Baking in the Good Times & the Bad Times - 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 5. Baking in the Good Times & the Bad Times

1917 to 1945

From 1917 to 1945, America rode a roller coaster of economic, political, and cultural events. About 9 of these years—the Roaring Twenties—were good times. The rest were hard, and what you ate and baked had a lot to do with how resourceful you were.

In the 1920s, national wealth doubled, prohibited alcohol flowed in speakeasies, automobiles and railroads crisscrossed the country, and perky Harvey hotel girls served up cake with a smile. Women had won the right to vote. And they had won the right to home refrigeration, too. With the Freon gas invention, the refrigerator was no longer an icebox packed with home-delivered ice. It was a lifesaver, and sales of home refrigerators increased even during the Depression. The crucial ingredient of the icebox cake—a thin chocolate wafer—was created in 1924, just in time for do-ahead refrigerated desserts.

A year later, in Tuskegee, Alabama, George Washington Carver developed 101 ways to use the peanut, including a ground peanut cake flavored with molasses and spices (see George Washington Carver’s Peanut Cake). It was Carver’s plan to persuade farmers to plant peanuts in barren cotton fields and open America’s eyes to the infinite possibilities of peanuts. Far from the rural South, New York City’s Jewish delicatessens were creating an American cake of a different sort. Made with cream cheese, the New York style of cheesecake was dense and rich on a cookie crumb crust. Even if cheesecake had been baked in America centuries before, it was nothing like this new creation, and the stylish theater crowd loved every bite.

Across the country in Hollywood, where movies were made and stars were born, the fashionable Brown Derby restaurant at the corner of Hollywood and Vine served slices of a new Grapefruit Cake. It was created for Brown Derby patron and gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who was forever trying to lose weight on a grapefruit diet. Its creator was an insurance salesman turned pastry chef named Harry Baker, who would eventually sell his chiffon cake formula to General Mills. Anything was possible in Hollywood, and it seemed an escape for America during the hard times. As poor as people were in the 1930s and after the Depression, they still went to the movies to see Douglas Fairbanks and W. C. Fields and forget about their troubles. And boy, did America have troubles.

After years of looking inward, isolationist America committed to helping her Allies and sent a generation of boys to the trenches of northern France, where they experienced World War I and a world different from their own. Surviving not just one but two world wars, the stock market collapse and worldwide Depression, as well as the Dust Bowl and a migration to California, our country experienced sacrifice firsthand.

This was the time of making do with what you grew or had on hand, and yet some of our country’s best cakes were born in these lean years. The black walnut cake, pineapple upside-down cake, Cold Oven Pound Cake, and applesauce cake are such classic recipes we still bake today. Spice Meringue Cake and a German-style Blitz Torte called for a simple egg white meringue to make them more interesting, an economical flourish.

Gone were the elaborate multitiered architectural feats popular at the turn of the 20th century. On the table were practical cakes and holiday treats, like Leah Chase’s Butter Cake, saved for Christmas in Louisiana when you opened your home to family and friends. The moist apple butter-filled Appalachian Apple Stack Cake originated in the hardscrabble Tennessee and Kentucky mountains, but to the people of this poor region, it was also a wedding cake, a celebration, and a beautiful cake to behold.

Cookbooks such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s Cross Creek Cookery and M. F. K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf contained personal accounts of what it felt like to bake in the tough times. Rawlings shares her mother’s World War I eggless cake recipe and the suggestion to top it with “slightly sweetened” whipped cream instead of extravagant frosting. And Fisher recalls her mother’s raisin and spice “war cake” and says it means “nothing to me now, but I know that it is an honest cake, and one loved by hungry children.”

They say you remember the hard times because they make you stronger. Well, the war cakes and Depression cakes made without eggs, and cakes made with carefully rationed ingredients, are imprinted in the minds of older Americans. These cakes have been baked and rebaked, talked and written about, loved and hated, longed for and never quite forgotten.

World War II followed the struggling 1930s, but the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, created a determination and call to duty not seen before. Times went from bad to worse but brought out the best in everyone. Volunteerism, the ability to bake by a ration list, doing without, thinking of others, uniting as one: These became the themes as America lived with resourcefulness and purpose. Again, dessert and cake became special-occasion fare.

World War II cakes worth noting include the Brooklyn Blackout Cake, the all-chocolate cake so named by Ebinger’s Bakery in 1942 to commemorate the mandatory blackouts enforced to protect Brooklyn’s Navy Yard; plus a chocolate loaf cake baked in the most obscure of places, Los Alamos, by a Philadelphia woman who sought the peace and tranquility of the New Mexico desert but ironically baked cakes for scientists developing the atom bomb (Edith Warner’s Chocolate Loaf Cake). And out of love and duty, many mothers baked and shipped war cakes as a taste of home to their husbands, brothers, and sons serving in the military far away.

After the war, America had changed. The postwar period brought domesticity, growing families, suburbia, Betty Crocker, and Tupperware. But as for the women who, like the icon Rosie the Riveter, had worked outside the home as part of the war effort and who opened businesses in the 1930s as a way to make ends meet didn’t want to spend a lot of time in the home kitchen. They became the new market for a myriad of conveniences. The homemade cake was about to meet its rival—the cake mix.

1917 APPLESAUCE CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 15 MINUTES

BAKE: 30 TO 35 MINUTES

The applesauce cake of the early 1900s was ahead of its time. An economical, adaptable, and patriotic way to conserve ingredients—eggs, butter, and sugar—the applesauce cake was also moist, full of spice, needed no frosting, and appealed to all ages. It has never gone out of style. Applesauce has magical properties in baking and can substitute for fat and eggs if needed. In her 1917 book, Everyday Foods in War Time, Mary Swartz Rose, who was an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at the Teachers College of Columbia University, New York, said recipes like applesauce cake supported the country’s World War I effort. Her slogan was “Food is Fuel for Fighters. Do not waste it. Save WHEAT, MEAT, SUGARS, and FATS. Send more to our Soldiers, Sailors, and Allies.” Aimed at what she called the “patriotic housewife,” her book emboldened women to upset their normal routine of planning menus and be frugal when cooking. She called for oats and cornmeal in recipes instead of all the flour, and she often omitted eggs. This is Rose’s recipe, only slightly adapted for the modern kitchen.

Butter for greasing the pan

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1 cup unsweetened applesauce (see Cake Notes)

2 cups all-purpose flour (see Cake Notes)

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

⅔ cup raisins

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8" square metal baking pan and set it aside.

2.Place the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl, and with an electric mixer on medium-low speed or by hand using a wooden spoon, cream the sugar and butter together until well incorporated. Add the applesauce and beat well until smooth. Set aside.

3.In a separate bowl, stir together all but 1 tablespoon of the flour and the baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and nutmeg. Stir into the creamed mixture just until smooth. Toss the raisins with the reserved tablespoon flour. Fold the raisins into the batter, and turn the batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake the cake until it is golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool for 15 minutes, then slice and serve.

CAKE NOTES: This old recipe did not specify unsweetened or sweetened, but most recipes of that time called for unsweetened applesauce in baking. Applesauce was still made at home, but it was sold in the can as well. The recipe did not advise you to dredge the raisins in a tablespoon of flour before folding them in at the last. Tossing dried fruit with a little flour prevents it from sinking as the cake bakes.

APPALACHIAN APPLE STACK CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 2 HOURS

BAKE: 14 TO 16 MINUTES

If you were invited to a wedding in the Appalachian mountain areas of Tennessee, North Carolina, or Kentucky, you might have been asked to bring a cake layer. A traditional wedding cake was constructed from these spice cake layers and filled with a thick and fragrant apple butter made from dried apples put up from the fall harvest. The more layers to the cake—12 to 16, perhaps—the more popular the bride, or so the story goes. Stack cakes may contain other fillings, often lemon or coconut, but the original was and still is the apple. Not calling for fancy and expensive ingredients, stack cakes use what people have on hand—modest baking staples like sorghum, flour, and vegetable shortening, and you can bake the cake in a castiron skillet. Or you can use 9" round cake pans, as in the following recipe shared by North Carolina food writer Sheri Castle.

APPLE FILLING

15 to 16 ounces dried unsulfured apple rings (4 to 5 packed cups)

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 cups water

CAKE

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

⅔ cup vegetable shortening

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup sorghum or molasses

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup low-fat buttermilk, at room temperature

Confectioners’ sugar or sweetened whipped cream for garnish

1.For the filling, place the apples in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg over the apples. Pour in the water, which should half-cover the apples. Bring the mixture to a boil, and once boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer, covered, until the apples are soft and the mixture has thickened, about 1 hour. Add a bit more water if needed. Remove the apples from the heat and let them cool. When cool, place them in thirds in a food processor and pulse until smooth but some chunks of apple remain. Or mash the apples by hand with a potato masher. You will have about 5 heaping cups of apples to spread between 6 cake layers. Set aside.

2.Meanwhile, for the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut 6 pieces of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of six 9" round pans. Smear a bit of vegetable shortening on the bottom of the pans to hold the parchment in place, and set the pans aside.

3.Place the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine, and set the mixture aside. In another large bowl, place the shortening, sugar, and sorghum or molasses. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, and beating until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. The batter will be thick, more like a cookie dough. Use a strong rubber spatula, if needed, to facilitate mixing.

4.Divide the batter into 6 equal parts. Each part will be about 10 ounces. Spread the batter out into the pans, using the rubber spatula or a flexible metal spatula. Place 2 or 3 pans in the oven at a time, depending on the size of your oven. Bake until the cakes are a light golden color and spring back when lightly pressed in the center, 14 to 16 minutes. Remove the pans to a wire rack to cool for 3 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and turn out the warm layers onto the rack. Immediately spread 1 heaping cup of apple filling over the top of the warm layer. Top with a second layer, spread on filling, top with a third, and so on. Repeat the process for the rest of the batter until you end with the sixth layer on top.

5.Place the cake in a cake saver or under a cake dome for 1 to 2 days before serving. Before serving, sprinkle the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar or pile on whipped cream.

TIP: The secret to great stack cake is to bake it a day in advance and cover it so that the apple filling slowly seeps into the cake.

WAR CAKES AND HARD-TIMES CAKES

Cakes by many names—Civil War Boiled Raisin Cake, Poor Man’s Cake, War Cake, Cowboy Cake, Victory Cake—have made life a little sweeter for cooks during hard times.

One cake based on soft, slowly cooked raisins, sugar (if you had it), and some sort of fat (lard or vegetable shortening) helped Americans bake during the Civil War, on the frontier using a Dutch oven (Cowboy Cake), and when times were incredibly lean (Poor Man’s Cake). Needing no eggs, milk, or butter, this cake was leavened with baking soda and later with baking powder. It was a cake associated with the two World Wars, when it was called War Cake.

M. F. K. Fisher vividly remembered this War Cake in her book How to Cook a Wolf, published in 1942. Born in 1908, Fisher recalled that as a child she ate it washed down with milk. The raisin and spice cake was “a remnant of the last war,” and “I remember liking it so much that I dreamed about it at night.” But she confessed it is a cake you forget about once war is over. “War Cake says nothing to me now, but I know that it is an honest cake, and one loved by hungry children.”

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of Cross Creek Cookery (1942), also has memories of her mother’s eggless War Cake. Heavily spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, the cake contained raisins and currants, was made with lard or Crisco, and could be sweetened with honey or brown sugar. Baked in an angel food pan, the cake was, as Rawlings described, “solid … moist and flavory and keeps well.”

In 1917, once America entered World War I, Americans were encouraged to ration meat, eggs, butter, wheat, and sugar. Bakeries made Victory Bread and Victory Cake, using half wheat and half rye flour. “Conserve the Wheat” was the slogan of the day in an attempt to rally support for the American war effort, conserve wheat, and appeal to the American sense of patriotic sacrifice.

Cooking experts such as Kate Brew Vaughn lectured and showed Americans how to make Victory Cakes—eggless, sugarless, and butterless confections. Someone once called them “joyless,” Vaughn told her crowd in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in April 1918, but then he ate three pieces.

“How to Bake by the Ration Book,” was Swans Down cake flour’s pamphlet and ad campaign in the early 1940s. The company shared an eggless chocolate cake recipe, baked in thin layers. In wartime, less was more. Cake layers were thin, and frosting was spread between the layers and on top, but seldom on the sides.

Left to right: Edith Warner’s Chocolate Loaf Cake and Black Walnut Cake

EDITH WARNER’S CHOCOLATE LOAF CAKE

MAKES: 10 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 1 HOUR 15 MINUTES

Edith Warner was a Philadelphia schoolteacher who yearned for the peace and wide-open space of the West. She was 30 years old when she up and left Philadelphia and settled in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It was 1922, and Edith loved the natural beauty of the Southwest. She befriended the nearby Pueblo Indians and became caretaker of a train depot along the Rio Grande, a place known as Otowi Bridge. Her adobe tearoom was a refuge for friends and visitors, and here Edith shared tea and slices of her blissful chocolate cake with fudge frosting. When the United States entered World War II and the Manhattan Project came to Los Alamos, Edith’s idyllic world was forever changed, but her tearoom became a peaceful, family sort of refuge for Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Niels Bohr, fathers of the atom bomb. They came for dinner, cake, and conversation. This is the chocolate cake with satiny chocolate-coffee icing that fed the souls of the men who built the first atom bomb. It is an incredibly versatile chocolate cake that can be baked in a loaf or square pan. Warner’s handwritten recipe for “Chocolate Cake Otowi Bridge” was found in a journal of Joan Neary, who received the journal and recipe as a gift from Warner.

CAKE

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

1 cup all-purpose flour

1¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1½ ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup whole milk

3 large eggs

ICING

1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons brewed coffee

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 250°F. Lightly grease and flour a 9" × 5" loaf pan, and shake out the excess flour. Set the pan aside.

2.For the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. Place the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan and melt, stirring constantly, over low heat. Pour the sugar into a mixing bowl and pour the melted chocolate and butter over it. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until the mixture is combined but still grainy, 30 to 45 seconds, or by hand for 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the mixer, add a third of the flour mixture and half of the milk, blend on low speed to combine, then add another third of the flour, then the remaining milk, and end with the rest of the flour mixture, blending or stirring by hand until just combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the eggs, and beat on medium until the batter increases in volume, 1 minute more. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and place the pan in the oven.

3.Bake for 15 minutes. Then without removing the pan from the oven, increase the temperature to 275°F. Bake for 15 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 300°F, and bake for 45 minutes more, or until the top is firm when lightly pressed with a finger. Remove the pan from the oven to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn it out on the rack to cool completely, right side up, 40 to 45 minutes.

4.For the icing, place the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl, and whisk to combine. Whisk in the melted butter and coffee until the icing is spreadable. Spread the icing over the top and down the sides of the cake. Slice and serve.

HIGH-ALTITUDE TIP: Ironically, in the high elevations of New Mexico, this cake cannot be successfully baked in a loaf pan because it will not rise. You need to decrease the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, increase the milk by 1 tablespoon, and bake the cake in a 9" round pan if baking at high altitude.

BAKING VICTORY CAKES

After America entered World War II, sugar was the first food to be rationed. US sugar imports from the Philippines were cut off, and cargo ships that might have shipped Hawaiian sugar to the mainland were needed for military uses. So in the spring of 1942, with a third of the nation’s supply of sugar reduced, the Office of Price Administration (OPA) issued War Ration Book One, containing stamps used to purchase sugar. The OPA wanted to prevent sugar hoarding and price hiking, so you could only purchase a set amount of sugar with one of your allotted stamps.

Victory Cakes became the cake you baked out of sacrifice, without precious granulated sugar. Bakeries made them, too, advertising that the cakes were made with corn syrup to “keep the lid on the sugar jar.” The words “victory cake” were mentioned in World War I, but the real American Victory Cake was a World War II cake made with corn syrup and often vegetable shortening instead of butter. By today’s standards, these cakes might seem subpar, but in the 1940s they were tangible signs that you were doing your part to boost the war effort and celebrate, too.

Victory Cake fairs were staged on lawns, porches, and storefronts across the country. Cooks baked their best “sugar-shy” cakes. Visitors to the patriotic fairs bought war stamps at the door and pasted them into the stamp book next to the cake they deemed best. The winner often received war bonds as a prize.

An interesting note is that at the end of World War II, Admiral William Halsey cut a special Victory Cake with a bayonet on board the USS Missouri, a battleship that helped win the war. It is not certain whether that cake was baked with corn syrup or granulated sugar. But it was obviously quite a grand Victory Cake celebration. Sugar rationing continued for 2 more years, or until American sugar supplies returned to normal.

BLACK WALNUT CAKE

MAKES: 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 42 TO 47 MINUTES

Throughout America, wherever black walnut trees grow—and this is from Pennsylvania south into West Virginia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and many states in the Midwest—the nutmeats have wound up in family heirloom recipes, namely fudge and pound cake. Known for the pungent, bittersweet flavor and oily texture of its nut, the black walnut tree grows well in fertile limestone soil, and early German settlers in western Pennsylvania looked for the presence of black walnut trees before they stopped and established farms. But the nuts are a mess to harvest and hard to crack. Anyone who has ever lived near black walnut trees has a tale of just how he or she cracked the nuts, from smashing them with a hammer to driving back and forth over them with a car. Baking a cake is a little easier. This recipe is adapted from The Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book by Ruth Hutchison.

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

1 cup chopped black walnuts

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

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 large eggs, separated

1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour, reserving 1 teaspoon

1 heaping teaspoon baking powder

½ cup water

¼ teaspoon salt

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" loaf pan with butter and dust with flour. Shake out the extra flour, and set the pan aside. Place the chopped black walnuts on a baking pan and place in the oven to toast while the oven preheats. Let them toast for 5 to 7 minutes, and let the nuts cool on the pan.

2.Place the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale yellow in color, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping the bowl as needed. Set this batter aside.

3.Sift the flour and baking powder into a small bowl. Fold a third of the flour mixture into the reserved batter with a rubber spatula, and add half of the water. Add another third of the flour mixture, and then the rest of the water, and the final third of the flour. Toss the toasted nuts with the reserved 1 teaspoon flour, and fold these into the batter.

4.In a medium-size bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the batter, just until combined, being careful to incorporate the egg whites but not overbeat them. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula, and place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 42 to 47 minutes. Place the loaf pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake once and then again to cool right side up on the rack to room temperature, 1 hour. Slice and serve.

THE BLITZ TORTE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 50 TO 55 MINUTES

BAKE: 28 TO 32 MINUTES

In Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and other US cities with a large German population, a favorite cake in the 1920s was the Blitz Torte. Meaning “quick” in German, “blitz” described a cake you could pull together easily from ingredients you had on hand. “Blitz” first described turn-of-the-century coffee cakes called blitz kuchen, but the torte was different and more spectacular. Cake layers are spread with a quick meringue before baking and filled with custard. A show-stopper anywhere you serve the cake, it has been dear to cooks for generations, appearing in the 1922 Tested Recipes cookbook of the Flatlands Dutch Reform Church in Brooklyn. Nancy Stohs, food editor of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, says it is Wisconsin’s unofficial state cake. When her newspaper asked readers for a Blitz Torte recipe a few years ago, more than 100 readers sent in recipes from their mothers and grandmothers. This recipe, shared by the newspaper, comes from Jeanne Leitl of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. “My mother, Lorraine Naylor, was well known for her blitz tortes. When we came home from school and saw she was making one, we’d ask who died,” says Leitl. “For years she made them for every funeral at St. Joan of Arc Church in Okauchee.” Her secret for the high meringue on the cake, Leitl says, was to use 6 egg whites instead of the usual 4. Baked layers are filled with a creamy custard, and you don’t need frosting. The meringue, almond, and cinnamon sugar topping is embellishment enough. In hard times, the almonds would have been a costly addition for special occasions.

CUSTARD FILLING

1 cup whole milk

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

CAKE

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

½ cup (1 stick) lightly salted butter, at room temperature

½ cup granulated sugar

4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons whole milk

1 cup cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

TOPPING

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided use

½ cup sliced almonds

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.For the filling, place the milk in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until steamy and bubbles form at the edges, about 1 minute. Do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the sugar mixture until smooth.

2.Place the egg yolks in the top pan insert of a double boiler. Gradually whisk in the hot milk mixture. Place this pan over an inch of simmering water in the bottom of the double boiler. Cook, stirring, over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and remove the top insert from the double boiler. Whisk until it cools down a bit, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla, and set the custard aside to cool while you bake the cake.

3.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour two 8" round cake pans with removable sides or bottoms. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.

4.Place the butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Beat in the sugar until the mixture is creamy and light, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla and milk, and beat until smooth, 30 seconds more. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add gradually to the batter, beating on low in 3 additions, until smooth and just combined. Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans and set aside.

5.For the meringue topping, place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form, 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the sugar to the whites gradually, beating on high until stiff peaks form, 1 minute more. Gently and carefully spread the meringue onto the top of the cake batter. Sprinkle the top of the meringue with almonds, the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, and cinnamon. Place the pans in the oven, and bake until the meringue has lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 28 to 32 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven, and place on wire racks to cool completely, about 30 minutes. When the cakes have cooled, run a knife around the edges of the pans to loosen the cakes, removing the sides or the bottom. Run a thin knife underneath the layers to remove them from the bottom of the pan. Place 1 layer on a serving plate and spread the custard filling over it. Top with the second layer. Slice and serve.

CAKE NOTE: If you are not using the custard right away, transfer it to a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate up to 1 day in advance.

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

MAKES: 8 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

One of the happiest cakes in America, a cake that brings smiles to anyone when it comes out of the oven, the pineapple upside-down cake was created with ingenuity, drama, and a novel ingredient—sliced canned pineapple. Busy cooks in the 1920s gravitated toward the new baking powder cakes that could be easily assembled. What made this cake a little different was its name—first called pineapple skillet cake, then upside-down cake. After all, it was just a vanilla cake batter poured atop butter, sugar, and pineapple rings in an ovenproof skillet. But once baked, it was turned upside down and voilà—the sugar, butter, and pineapple on the bottom of the skillet was now the dramatic topping. Add red maraschino cherries and you had more drama. The cake has seen a lot of variations through the years, whether flavoring the batter with lemon zest or almond extract or swapping in canned pears or sautéed apples for the pineapple. And it once might have been a yeast cake baked by Jewish bakers in Chicago before the 1920s. But what is certain is that this cake was all the rage in the good-times Roaring Twenties. This recipe is adapted slightly from the Dole Food Company and Jean Anderson in her book The American Century Cookbook.

PINEAPPLE TOPPING

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

⅔ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 can (20 ounces) pineapple slices packed in juice, about 10 slices, reserving 2 tablespoons juice

10 maraschino cherries, if desired

CAKE

1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

¾ cup granulated sugar, divided use

2 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons reserved pineapple juice

1.For the topping, put the butter in a 10" cast-iron skillet and place over medium-low heat to melt. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the brown sugar. Spread out the butter and sugar mixture in the bottom of the pan. Drain the pineapple slices, and place them in an artistic fashion on top. If you have extra slices, you can slice them in half or into chunks and arrange around or inside the whole slices. If desired, place a cherry in the center of each pineapple slice.

2.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside. Place the butter and ½ cup of the sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, 1 minute. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla and blend until smooth.

3.In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and pineapple juice. Beginning and ending with the flour mixture, alternately add the flour and sour cream to the batter, blending only enough to combine. The batter will be thick.

4.Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with clean beaters on high speed until soft peaks form, 2 minutes. Add the remaining ¼ cup sugar, gradually, while beating on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more. Fold the egg whites into the batter. Carefully pour the batter over the pineapple slices, and place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake until the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, invert the pan onto a large platter, and serve warm.

History of Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

In 1925 the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, what is now Dole Food Co., staged a recipe contest asking cooks to submit their best recipe using canned pineapple. Of the 60,000 entries, some 2,500 were for pineapple upside-down cake, variations on early skillet cakes. Pineapple was the ingredient of the moment. And Dole was the largest pineapple packer in the world, founded by Harvard graduate and entrepreneur James Dole. He traveled to Hawaii at the turn of the 20th century and helped create the equipment to peel, cut, and pack canned pineapple.

PINEAPPLES IN EARLY AMERICA

The first pineapples to find their way into early American life weren’t edible. They were made of wood, stone, silver, brass, and porcelain. Or they were painted on wallpaper. They were the epitome of style and hospitality.

This deep-rooted tradition dates back to when South America and the Caribbean islands were discovered by Europeans. Natives of these New World lands placed fresh pineapples outside their huts as a sign of welcome. Europeans brought pineapples back with them to Spain, but the plant would not grow there. Nevertheless, the pineapple lived on as a symbol of hospitality in Europe and England. And the fact that the tropical pineapples were hard to get and expensive appealed to people of wealth and privilege.

When the American colonists arrived from England, they brought the custom of a pineapple in the home with them. They tried—unsuccessfully—growing pineapple on American soil. But because only wealthy Americans could afford fresh pineapples from the West Indies, the pineapple was carved into wood and stone, styled from silver and brass, and painted onto fine china and thus became the American symbol for hospitality as well.

GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER’S PEANUT CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 18 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

The overplanting of cotton had exhausted Southern soil, and George Washington Carver was on a mission at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama to show farmers how to revive the worn-out dirt and plant something other than cotton—namely peanuts. Carver, a botanist and child of a Missouri slave, wanted to improve the diet and health of the rural black families and show them a way to be self-reliant. So he wrote agricultural bulletins, spoke to church and civic groups, and even addressed the US House Ways and Means Committee in 1921, which allowed him more than an hour to speak on how the peanut could improve the Southern economy. Carver had successfully turned the plant into oil, soap, medicine, and insecticide, and he used the peanut legume to make coffee, oil, cookies, candy, and cake. Carver’s peanut cake, adapted here from Carolyn Quick Tillery’s cookbook The African-American Heritage Cookbook, was originally made with lard. The spices and molasses are reminiscent of gingerbread, but the flavor is decidedly of peanut. This is the perfect cake to take to a large gathering, picnic, or potluck supper.

Butter, lard, or shortening and flour for prepping the pan

1¾ cups (12 ounces) unsalted roasted peanuts with no skins

1 cup (8 ounces) lard or unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

2 cups molasses or sorghum

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1¼ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 cups hot water

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour an 18" × 12" broiler (dripping) pan, and set the pan aside.

2.Grind the peanuts in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until they resemble coarse meal, about 1 minute. Set the peanuts aside.

3.Place the lard and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the molasses and beat until combined, about 30 seconds more. Set the mixture aside.

4.Place the ground peanuts, flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves, and nutmeg in a large bowl, and stir to combine well. Add these dry ingredients alternately with the water to the lard mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat just until combined, scraping the bowl often. At the last, beat in the egg until smooth. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, and place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes.

5.After 10 minutes, open the oven door and quickly and carefully sift the confectioners’ sugar over the top of the cake. Close the oven door. Continue to bake until the top springs back and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes more. Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool until ready to serve.

TIP: Take care when using a dripping pan (broiler pan), because if it is dark, the cake will bake more quickly—in about 25 minutes—than if you are using a shiny metal pan—about 30 minutes.

FRANCES VIRGINIA HOT MILK SPONGE CAKE WITH LEMON FILLING

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 60 TO 65 MINUTES

BAKE: 18 TO 22 MINUTES

In a bygone time, when ladies lunched on tomato aspic and sponge cake, the Frances Virginia Tea Room was the place to dine in downtown Atlanta. Frances Virginia Wikle Whitaker opened the tearoom in 1928, and in spite of the poor economic times that followed, her restaurant flourished. A larger space was found on the third floor of the Collier Building at the corner of Ellis and Peachtree Streets, word traveled of the good food, and the tearoom with the female silhouette sign became an Atlanta landmark for many years. It closed in 1962, and the Collier Building is now a MARTA rapid rail station. But recipes and memories remain long after restaurants close. Here is one of the favorite cakes served at the Frances Virginia and similar to sponge cakes covered in boiled icing so popular throughout the 1930s and ’40s. This recipe is adapted from The Frances Virginia Tea Room Cookbook by Millie (Mildred Huff) Coleman, niece of the last tearoom partner and who inherited the tearoom recipes.

LEMON FILLING

1 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

⅛ teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

1½ cups water

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon butter

CAKE

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided use

1 cup whole milk

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

Boiled White Icing

1.For the lemon filling, place the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium-size saucepan, and stir to combine. Beat the egg yolks with the water and lemon juice and whisk into the dry ingredients. Stir and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and whisk and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the zest and butter. Pour the filling into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator until it is thick and spreadable, about 3 hours.

2.For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour three 9" cake pans, and shake out the excess flour. Set the pans aside.

3.Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds to combine. Gradually add the sugar while beating until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes more. Set the mixture aside.

4.Sift the 2 cups of flour twice, and then add to the egg mixture a little at a time, beating on low speed until just combined, 30 to 45 seconds.

5.Place the milk and butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the butter melts and the mixture comes just to a boil, about 4 minutes. Slowly pour the butter and milk into the batter while beating on medium speed until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. The batter will be thin. Sift the remaining 1 tablespoon flour with the baking powder and salt, and beat on low speed into the batter with the vanilla and almond extract until just combined, 1 minute. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and place the pans in the oven. If your oven is not large enough to place 3 pans on one rack, place 2 on the center rack, and place 1 pan on the rack above, watching to make sure the cake does not overbake.

6.Bake the cake until it is lightly golden brown, 18 to 22 minutes. Remove the layers from the oven, and place them on wire racks to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pans, give the pans a gentle shake, and invert the cakes once and then again so they rest right side up on the racks to completely cool, 30 minutes.

7.To assemble the cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate or platter and spread half of the filling to within ½" of the edges. Top with a second layer, and spread with the other half of the filling. Place the third layer on top. Place these layers and filling back into the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

8.While the cake is chilling, make the icing.

9.To finish the assembly, remove the cake from the refrigerator, and frost the top and sides of the cake. Slice and serve.

SPONGE CAKES

The delicate, light sponge cake soaks up custard sauces and creamy fillings as well as soft summer berries sweetened with sugar. It is lighter than a pound cake, simpler than a fruitcake, and, before baking powder, it was the standard against which all cakes were judged. Unlike the angel food cake, which would appear in American cookbooks and newspapers toward the end of the 1800s, the sponge cake came earlier and called for the whole egg.

Anne Willan, an authority on French and British baking, says those eggs make sponge cakes rise without the traditional creaming of sugar and butter found in pound cake recipes. “A sponge may have some butter added, but not much or it will not rise,” Willan says. Cooks later would find that heaviness—the addition of butter or whole milk to the batter—could be counteracted with baking powder.

French-style sponge cakes are of two types, Willan explains. There is the biscuit sponge, common in early America, containing whole eggs and no butter. It has a dry texture and is a little tricky to make. The egg yolks and sugar are whisked together first, and then the beaten egg whites are folded in alternately with flour.

The second French sponge cake is the classic “genoise.” Eggs are not separated. The whole eggs and sugar are whisked together, then flour is folded in along with melted butter.

Sponges would become a mainstay of early American cookbooks, and they would be adapted. Some contained a little vinegar. Others included ice water or hot milk. These cakes often contained baking powder, producing a lighter cake, and Willan says these are truly American.

TEAROOMS AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS

Believe it or not, America’s tearooms in the first half of the 20th century served up more than creamed chicken and frozen fruit salad. They helped usher in social change at fashionable places where women could dine without the company of men and run a tearoom as a business.

The decor was as you might expect at home, either cozy with quilts or high-end with chandeliers, Oriental carpets, fresh flowers, and starched white tablecloths, according to Jan Whitaker, consumer historian who wrote Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. Their names were often throwbacks to Colonial taverns—the Green Dragon in Philadelphia, the Betsy Ross in Washington, DC, and the Whistling Oyster in Ogunquit, Maine. Or they might be named after the proprietor, such as the Frances Virginia in Atlanta and the Mary Louise in Los Angeles.

Here in these tearooms, whether located on a busy downtown street or tucked in the corner of a crowded department store or grand hotel, you found conversation, fashion, and feminine fare—salads, stuffed tomatoes, and cake. But these were not just places to sip tea, according to Whitaker, and not everyone wore white gloves. They were where a working woman bought lunch; where a woman brought her family for Sunday dinner. The tearoom preserved a woman’s reputation by being a respectable place to dine.

“In the 19th century and before, men dominated public space and women had to be very careful about where they went and who they were with,” Whitaker says. “Restaurants were highly associated with drinking, and that was something middle-class white Protestant women, in particular, were supposed to avoid. It was all about reputation, not law.”

Because of its delicate texture, degree of difficulty to prepare, and its dramatic presentation, cake went together well with tearooms, says Whitaker. Unlike pie, which was a “crude basic food that was eaten in quantity at all times,” cake was associated with a higher level of cuisine. “It was more special, and it was possible to charge more for it.”

Sponge cake with lemon filling and a boiled icing was what the ladies ordered at the old Frances Virginia tearoom in Atlanta. Across the country, the angel food and Lady Baltimore were popular cakes, followed by regional favorites like rhubarb.

LA FONDA PUDDING CAKE

MAKES: 8 TO 12 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 65 TO 70 MINUTES

When the Fred Harvey Company opened hotels and restaurants along the Santa Fe Railroad in the early 1900s, they offered travelers a fine place to eat and sleep along the way. One of these choice outposts was the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a beautiful 1922-era Mission-style inn, and in 1926 it became one of the prestigious Harvey Houses. Fred Harvey was a British restaurateur who moved to America and saw the railroad boom as a way to improve the food of the American Southwest—and make a fortune, too. His smiling waitresses, the Harvey girls, welcomed tourists. And his hotels and restaurants served great food. But when the automobile replaced the railroad, business started its decline. This recipe was a signature of the La Fonda, which today sits on the historic Santa Fe square where a Spanish inn was operating as early as 1607, making it the oldest hotel corner in America. It is a simple walnut cake, a hybrid of pudding and cake, baked slowly at a low heat until moist and gooey. Based on graham cracker crumbs that lend a warm brown color and distinctive flavor, this recipe is adapted from one shared by author James Porterfield in his book Dining by Rail.

Butter and flour for prepping the pan

10 to 11 square graham crackers

3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1 cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted and divided

1 teaspoon baking powder

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 275°F. Lightly butter and flour an 8" square baking pan. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.

2.Place the graham cracker squares in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin, or place in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until finely crushed. Set aside 1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs.

3.Place the egg yolks in a medium-size bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until thick and lemon colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar until thickened. Blend in the vanilla and set aside.

4.In a small bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, salt, walnuts, and baking powder. Fold this mixture into the egg yolk mixture and set aside. With clean beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the batter until just combined. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Tent the pan with aluminum foil, and place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake the cake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake until golden brown and cooked through, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Graham Cracker Cakes

One of the crust components in Key lime pie and cheesecake, the graham cracker is an old American ingredient, dating back to the mid-1800s when Presbyterian minister and health fanatic Sylvester Graham created crackers from whole grain wheat. The graham crackers we bake with today are a lot sweeter and more processed than the crackers that made Graham famous. When World War I demanded people get resourceful and come up with substitutes for wheat flour, cooks found you could crush graham crackers and use them in baking like flour. A graham cracker cake won the Chicago Daily Tribune’s 1918 “wartime recipe contest.” It was a practical cake that hung around for decades, and this La Fonda Pudding is a variation on that early cake.

NEW YORK CHEESECAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 1 HOUR 32 TO 37 MINUTES

When you look at the history of the New York cheesecake, you realize that this dessert was destined to be a classic. Cream cheese was being produced by the Breakstone (Breghstein) brothers in New York, and also by James Kraft and his brothers and sold under the Philadelphia brand. Years earlier it had been developed by an upstate New York dairy farmer who had been trying to make the creamy French Neufchâtel cheese. By 1900 half of America’s Jewish population lived in New York. “Jews have always baked cheesecake,” says Joan Nathan, author and Jewish foodways expert. “It came from early Greece and Rome, and they made it with ricotta or other soft cheeses.” Nathan says American cream cheese manufacturers recognized that Jewish people liked it. Their spreading a “schmear” of cream cheese on a bagel was a near religious experience. And many Jewish people baked cheesecake for the religious holiday called Shavuot, which honored the revelation of the Torah and the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. So the cream cheese makers advertised, held cooking contests, and Kraft unveiled a Philadelphia Cream Cake. Cooking teachers from Brooklyn to Amarillo, Texas, instructed women how to bake this new cheesecake. The following recipe is adapted from the Lindy’s recipe, except that the crust is a tender, shortbread cookie crust adapted from a Maida Heatter recipe. New York-style cheesecake has a creamy texture, both firm and light, and it may have lemon flavor as well. The appearance is a deep nut brown, which comes from baking it briefly in a very hot oven before reducing the oven temperature to finish cooking.

CRUST

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

FILLING

2½ pounds (five 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature

1¾ cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

1½ teaspoons grated orange zest

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

¼ cup heavy cream

¼ teaspoon salt

1.For the crust, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375°F. Set aside a 9" ungreased springform pan.

2.Place the sugar and vanilla in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until combined, about 6 times. Add the flour and pulse 10 times. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly, about 15 times. Turn the dough into the springform pan, and press the dough to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Line the outside of the pan with aluminum foil. Place the pan in the oven, and bake until the crust has lightly browned, 22 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and let it cool to room temperature.

3.Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Increase the oven temperature to 500°F. Place the cream cheese, sugar, flour, lemon and orange zests, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined and well blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating on medium until well combined. Add the cream and salt and beat until smooth, 1 minute more. Pour the filling into the prepared crust, and place the pan in the oven.

4.Bake until the top of the cheesecake begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F and bake until the filling sets, about 1 hour more. Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool completely on a wire rack. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.

5.To serve, remove the collar of the springform pan, slice, and serve.

Delis may be known for their cheesecake, but ask New Yorkers who bakes the best cheesecake, and they will likely say, “My grandmother!”

Lindy's, Reuben’s, and the Cheesecake Story

In the late 1920s, when theater patrons left the showing of Guys and Dolls, they went to restaurants like Reuben’s or Lindy’s for a slice of cheesecake. Arnold Reuben of Reuben’s was at a dinner party when he was served “cheese pie,” made with cottage cheese. He begged the hostess for the recipe and tweaked it to contain cream cheese. His cheesecake with a cookie crust would win first prize at the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona. Reuben’s cheesecake was the talk of New York, and the world. Then Leo Linderman, the owner of Lindy’s Restaurant, hired away the Reuben’s baker. Both men competed for the best-loved cheesecake, and Lindy’s became more famous. Stories have circulated on how the Lindy’s cheesecake recipe was revealed. Some believe it was the New York Herald Tribune food writer Clementine Paddleford who asked Linderman for the recipe, and he called his pastry chef Paul Landry to Paddleford’s table and instructed him to hand it over. Paddleford shared the recipe in her 1960 book, How America Eats. Others think it was New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne who got the real recipe from chef Guy Pascal in 1969 after Pascal had hired a Lindy’s pastry chef to work at his Las Vegas restaurant and carefully watched him make cheesecake. Either way, Lindy’s recipe has been in circulation for a while. And although the original contained a cookie crust, modern versions have gone the way of graham cracker, as baked by icon Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn.

BROWN DERBY GRAPEFRUIT CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 50 TO 55 MINUTES

BAKE: 28 TO 32 MINUTES

The Brown Derby restaurant was as much a film as it was a restaurant, a place where the Hollywood elite mingled with their colleagues, and where starstruck tourists in the 1920s came to catch a glimpse of someone famous. The most famous cake on the menu was the grapefruit chiffon, first baked by Harry Baker, the legendary creator of the chiffon who would later sell his formula to General Mills. This cake came about because one of the regulars—gossip columnist Louella Parsons—was overweight and on a diet. She insisted that owner Robert (Bob) Cobb come up with a less fattening cake, so Cobb asked Baker to design a grapefruit cake—“put grapefruit on something” is how the story goes. And that grapefruit cake, as well as the Cobb salad, are the 2 recipes that have preserved the Brown Derby legacy long after the restaurant closed. This chiffon cake recipe is adapted from the Los Angeles Times Cookbook, written in 1981. It is a beautiful cake, baked in a springform pan, split and layered with fresh grapefruit sections and a cream cheese frosting flavored with grated grapefruit zest.

CAKE

2 large fresh pink grapefruit

1½ cups sifted cake flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs, separated

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

GRAPEFRUIT FROSTING

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

GARNISH

Reserved grapefruit slices

Grated grapefruit zest

1.For the cake, first wash and pat the grapefruit dry. Zest the grapefruit to yield 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest, and set this aside for the frosting. With a sharp knife, cut the skin and pith off the grapefruit. Hold the fruit over a bowl to catch the grapefruit juice. You will use this juice in the cake, and you need a scant ½ cup juice. If you don’t collect enough juice, make up the difference in water. Set the juice aside for the cake. Meanwhile, carefully cut the peeled grapefruit into sections, removing the membrane and keeping the slices whole. Set the slices aside in a sieve to drain, and then pat them dry with paper towels. You will use these between layers and on top of the finished cake.

2.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Set aside an ungreased 9" springform pan.

3.Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, and lemon zest. Add the reserved scant ½ cup grapefruit juice. Blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. In a large bowl, place the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat with clean beaters on high speed until the whites come to stiff peaks, but are not dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold the egg whites into the batter until just blended. Turn the batter into the springform pan, and place the pan in the oven. Bake until the cake is golden brown and the top springs back when lightly pressed in the center, 28 to 32 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and let it cool completely in the pan, about 1 hour.

4.Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Add the confectioners’ sugar, the reserved grapefruit zest, and vanilla, and blend until smooth, 30 to 45 seconds more. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. Set aside.

5.When the cake has cooled, run a knife around the edges, and remove the collar of the springform pan. Carefully slice the cake away from the bottom of the pan, and place the cake on a wire rack. With a serrated knife, carefully slice the cake crosswise to make 2 layers. Place the bottom layer on a cake plate, and spread it with about ½ cup of frosting, spreading to the edges. Place about 12 or 13 sections of grapefruit on top of the frosting, placing the sections on in 2 concentric circles. Press down on the sections so they stick to the frosting. Flip the top cake layer over to expose the cut side, and spread this with about ⅓ cup of frosting. Flip this layer frosting side down onto the grapefruit. With the remaining frosting, frost the top and sides of the cake using clean strokes. Arrange the remaining 7 to 8 slices of grapefruit in a spiral, or arrange as you wish, on top of the cake. If desired, sprinkle grapefruit zest on top. Slice and serve.

COLD OVEN POUND CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 TO 25 MINUTES

BAKE: 1 HOUR 15 MINUTES

Gas ovens grew popular at the turn of the 20th century, and you didn’t light the oven until you were ready to use it. It was a way to save money. Recipes like this would have made a fine selling point for those early porcelain-clad ovens, says Atlanta cooking teacher and culinary historian Gloria Smiley. Her favorite pound cake is this Cold Oven Pound Cake, a fine-textured cake with a crunchy crust. People baked cold oven pound cakes because they thought no cake should go into a hot oven. It would ruin the texture and rise more unevenly. These pound cakes remained popular up until the 1940s, says Smiley. Not only does this cake rise evenly, “but you get a nice crunchy crust on top of the cake. And the texture is incredible.” Smiley, who was raised in Savannah, Georgia, where one of her grandfathers was a baker, says to gradually increase the temperature as the cake bakes. This process adds to the appeal of the pound cake with an interesting past—“in this day and age it is novel to not preheat the oven.”

Vegetable shortening and flour for prepping the pan

3 cups all-purpose flour (see Cake Note)

½ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

1 cup nonfat milk

1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

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

½ cup vegetable shortening

2 cups granulated sugar

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven. Do not preheat the oven. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10" tube pan lightly with vegetable shortening. Dust with flour, shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.

2.Place the flour in a medium-size bowl and stir in the salt. Set aside.

3.Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a medium-size mixing bowl and the whites in a large mixing bowl. Set the whites aside. Whisk the milk and vanilla into the yolks until they are well blended, and set the mixture aside.

4.Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Set them aside. Place the butter, shortening, and sugar in another large mixing bowl, and with the same beaters, beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is well creamed and lightened in color, beating for 2 minutes and scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in a third of the flour mixture until combined. Add half of the milk mixture until combined. Add another third of the flour, then the second half of the milk, then the last of the flour. The batter will be thick. Remove the beaters, and pour the beaten egg whites on top of the cake batter. Fold the whites into the batter with a rubber spatula, using an over-and-under folding method, just incorporating the whites.

5.Turn the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Place the pan on the center rack of the cold oven. Shut the door. Now heat the oven to 300°F.

6.Bake the cake for 45 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 325°F. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. It will fall about an inch as it cools.

7.Run a knife around the edges, and invert the cake once and then again so it rests right side up on the rack. Let the cake cool for 1 hour before slicing. The crust will be delicate and crispy. This cake stores well up to a week at room temperature and can be frozen for up to 6 months.

CAKE NOTE: Gloria Smiley uses Gold Medal all-purpose flour, so use your favorite all-purpose flour.

THE MAYONNAISE CAKE

Back when mayonnaise was homemade and not store-bought, and when vegetable oil was known as “mayonnaise oil,” clever cooks figured out how to make a cost-cutting cake called Mayonnaise Cake.

In 1927 newspaper columnist Martha Lee comments on the new modern table—its lace doilies are easier and less expensive to care for than heavy table linens of old. And Lee shares a new recipe she calls a Mayonnaise Cake. After you combine dates, nuts, sugar, flour, spices, and a little grated chocolate, you whip together an egg and ½ cup oil and pour this over the date and nut mixture, then bake.

Ten years later, store-bought mayonnaise is added to that cake batter. A reader shares a Mayonnaise Cake recipe in a Greeley, Colorado, newspaper contest, and it calls for ¾ cup mayonnaise. When the World War II rationing years began, cooks who had grown up during the Depression years knew instinctively how to make do and cut back, that cake would surface again.

LEAH CHASE’S BUTTER CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 20 MINUTES

BAKE: 58 TO 62 MINUTES

When Leah Chase was a girl growing up in Madisonville, Louisiana, Christmas was a time of celebration and plenty, even if there was little money to spend. Her mother sewed stuffed animals out of scrap fabrics, stewed a chicken for dinner following midnight Mass, and baked cakes to share with neighbors who would visit before church. Leah is the famous chef-owner of Dooky Chase in New Orleans. The way she cooks and bakes is deeply rooted in the 1920s and ’30s—years spent in the country. This pound cake recipe is what her family baked for Christmas visitors. It isn’t fancy, but there is elegance in its simplicity.

Vegetable shortening or butter and flour for prepping the pan

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled but soft to the touch

1 pound confectioners’ sugar

6 large eggs, at room temperature (see Cake Note)

2⅔ cups cake flour, sifted once after measuring

½ teaspoon salt, if desired

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10" tube pan with vegetable shortening or soft butter, and dust with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pan aside.

2.Cut the sticks of butter into 6 to 8 tablespoons each, and place all the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium-high until the butter is in one mass, 1 minute. Stop the mixer and add the confectioners’ sugar. Drape a kitchen towel over the top of the mixer so you don’t get showered with sugar. Start on low speed and blend the sugar to incorporate. Then increase the speed to medium and let the mixture beat until creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.

3.Crack 1 egg and add to the butter mixture, beating on medium-low until blended. Add another egg, beating again. Stop the machine after every 2 eggs are added, and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining eggs.

4.With the machine off, add the flour to the mixture. Add salt, if desired. Mix on low speed to incorporate the flour, 30 seconds. Add the vanilla, and blend on low speed for 15 seconds more.

5.Scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Place the pan in the oven.

6.Bake until the cake is well browned and the center springs back to the touch, 58 to 62 minutes. A toothpick inserted should come out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges, shake the pan gently to loosen the cake, and turn it out once and then again onto a wire rack to cool right side up. Let cool for 30 minutes to 1 hour before slicing.

CAKE NOTE: If the eggs are straight from the refrigerator, place them in a large bowl of warm water to come to room temperature.

The cake’s ingredients are what you have on hand. The confectioners’ sugar yields a soft and fine crumb, and when done, the crust is crisp and nut brown. And the aroma? Let’s just say that as a guest, you would have a difficult time leaving the intoxicating, welcome scent of the home where this cake was baked.

MISS SADIE’S SPICE MERINGUE CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 25 TO 30 MINUTES

BAKE: 55 TO 60 MINUTES

In the resourceful 1930s, turning egg whites into a meringue was a thrifty stroke of genius. Meringues covered ice cream (Baked Alaska) and every flavor of pie and were turned into cookies, as well as being a handy topping for cake. This simple Spice Meringue Cake, as these cakes were called in the ’30s, was what was served to family at home. The meringue went right on top of the batter before the cake went into the oven, and the cake emerged with a beautiful and crunchy topping. Historian Jan Longone says in the 1930s, cooks figured out a way to reserve a few whites for the meringue, thus no need for expensive frosting. Adding the brown sugar to the meringue made the cake a little different and was the creation of Sadie Le Sueur (Miss Sadie), in charge of ladies’ luncheons at the Centennial Club in Nashville beginning in 1938. I have adapted her recipe slightly to make it fit a modern 13" × 9" pan.

Margarine and flour for prepping the pan

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted margarine, at room temperature (see Cake Note)

4 cups light brown sugar, loosely packed, divided use

4 large eggs, at room temperature (reserving 2 egg whites)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease and flour a 13" × 9" metal pan. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pan aside.

2.Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt into a medium-size bowl. Set aside.

3.Place the margarine in a large mixing bowl, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft, about 30 seconds. Add 2 cups of the brown sugar; beat to combine until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks, at one time, beating for 15 seconds on medium speed or until combined. Add the vanilla. Alternately add the reserved dry ingredients and the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Spread the batter evenly into the pan, and set aside.

4.Place 4 egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Add the cream of tartar, and beat with clean beaters on high speed, slowly adding 2 cups of the brown sugar, until stiff and glossy, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread the meringue evenly over the batter with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with the pecans. Place the pan in the oven.

5.Bake until the meringue is golden brown (be careful not to let the pecans burn) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm.

CAKE NOTE: Margarine was often used instead of butter in the 1930s. You may substitute butter in this recipe.

BROOKLYN BLACKOUT CAKE

MAKES: 12 TO 16 SERVINGS

PREP: 1½ TO 2 HOURS

BAKE: 30 TO 35 MINUTES

The Brooklyn Blackout Cake is more than a cake. It is a legendary bakery cake that lives on in memory. And it is a chocolate cake named for the mandatory blackouts in Brooklyn during World War II that protected the battleship and aircraft carrier assembly, and the 71,000 workers, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Near the Yard was a bakery named Ebinger’s, where a 3-layer dark chocolate cake filled with chocolate custardy pudding, frosted with chocolate icing, and packed with chocolate cake crumbs was baked. It was a visual blackout, and Ebinger’s named its cake the Blackout Cake, a name that stuck for a chocolate cake made in the war years when chocolate was hard to find and sugar rationed. Ebinger’s closed in 1972. But the cake lives on in memory and is baked in new variations today at bakeries like Brooklyn’s Ovenly, where it contains Black Chocolate Stout, and at other bakeries selling smaller bites of history—blackout cupcakes. But there were other blackout cakes in America—in Iowa and the Midwest—as “blackout” seemed to describe any chocolate cake, whether the layers were dark or light. Chocolate cakes continued to be called “blackout” after World War II, referring to power outages and other modern uses of the term. But no cake has been as long-lasting and beloved as Ebinger’s, sold in the signature pale green boxes with brown crosshatch pattern, and now re-created in recipe form for baking at home. The following recipe is adapted from 2 cookbooks—the Brooklyn Cookbook and Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook.

FILLING

⅔ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ cups whole milk

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

CAKE

Butter and flour for prepping the pans

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup whole milk

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

¼ cup vegetable shortening

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2¼ cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

FROSTING

12 ounces (about 2 cups) semisweet chocolate

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

½ cup hot tap water

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1.For the filling, place the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small heavy saucepan, and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in the milk. Fold in the chocolate, and place the pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles up and thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the vanilla. Let the filling cool to room temperature, then place in a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until ready to assemble the cake.

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

3.Place the cocoa in a medium-size bowl. Pour some of the milk—about ½ cup—into the cocoa, and stir to make a paste. Whisk in the remaining milk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, shortening, and sugar, and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamed, 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and blend on medium-high until smooth and fluffy, 1 minute more.

4.Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Add these dry ingredients to the batter alternately with the cocoa, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and stir the batter until smooth. Divide the batter between the 2 pans, and place the pans in the oven.

5.Bake until the cake just pulls away from the sides of the pans, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, give the pans a gentle shake, and invert them once and then again to cool completely right side up, about 45 minutes.

6.Meanwhile, make the frosting. Place the chocolate in the top pan insert of a double boiler. Place this pan over an inch of boiling water in the bottom of the double boiler over medium heat. Whisk until the chocolate melts. Remove the pan insert, and whisk in the butter, a little at a time. Place back over the simmering water if needed to melt the butter. Whisk in the hot water, corn syrup, and vanilla. Place the pan insert in a large mixing bowl filled with ice. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the frosting is thickened and spreadable, 5 to 8 minutes. Set the frosting aside.

7.To assemble the cake, slice the cake layers in half crosswise using a long serrated knife. You will have 4 layers. Crumble 1 layer with your fingers into crumbs that will cover the cake. Place these in a small bowl and set aside. Remove the filling from the refrigerator. Place 1 cake layer on a cake platter and spread half of the filling over the top of it, spreading to ½" from the edge. Place a second layer on top, and repeat with the remaining filling. Place on the top layer. If needed, insert 5 or 6 long toothpicks down into the cake from the top to stabilize it. Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes.

8.Remove the cake from the refrigerator, and frost the top and sides of the cake with smooth strokes. Press the cake crumbs onto the sides of the cake first, then pile the remaining crumbs on top of the cake. Slice and serve.

ICEBOX CAKE

The words “icebox cake” conjure a bygone era of 1950s bridge club luncheons where a novel do-ahead dessert was assembled ahead of time, refrigerated, and ready when you were. It wasn’t a cake in the sense that it was baked, but it was very much cakelike in appearance.

But the cake dates back to the 1920s and earlier, named after the “icebox,” an insulated compartment filled with ice and the forerunner to our modern home refrigerators. Even as iceboxes phased out and refrigerators phased in, the term “icebox” was still used to describe a refrigerator, and “icebox cakes” stayed in vogue, too. They were a symbol of 1930s preparedness, the idea that you are ready for anything, even if it means unannounced relatives staying over for dinner and dessert.

Icebox cakes are made by layering sponge cake, ladyfingers, or thin chocolate wafers with whipped cream, custard, or pudding in a pan or bowl until it is full. Cover and chill until firm.

The first American icebox cakes were mentioned in newspaper articles before they were shared in cookbooks. A 1919 Houston Post chocolate mousse icebox cake recipe took 12 hours to “harden” before it was stiff enough to slice. By the 1920s, they were the go-to cake and featured in McCall’s magazine in 1926.

MRS. HARVEY’S WHITE FRUITCAKE

MAKES: 5 POUNDS OF FRUITCAKE

PREP: 45 TO 50 MINUTES

BAKE: 1¾ TO 2 HOURS FOR LOAVES; 2 HOURS 20 MINUTES FOR TUBE PAN

When World War II called American men to fight, the women at home stayed in touch by writing letters and shipping food. Lucile Plowden Harvey of Tampa baked fruitcake, and it is said she shipped her famous fruitcakes to servicemen in 13 foreign countries. Even after the war, she baked fruitcake, winning a Tampa Tribune recipe contest for the recipe known as the “fruitcake people like to eat” in 1956. And each year, right after Thanksgiving, the newspaper repeats that recipe. According to her daughter-in-law Betty Harvey of Bradenton, people bake fruitcake at Thanksgiving to get ready for the upcoming holidays. Even people who think they don’t like fruitcake like Mrs. Harvey’s fruitcake recipe, she said. “People love that cake so much.” While the cake doesn’t contain a smidgen of alcohol, Mrs. Harvey brushed her baked cakes with bourbon, using a special brush. And she wrapped her loaves in aluminum foil, not too tightly, and placed them in a chest of drawers to wait until Christmas. When Mrs. Harvey died, she left Betty all her dried fruit and nuts for baking fruitcake. Now Betty bakes 4 cakes each year, 1 to send to her sister in Atlanta, 1 for her daughter, and 2 to serve at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Butter or shortening and parchment paper for prepping the pans

4 cups pecan halves

1 pound candied cherries (see Cake Notes)

1 pound candied pineapple

1¾ cups all-purpose flour, divided use

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

1 cup granulated sugar

5 large eggs

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon pure lemon extract

Bourbon for brushing the baked loaves

1.Place a rack in the center of the oven. Select either a 10" tube pan or two 9" loaf pans for baking. Grease the bottom of the pans, and line the bottom with parchment paper or waxed paper. Grease again, and set aside.

2.Chop the pecans, cherries, and pineapple into medium-size pieces. Toss with ¼ cup of the flour in a large bowl. Set aside.

3.Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Sift together the remaining 1½ cups flour and the baking powder, and stir these dry ingredients into the batter along with the extracts. Fold in the reserved fruit and nut mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Place the pans in a cold oven.

4.Set the oven temperature to 250°F. Bake for about 2 hours 20 minutes for the tube pan and 1¾ to 2 hours for the loaf pans. To test for doneness, stick a long toothpick in the center of the cake. It should come out clean.

5.Let the fruitcake cool in the pan, about 30 minutes for the loaves and about 1 hour for the tube pan. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, give the pan a gentle shake, and turn the cake out onto a wire rack. Brush the top of the cake liberally with bourbon. Wrap the cake in clean cheesecloth and then aluminum foil for storage. These cakes keep for several weeks at room temperature. Brush with more bourbon every week during storage.

CAKE NOTE: Candied cherries and pineapple are found more easily in late November and early December. You can substitute dried, sugared pineapple for the candied pineapple. And while Mrs. Harvey seasoned her fruitcake with vanilla and lemon extracts, you can use up to ¼ cup bourbon or rum instead.

BAKING WITH ALCOHOL

Up until the 1900s, America was awash in alcohol. Spirits were inexpensive, and immigrants turned corn and rye into the first American whiskeys. By 1830, according to Time magazine, the average American was drinking the equivalent of 1.7 bottles of hard liquor a week.

Alcohol was used as a preservative in cooking, especially in mincemeat, and it was also used as a flavoring in pound cakes, Queen Cakes, Washington Cakes, fruitcakes, plum cakes, and great cakes of all types. But in 1826, the temperance movements began, and one advocate was Catherine Beecher, author of A Treatise on Domestic Economy in 1841 and Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book in 1846. She wove temperance talk into her prose focused on homemaking. Maine banned the sale of alcohol in 1851, and in 1869 the Prohibition Party was founded.

Beecher broke temperance cooks into three camps—those who consider alcohol a sin, those who do not advocate alcohol, and those who shun alcohol for drinking but find nothing wrong with cooking with it or using it medicinally, like herself. She used alcohol in her recipes.

Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, was America’s long-fought answer to public drunkenness, and cooks who needed to find alcohol for a cake recipe often received a prescription for it from their pharmacist, or they had an underground source. Some recipes themselves went underground during Prohibition because without alcohol as an ingredient, they were not used and forgotten.