE, PLAIN RICH CAKE, IMPERIAL CAKE, YEAST CAKE, SUPERIOR SPONGE CAKE, SPONGE CAKE, CHEAP SPONGE CAKE, JELLY CAKE, CIDER CAKE, COFFEE CAKE, COFFEE CAKE (2), NUT CAKE, POUND CAKE, APPLE FRUIT CAKE, APPLE SHORTCAKE, SCOTCH CAKE, LEMON CHEESE CAKES, GINGERBREAD, GINGERBREAD (2), HARD SUGAR GINGERBREAD, SHORT CAKE, JOHNNY CAKE, and CALIFORNIA CAKE. 

You may be seeing more of these in days to come—don't you really want to know the difference between Superior Sponge Cake and Cheap Sponge Cake in 1880?




Coming October 1st

Yes, there are recipes--including one called Apple Toad.