Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Cake

I made a decision the other day. If I am going to keep posting recipes from Fannie O’Dell’s 1888 recipe book, I should actually try a few of the recipes. I had this resource at my finger tips; why not make use of it? So, with this being Easter weekend, I decided to try out the Easter cake that I posted earlier in the week. I quickly learned that this was a useful exercise as it gave me a bit of time to reflect on the recipes as Fannie had written them.

I have often mentioned that Fannie included no baking instructions. I had originally surmised that this was because she was an accomplished baker and didn’t feel that this was needed information. While this may be true, I amended this theory when I had the time to think about how Fannie was baking. In the late 1880s the O’Dells would have been using a wood fired stove for all of the family needs. While these stoves provide wonderful heat, they are tricky to use because they heat according the quality and quantity of wood used. It would have been pointless for her to include information like “bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes” because there was no way of telling the temperature of the stove. As a student I worked for a couple of summers as an interpreter in a historic village. For some of this time I worked as a baker. Using a wood fired oven, our only way to gauge the temperature was to hold your hand in the oven. If you could hold it in to the elbow for seven seconds it was about 375-400 degrees. Fannie would have had similar methods.

As for the cake itself, I did learn a few things about this recipe. I learned that my assumption that the raisins and currents should be soaked in the brandy was wrong. Since the recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, every bit of liquid is needed to mix the batter. I even ended up adding some extra brandy so I could stir in the last of the flour. I was worried that the cake would have a strong alcohol flavor but, in the end, the cake almost had a light butterscotch with overtones of brandy taste.

Another decision that I would revise is to bake the cake in a bundt pan. For a batter this thick I would have been better to bake it in a sheet pan. The cake was getting a bit toasty on the outside before it was cooked on the inside.

Finally, I decided to go with a light glaze rather than Fannie’s instruction that the cake be “iced profusely”. My logic was that the cake was already fairly heavy and that a “profuse” icing was going to be too much for my family.

On the whole I think that this was a fairly successful experiment. I was able to revive a recipe, learn a bit more about the context of the recipe book and I got to eat some cake.

All for now,
RGS

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