The New England Cookbook had a recipe which popped right out, Cambridge Favorite Cake. What struck me were the instructions for preparing the cake. It was like a mash up between a butter cake and a classic sponge. Not only did you cream the butter with sugar, but in addition to beating the egg whites, you whipped the yolks with sugar and use five teaspoons of baking powder. This recipe uses a lot of bowls, but it is worth it. Did I mention that it makes three 9-inch round cake layers! It is some cake.
Intrigued with the unique preparation of the cake, I looked through my collection of old cook books to see if I could find any other cake recipes which used a similar preparation model. I wanted to date the cake by trying to find the earliest recipe. I found a similar recipe in a facsimile edition of the 1896 Fannie Farmer cook book. In that book the cake recipe is called Boston Favorite Cake. The instructions aren't as detailed as they are in the New England Cookbook, but the ingredient list is almost same, including the FIVE teaspoons of baking powder. That amount of baking powder amazes me. I wonder if there is an earlier account of this fine recipe? I'll have to do some more sleuthing.
I knew I wanted to make this cake and I mentioned it on Facebook. A friend, Erica, asked me if it was a precursor to Boston Cream pie. I told her I didn't know, but did tell her I was concerned about the amount of baking powder in the recipe. I am not sure when double-action baking powder was invented, but was sure it wasn't as early as 1896, which is the earliest published date of the recipe I could find. I thought that maybe I should halve the amount of baking powder. This is when Stephen Exel entered the thread and wrote that he had a copy of the recipe from a 1947 Culinary Institute of Chicago cookbook. Since double-action baking powder was established by this time, he thought that the five teaspoons was correct. He went on to say that:
>>the cake is meant to be 3 layers and is described as "tall, light, and elegant"<<
Stephen also told me that this recipe appears in the latest edition of Fannie Farmer (100th Anniversary, 1996), but the recipe was modified to make two 8-inch round layers. He also said that he wanted to make the cake as well, being equally intrigued by it.
So with all this information and curiosity I decided to bake the cake on a Saturday morning and , Stephen was also baking his cake the same day. I had just started the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Ariadne auf Naxos [because you need the right music for baking, or at least I do*] when I checked my email. There was one from Stephen, he gave me a warning - Check the expiration date of the baking powder! He checked his and it was way out of date. I double checked my baking powder and it was fine. I had thought I had just bought it and I was right, but memory sometimes fails. I also decided to read the instructions on the baking powder label. Did you know that you are supposed to shake the baking powder before using it? I didn't. This made me think of a helpful hint, why not write the expiration date on the lid of the baking powder as well as a reminder to "SHAKE FIRST".
Okay here is the recipe Stephen emailed me, which is the same one I used:
Cambridge Favorite Cake
From the Culinary Institute of Chicago, 1947
3 1/4 c flour
5 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2/3 c butter
1 3/4 c sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 c milk
1 t vanilla extract
1 Line 3 9" cake pans with parchment or waxed paper and preheat oven to 350°F.
2 Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3 Cream butter and 1 cup of the sugar together until light and fluffy.
4 Beat egg whites to stiff peaks.
5 Beat egg yolks with remaining sugar and add to butter mixture.
6 Add dry ingredients to batter alternately with the milk; beat thoroughly.
7 Add the vanilla and fold in the egg whites.
8 Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until cakes test done.
- I used cake/pastry flour and I sifted it before measuring it and then blended the baking powder and salt into it.
- I beat my egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon of cream or tartar. I also used a metal bowl which I wiped with vinegar beforehand. I also did this before creaming the butter and beating the egg yolks. If there is any oil on the beaters or in the bowl, the egg whites won't whip up.
- I beat the yolks until they were a pale yellow and very thick. I mixed this into the creamed butter/sugar on a low speed for 30 seconds or so.
- The butter should be very soft. I used the microwave to soften it. I put it in a bowl and zapped it at 10 second intervals until it was very soft, but not melted.
- I added the vanilla extract to the milk. I increased the amount of vanilla to two teaspoons.
- When adding the flour alternately with milk, I started and ended with flour. I added 1/3 of flour, 1/2 milk; 1/3 flour, 1/2 milk; and ended with the last third of flour. I read about this technique somewhere and I think it is so that you don't over beat the flour and toughen the gluten. While, adding the flour and milk, I beat on medium speed until the flour and milk was incorporated. It took maybe 30 seconds. After all the flour was in, I beat it at high speed for a minute and scraped the sides of the bowl. Make sure not to over beat!
- Be delicate when folding the egg whites into the batter and fold them in just until you can't see any more egg white.
- I divided the batter between the pans using a spoon. I put a dollop of batter in each pan, repeating until the batter was evenly distributed among the pans. Make sure you spread the batter to the sides of the pan before baking. There should be a noticeable dent in the center of the batter. This will reduce the risk of a round cake top.
- A note on oven temperature: My copy of the recipe indicated baking the cake layers in a 375º oven. Since I used dark non-stick metal pans, I reduced the temperature to 350º. But even this was too hot. When I checked my cakes at the 25 minute mark, they were done, and almost starting to burn. I should have checked it at the 18 minute mark. Next time I make this cake, I'll reduce the oven to 325º, if I use the dark metal pans again.
So what do you do with three layers of delicious cake? You fill and frost!
My filling and frosting idea came from John. He suggested banana cream filling with a chocolate frosting. Stephen filled his with a lemon curd and blueberry jam and covered it with a coconut butter-cream frosting.
Here are the recipes:
1 c sugar
2 T cornstarch
3 t finely shredded lemon peel
6 T lemon juice
6 T water
6 egg yolks, beaten
1/2 c butter cut up
- In a saucepan stir together sugar and cornstarch. Stir in lemon peel, lemon juice, and water. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.
- Stir half of the lemon mixture into the egg yolks. Return egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly over medium heat until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Add butter; stir until melted. Remove from heat. Cover surface with plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour.
The coconut butter-cream frosting recipe will be in the April 2010 issue of Traditional Home.
The banana cream filling and chocolate frosting both come from the Fannie Farmer cookbook, 11th edition.
Banana Cream filling
1 c milk
1/2 c light brown sugar
3 T flour
1 c pureed banana
2 T lemon juice
- Puree banana with the lemon juice.
- Cook the milk, sugar and flour until thick.
- Add the egg and beat. Cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the banana and beat.
- Press some wax paper on the surface of the filling and cool in the refrigerator.
Creamy Chocolate Frosting
Note: Don't make this frosting until your cake is ready to be frosted. This frosting is put on the cake immediately after it is cooked. It is almost like a thick pudding.
For a triple layer 9-inch cake, double the recipe (if you're frosting the outside only).
2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
1 c light brown sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 c boiling water
1 T butter
1 t vanilla
- Melt the chocolate and add the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan.
- Add the boiling water. Mix well and cook until thick and smooth. Stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and add the butter and flavoring and beat for 3 minutes.
- Frost your cake right away, don't dally!
If you decide to make this cake. Leave a comment. Better yet, send me some pictures to post. You'll love this cake and I am sure it will be the one you will make for special occasions from now onward. It's that good!
STEPHEN EXEL is a freelance food editor, writer, and recipe developer. He is contributing food editor for Traditional Home and a former food editor for Better Homes & Gardens magazine. His work has appeared in FreshHome, Cooking Club of America, DSM, Country Home, Figure, Deck Patio & Pool, and Beaverdale Living magazines. Recipe development clients include Quaker Oats and Heineken. A native Chicagoan, Stephen’s culinary career spans almost 30 years and includes food editorial; restaurants; and public relations and marketing for chefs, restaurants, food commodity boards, and branded food clients.
Erica keeps a blog at MakeaRoux.blogspot.com
*As a side note, I found out that Stephen was listening to Maria Callas when he baked his cake.