Friday, July 24, 2015

Square Cake with a Round Hole

by Sheila Connolly

I told you I went to Vermont recently. While I was there I went antiquing. I came back with (you guessed it!) more vintage cookware. It’s an addiction.

But who could resist a square pan with a tube in the middle? I didn’t have one (who on earth does?), and I paid three dollars for it. So I brought it home, and then I had to take it for a test drive.

I went searching through the cookbook collection and pulled out Heirloom Baking, by the delightful Brass Sisters, and found a wonderful recipe called Reverend Brown’s Cake, which the sisters found on an old index card. They thought it was a late nineteenth century recipe, so it’s just the right period for my new old pan. I hope they don’t mind my borrowing it, but since they too collect vintage cookware, I’m sure they’ll understand.

Reverend Brown’s Cake

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9” pan. Fit a parchment paper liner to the bottom, then grease and flour that too. Tap the pan (over the sink!) to remove extra flour.

Sift together the dry ingredients.

Cream the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each one thoroughly.

Add the sifted ingredients alternately with the buttermilk and beat to combine after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 55-60 minutes, or until the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean. After a few minutes, remove the cake from the pan (don’t forget to remove the paper too!) and let cool on a rack.

Topping (or you could call this butterscotch sauce):

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 Tblsp light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 cup heavy cream
Pinch of salt

Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Dip a brush in water and wash down the sides of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium high. Do Not Stir! Continue boiling until the mixture turns golden brown (not too dark), which should take about 6-8 minutes.

When it's ready
When you start

Remove the pan from the heat and swirl gently, twice. Add the butter and stir slowly until it melts. Add the cream (the liquid may foam up for a moment) and stir again. (If you end up with a glob of goo in the middle, set the pan over medium heat and keep stirring until it all smooths out.) Add the salt.

While still warm, pour the sauce over the cooled cake and smooth the top and sides.

You can store the sauce in glass containers in the refrigerator if you happen to have any left over (stop laughing! Yes, there is some, but I have a spoon.). 

By the way, while I was antiquing I found a small friend for one of my favorite pans, a vintage melon mold. I don’t know what the tiny version was supposed to be used for, but it was too cute to pass up.

Coming in October. With recipes! (Think there will be one with apples?)

Available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble


  1. Congrats on obtaining the vintage square tube pan! I didn't even know they made pans like that. Thank you for the recipe for Reverend Brown's Cake (this is a new recipe for me). :-)

  2. You have the most interesting addiction, Sheila, and the caramel sauce looks amazing! I'll be over with my spoon...

  3. What amazing fun! What size is this new pan?
    And what do you use the larger melon pan for?

    1. It's about 9" square, so pretty standard. As for the other mold, I've made steamed puddings in it. but it was probably intended as a ice cream or gelatin dessert mold. I've never been a big fan of gelatin, but apparently it shows up in a lot of desserts a century or more ago.

  4. I love your stories and your directions.

    1. Thank you, Sue. It's fun to recreate how people (mostly women, no doubt) did things in the past--and they did them with no electric help and unpredictable ovens. You have to admire them.

  5. That pan is too fun -- no wonder it had to come home with you!

  6. I want one of those pans! It would be so much fun to experiment with recipes to see how they come out square. I love the idea of using a recipe from the pan's time period. And the cake sounds delicious!

    1. I need an excuse to keep buying old cookbooks!

  7. What a cool vintage pan for your yummy cake! Perhaps the tiny version of the melon mold was intended for shaped melon balls? Or is it too big?

    1. I keep thinking a very large chunk of chocolate...Maybe filled? Or along your lines, it could be an ice cream or sherbet mold for a melon-flavored dessert. Hmm, now I need more.

  8. The recipe looks interesting. Weird thing is I think my mom has one of those pans and she makes her angel food cake in it. Yep a square one, lol. Love those melon pans too. You should see her lamb antique pan. Oh and I got her a rabbit chocolate mold from Germany that is an antique too. Thanks for sharing and cant wait for the release of your next great book

    1. The old pans and molds are so much fun. And most of them are a joy to cook with because they're fairly thick metal, unlike the modern versions, so they heat evenly. (My family used the typical round pan for angel food cake--my sister has that one.)

  9. I swear, I have to go shopping with you. Amazing! Um, is the smaller for an acorn? Possibly squirrel cake? LOL Love the recipe. And the pan.


    1. Well, for some reason I'm collecting stuffed animals (a hedgehog!), so I could have an animal party and serve cake.

      I'm not usually a big fan of nutmeg and allspice, but this was nicely balanced. And the butterscotch is yummy.

  10. My apologies to all for being absent on the day of my post--I was consorting with (gasp!) romance writers in a hotel overlooking Times Square. They do not have three heads, I'm happy to say. I didn't ask them if they cooked. But I'm back!