Hello, again History Lovers,
A post from two weeks ago featured the cottage industry of Mrs. Alta Dunn, Cooking For Cash. Mrs. Dunn’s catering business supplied a friend and businesswoman with a weekly order of home-baked bread, desserts, one-dish meals, and dressed meats. She also filled orders from other folks from time to time. The article spoke quite a bit about her baking and even included one of her cake recipes. Curious about how Mrs. Dunn’s recipe compared to other recipes of that time, I did some research in Ida Bailey Allen’s Cooking Menus Service cookbook of 1924. Below I have posted Ms. Allen’s technical advice for cake baking. The ingredients are not so different from today’s however all the mixing and whipping would have been done by hand. Mrs. Dunn was from a rural area in the west and she likely did her baking in a wood and/or coal oven.
COOKING MENUS SERVICE–Cakes by Ida Bailey Allen
“It is not the materials alone, nor is it the manipulation alone which makes good cake, but a careful combination of the two. Every cookbook gives many cake recipes, but if these are analyzed it will be seen that the cakes themselves are closely related and belong to one of two families—(a) the sponge-cake family, (b) the butter-cake family. If one can make a good sponge cake and a good butter cake the entire field of cake making lies ahead, for the difference between one cake and another is more that of a slight change in consistency, flavoring, or filling and frosting than any basic variation in the actual cake batter itself.”
Making a Cake
“The proper order of procedure in making any cake is as follows:
- Read the recipe carefully.
- Prepare the pans.
- Assemble the ingredients.
- Assemble the utensils.
- Prepare the oven.
- Measure the ingredients and make the cake.
It is quite essential that these steps be followed in the order given, each being relatively important to the next. Reading the recipe gives the worker an intelligent grasp of what is to be done and how, and as some cakes might be spoiled if kept waiting before baking, it is obvious that the next point in order is the preparation of the cake pan: the reasons for the remaining steps are self-explanatory.”
Mixing a Butter-Cake Batter
“The mixing should be done sitting down. Measure the shortening; if it is very hard, the mixing bowl should first have been warmed with hot water, but the fat itself should not be melted. The shortening should then be creamed or beaten until soft, preferably with a flat wooden spoon; the sugar is then worked into it, flavoring added, and then the egg yolks or the whole egg, well beaten, according to the recipe.
Sift the flour, measure, and put back in the sifter with the salt and baking powder. Measure the liquid in the cup used for the fat. Put a little of the flour into the cake mixture, stir in some of the liquid, and proceed in this way until all are in. The direction in which you stir makes no difference. Then fold in the egg whites, whipped until stiff, with an over-and-over motion, if they are to be added last. They should be beaten until the mixture will remain in the bowl inverted.
The cake should then be put in the pan, the mixture being made higher at the edges and corners to ensure even rising. It is then ready to be baked.”
Mixing a Sponge-Cake Batter
“In sponge cakes in which no shortening is employed an entirely different method of manipulation is required. For some sponge cakes the egg yolks and sugar are beaten together until light, the flavoring added, the flour and salt well sifted, gently folded in and the whites of the eggs, which have been beaten until stiff and dry, folded carefully into the cake batter last of all. Or in some instances, the whole eggs, yolk and whites together, are beaten with the sugar. The first method gives a cake that is lighter than that made by the second but the cake will dry out more quickly.
An egg-beater of the whisk type is preferable to one of rotary or Dover style due to the fact that with the whisk more air is incorporated into the mixture, making it lighter and fluffier in texture. A large bowl should be used in the making of the sponge cake to allow plenty of room for long sweeping strokes of the beater. A very delicious and firm smooth sponge cake is sometimes made by cooking the sugar with a little water until it threads—230 degrees F.—then pouring this over the thoroughly beaten yolks and eggs, adding the flour and the whites of eggs beaten until stiff.”
Preparing the Cake Pans
“Ordinary layer-cake pans should be oiled, a brush being used for this purpose, every crevice and corner receiving its share of the oil. If this is thoroughly done there should be no difficulty in removing the cake after baking. A smooth surface texture is secured by dusting the pan thickly with flour after oiling, then tapping it sharply on the table to remove any loose particles of flour, or fine granulated sugar may be used instead of the flour, the loose particles being removed in the same manner.
Cakes containing a large amount of sugar or molasses will burn more readily than the less sweet varieties. To avoid this, line the pan with waxed or oiled paper.”
Filling the Pans
“Have the cake pans less than two-thirds filled with batter. For layer and loaf cakes spread evenly over the surface of the pan, pressing it well into the corners, and have the batter a little thicker around the sides of the pan than in the center. As the tendency of cake batter is to rise more in the center than at the sides this procedure will ensure a smooth, even surface after baking.”
Baking a Cake
“The first rule to be remembered in cake baking, as indeed in all other baking, is that infinitely more food is spoiled by the use of too much heat than by too little. Large cakes require a slower oven than small ones. Gentle slow baking results in lighter cake, a delicately browned surface, and smooth fine grain. Always place cakes in the lower part of the oven at first so that the under-heat may help them to rise to their fullest height before browning. If put on the upper shelf the heat thrown down forms a crust that prevents proper rising.
The time of baking may be divided into three periods of equal length. During the first the oven should be only moderately hot to allow the cake to rise, during the second the heat may be increased to form a crust and brown the surface and during the third and last it should again be reduced to thoroughly cook the cake to the center.
To find out whether a cake is done, insert a metal or straw tester gently in the center of the cake, leave it a second, then withdraw. If it comes away perfectly clean the cake is sufficiently baked, but if it is at all sticky continue the baking for a few minutes longer.
When done, the cake shrinks from the sides of the pan and springs back if lightly touched. It gives forth no steaming or crackling sound.”
Cake Baking Hints
- “Cake should never be moved in the oven until it has reached its fullest height.
- If cake appears to be browning too rapidly reduce the heat and cover the cake with a sheet of paper.
- If cake habitually bakes too quickly on the bottom, set the pan containing it in another pan, which may, if desired, be partly filled with sand, the being a non-conductor of heat.
- The oven may be cooled quickly, if necessary, by putting a pan of cold water into it.
- The cake which cracks open during the baking indicates either that too much flour has been used in it or that it has been baked in too quick an oven and is therefore browned before it rises to its fullest height.
- A coarse-textured cake denotes the use of too much baking powder or of insufficient beating.
- A cake which falls after baking indicates too little flour, too much shortening, or that it was removed from the oven before being thoroughly cooked.
- A wire cooling rack or tray will be found very useful for cooling cakes, cookies, and biscuits, and indeed all baked products. Being slightly raised on wire feet it allows a current of air to pass all around whatever is placed on it, so that there is no soggy under-surface caused by collected moisture. A very good substitute is a wire oven shelf rested on four cups or muffin pans.”
“The terms “icing” and “frosting” are practically synonymous and may be used interchangeably. Frostings or icings may be either cooked or uncooked, made with water, milk, or fruit juice as the liquid, but always have either sugar, syrup, or honey as the main sweet ingredient.”
The above article was originally published in Cooking Menus Service 1924 by Ida Bailey Allen, Doubleday, Duran & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.