Friday, June 19, 2015

Three Flags Cake

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.

You can use any simple icing—you can just mix confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice together until you get a drizzly consistency.

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!).

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  1. I enjoyed learning more about USA's history (with cake)! Thank you for the recipe.

  2. [Maybe third time is the charm...] Sounds delicious!

  3. It looks so pretty Sheila--I was expecting red, white, and blue:)

  4. I will confess that I know so much about Flag Day only because I lived in Pennsylvania for many years (and a lot of Philadelphia administrative offices close down on the day), and because I just gave a talk to 500 K-6 kids at a local school, mainly about the Ft. McHenry flag--which, BTW, was made by five (maybe six) women, four of whom were in their teens. The flag is about half the size of a basketball court, and it was so large that it had to be laid out on the floor of a brewery to work on it. (But I can't tell you if they ate cake!)

  5. Standing in front of the Smithsonian's artifact of what inspired our national anthem is awe-inspiring. (For anyone who hasn't visited the Museum of American History in Washington, DC, put it on your bucket list and you won't be sorry.)

    Great post today, Sheila, the story (and recipe!) of a cake shared by John Adams and Ben Franklin is priceless. Thanks for sharing these historical treasures with us today, and...

    Have a delicious weekend!
    ~ Cleo

    1. Absolutely! It's very moving, especially when you consider it might not have survived (didn't it get stuffed in a duffle bag in someone's attic for years?).

      And even better: when you visit the flag, you can also visit Julia Child's kitchen at the museum! And there's a lot of other interesting historical material too, including an amazing four-sided clock.

    2. Also there is an entire house moved down from Ipswich, MA, curated to show the life of the occupants over a couple of centuries. Fascinating.

  6. Sheila thank you for the great stories. My 12 year old came back from DC a few weeks ago and wanted to read your story. He loved in and continued to tell me more. It was cute.
    Now we will be making the cake after bread making today.
    Thank you again.

  7. You've done as all a favor by doing the research and baking for us! Well done on both.

    The cake sounds like an interesting variation. Perhaps it would "enjoy" the company of some fresh fruit?

    1. I agree--fruit would be good (and it's strawberry season!).

  8. Very interesting. I love playing with old, historic recipes, and this one sounds intriguing. Looks like I'll be making cake this weekend!

  9. You know I just have to try this. Thanks, Sheila, for blazing the trail and correcting the recipe before we had to try it. I think I can really enjoy this, and wish I'd seen it in time for Flag Day.

  10. My goal each day is to learn at least one new thing; well, today just in this article, I learned a lot of new things so that was wonderful. Thank you for the great posting and for the recipe. I have a sponge cake recipe (and made with yeast) that sounds much like this one which I got from an old New England cookbook many years ago. That one contains orange rind and the frosting is orange rind, butter and confectioners sugar. Every time I read a recipe this week I want to cook or bake. Yikes, this is not a good thing for someone who needs to lose weight. :)
    Looking forward to your new release and especially for the next in the Orchard Mystery Series. Hoping Meg and Seth get more serious and I don't even care if they find a body this time. Thank you again for the great blog post and the cake recipe.
    Cynthia B.