A Scientific Approach: Baking Powder & Fannie Farmer - American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes - Anne Byrn

American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-Loved Cakes - Anne Byrn (2016)

Chapter 3. A Scientific Approach: Baking Powder & Fannie Farmer

1870 to 1899

The old-guard American cakes—fruitcakes, pound cakes, and yeast cakes laden with expensive ingredients—were special-occasion cakes by the end of the 19th century. Newer, lighter, faster, and whiter cakes like the jelly roll and the 1-2-3-4 Cake emerged, products of changing tastes and the convenience of baking powder. These cakes needed fewer eggs and less butter, which made them especially popular in winter months when eggs were scarce. And they were baked by a new national audience, thanks to railroads.

On May 10, 1869, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroad companies joined their tracks to link the East and West Coasts of America. Called the Transcontinental Railroad, it was 3,000 miles long and allowed faster travel from New York to California. Accompanying those tracks, the telegraph pole was a natural pairing along that right-of-way. Throughout the 1800s, communication facilitated by the railroads and telegraph transformed cooking. People were traveling and exposed to new places, foods, and thoughts. Recipes with catchy names would spread overnight, such as the three-layer Minnehaha Cake—from the Native American princess in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Song of Hiawatha.”

World’s fairs in Philadelphia and Chicago reinforced these new ideas. Here many people had their first taste of a banana as well as chocolate. The manufacturing of chocolate for baking was a growing field, and entrepreneur Milton Hershey came to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to learn of new equipment so he could make chocolate caramels. Although chocolate had been produced since Colonial times around Boston, it took off in the second half of the 19th century with the growth of Baker Chocolate Co. in Massachusetts, Hershey in Pennsylvania, and Ghirardelli in San Francisco. America got its first taste of true chocolate cake in 1886.

Cake ingredients, once grown and purchased locally, were now easily shipped across the country. Railcars filled with ice shipped perishable products in the summer months. New towns and cities developed along the railways. Hotels and restaurants emerged to feed the travelers. And the recipes in magazines and cookbooks reached every kitchen in America, telling of the newest trend, the newest pan. An 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog first mentioned a candy called the “brownie,” and the jelly roll pans and tube pans for sale popularized cakes such as the jelly roll as well as the angel food cake and Sunshine Cake.

Average people could now order a pan and bake a cake. It was a time of great progress and entrepreneurial energy. Cooking innovations such as cake pans, baking powder, and new cookstoves, according to historian William Woys Weaver, were until their time “not in the grasp of average people.”

Regional recipes that until then might have been undiscovered outside the local area now enjoyed the national spotlight—the Pennsylvania Dutch Shoofly Pie, Scripture Cake, and Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake, for example. And Mary Lincoln’s White Almond Cake from Lexington, Kentucky, would remain popular after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and was served at military banquets in his honor.

At the close of the 19th century, American cooking was entering the age of science. The Boston Cooking School opened its doors in 1879, led by Mary Johnson Lincoln and then her star pupil, Fannie Farmer. They changed the way recipes were written, using standardized, level measurements, and they listed ingredients in their order of use in the recipe. They preached caution and precision, and they tested chocolate recipes for the ingredient’s supposed link to good health. According to writer and historian Laura Shapiro, American cooking moved from the home kitchen to the laboratory where “creativity was discouraged.” But theirs was a different time. A new century was dawning. The lightbulb was invented in the 1870s and replaced gas lamps. “Electricity is evidently to be the hope and dependence of the coming housekeeper,” reported the New York Times on April 7, 1895, calling electricity “a veritable fairy godmother.” It was going to get a lot easier to bake a cake.

MARY LINCOLN’S WHITE ALMOND CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 57 TO 62 MINUTES

Mary Todd Lincoln was raised in a wealthy Lexington, Kentucky, family and partial to the finer things in life like this white almond cake. The Todd family requested the recipe from the Lexington caterer who first made it, and it is said that Mary baked the cake for Abraham Lincoln when they courted, after they were married, and when she was First Lady. The recipe is a part of the culinary history of Kentucky and has been printed in Godey’s Lady’s Book,newspapers, and cookbooks. An avid baker, Mary was said to have purchased 13 pounds of sugar for baking in 1 week of 1849. Unlike Mary, Abe Lincoln was from log-cabin Kentucky frontier roots. A successful and skilled courtroom attorney, Lincoln helped bring an end to slavery and the Civil War. His assassination on April 14, 1865, as he was barely in his second term, shocked the country. This almond cake became a symbol of Lincoln afterward and was found on inaugural and military banquet menus in the 1870s. This recipe is adapted from the book A Culinary History of Kentucky.

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1 cup (4 ounces) blanched almond slivers, very finely chopped

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

½ teaspoon salt

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a 10" tube pan with butter and flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.

2.Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Set the bowl aside.

3.Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl, and sift 2 more times. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar in 3 additions, alternating with the milk. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is just blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and fold in the almonds and vanilla. Set the bowl aside.

4.In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with clean beaters on high speed until stiff peaks form, 4 to 5 minutes. Fold about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, just until combined. Fold the remaining whites into the batter, just until combined. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake the cake until it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 57 to 62 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges, give the pan a gentle shake, and invert the cake onto the rack to cool, right side up, 1 hour. Slice and serve.

FROSTING NOTE: To serve the cake as Mary Lincoln might have served it, make the Seven-Minute Frosting. Frost the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with chopped dried sugared pineapple or toasted slivered almonds.

SHOOFLY PIE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 35 TO 40 MINUTES

BAKE: 40 TO 45 MINUTES

Placing food in pie pastry is a centuries-old tradition that allows you to eat with your hands and take food with you. The Pennsylvania Dutch placed molasses crumb cake in a piecrust and called it Shoofly Pie in the 1880s. With the spongy texture of cake and the crust of pie, this dessert is the most beloved of the Southeastern Pennsylvania region where it was born. According to historian William Woys Weaver, Shoofly Pie began as Centennial Cake in 1876, baked in a pan without a crust. The crust was later added so people could eat the cake with their hands over their morning coffee. Weaver says the name “Shoofly” comes from Shoofly the Boxing Mule, a popular circus animal at the time, and the Shoofly name was branded onto foods like Shoofly molasses, a key ingredient in this dessert. The combination of molasses, coffee, and spices in the batter bakes into an almost chocolate-like taste, and this pie/cake is incredibly delicious warm with coffee or tea. This recipe is adapted slightly from Weaver’s book As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine.

1 (9") unbaked piecrust

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

½ cup warm strong brewed coffee

½ cup molasses

½ teaspoon baking soda

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the piecrust in a 10" metal pie pan. Crimp the edges, and place the pan in the refrigerator to stay chilled.

2.Place the flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Or place in a large mixing bowl. Pulse or stir until well combined. Cut the butter into 12 pieces and distribute around the bowl. Pulse or cut in with 2 sharp knives or a pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. Reserve ¼ cup of the crumbs and set aside.

3.In a large mixing bowl, stir together the coffee and molasses until combined. Stir in the baking soda. Add the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Or, if using a food processor, pour the molasses mixture into the food processor with the dry ingredients and pulse until smooth. Remove the pie pan from the refrigerator and pour in the batter. Scatter the reserved crumbs over the top. Place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake until the center is set when lightly pressed with a finger, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve warm.

Baking with the Seasons

The absence of eggs and the presence of molasses tell historians this was a wintertime dessert. Hens did not lay eggs in the cooler weather. And molasses would ferment in the summer heat without refrigeration. So this pie was perfect for cold-weather baking, needing no eggs and using molasses.

Shoofly Obsession

America was obsessed with the ditty from the 1830s, “Shoo, fly, don’t bodder me …” It may well have been how the boxing mule got his name, which named the molasses, which named this dessert.

SCRIPTURE CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 30 TO 35 MINUTES

BAKE: 52 TO 57 MINUTES

The popular cake baked for church suppers in the 1880s and ’90s was a spiced fruitcake called Scripture Cake, Scriptural Cake, or Bible Cake. Written in Sunday School fashion to teach Bible verses and baking skills, the cake was baked coast to coast. Ingredients were written like a puzzle, so you had to look up the Bible verse to know what went in the cake. Often women of the church baked Scripture Cakes and sold raffle tickets for slices at fund-raising church festivals like the Catholic Church Fair in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1882. There doesn’t seem to be one single denomination associated with these cakes, as they were baked by Presbyterians, Methodists, German Lutherans, and many more. This recipe is adapted from one printed in the Atlanta Constitution in 1897. It has no biblical reference for the chemical leavening baking powder, an invention of the mid-1800s, which leads us to believe the recipe is older. Some historians think the recipe might have originated in England in the late 1700s.

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Judges 5:25)

2 cups granulated sugar (Jeremiah 6:20)

4 large eggs, at room temperature (Isaiah 10:14)

1 tablespoon honey (Exodus 16:31)

2½ cups all-purpose flour, divided use (1 Kings 4:22)

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (1 Kings 10:2)

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (1 Kings 10:2)

½ teaspoon ground cloves (1 Kings 10:2)

½ teaspoon ground allspice (1 Kings 10:2)

½ teaspoon salt (Leviticus 2:13)

2 cups chopped dried figs, about 10 ounces (1 Samuel 30:12)

1 cup chopped raisins (1 Samuel 30:12)

1 cup water (Genesis 24:20)

1 cup finely chopped almonds (Numbers 17:8)

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour two 9" loaf pans, shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.

2.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Blend in the honey, and set aside.

3.Sift 2¼ cups of flour, the baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt into a medium-size bowl, and set aside. Dredge the figs and raisins in the remaining ¼ cup flour. Set aside.

4.Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternately with the water, beginning and ending with the flour. Fold in the figs, raisins, and almonds. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and place the pans in the oven.

5.Bake the cakes until they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 52 to 57 minutes. Remove the loaves to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans, shake the loaves gently, and invert them onto the rack to cool, right side up, 1 hour. Slice and serve.

ANGEL FOOD CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 30 TO 35 MINUTES

So light in texture you must let it cool upside down in the pan inverted, the delicate and beloved angel food is a timeless American cake. It is based on stiffly beaten egg whites that trap air and become a natural leavening that causes the cake to rise. The late Evan Jones, in his book American Food, said the first angel food cakes were made by frugal, hardworking Pennsylvania Dutch cooks who saved egg whites on noodle-making days. These thrifty cooks could not fathom cracking a dozen eggs and discarding the whites. Another theory on where the cake originated is that Linus W. Dexter, a baking entrepreneur with bakeries in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston, created it. His 1899 obituary lauds the creator of the “angel cake.” Before cakes were named “angel food,” they were baked with just egg whites but went by different names—Silver Cakes, Lady Cakes, and White Sponge Cakes, the latter appearing in 1839 in The Kentucky Housewife. The cakes were prized for their white color, high volume, and delicate texture. But beating the egg whites to stiff peaks was no easy task. Cooks often used a fork, whisk, or even a tree branch, sometimes hickory and other times peach, which the Shakers thought imparted a peach flavor to the cake. By the time Malinda Russell shared a recipe for “Old Maids Cakes” leavened with beaten egg whites in her 1866 cookbook, A Domestic Cook Book, the rotary hand eggbeater—or Dover beater—had been invented. And in 1884 the “Angel Cake” is included in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Mrs. D. A. Lincoln. This recipe comes from the Atlanta Exposition Cookbook, published in 1895 and issued at the 1895 Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. From the recipe files of Mrs. Thomas Morgan of Atlanta, this cake is simple in its preparation and has been only slightly adapted for the modern kitchen.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

11 large egg whites (1½ cups), at room temperature

1½ cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

⅛ teaspoon salt

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Set aside an ungreased 10" tube or angel food pan.

2.Sift the flour 4 times in a large mixing bowl. The last time, sift the cream of tartar along with the flour. Set this mixture aside.

3.Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until they are a stiff froth, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, while beating for 4 to 5 minutes more, until stiff and glossy. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Gently fold in the flour mixture with a rubber spatula, just until combined. Turn the batter into the reserved pan. Smooth the top with the spatula, and place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake the cake until it is lightly browned and springs back when lightly pressed, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately turn it upside down on a wire rack so the cake cools upside down for 1 hour.

5.When ready to serve, turn the pan right side up and run a long, sharp knife around the edges. Give the cake a gentle shake to loosen it from the pan. Invert it onto a plate or rack, then invert again so the cake is right side up. Slice and serve.

Through the years, methods for making angel food cake varied in the number of egg whites, when to add the sugar, whether to use cream of tartar or lemon juice, and how long to bake the cake. All recipes agree that angel food belongs in an ungreased pan so that the cake clings to the side as it bakes high.

Early Prohibitionists approved of the angel food cake because it did not contain yeast, which makes alcohol when heated. One of its biggest fans was Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of US president Rutherford B. Hayes. “Lemonade Lucy,” as she was called because she did not drink alcohol, served angel food cake and lemonade at the White House while her husband was in office from 1877 to 1881.

Any Way You Slice It …

After you’ve worked so hard incorporating air into the egg whites, carefully sifted the flour and folded it into the batter without disturbing the egg whites, and let the cake cool upside down so it doesn’t deflate, you don’t want to slice the cake with the wrong knife. Use a serrated knife with gentle back and forth sawing motions, or use a special angel food cake comb with tines that burrow into the cake and separate slices from the cake. For crowds and thin slicing, freeze the cake first, and while frozen, slice it using a long serrated knife.

MOCK ANGEL FOOD CAKE

Bess, or Bessie, Gant was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, newspaper columnist and caterer to celebrities who made her culinary mark in the 1920s and ’30s. Her book, Bess Gant’s Cook Book, held 400 of her best recipes. Gant baked a faster, more economical version of an angel food cake called a Mock Angel Food Cake. Mock angel cakes appeared as early as 1907 and were made with just three eggs. Gant’s cake contained no butter and just a little water, so it was a cost cutter at a time when economy was key.

Angel Food Cake and the Amish

Phyllis Pellman Good, author of The Best of Amish Cooking, said angel food cakes were commonplace “on a farm where eggs are plentiful.” On Amish farms, angel food purists still insist the egg whites be beaten by hand. If they are beaten too quickly with an electric mixer, Good says, the foam goes away, and the cake doesn’t rise as high as it should. As the angel food requires a special tube pan, which allows the cake to bake evenly and quickly so as not to let those egg whites deflate, the pan predated the cake. If you search old newspaper archives, you will find early-1800s advertisements for the “tubed” pan in Southeastern Pennsylvania, home of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Historian William Woys Weaver said this cake would have to have been baked in the summertime when eggs were available, as hens back then didn’t lay eggs in the winter.

MILWAUKEE SUNSHINE CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 10 SERVINGS

PREP: 80 TO 90 MINUTES

BAKE: 32 TO 38 MINUTES

Sunshine Cakes were baked across America in the late 1800s, but the most famous Sunshine Cake of all was baked a little later, in 1901, in Wisconsin. The Cook sisters opened a tearoom called the Cook Tea Shop in downtown Milwaukee, and their specialty was a lemon sponge cake with custard filling, a seven-minute frosting, and grated orange zest on top. When the luxury retailer George Watts moved to Milwaukee and opened a store, the Cook sisters relocated their tearoom to the second floor of Watts’ new building. Their recipe is still served today at The Watts Tea Shop, and the cake with a tiny orchid garnish is a favorite of all generations.

CUSTARD FILLING

4 large egg yolks (save 3 whites for the icing)

¾ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

¾ cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

CAKE

9 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

¼ cup water

1 cup granulated sugar, divided use

1 cup cake flour, sifted 3 times

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

BOILED WHITE ICING

1⅓ cups granulated sugar

½ cup water

3 large egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 orange for garnish

1.For the filling, combine the egg yolks, confectioners’ sugar, and milk in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 1 minute. Pour the mixture into the top of a double boiler.

2.Bring 1" to 2" water in the bottom of the double boiler to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium. Place the top of the double boiler over the water. Whisk and let cook until the custard has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour into a clean large bowl, and stir in the vanilla. Set the bowl aside.

3.Place the butter and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl, and blend with the mixer on low speed until well creamed, 1 minute. Slowly pour the cooled custard mixture into the butter, and blend on low speed until combined and smooth. Set aside.

4.For the cake, place the egg yolks, water, and ½ cup of the sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with the electric mixer on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes. Add the flour gradually, in 4 additions, beating for about 20 seconds on medium speed for each addition. Blend in the vanilla and set aside.

5.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Set aside an ungreased 10" tube pan.

6.Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in a large mixing bowl, and beat with clean beaters on high speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually add the remaining ½ cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, 2 minutes more. Fold the egg whites into the batter until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven.

7.Bake the cake until it is lightly browned and springs back when lightly pressed, 32 to 38 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and place it on a wire rack to cool upside down in the pan.

8.Meanwhile, make the icing. Place the sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan, and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook on medium-low heat until the sugar melts and the syrup spins a thread when you drop it from the spoon. It needs to reach 220°F on a candy thermometer, which takes 6 to 8 minutes.

9.While the sugar is cooking, beat the egg whites and salt in an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Very slowly drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the beaten egg whites at medium speed. Beat constantly until the frosting stands in stiff peaks and is of spreading consistency. Add the vanilla and beat well for 20 seconds more.

10.To assemble, run a knife around the edges of the cake pan, give the pan a good shake, and invert the cake onto the rack. Slice the cake horizontally into thirds. Carefully remove the top 2 layers and set them aside. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate. Spread half of the filling over this layer, just to the edges. Place the middle layer on top. Spread the remaining filling over it, just to the edges. Place the top cake layer over the filling. Generously frost the sides and top of the cake, including down into the hole in the center. Garnish the top with the orange zest. Slice and serve.

Moonshine Cake

No sooner had America been introduced to the Sunshine Cake than a Moonshine Cake was baked in Missouri, calling for a hint of almond extract in the batter and no orange zest on top.

THE DOVER BEATER

Don’t think for a minute that cakes like the angel food and the Sunshine could take off and win national appeal without the invention of the eggbeater. Sure, good cooks knew how to whip egg whites on a large platter to stiff-peak perfection, but not everyone had the patience or the biceps to do so. Whipping 12 to 18 egg whites by hand was a hefty task, made a little lighter work once the manual eggbeater was born.

Called the Dover eggbeater, a hand-cranked eggbeater produced by Dover Stamping Company, this gadget beat egg whites and helped bake a generation of angel food cakes. First patented in the late 1850s, the beater would be modernized through the turn of the 20th century and lead to the electric hand mixers popular today.

AMERICAN CHOCOLATE CAKE IS BORN

When chocolate started appearing in cake batter before the close of the 19th century, it was a subtle addition with little fanfare. Chocolate was an unknown and expensive baking ingredient. Eliza Leslie had grated chocolate into a spice cake and shared that recipe in her 1847 cookbook. But Sarah Rorer, a dietitian, Ladies’ Home Journal columnist, and director of the Philadelphia Cooking School, was the first to take the giant leap and stir melted chocolate into cake batter. The daughter of a chemist, Rorer had been experimenting and found chocolate melted best when combined with boiling water. Her chocolate cake recipe would be the first published, in 1886, in Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book. Cooking school teachers in Boston as well as Philadelphia were fascinated with chocolate. They taught precise measurements and preached kitchen prudence. And they also believed chocolate was good for you, that it “nourishes the body while it also stimulates the brain,” according to Maria Parloa of Boston. They tested recipes for chocolate companies and lectured on chocolate’s positive health benefits. Chocolate was about to become an important baking ingredient, and chocolate cake would become an American classic.

The most famous chocolate cake baked in this period was the devil’s food cake. Early devil’s food cakes didn’t follow a particular recipe. They were made with either sour milk and baking soda or sweet (regular) milk and baking powder, and either white sugar or brown. They often called for sour cream. They might contain spices, and cooks often added leftover mashed potatoes. They were frosted with a white boiled icing or possibly fudge frosting. But they had one thing in common—more chocolate than ever before was used in the cake. Their appearance was deep and dark, contrasted to the popular pure white angel food cake.

Chocolate cakes went by different names—Black Joe Cake, Black John, Morganza, Oxblood, Hoosier, and eventually a Red Devil, which preceded today’s red velvet cake. Many historians believe the cake was named “devil’s” because of the reddish hue caused by the combination of cocoa and baking soda.

Turn-of-the-20th-century cookbooks offered many devil’s food recipes, and none are alike. In the 1904 Blue Grass Cook Book, by Minnie C. Fox, a Miss Bashford of Paris, Kentucky, shares a devil’s food recipe with a staggering 4 ounces chocolate in the batter, which was a lot for the time. It was crowned with a soft white icing filled with nuts and figs.

Even before 1900, A&P supermarket advertisements offered a 1-pound “wavy-iced” devil’s food cake for 28 cents. Some newspaper articles weren’t so favorable, calling it the cake with the “horribly suggestive name.” But devil’s food cake, the chocolate cake with the catchy name, was adored from the 1880s onward.

CHOCOLATE SAUERKRAUT CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 45 TO 50 MINUTES

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

To the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers, sauerkraut, or chopped and fermented cabbage, was a ready ingredient. And some clever cook must have figured out that no one would know sauerkraut was in a chocolate cake, plus it would add moisture to the cake, much like mashed potatoes do. Lovers of chocolate, the Pennsylvania Dutch excelled at chocolate cake baking, and recipes such as this fill their cookbooks and home recipe boxes. This recipe is adapted from one in The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook, by Mary Donovan, Amy Hatrak, Frances Mills, and Elizabeth Shull. It comes from the Keim Homestead historic property of West Lobachsville, Pennsylvania, where in the late 1700s Magdalena Hoch Keim fermented sauerkraut, made wine, preserved foods for the long winter ahead, and relied on her traditional recipes of Germany. But you don’t have to live in Pennsylvania Dutch country to know about it. Chef Christine Ilarraza of Fort Worth, Texas, was raised in Kansas, and her German neighbors frequently made this cake. Charlie Klebenow of Montana has memories of his German grandmother baking this cake.

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

2 cups sauerkraut (see Cake Note)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1½ cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ teaspoons baking soda

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup water

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour two 9" round cake pans. Set the pans aside.

2.Drain the liquid from the sauerkraut. Place it in a colander or sieve and rinse it very well under running cold water. With your hands or a wooden spoon, push excess liquid out of the sauerkraut and let it rest in the sieve or colander set over the sink.

3.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and fold in the vanilla.

4.Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, cream of tartar, and salt in a medium-size bowl. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the water, beginning and ending with the flour, beating on low speed with the mixer.

5.Remove the sauerkraut from the colander and either chop it with a knife on a cutting board or pulse 20 times in the food processor fitted with a steel blade. You want to break up the pieces but not puree them. Fold the sauerkraut into the batter until just combined. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with the spatula. Place the pans in the oven.

6.Bake the cake until it just pulls away from the edges and the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pans, give them a gentle shake, and invert them once and then again so they cool right side up on the rack. Cool for 30 minutes before frosting.

7.To assemble, place 1 layer on a serving plate and spread about ⅔ cup of the frosting smoothly over the top. Place the second layer on top and spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

CAKE NOTE: You can use any sauerkraut in this recipe. We used a 14.5-ounce can. Make sure it is well drained, rinsed, and chopped before adding to the batter.

How to Make Devil’s Food Cake

To make a simple Devil’s Food Cake, follow the recipe for Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake, and then omit the sauerkraut. Use ½ cup light brown sugar plus 1 cup granulated sugar. Follow the recipe directions, and bake in 9-inch layers for 25 to 30 minutes as the recipe directs. Frost with your choice of the Modern Buttercream Frosting, the Chocolate Pan Frosting, or the Ganache.

MAHOGANY CAKE WITH SEVEN-MINUTE FROSTING

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 18 TO 20 MINUTES

Compared with today’s deep, dark cakes that scream chocolate, the first chocolate cakes were almost apologetic. These cakes contained a modest amount of chocolate—only 2 ounces. With so little chocolate, the cake was pale in color and would be best described as Mahogany Cake, that is, nearly chocolate. This Mahogany Cake, adapted from Sarah Rorer’s recipe in her 1886 cookbook, is a stepping-stone to America’s devil’s food cake. It uses white and brown sugar and is typically frosted with Seven-Minute Frosting, handy because you used the yolks in the cake and saved the whites for the frosting. For best results, use cake flour in this recipe.

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup granulated sugar

1½ cups light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature (save whites for the icing)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature

½ cup hot water

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Seven-Minute Frosting

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour the bottoms of three 9" round pans. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.

2.Place the butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy, 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugars, beating on medium speed until combined and creamy. Add the whole eggs and the yolks, one at a time, beating on medium until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla, and set the batter aside.

3.Sift the flour, baking powder, and soda into a medium-size bowl. Add a third of the flour mixture to the batter, blending on low speed just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the buttermilk and blend, then add another third of the flour. Add the hot water and blend, then add the remaining flour, beating on medium speed just until combined. Fold in the melted chocolate until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, and place the pans in the oven.

4.Bake the cakes until the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven, and place them on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans, give the pans a gentle shake, then invert onto the rack and then again so they cool right side up. Let cool completely before assembling, 30 to 40 minutes.

5.Meanwhile, make the Seven-Minute Frosting.

6.To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter. Spread with a generous ½ cup of frosting and smooth to the edges. Add the second layer and repeat with the frosting. Add the top layer, and frost the top and sides of the cake. Slice and serve.

BANGOR BROWNIES

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 15 MINUTES

BAKE: 18 TO 22 MINUTES

For more than 100 years, Bangor, Maine, and brownies have been closely associated. Cookbook author Jean Anderson writes of the Bangor housewife who forgot to add the baking powder to her chocolate cake, and the brownie was born. (She must have been incredibly forgetful because she would have had to skimp on flour and omit the milk, too, if you believe this story.) And then there is the story that one of Fannie Farmer’s colleagues, Maria Howard, who worked at the Walter Lowney Chocolate Company in 1907, added an extra egg and more chocolate to Farmer’s recipe, and renamed it the Bangor Brownie. Walter Lowney himself was from Bangor, so maybe she was trying to please her boss. At a competing chocolate company, Maria Parloa added an egg and baking powder to Farmer’s recipe and developed the Bangor Brownie for the Baker Chocolate Co. And Bangor isn’t the only place in Maine associated with brownies—so is Machias, a coastal town. The Machias Cook Book, published in 1899, contained a recipe for Brownie’s Food, which was a dense layer cake and frosting. But the following recipe, shared in The Service Club Cook Book of Chicago in 1904, is one of the oldest recipes for what we now know as chocolate brownies. Fannie Farmer published a brownie in her 1896 book, but the recipe contained only molasses and no chocolate. The Service Club of Chicago is a long-running philanthropic organization founded in 1890 to improve the lives of Chicago’s immigrants and their children. The cookbook cost $1 then and featured recipes from the members, including this wonderful brownie recipe.

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

½ cup cake flour (see Cake Notes)

Pinch of salt

½ cup chopped walnuts

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour an 8" square baking pan and shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

2.Chop the chocolate coarsely and place in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Set the chocolate aside to cool.

3.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and cream with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating with the spoon until the mixture is smooth. Fold in the cooled chocolate until just combined. Fold in the flour and salt until just combined. Then fold in the nuts. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake the brownies until the top has set and is crusty but the middle is still a little soft, 18 to 22 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and let the brownies rest for 20 minutes, then slice and serve.

CAKE NOTES: The cookbook’s ingredient list calls for pastry flour; I substituted cake flour. Also, you can use the microwave for melting the chocolate. If you melt on high power in a glass bowl, microwave in 15-second increments, stirring between times to melt the chocolate. It will take from 45 seconds to 1 minute.

How the American Brownie Was Named

One of the most beloved cakes in American history is the simple brownie. Thought to be named after the little people written about in Palmer Cox’s cartoons and poems of the 1880s, the brownie has evolved into a simple, dense chocolate butter cake, often containing nuts and cut into squares. First mentioned as a candy for sale in a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog in 1897, brownies contained no chocolate when Fannie Farmer included them in her landmark 1896 book. They were baked in little molds made “brown” by the generous amount of molasses and chopped nuts. In the 1905 revision, Fannie Farmer would put chocolate in her recipe, but by then chocolatey brownies were popping up in cookbooks and chocolate company recipe brochures. Two 1904 cookbooks—The Service Club Cook Book of Chicago and Home Cookery of Laconia, New Hampshire—shared nearly the same recipe for Bangor Brownies, calling for 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate and what would become the formula for brownie perfection—twice as much sugar as flour. It’s important to note that in 1893, at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Palmer House Hotel chefs created a chocolate cake that could be cut into squares for ladies’ box lunches. Bertha Palmer, the wealthy wife of hotel owner Potter Palmer, was president of the ladies’ board for the exposition and requested this ladies’ dessert. The hotel’s intensely chocolate and buttery cakelike confection resembled a brownie and was covered in apricot jam, but the recipe was never printed. You can order the Palmer House Brownie if you visit the hotel today.

FANNIE FARMER, MARY LINCOLN, AND THE BOSTON COOKING SCHOOL

“While the fact is to be recognized that there are some born cooks, the large majority need teaching and training,” said Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1904. She was the author of six cookbooks, including the revolutionary The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, published in 1896 and still in print today.

When you open a cookbook and see recipes written in cup measures, with the ingredients listed first and the method following, you can thank Fannie Farmer, who not only took a scientific approach to cooking but also encouraged American women to take cooking seriously. Farmer was a formidable food force at the turn of the 20th century, an instructor and later principal of the esteemed Boston Cooking School.

But a lesser-known woman at the Boston school laid the groundwork for Farmer’s fame. Mary Johnson Lincoln, the first head of the school, wrote five cookbooks, beginning with Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, in 1884. A self-taught cook with an eye for health and thrift, Lincoln said cooking schools offered cooks the chance to learn by observation and that women needed to be taught domestic science. She knew this firsthand: Her father died when she was 7 and she helped supplement the household income, and her husband was ill 4 years into their marriage and she had to join the workforce. Lincoln was the true mother of standardized measurements, although Farmer got the credit. Before Lincoln’s cookbook, American recipes called for random amounts like butter “the size of an egg” and a “gill” of brandy, “teacup” of milk, “soup spoon” of cream. Lincoln listed ingredients in the order they were used in the recipe and explained cooking to women who didn’t have the luxury of servants to prepare the meals. Most women at the time did their own cooking, so “these receipts are arranged as so to require the attention of but one person.”

The Boston Cooking School was established by the Women’s Education Association of Boston in 1879. The group was committed to domestic science and wanted to elevate the role of women in society. With culinary training, women could teach other women to cook, not only meeting the dietary needs of their families but learning a skill should they need to enter the workforce. In addition to Lincoln and Fannie Farmer, the school had celebrity cooks like Maria Parloa, who traveled the country leading cooking classes and working with food companies to develop recipes.

But it was Fannie Farmer, who followed Lincoln as school leader, who would be most famous. Farmer had been the victim of a paralytic stroke at the age of 16, was bedridden for months, and could not attend college. She learned to walk again, but with a limp, and when she was 31 she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. An exemplary student, Farmer was asked to serve as assistant director after graduation. Two years later, she was appointed director. After her book was published, Farmer left the Boston Cooking School and opened Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery in 1902. It offered a class on “sickroom cookery” for convalescents in addition to the standard home cooking classes. Without Farmer at the helm, the Boston Cooking School closed within the year.

The publishers of her book, Little Brown & Company, didn’t think the book would do well. They printed a limited 3,000 copies and required Farmer to cover the cost. Fortunately for Farmer, she retained the rights to the book, which featured everything from housekeeping tips to nutritional information to the latest recipes being served in New York restaurants. The cookbook was an instant bestseller. Over the next 6 decades, the book would go through 13 editions and sell more than 4 million copies. Her book was retitled The Fannie Farmer Cookbook in 1965.

AMERICAN JELLY ROLL

MAKES: 8 TO 10 SERVINGS

PREP: 40 TO 45 MINUTES

BAKE: 10 TO 12 MINUTES

Before there were custom pans in which to bake your choice of cake, cooks were pretty resourceful. Some of our classic American cakes come out of this ingenuity. Take the jelly roll, for example. You didn’t need a jelly roll pan to bake the jelly roll cake because you just poured the batter into a shallow roasting pan called a dripping pan. Mark Zanger, author of The American History Cookbook, says jelly rolls evolved out of jelly cakes: flat cake layers with jelly in between them. In the 1880s, cooks began making jelly cake in 1 large pan. This was a good size for serving a large family or feeding the workers on your farm. And someone got creative and transformed that flat cake into something a little more interesting, a cake roll. Dusted with confectioners’ sugar and sliced, this jelly roll showcased homemade red currant or raspberry jelly inside. It’s possible the cooks who baked jelly rolls were quilters, because a “jelly roll” is the quilting term for a rolled-up assortment of precut fabrics. After the Civil War, jelly roll made its appearance on hotel and banquet menus and in newspapers. By 1880 the dessert had clearly taken off, baked from Pennsylvania west to Kansas. Fannie Farmer includes a jelly roll recipe in her 1896 book, and it is baked in a dripping pan. Appealing to cooks who wanted to make something out of simple pantry ingredients, the jelly roll was thrifty and homespun, yet had a cosmopolitan flair. Here is a slight adaptation of Fannie Farmer’s recipe. You can bake it in a 1"-deep shallow roasting pan or half sheet pan.

Parchment paper and butter for prepping the pan

¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

10 ounces red currant or raspberry jelly, slightly warmed

1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar for garnish

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 1" deep pan measuring 17" × 12" or 18" × 12" with the parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and the sides of the pan, and set it aside.

2.Sift the ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar onto a lint-free cotton or linen dish towel. Set aside.

3.Place the eggs in a large mixing bowl, and with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs until light in color and slightly thickened, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar while the mixer is running, beating until the mixture is pale yellow and smooth, 2 minutes more. Add the milk, just to combine. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

4.Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl to combine. Spoon into the egg mixture, and blend on low to combine. Add the butter and blend on low until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake the cake until the edges just begin to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and quickly run a knife around the edges of the pan. Flip the pan onto the towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar, and cut off the rough edges with a serrated knife. Quickly spread the warm jelly evenly over the cake to within ½" of the edges.

6.Immediately roll up the cake beginning at the shorter end. Keep the towel over the roll to hold it in place. The seam will be on the bottom of the roll. After 8 to 10 minutes, remove the jelly roll from the towel and place it on a serving plate. Dust with the 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature. Store tightly covered.

The Jelly Roll Keeps Rolling …

After the turn of the 20th century, the jelly roll hit the road as a recipe often presented by home demonstration agents and cooking teachers. Its appeal was not only that it had a dazzling presentation but that it served as an emergency dessert. Some recipes contained only two eggs—a convenience when eggs were scarce. A 1910 recipe boasted that the jelly roll would keep fresh for a week. Baking powder companies heralded the jelly roll as a miracle cake, and they sponsored cooking schools where the jelly roll was prepared. Cooking teachers unlocked the mystery of the jelly roll, too, telling cooks to work quickly, rolling the cake while it is still warm to prevent cracking. By the late 1930s, special jelly roll pans were used and would become standardized, measuring 15" × 10" and about 1" deep. But you can still bake a jelly roll in a roasting pan or a more modern half sheet pan. Now the words “jelly roll” are a cooking term meaning to roll up anything with a filling inside. Often the word “jelly” is dropped and desserts go by just “roll.” The French word “roulade,” meaning “roll,” had crept into the jelly roll lexicon by the 1980s. A pumpkin “roulade” with cream cheese filling was a popular dessert in this period.

CAKEWALKS

In the late 1800s, cakewalks had more to do with the walk (or dance) and less to do with the cake, which was the prize. The dance was part of a minstrel show begun before the Civil War on plantations where slaves dressed up and mimicked the high-stepping way their white owners walked and danced. Cakewalks became competitive. The couple who most easily showed their finesse and likeness to white people on the dance floor would win first prize—an elaborately decorated cake—and often money.

Thus the word “cakewalk” came to mean an easy task. Yet the dancers were so accomplished at these cakewalks, they made it look easy even when it wasn’t.

Cakewalks continued after the Civil War and became a big part of late-19th-century entertainment. At Chutes Park in Denver in 1898, cakewalks were staged with both black performers and black spectators. As many as 3,000 attended.

Madison Square Garden in New York hosted a national cakewalk championship in 1897. And 2 years later a cakewalk was performed at the Paris World’s Fair.

PRESIDENTIAL FAVORITE CAKES

If there’s one thing that American presidents have in common, it is that they like to eat something sweet every now and then. Abraham Lincoln hankered for honey. Ronald Reagan was partial to jelly beans. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a passion for prune whip, a popular dessert at the time. And many of our former presidents favored cake:

THE CAKE TAKERS

George Washington

Martha Washington Great Cake

Thomas Jefferson

Biscuit de Savoye, a light, orange-flavored sponge cake

James Madison

Dolley Madison’s seed cake, a pound cake filled with caraway seeds

Andrew Jackson

Blackberry jam cake

James K. Polk

Fruitcake at Christmas

Zachary Taylor

Cajun calas tous chauds, sweet fried rice dumplings

Rutherford B. Hayes

Cornmeal cakes

Chester Arthur

Devil’s food cake

Grover Cleveland

White cake with white frosting

Benjamin Harrison

Fig pudding

Theodore Roosevelt

Clove cake, a molasses spice cake redolent of clove

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fruitcake

Harry Truman

Ozark pudding (similar to the Huguenot Torte)

Lyndon B. Johnson

Summer fruitcake (similar to the Cowboy Cake)

Richard Nixon

Baked Alaska

Jimmy Carter

The Lane Cake, served in the Carter home during his childhood

Bill Clinton

Carrot cake (A similar recipe is the Silver Palate Carrot Cake.)

THE PIE GUYS

Some of our presidents have favored pie.

John Adams: Apple Pan Dowdy

Martin Van Buren: Brandied mincemeat pie

John Tyler: Tyler Pudding Pie, a creamy coconut pie

Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire-style fried apple pies

James Buchanan: Muscadine pie

Abraham Lincoln: Peach pie

Andrew Johnson: Sweet potato pie

James Garfield: Apple pie

William McKinley: Cherry pie

Calvin Coolidge: Pork apple pie

Barack Obama: Nectarine pie

1-2-3-4 CAKE

MAKES: 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

This is one of the simplest and best-known cakes in the land, based on the idea that a basic yellow cake can be made with 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour, and 4 eggs, plus a little leavening and liquid if you wish. Who came up with the idea of a 1-2-3-4 Cake is uncertain. The recipe itself looks like it was jotted down in the margin of a cookbook or on a homemade recipe card. And you didn’t need to read to bake this cake. The earliest mention might be an 1870 St. Joseph Herald newspaper recipe from St. Joseph, Michigan. It calls for sour milk and baking soda, which indicates the recipe was used before baking powder was in every cupboard in America. But Sarah Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book also contains a 1-2-3-4 Cake, with just butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and no liquid or baking powder. She calls the addition of liquid and baking powder a “cup cake.” You will find Grandmother’s 1-2-3-4 Cake in The Rumford Complete Cook Book of 1908, and many variations on the basic recipe would follow. When The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer was published in 1931, it offered a “modernized” lighter cake by calling for cake flour and less of it—2⅔ cups. However the 1-2-3-4 was made and passed down through generations, this cake was and still is the standard by which people measure a layer cake. When frosted with chocolate icing, it is the embodiment of American cake.

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature (see Cake Notes)

3 cups cake flour (see Cake Notes)

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Pan Frosting

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9" round cake pans with butter and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.

2.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set aside.

3.Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-size bowl. Add a third of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, beating on low speed until incorporated. Add half of the milk, and blend, then another third of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture and vanilla and blend until combined and smooth, 30 seconds.

4.Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans, and smooth the tops. Place the pans in the oven, and bake until they are lightly browned on top and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes.

5.Place the pans on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans and give the pans a gentle shake to release the cake. Invert the layers once and then again so they rest right side up on the racks to completely cool, 30 minutes.

6.To assemble, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter. Spoon about ⅔ cup of frosting over the top. Place the second layer on top, and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Slice and serve.

CAKE NOTES: The flour is the deal breaker in this cake. Choose cake flour for a lighter crumb. If you use all-purpose flour, sift it once before measuring. For slightly more volume, separate the eggs and blend the egg yolks with the creamed butter and sugar mixture. After adding the flour alternately with the milk, fold in the beaten egg whites and vanilla.

VANILLA EXTRACT

Vanilla may be a world-favorite flavor, but it took its time getting into American cake batter. In fact it made its first US appearance in chocolates and tobacco, then fragrances, and finally ice cream in the early 1800s and later in cakes from the 1860s forward. Native to Mexico and naturally pollinated by Melipona bees and hummingbirds, the vanilla plant is related to the orchid and now grows in Madagascar, Tahiti, India, and other tropical climates. The long pods of the vanilla are cured in the sun or in ovens after picking, and the flavor of vanilla comes from the seeds and the liquid that surrounds them in the pod. The cooks of Thomas Jefferson, America’s first epicure, used vanilla beans in the preparation of ice cream, which was served while Jefferson was in the White House from 1801 to 1809. But vanilla’s presence in America predated Jefferson, according to Virginia food historian Leni Sorensen. “Vanillas” were on the British merchant ships with indigo and cocoa in the early 1700s. Until 1847, cooking with vanilla meant extracting the seeds from the pods. But when a wealthy customer entered Boston pharmacist Joseph Burnett’s store and wanted him to create a vanilla flavor she could use to re-create the desserts she had enjoyed in Paris, the world of cooking changed forever. Burnett traveled to New York and bought the best vanilla beans he could find. He brought them back to his store laboratory and created the first vanilla extract.

BAKED ALASKA

The contrast of a warm, lightly browned meringue outside and cold ice cream inside may create the drama in Baked Alaska, but the dessert wouldn’t be the same without cake on the bottom.

To commemorate the US purchase of Alaska in 1867, the frozen dessert is said to have been created at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City. It was originally called an “Alaska Florida,” with banana ice cream underneath the decorative Italian meringue.

But author Judith Choate and James Canora, Delmonico’s chef, who researched the history of Delmonico’s and coauthored Dining at Delmonico’s, said the French pastry chef at the time, Charles Ranhofer, called this dessert by its classic French name, an omelette à la Norvégienne.

Nevertheless, the restaurant had to have enjoyed the publicity once the dining public knew the dessert as Baked Alaska and came to order this once-in-a-lifetime confection. An 1891 Philadelphia publication called Quaker City Notes advised readers should they travel to New York and eat this dessert, they should do so in a hurry so it doesn’t burn their mouth. Or better yet, “spread the inside on the outside.”

To make a Baked Alaska, cut a round of sponge, pound, or chiffon cake, place a scoop of ice cream on top of the cake, and freeze. Before you are ready to serve, spoon Italian meringue, made by whipping a hot sugar syrup into egg whites, over the ice cream and immediately bake at 500°F until browned, or brown the meringue using a small blowtorch.