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 4. Birth of the American Layer Cake

1900 to 1916

The early 20th century brought dramatic changes to how Americans baked a cake—the gas cookstove, electric stand mixer, new food products like Crisco, and celebrity cooking teachers, as well as 15 million new immigrants settling here from around the world.

Until now, cakes had been baked in wood- and coal-fired ovens. Much preparation went into getting the oven to the right temperature to evenly bake a cake, and for that reason baking was not only an art but a significant time investment. Gas cookstoves introduced in 1910 became the new norm. And with gas ranges came the industry that supported them—the appliance dealers, utility companies, and home economists who taught America to bake.

Recipes like Japanese Fruit Cake, also known as Mikado Cake, the brainstorm of Kate Brew Vaughn, were highly touted in newspaper articles. People packed by the hundreds into auditoriums to see Vaughn and others like her perform their culinary magic. The Checkerboard Cake was another thriller recipe all wanted to see sliced before their very eyes. Food as art was a fascination, and cakes were crafted and decorated to look like flowers, such as the daffodil and crocus.

New regional products like Steen’s cane syrup in Louisiana became the backbone of easy cakes for busy families. Karo corn syrup was born, as was Wesson oil and Snowdrift shortening and, later, Crisco, a cheap alternative to lard. Americans became more comfortable with chocolate, making a new devil’s food cake and creating the timeless New England favorite called Wellesley Fudge Cake. It originated in a tearoom in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the cake was popularized on the back of the Baker’s Chocolate box.

On the West Coast in California and Oregon, the fledgling date and prune industries designed traveling marketing campaigns to get their products in the hands of consumers and into new American cakes. If you had a product to sell, you took the show on the road. And if you could afford it, you put the recipe on the back of the box and hired traveling celebrity teachers. The scientific age and agricultural opportunities were nothing without the power of advertising.

And the written word of another sort—the American novel—would bring to life a famous Charleston cake, the Lady Baltimore. In Owen Wister’s 1906 book of the same name as the cake, a three-layer white butter cake, filled and frosted with boiled icing, figs, raisins, and lemon, is the centerpiece of the romantic tale set in fictional Kings Port. You didn’t have to live in Charleston to fall in love with the Lady Baltimore or, for that matter, any of the new American layer cakes.

Layer cakes had been present before—Boston cream pie and jelly cakes of the late 1800s. But these showy new special-occasion layers were of a different ilk and were, as the late chef and cookbook author Bill Neal said so well, “Edwardian dessert extravaganzas” with “rich fruit and nut fillings hidden under mounds of fluffy white icing.”

Yet the American layer cake could be practical, too, and it became a way for resourceful cooks to use what they had on hand, such as potatoes mashed and added to chocolate batter to keep the cake moist. Mincemeat cakes used the homemade mincemeat put up from end-of-the-season green tomatoes on the farm. Caramel made its entrance in the kitchen through burnt sugar syrups, which cooks created from nothing—just sugar and water. They used the syrup to flavor icings as well as the caramel-flavored Burnt Leather Cake.

Not all of America had the skill to caramelize sugar or the time to bake layer cakes. Fortunately there was a new style of cake, baked in one pan and run back under the broiler with an easy topping—the Lazy Daisy. And there were quick breakfast cakes like Cinnamon Flop, leavened with baking powder and served right from the pan. They spoke to a new American cook who wanted to get a cake on the table fast.

The faster cakes also resonated with America’s growing immigrant population. These new Americans brought recipes, ingredients, traditions, and preferences from their Hungarian, Scandinavian, Polish, German, and Russian kitchens. They were often taught to bake in US cities by middle-class American women feeling the charitable need to help newcomers assimilate into the community. They baked the first coffee cakes, swirled with cinnamon, packed with chopped prunes, and layered with fresh cherries. They shared the cake over coffee with friends and relatives. And they helped shape a tradition—the coffee hour—that is very much a part of the American way of life.

BURNT LEATHER CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 1¼ TO 1½ HOURS

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

The crazy love for the taste of burned sugar—caramel—is universal. Caramels are one of the oldest candies, and it is no surprise that the forerunner of the caramel cake we know today was a gentler, more subtle cake made by cooking down white sugar and adding boiling water to create a burnt syrup, which went into both the cake and frosting. It was called a Burnt Leather or Burnt Sugar Cake at the turn of the 20th century and appeared in cookbooks and newspaper columns as early as 1906. (Brownstone Front Cakes were similar but contained a little chocolate to make them darker in color.) To save time baking a Burnt Leather Cake, make the syrup the day before and store it in a glass measuring cup covered with plastic wrap until the next day when you’ve got time to bake the cake and make the frosting. Use an iron skillet for caramelizing the sugar, and take care when pouring boiling water into the melted sugar. And use caution when pouring the finished caramel syrup into a heatproof glass measuring cup. A trick when pouring very hot liquids into glass is to place a metal spoon in the glass first to absorb the heat from the caramel syrup. This recipe is adapted from Marion Cunningham’s cookbook Lost Recipes.

BURNT SUGAR SYRUP

1½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup boiling water

CAKE

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

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

1½ cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, separated

2½ cups all-purpose flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup milk

½ cup reserved Burnt Sugar Syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

BURNT SUGAR ICING

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

5 to 6 tablespoons reserved Burnt Sugar Syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

2 to 2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

½ to ¾ cup heavy cream

1.For the burnt sugar syrup, place the sugar in a 10" iron skillet over medium heat, and stir with a wooden spoon and cook until the sugar melts and turns a deep brown color, the color of brewed tea, about 8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Slowly and carefully stir in the boiling water until no lumps remain and the syrup is smooth. If needed, place the skillet back over low heat and stir until smooth. Place a metal spoon in a heatproof measuring cup or jar and pour the syrup into the cup or jar. Set this aside to cool.

2.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9" round cake pans, shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.

3.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and blend to combine. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the creamed batter, blending on low speed until combined. Add half of the milk, and blend. Add another third of the dry ingredients and blend, then the rest of the milk, and finally the rest of the dry ingredients. Pour in the reserved sugar syrup and blend until smooth, 30 seconds. Set aside.

4.Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with clean beaters on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the batter, along with the vanilla, until just blended. Divide the batter between the 2 pans, and place the pans in the oven.

5.Bake the cakes until they are deeply golden brown and the tops spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Place the pans on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes, and invert the cakes once and then again so they cool right side up on the rack. Let cool for 30 minutes before frosting.

6.For the icing, place the butter, reserved syrup, and salt in a large mixing bowl and blend on medium-low until just combined. Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar and ½ cup of the cream and blend until smooth, adding more sugar and more cream if needed to achieve a spreadable consistency.

7.To assemble, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter, and spread about ⅔ cup of icing evenly over the top. Place the second layer on top, and pour the remaining icing over the top and let it fall down the sides of the cake. The icing will set as it cools. Let the cake rest for 30 minutes before slicing.

You Say Penuche, I Say Caramel

Making caramel is an old European tradition, and it came to America with the immigrants who knew how to cook down white sugar into an amber syrup. Caramel cakes, syrups, candies, and icings were alive and well before the 20th century. But something called penuche commanded everyone’s attention in the early 1900s. It was similar to a caramel icing but thicker, and often contained pecans or walnuts. The frosting was named for the Mexican brown sugar fudge candy called panocha, and it would inspire a quick penuche fudge mix of the 1940s. Today much of the Midwest still calls a caramel frosting “penuche.”

CHECKERBOARD CAKE

The biggest novelty cake of the early 1900s, the Checkerboard Cake looked like a checkerboard pattern when sliced. With the dark batter of either spice or chocolate and the light batter often flavored with lemon, this cake was first made in the home and then found its way into bakeries.

You have to wonder what cook got it in his or her head to place alternating rings of batter in one cake pan, switch the pattern in the next, repeat the pattern of the first pan, and so on, to create this checkered pattern. And those first cakes were a feat—using round pans. A first mention of the Checkerboard Cake was at the Lehigh County (Pennsylvania) Fair or “The Great Big Fair” in 1897, when 25,000 people packed the Allentown Fairgrounds and witnessed this cake being made. It became the cake to demo as it was quite a showstopper in cooking classes to showcase gas ranges in Philadelphia or to feature Hunt’s Perfect baking powder, flour, and extracts in Salt Lake City.

By 1907 someone had gotten the wise idea to bake square cakes, which made the task of alternating batters a little simpler because you poured them in rows instead of concentric circles. Inventive minds couldn’t stay away from the notion of capitalizing on our country’s fascination with this cake, and in 1928 the three-layer Checkerboard Cake Pan set was born. The set came with two inserts that fit into the pans, and you filled them according to directions with light or dark batter.

LOUISIANA SYRUP CAKE
(GÂTEAU DE SIROP)

MAKES: 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 15 TO 20 MINUTES

BAKE: 35 TO 40 MINUTES

Syrup cake, or gâteau de sirop as it is called in French-speaking Acadiana, began as a simple, no-fuss spice cake into which cooks poured a cup of their local cane syrup. According to Poppy Tooker, local historian, it was leavened with baking soda and nearly identical to gingerbreads baked with molasses. Corinne Cook, a longtime Baton Rouge food writer, said people in southwest Louisiana had their own little patches of sugarcane growing out back and thus a steady supply of cane syrup. As soon as the weather turned cool, her mother made syrup cake. “When it got cold, there was gumbo in the air and also syrup cake,” she said. “When we came home from school, I could smell that syrup cake before I got to the back door.” And with the 6 children her mother had to feed, a syrup cake was simple to throw together, and everyone loved it. Cook was raised in Church Point, Louisiana, a little town outside Lafayette. After college she stayed in Louisiana and raised a family, with 4 children and 10 grandchildren for whom she baked syrup cake. Her recipe is adapted from the back of the Steen’s cane syrup can. If you can get your hands on Steen’s, buy some for this recipe, for it has a more delicate flavor than molasses. Or add fig preserves instead of cane syrup for an authentic Cajun variation. That’s what Corinne’s sister does, using the preserves she makes from her home-grown figs.

Shortening or oil and flour for prepping the pan

1½ cups granulated sugar

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 cup cane syrup (see Cake Note)

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup boiling water

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar for dusting the top, if desired

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13" × 9" pan with vegetable shortening or oil, and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.

2.Place the sugar, oil, and cane syrup in a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and stir into the syrup mixture. Place the flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and salt in a small mixing bowl and stir to combine. Turn these dry ingredients into the batter and blend with the spoon or an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Add the eggs, and stir or blend until well incorporated and smooth, 1 minute more. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven.

3.Bake the cake until it is deeply golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, let it rest 15 minutes, then slice and serve warm. Dust with the confectioners’ sugar, if desired, just before serving.

CAKE NOTE: Instead of the cane syrup, you can use 1 cup molasses or sorghum.

Steen’s Cane Syrup

In 1910 an early winter freeze in Abbeville, Louisiana, forced C. S. Steen to change direction. His sugarcane was frozen, and he had no choice but to mash the harvested cane using mule-driven rollers. He boiled down the juice in open kettles until it turned into an amber-colored syrup, and the Cajun equivalent of molasses was born. Today the mellow-flavored syrup in the distinctive yellow can is used in all sorts of Louisiana recipes, and most often in this syrup cake.

DATE LOAF CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 65 TO 75 MINUTES

One of America’s earliest back-of-the-box cake recipes was for the Date Loaf Cake. Eager to sell dates, the sweet and exotic fruit native to the Arabian peninsula and grown today in California, growers and grocers would share recipes with their customers. Dates were new to the country at the turn of the 20th century and one of the food crops sought for US farmers to grow by “Agriculture Explorers” employed by the US Department of Agriculture. Finding that the growing conditions of California’s hot, arid Coachella Valley were much like those in Iraq and Algeria where date palms thrived, the explorers and horticulturalists worked together to plant Algerian date palms in California in 1900 and launched the domestic date industry. The farm-growing towns took on an Arabian theme park–like motif, opened to the public for tours and camel rides, and America got its first taste of the Middle East. In the kitchen, recipes began appearing for both date cakes and date-nut breads. This is an old recipe adapted from the Yankee Cookbook, shared by a Mrs. Frank A. Pickering of Methuen, Massachusetts, who received the recipe from her mother-in-law in 1895. Her mother-in-law received it from her local grocer.

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg

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

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

8 ounces dates, chopped

½ teaspoon all-purpose flour

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

2.Sift together the 2 cups flour, baking soda, cloves, salt, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Resift again, and set the bowl aside.

3.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is creamy and light, 1 minute. Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, and beating on low speed until just combined. Toss the dates with the ½ teaspoon flour, and fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake the cake until it is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 65 to 75 minutes. Let rest until cool, then slice and serve.

LADY BALTIMORE CAKE

MAKES: 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 3 TO 4 HOURS TO SOAK DRIED FRUIT; 1 HOUR TO MAKE CAKE, FILLING, AND FROSTING

BAKE: 16 TO 18 MINUTES

The regal Lady Baltimore Cake—filled with sherry-soaked figs, raisins, and walnuts, scented with just a suggestion of lemon, and crowned with a fluffy boiled-sugar icing makes an impression in real life as well as in fiction. In fact, it’s hard to separate what is fictional and what is truth about this storied white layer cake. It was baked at the Women’s Exchange tearoom in Charleston, South Carolina, before author Owen Wister wrote a 1903 romantic novel by the same name. The following Lady Baltimore recipe is adapted from the cookbook Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking by Blanche Rhett, a relative of Alicia Rhett Mayberry. According to historian Damon Lee Fowler, Rhett’s recipe is the real thing. I have streamlined the filling for the modern cook.

CAKE

½ cup raisins (see Cake Notes), divided use

⅔ cup sherry (see Cake Notes)

½ cup chopped dried figs

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

½ cup chopped walnuts (see Cake Notes)

2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

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

1¼ cups granulated sugar

¾ cup (6 ounces) whole milk, at room temperature

½ teaspoon almond extract

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

SUGAR SYRUP FILLING

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup water

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

Seven-Minute Frosting

Thinly sliced lemon, chopped walnuts, or lemon verbena or lemon balm sprigs for garnish

1.Place the raisins in a small glass bowl and pour ⅓ cup of the sherry over them. Toss to coat. Place the figs in a small glass bowl and pour the remaining ⅓ cup of sherry over them. Toss to coat. Let the dried fruit rest lightly covered on the kitchen counter for 3 to 4 hours. The soaked fruit and chopped walnuts will be placed between the layers of the cake.

2.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter and flour three 8" cake pans, and shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside. Place the walnuts in a small baking pan in the preheating oven until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Set the walnuts aside.

3.Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Sift together 2 more times. Set the bowl aside.

4.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating on low speed. Blend in the almond extract and set aside.

5.Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with clean beaters on high speed until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, and fold in until just smooth. Add the remaining whites, and fold into the batter until just combined. Divide the batter between the pans, and place the pans in the oven. Bake until the cake is lightly browned and just pulls away from the sides of the pan, 16 to 18 minutes. Place the pans on a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans, give the pans a gentle shake, then invert them once and then again onto the racks to cool right side up.

6.For the sugar syrup filling, place the sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture bubbles up. Let it cook, stirring, until it thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, almond extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Set aside, and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Poke holes in the cake layers with a large toothpick, and drizzle the sugar syrup over the layers so it soaks down into the holes.

7.Prepare the Seven-Minute Frosting.

8.To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter. Spread about 1 cup of icing smoothly over the layer. Scatter half of the sherry-soaked raisins and figs, and half of the walnuts, on top of the icing. Place a second layer on top, and spread with 1 cup of icing. Scatter with the remaining raisins, figs, and walnuts. Place the third layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.

9.Garnish with thinly sliced lemon, chopped walnuts, a sprig of fresh lemon verbena or lemon balm, or the garnish of your choice.

CAKE NOTES: While figs are an original ingredient in this cake, you can omit them and just use 1 cup raisins. In fact, the raisins soak up more sherry than the figs. For the best walnut flavor, toast the nuts first while the oven is preheating. Choose a medium-sweet to sweet sherry for this recipe. No sherry? Use brandy.

Unlike the egg whites–only Lady Baltimore, the Lord Baltimore Cake is made with egg yolks and filled with toasted almonds, crushed macaroons, and candied cherries.

In Owen Wister’s book Lady Baltimore, a cake impresses the narrator and becomes the centerpiece of a story set in fictional Kings Port (Charleston). A groom, having second thoughts about his upcoming nuptials, goes in a shop to purchase his Lady Baltimore wedding cake; falls in love with Eliza, who is taking his order; and in the end marries her—thanks to the cake.

In real life, Alicia Rhett Mayberry baked Lady Baltimore cakes at the Women’s Exchange in Charleston around the turn of the 20th century. Interestingly, her niece and namesake was Alicia Rhett, the actress who would play India Wilkes in the movie Gone with the Wind. But it was Nina Ottolengui, who owned the tearoom with her older sister Florrie, who developed the recipe for the Lady Baltimore Cake whom we should credit, according to historians and to Mabel Pollitzer, a neighbor of the family interviewed as part of the University of North Carolina’s oral history program in 1974. It is possible Wister tasted Ottolengui’s Lady Baltimore Cake before he wrote his novel.

Actually, Lady Baltimore Cake was first mentioned in an August 1889 Ladies’ Home Journal article. A reader shares her Lady Baltimore recipe, which is a simple white cake—called Silver Cake back then—with English walnuts baked inside.

But when Wister’s novel debuted to mixed reviews, newspapers across the country were printing and reprinting recipes for Lady Baltimore Cake. It was clearly the cake of 1906. And it remained popular through the 1930s and in Baltimore up until the 1970s, where in the Hutzler’s department store tearoom you could order a slice of this cake. Most likely the cake was named after the real Lady Baltimore—Joan Calvert—who also inspired a Lady Baltimore silver pattern and African violet species, according to author Julia Reed.

Left to right: Wellesley Fudge Cake and The Lane Cake

THE LANE CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 1½ TO 1¾ HOURS

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

All her life, Mary Jim Merrill Pianowski was known for her Lane Cake, a 3-layer confection filled and frosted with a boozy custard packed with pecans, raisins, and maraschino cherries. When Mary Jim was first married and living in Andalusia, Alabama, in 1937, she was given a copy of a cookbook called Tried and True. In the book were recipes for Lane Cake, a Southern superstar put on the culinary map by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Alabama, after Mrs. Lane entered the cake in the state fair and it won first prize. From then on, this cake was often known throughout the South as Prize Cake. Mary Jim tried many Lane and Prize Cakes in the book, and she gathered ideas from the recipes to craft her own rendition. She perfected her recipe over the years and baked at least one Lane Cake during Thanksgiving or Christmas or the first cold months of the year. She used to frost her cake with white seven-minute cooked icing, but her family vetoed that. “They said, ‘Mother, don’t do that again. That’s a lot of trouble. We like the looks of the cherries and raisins and want to see them.’” The secret to making a great Lane Cake, Mary Jim disclosed, is to use only bourbon in the filling—“not brandy, wine, Scotch, or anything else!” Then sprinkle bourbon over leftover cake to keep it moist and flavorful. And cook the filling slowly and thoroughly in a double boiler, stirring constantly, she said, “or it will be grainy.” She also saved time by chopping her raisins and nuts ahead of time. This is Mary Jim’s recipe. We spoke about 8 months before her death at age 94 in 2014. Her family misses her and her Lane Cake, but her daughter Marianne Weber is carrying on the family tradition and baking this recipe every chance she gets.

FILLING AND FROSTING

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, at room temperature

10 large egg yolks

2 cups raisins, chopped

1 cup maraschino cherries (save a few for garnish), chopped in half

1 cup chopped pecans, save a few whole for garnish

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup bourbon

CAKE

Vegetable shortening and waxed paper for prepping the pans

1 cup (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, at room temperature

½ cup (1 stick) margarine, at room temperature (see Cake Notes)

3 cups granulated sugar

5 large eggs, at room temperature

3 cups all-purpose flour (see Cake Notes)

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.For the filling and frosting, place the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture comes together and lightens. In a separate, smaller bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk until they turn light yellow in color. Stir the egg yolks into the butter mixture until combined.

2.Fill the bottom saucepan of a double boiler with 2" of water. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the water simmers. Turn the sugar and egg mixture into the top pan of the double boiler. Cook over simmering water until the custard thickens and is smooth, stirring constantly, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the raisins, cherries, pecans, and vanilla. Stir to combine the ingredients well, and then stir in up to ½ cup of bourbon, adding the bourbon to taste. Transfer this mixture to a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to assemble. It can be made a day in advance.

3.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom of three 9" pans with vegetable shortening and flour. Cut waxed paper rounds to fit the bottom of the pans, and place these in the pans. Set the pans aside.

4.Place the soft butter and margarine in a large mixing bowl with the sugar. Cream the mixture by beating on medium-low speed until the mixture comes together and lightens, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

5.In a separate, smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Blend in the vanilla. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and place the pans in the oven. Bake until the cakes are lightly browned and spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes, give the layers a gentle shake, and invert the layers once and then again onto the rack to cool completely, right side up, about 30 minutes.

6.To assemble the cake, place the filling between the layers and on top of the cake, leaving the sides bare. Decorate the top of the cake with the reserved cherries and pecans, if desired.

CAKE NOTES: Mary Jim used Fleischmann’s original margarine and Gold Medal flour in her cake. For a pretty contrast, use half golden and half dark raisins. Garnish the top with toasted coconut, if desired.

The Lane Cake and To Kill a Mockingbird

When a recipe like the Lane Cake is written about in literature, you take notice. This isn’t your average 1-2-3-4 Cake. It is a white layer cake filled with a distinctive boozy bourbon custard and crammed full of raisins, chopped pecans, and cherries. So to write about it, the author must have experienced it in her lifetime. Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, lived just 3 hours away from Clayton, Alabama, the home of the Lane Cake, when she wrote the famous novel published in 1960. In the book, the Finches’ neighbor Maudie Atkinson gets competitive about baking her Lane Cake and accuses another Maycomb baker of wanting to steal her bourbon-loaded recipe. As Scout said of the generous amount of bourbon in the cake, “Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane Cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.”

WELLESLEY FUDGE CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 40 TO 45 MINUTES

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

Sealed in a centennial time capsule, and placed behind a bronze plaque in the Wellesley College library in 1981, is the recipe for Wellesley Fudge Cake. Why would a chocolate cake recipe be worthy of a time capsule? Well, you have to understand this isn’t your average chocolate cake. It has been so admired through the years that when Karyl Bannister was growing up in Needham, Massachusetts, it was the only chocolate cake of her youth. A food writer who now resides in West Southport, Maine, Bannister said Wellesley Fudge Cake isn’t just about Wellesley. It is “in the bloodstream of all New Englanders.” The deep chocolate layer cake with thick fudge frosting, inspired by the fudge made by Wellesley girls, first made an appearance at a tearoom over Palmer’s Shoe Store on Wellesley Square, Bannister said. And it was baked at the old Wellesley Inn. One young woman who made that cake received an immediate marriage proposal from a wealthy widower. The cake got its biggest advertising boost in the 1920s when Baker Chocolate Co. shared recipes for “College Cake” and “Wellesley Fudge Cake” using its unsweetened chocolate. This recipe is adapted from the Ex Libris cookbook, a cookbook benefiting the Wellesley Free Libraries. The cake is traditionally baked in square layer pans, and it improves in texture and slices best the next day. The frosting I share is a little lighter and quicker to prepare than the original version.

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

½ cup water

2 cups granulated sugar, divided use

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

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

2 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Pan Frosting

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour the bottoms of two 8" square baking pans. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.

2.Place the chocolate and water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and heat until the chocolate nearly melts, about 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat, stir in ½ cup of the sugar until smooth, and set the chocolate aside to cool.

3.Meanwhile, place the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-size bowl, and stir to combine well. Set aside. Place the butter and the remaining 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending on low until combined. Turn the chocolate mixture into the batter, and blend on low for 15 to 20 seconds. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and blending on low until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and stir in the vanilla. Divide the batter between the 2 pans, smoothing the top, and place the pans in the oven.

4.Bake the cakes until the tops spring back when lightly pressed with a finger, 25 to 30 minutes. The cakes should just begin to pull away from the sides of the pans. Remove the cakes from the oven, and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cakes, and give them a gentle shake. Invert the cakes once and then again to cool on the racks, right side up. Let cool completely, 30 to 35 minutes.

5.Meanwhile, prepare the frosting.

6.When the cake layers are cooled, and when the frosting is smooth and still a little warm, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter and spoon a generous ¾ cup of frosting over the top, smoothing it to let it cover the layer and trickle down the sides. Place the second layer on top, and ladle more frosting over the top, smoothing the top. For a casual look, let the frosting drip down the sides of the cake. Or, for a more finished look, run the frosting around the edges of the cake using a metal spatula, just to seal in the crumbs. Repeat spreading the frosting around the edges of the cake, using long, clean strokes. Let the cake rest for 1 hour before slicing and serving.

Oh, Fudge

College girls have been cooking in their dorm rooms for a long time. Yet in the past, those culinary efforts were frowned on by one university, the prestigious female Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Girls are said to have cooked fudge in their dorm rooms, melting the butter and chocolate over a Bunsen burner “on loan” from the chemistry lab. They added cream and sugar and cooked the mixture down until thickened, then cut it into squares using a nail file. But making fudge was in violation of the school’s rules against snacking, which supposedly diverted too much blood away from the brain. Henry Fowle Durant, the founder of Wellesley, vowed “Pies, lies, and doughnuts should never have a place at Wellesley College.” But he didn’t mention fudge. Meanwhile, Vassar College girls, according to Mark Zanger in his The American History Cookbook, shared the love of fudge. “Oh, Fudge,” was an exclamation Vassar girls coined instead of swearing. The inventor of Vassar fudge was Emelyn Hartridge, who was inspired to make fudge in her room after tasting soft chocolate caramels in a Baltimore candy shop. This make-do college fudge became the inspiration for the fudge frosting atop the well-known Wellesley Fudge Cake.

LAZY DAISY CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 28 TO 32 MINUTES

Max Merrell was a high school freshman in Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the early 1950s when he first tasted Lazy Daisy Cake. His mother and grandmother baked the cake for him, and it was a sheet cake, “dripping in brown sugar icing with coconut on top,” recalls Max, who now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “I loved it.” Max hadn’t given Lazy Daisy much thought until about 10 years ago, when his wife, Mary, and daughter Mindy asked him what cake he’d like for his birthday. “I answered, ‘Lazy Daisy,’” he says with a laugh, “and their response was, ‘What?’ They started digging around, and Mindy came up with this recipe.” Mindy’s recipe is a little different from some Lazy Daisy recipes in that she creams the soft butter and sugar first to attain a fluffier batter, and she uses buttermilk for flavor instead of milk.

CAKE

Butter or shortening and flour for prepping the pan

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

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour (see Cake Notes)

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

TOPPING

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

⅓ cup heavy cream

1½ to 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt (see Cake Notes)

1.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a 13" × 9" baking pan and set it aside.

2.Place the soft butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is creamy, 2 minutes. Add the eggs, and blend on medium until the batter is smooth and light, 2 minutes more.

3.In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the batter along with the buttermilk and vanilla, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Blend on low until everything is incorporated, then increase the mixer speed to medium and blend to lighten the batter, 30 seconds more. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake the cake until it is golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed, 28 to 32 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven. Turn the oven broiler on, and carefully position a broiler rack 4" to 5" from the broiler.

5.For the topping, place the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat to melt, 1 minute. Stir in the brown sugar and cream and let the mixture come to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, or until it thickens slightly. Take the pan off the heat. Stir in the coconut, vanilla, and salt. Pour the topping over the top of the warm cake, spreading it out to reach the edges. Place the cake in the oven, leaving the door ajar or the oven light on so you can watch the broiling so it will not overcook. Let the topping broil until it bubbles up and the coconut caramelizes, from 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your broiler.

6.Remove the pan from the oven, let it rest for 15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve warm.

CAKE NOTES: Instead of the all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt added separately, use 2 cups self-rising flour for a quick shortcut. And in the topping, add the pinch of salt if you are using unsalted butter. If using salted butter, omit the salt.

A Lazy Daisy Time

One of America’s most beloved cakes may be adored because of its catchy name. Popular in the 1930s, this sheet cake with broiled topping of coconut, brown sugar, and cream was written about as early as 1914 in the Chicago Sunday Tribune with a recipe submitted by a Margaret Hill of Waterloo, Iowa. And the phrase “lazy daisy” was mentioned in turn-of-the-century poetry—“there’s something in the lazy, daisy atmosphere”—to describe the fresh, carefree feel of June. “Lazy daisy” would name a popular stitch in needlework. Once newspaper food columnists got hold of the recipe in the 1920s and Snowdrift shortening ran ads sharing the recipe, well, everyone knew of Lazy Daisy Cake. And its popularity would continue into the wartime 1940s, when America gravitated to quick baking powder–leavened one-bowl cakes: simple, economical, no messing around with creaming butter and sugar and separating eggs. Like the name implies—Lazy Daisy. Variations abound, of course, with this great recipe. You will find cakes with oats that have been soaked until soft in boiling water, and you may find chopped pecans in the topping. It’s Lazy Daisy—have fun with it!

CINNAMON FLOP

MAKES: 8 TO 10 SERVINGS

PREP: 15 MINUTES

BAKE: 30 TO 35 MINUTES

As early as 1727, Amish families from Switzerland and Germany settled in farmland in eastern Pennsylvania. Highly disciplined and faithful, the Amish were and are still known for their commitment to church and family. Their vividly patterned quilts and rich fruit and cinnamon-scented baked goods provide a sharp and bold contrast to the restraint the Amish show in appearance. Farm life has its payoffs, and in the Amish world, desserts, especially cakes, are baked and enjoyed daily. This eggless recipe is a simple cake made from staple ingredients on hand in most kitchens. The cake must be mixed by hand so that the ingredients are just combined—the Amish secret to a light cake. Serve as a dessert after a meal or as a coffee cake earlier in the day. Because this cake contains baking powder and milk, it is a quick cake that Pennsylvania Dutch historian William Woys Weaver says was popular in the early 20th century. The 1916 Club House Cook Book from Reading, Pennsylvania, contains a flop recipe, and the formula is similar to a 1918 Wisconsin recipe known as “economy cake.”

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

4 tablespoons lightly salted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk, at room temperature (see Cake Note)

¼ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons cold lightly salted butter, cut into 8 slivers

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease and flour an 8" square metal baking pan, and set aside.

2.Place the soft butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and cream together with a wooden spoon until well combined. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar and stir to combine. Add half of the room-temperature milk, and stir to combine. Add another third of the flour mixture, stir, then the rest of the milk, stir, and then add the remaining flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Do not overbeat.

3.Turn the batter into the prepared pan, and set aside.

4.For the topping, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, and stir to combine. Sprinkle this sugar mixture evenly over the top of the batter. Stick the butter slivers randomly through the topping and into the batter. Place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake the cake until the center springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm.

CAKE NOTE: In this recipe, the milk needs to be at room temperature. Modern cooks pull ingredients from the refrigerator—eggs and milk—and forget their cold temperatures will make the blending of a smooth batter difficult by hand, plus cakes made from cold ingredients do not rise as high.

What’s in a Name?

Could this coffee cake be named because the cook forgot the eggs and thought it would be a flop? Or was “flop” a corruption of the word “flap,” and could this have been an early breakfast recipe like flapjacks (pancakes) except without eggs? Webster’s dictionary says the first use of the word “flop” in America was 1728, a year after the Amish arrived.

GRANDMA’S MINCEMEAT CAKE WITH CARAMEL ICING

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 53 TO 58 MINUTES

Mincemeat might mean Thanksgiving pie to many people, but to Beth Campbell and her family of Belleville, Wisconsin, mincemeat signals the end of the garden. With cooler weather approaching, the green tomatoes still on the vine are picked and ground into mincemeat. Campbell was the oldest of 6 children, and she says with big families nothing was ever wasted. In the farmhouse of her youth, down in the basement was a long wooden table with a hand grinder attached to it where the family made mincemeat and she ground the green tomatoes. “I remember the smell of the mincemeat filling cooking down, ready to be put into jars for processing,” she said. Her grandmother made cake from the mincemeat, and Campbell entered her recipe in the 2014 Wisconsin State Fair and came home with first place. You can use your own homemade mincemeat in this recipe or use store-bought. As for the nuts folded in, Campbell uses English walnuts, but her grandmother often used black walnuts that grew on the family farm.

CAKE

Vegetable shortening and flour for prepping the pans

2 cups granulated sugar

½ cup vegetable oil (see Cake Notes)

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups mincemeat (see Cake Notes)

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

¼ cup bourbon, water, or apple juice

CARAMEL ICING

2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter

7 tablespoons heavy cream

Pinch of salt

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

½ cup finely chopped walnuts for garnish, if desired

1.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans with vegetable shortening and flour, and shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

2.Place the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until creamy, about 30 seconds.

3.In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the oil and sugar mixture, blending on low speed until combined. Add half of the buttermilk and blend until incorporated. Add another third of the dry ingredients and blend, followed by the remaining buttermilk, and finally the last third of the dry ingredients until incorporated. Stir in the mincemeat, walnuts, and bourbon or other liquid. Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven and bake until the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, 53 to 58 minutes.

4.Remove the pans from the oven, and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges, give the pans a gentle shake, and invert the layers once and then again onto the racks so they cool right side up.

5.Meanwhile, make the icing. Place the brown sugar, butter, cream, and salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the baking powder and vanilla, and let the mixture cool slightly, then beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar, and stir until the frosting is of good spreading consistency. It will harden up from this point on, so you need to work quickly.

6.To assemble, place 1 layer on a cake platter and ladle over about 1 cup of the frosting, smoothing across the top. Place the second layer on top of the first, and ladle the remaining frosting over the top, letting it fall down the sides of the cake. While the frosting is warm, press the chopped walnuts on top or onto the sides of the cake, if desired. Let the cake rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

CAKE NOTES: Beth Campbell’s grandmother used melted lard, but the family now uses vegetable oil. If you have homemade mincemeat, use 2 cups of it in this recipe. Or buy mincemeat in the jar at the supermarket and measure out 2 cups.

20TH-CENTURY GAME CHANGER: SHORTENING

What to do with the seed of the cotton plant had perplexed scientists and inventors ever since the American cotton boom of the early 1800s. They searched for a way to use the seed, extract the oil, make the oil palatable for human consumption, and possibly find an inexpensive replacement for lard in cooking.

David Wesson, a Chicago chemist, developed a way to process cottonseed oil to remove the offensive odor and brown tint in 1899, and he named his product Wesson. By 1903 his company’s chemists had hydrogenated Wesson cottonseed oil into a solid and created Snowdrift vegetable shortening.

But according to David Shields, South Carolina historian and author of the book Southern Provisions, chemists in the early 20th century were considering “economy and functionality in the invention of their products” and not taste. Procter & Gamble’s shelf-stable Crisco was created in 1911, and Crisco shortening would replace lard and change the way Americans cooked and baked a cake. Shortening was less expensive, appealed to vegetarians as a replacement for lard and butter, and nutritionists and physicians thought it was a more digestible and better-tasting substitute.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that housewives, physicians, dietitians, and chefs had nothing to do with the design, taste profile, or manufacture of Crisco,” Shields said. Food chemists created it and “were the new aestheticians of food.”

NEIGHBORHOOD PRUNE CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 40 TO 45 MINUTES

Plums have been grown in America since Colonial times, planted in what is now California by Spanish Franciscan monks. But it wasn’t until Frenchman Louis Pellier came to California during the 1850s gold rush that plums and their dried fruit—prunes—became a viable crop. A horticulturist, Pellier did not strike gold, so he started a nursery in the Santa Clara Valley. Joined by his brother Pierre, who brought cuttings of the sweet French Agen plums with him to plant, the brothers did strike gold, so to speak, with the success of their sun-dried prunes. The California prune farmers shared their wares with the world at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. They staged a cooking contest and distributed brochures with recipes from stewed prunes to prune whip to prune cake. Oregon, too, produced prunes with plum orchards in the Willamette Valley. The Pheasant Brand of Oregon prunes was considered one of the best, and Oregon became known for its prune cakes. The Neighborhood Cook Book of Portland, Oregon, shared this moist and fragrant prune cake recipe in 1914. Beloved of the European immigrants who settled in America and much loved today from the Pacific Northwest into the Midwest, Texas, and throughout the South, prune cake is suitable to serve any time of the year. I substituted oil for the butter, and I added the simple glaze. To feed a crowd, you can double the recipe and bake it in a 13" × 9" pan for 45 to 50 minutes.

CAKE

Vegetable shortening or butter and flour for prepping the pan

1 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

2 large egg yolks

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

4 tablespoons buttermilk

1 cup chopped pitted prunes (see Cake Note)

BUTTERMILK GLAZE

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 teaspoon white corn syrup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Pinch of salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of an 8" square baking pan with vegetable shortening or butter and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.

2.Place the sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, 30 seconds. Add the egg and egg yolks, and blend on medium until combined and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Set aside.

3.Place the flour, soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt in a medium-size bowl, and whisk to combine. Add half of the flour mixture to the creamed oil and sugar, blend on low to just combine for 15 seconds, then add the buttermilk. Blend on low until combined, then add the remaining flour mixture until smooth. Fold in the chopped prunes, and turn the batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake the cake until the top springs back when slightly pressed in the center, 40 to 45 minutes. About 10 minutes before the cake is done, prepare the glaze.

5.For the glaze, place the sugar, buttermilk, corn syrup, butter, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and let the mixture simmer until smooth and thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.

6.When the cake is done, remove the pan from the oven, and immediately prick the top with a fork to create holes. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake, and smooth the top of the cake with a small metal spatula so the glaze is absorbed by the cake. Let the cake rest for 30 minutes for the glaze to harden slightly, then slice and serve.

CAKE NOTE: Most prunes are pitted and soft these days. If not, remove the pits with a small paring knife, and place the prunes in ½" of water in a saucepan and let simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they soften. Drain, cool, and chop for this recipe.

SETTLEMENT HOUSES AND CHARITY COOKBOOKS

Around 1900 an increasing number of Eastern European immigrants moved to America and settled in cities to find jobs. Working-class neighborhoods emerged, as did the cultural gap between the established middle class and these poor immigrants.

Progressive middle-class women who wanted to help found the best way to raise money to aid the newcomers—they wrote cookbooks. In Milwaukee and in Portland, Oregon, these cookbooks supported the building of settlement houses.

Lizzie Black Kander, a Milwaukee native, with the support of the Federation of Jewish Charities of Milwaukee, led the efforts to create the Settlement. It was a place where immigrant women could learn English, American history, music, and cooking. Kander thought food was a means of social expression, and through cooking classes she helped introduce these women to the American way of life. Kander’s recipes, and those of her friends, went into the 1903 cookbook subtitled The Way to a Man’s Heart. Heavily sprinkled with advertisements from baking-powder companies, range manufacturers, and the utility companies, these early charity cookbooks also contained housekeeping and cooking advice. Kander’s cake recipes are a glimpse back in time—“devil’s cake,” Sunshine Cake, coffee cakes—plus German and Eastern European influences with tortes, blitz kuchen, and prune cake, as well as a “Cheap Cake” made with just a teaspoon of butter.

In Portland a similar charity was formed by the Council of Jewish Women. They wrote The Neighborhood Cook Book in 1912. “The Neighborhood” was the name of their settlement house at the corner of Second and Wood streets, where they helped Portland immigrants adjust to their new home. The cookbook was a big success and led to a 1914 revised and expanded edition containing such classic cakes as the Burnt Leather Cake, caramel cakes, carrot cake, more than a dozen chocolate cake recipes, potato cakes, and a prune cake.

While the settlement house books were raising funds for their communities, so were cookbooks written by women’s suffrage supporters. One of the best known was the Washington Women’s Cook Book of 1909, sharing recipes of the Pacific Northwest and even explaining how to start a campfire and providing sailor recipes to be cooked on a boat, while at the same time educating readers on women’s right to vote.

JAPANESE FRUIT CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 1 TO 1½ HOURS, PLUS 3 HOURS TO CHILL FILLING

BAKE: 16 TO 22 MINUTES

The Japanese Fruit Cake isn’t a fruitcake in the sense of the heavy English-style cakes of dried fruits, nuts, and whiskey. It is a Southern layer cake of the early 1900s, with an orange and coconut ambrosia-like filling and thick boiled white icing on top. There truly is nothing Japanese about the cake’s origin, but it speaks to America’s fascination with the Far East at that period in time. Nashville’s Kate Brew Vaughn traveled the country between 1912 and 1914 showing cooks how to make a Mikado Cake packed with spices, extracts, dried fruit, wine, and nuts: in essence a fruitcake. But that cake made with Royal baking powder sounded a lot more intriguing to her crowds when she told the story about receiving the recipe from a Japanese chef who had cooked for the Mikado. Soon Japanese-style cakes were the cake to bake, and plates on which to serve them could be ordered from Montgomery Ward & Co. Henrietta Dull was known for her Japanese Fruit Cake, which was one of the most requested recipes at the Atlanta Journal during and after her tenure there as food editor. Mrs. Dull has 2 variations in her 1928 cookbook, Southern Cooking, and this recipe is adapted from those recipes.

FILLING

1 medium coconut (about 1½ pounds) or 2 bags (6 ounces each) frozen unsweetened shredded coconut

3 to 4 large oranges, washed and dried

1½ cups granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

CAKE

½ cup chopped raisins

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

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

1¾ cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs, separated (save 2 egg whites for the frosting)

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ cup finely chopped pecans

Seven-Minute Frosting

1.For the filling, prepare the fresh coconut for grating (see “Baking with Fresh Coconut”), or open the bagged coconut, and measure out 3 cups. Set aside.

2.Grate the zest from the oranges and set aside. Cut the oranges in half and juice them to yield 1 cup. Place ¾ cup of the orange juice in a medium-size saucepan with 1 tablespoon of the reserved orange zest, 3 cups coconut, the sugar, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer until reduced by a third, about 45 minutes. Turn into a bowl, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. If you use a fresh coconut, add up to ½ cup of the coconut milk to the orange juice mixture. It will be a little more liquid than without the coconut milk, but the flavor is wonderful.

3.For the cake, place the remaining ¼ cup orange juice in a small bowl with the chopped raisins. Set the raisins aside to soften them.

4.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9" round cake pans, and shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

5.Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the 4 egg yolks, one at a time, beating just until combined. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Add this and the milk alternately to the butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and mixing until just combined and smooth, 1 minute. Set aside.

6.Place 2 egg whites (2 egg whites are saved for the frosting) into a large mixing bowl, and beat with clean beaters on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. Fold the whites into the batter until just combined. Divide the batter into thirds.

7.Pour one-third of the batter into a medium-size bowl, and fold in the cinnamon, allspice, soaked raisins, pecans, and ½ teaspoon of the reserved orange zest. Turn this into one of the prepared pans and smooth the top. Divide the remaining batter between the 2 remaining pans and smooth the tops. Place the pans in the oven.

8.Bake the cake until the white layers are golden brown and spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 16 to 19 minutes, and the spice layer also springs back when pressed, 19 to 22 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

9.Run a knife around the edges of the pans, give the pans a gentle shake, then invert the cakes once and then again onto the rack to cool completely, 30 minutes.

10.Prepare the Seven-Minute Frosting.

11.To assemble the cake, remove the filling from the refrigerator. Measure out ½ cup of filling and reserve for the top layer. Place 1 white layer on a cake plate or platter. Poke holes in the top of the cake, and spoon half of the filling over the top, almost to the edges. Place the spice layer on top, poke holes in the cake, then spoon the remaining half of the filling over the top. Place the second white layer on top, poke holes in the cake, and spoon over the reserved ½ cup of filling. Generously pile the frosting over the top of the cake and filling. Frost the sides of the cake, if desired. Slice and serve.

Satsuma Oranges

From 1908 to 1911, a million Japanese Owari satsuma tangerine trees were imported from Japan and planted along the Gulf Coast. They were first discovered by the wife of the US minister to Japan. The satsuma is still grown and was an original ingredient in this cake.

Mrs. Dull, the Queen of Southern Cake Baking

In a time when women were identified by their husbands’ initials, Mrs. S. R. Dull crafted a career all her own. She was born Henrietta Celeste Stanley in rural Laurens County, Georgia, in 1863, and she learned to cook by watching the slaves prepare food on her family’s plantation. After marriage, six children, and her husband’s declining health, Mrs. Dull had to find a way to support her family. Like women in similar situations, she relied on what she knew how to do and baked cakes and made sandwiches to sell to ladies at her church. This grew into a thriving catering business, and eventually her culinary skills got the attention of the Atlanta Gas Light Company. Mrs. Dull was hired to show consumers how to cook with gas. At the time, she compared a gas range to a husband—“you couldn’t get the best out of either until you learned how to manage them.” Mrs. Dull was offered a job as food editor of the Sunday Atlanta Journal Magazine, where she was the South’s first celebrity chef, teaching cooking classes throughout the region, and sharing recipes and advice through her columns and her landmark book, Southern Cooking, published in 1928.

AMERICAN WEDDING CAKE

After the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert, the wedding cake went white. Queen Victoria’s cake was a massive 300-pound fruitcake with white icing and decorations. The frosting was renamed “Royal Icing” in England.

And in America, white wedding cake, not just the frosting, became the norm. In Southern Cooking, author Henrietta Dull shares her mother’s wedding cake recipe from 1860—made with 16 egg whites. If you look at the society pages in newspapers from the late 19th century, you will read about grand weddings where the bride’s dress and veil, the flowers, and the cake were all white.

Good Housekeeping shared a white wedding cake recipe in 1902, although it was a white fruitcake, often called the Sally White Cake, containing citron, almonds, and coconut. White fruitcakes gave way to white layer cakes and fluffy frosting. As the newspaper recipe columns remarked in 1906, it was a “new departure in wedding cakes . . . eminently delicate.”

And a status symbol. As cakes got whiter, they were more expensive to make. A cake baked with white sugar and frosted with an icing of confectioners’ sugar indicated you were able to afford it.

Of all the cakes baked today, the wedding cake is the most evolving. A symbol of purity and union, the wedding cake, or “bride cake” as it has been called, is a study in contrasts. It is formal yet feeds a crowd, intimate but useful, traditional and ever changing. And it has an interesting past.

At ancient Roman weddings, the groom would break a cake of barley or wheat over the bride’s head, and then the guests would gather and eat the crumbs for good luck. In medieval England, the wedding “cake” was a tower of sugar buns over which the bride and groom would kiss. Success in their attempt to secure a kiss, and the couple would prosper together.

The first recorded recipe for a “bride cake” was included in Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper in 1769. According to Nicola Humble, author of Cake: A Global History, the original recipe was rich fruitcake “banded by layers of candied peel.” Cakes at this time might also be covered while hot with a meringue icing called “bliss” and placed back in the oven briefly for the icing to set.

Now wedding cakes come in all shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors—even constructed of cupcakes, macarons, and doughnuts. Pleated frostings, cakes that tell a story of how the couple met, and naked cakes with little or no frosting on the sides are popular. And the tradition of freezing the top layer to eat on your first anniversary? That is a post–World War II trend, possible once homes contained freezers.