The first recipe in Victorian Cakes is for Vanity Cake, an heirloom family recipe often baked by the oldest Campion sister, Emily. Considered rather adventurous (the chapter on Emily is entitled Our Daring Sister), she took the original recipe and made it her own by placing a delicate layer of Lemon Verbena leaves into the buttered pan, then spooning the batter over the leaves. When baked and cooled, she would carefully remove the leaves then cover the cake in "a delicate icing faintly flavored with lemon."
As fresh Lemon Verbena is difficult to find (and expensive) this time of year, I chose to use Lemon Balm, a cousin of Verbena, for flavoring. I discovered that whole, fresh leaves of Lemon Balm are also a tad difficult to find in January, so a box of good Lemon Balm tea it was. More on the use of that below.
Though modern ingredients and measurements are given (the memoir was first published in 1941), oven temperatures, baking times, pan sizes, and other such helpful tidbits are noticeably absent. So, I guessed (though it was educated)!
For this cake, I used this Nordic Ware Coffee Cake Pan which produces a nice shape and is not as large as other tube pans, though I would think that any standard tube or bundt pan would work. I could see two 8" cake pans working as well.
Essentially a Genoise, the recipe can adapt to just about any flavoring (even perfume, though with unfortunate results! More on that in a few weeks!), and I imagine (as is mentioned in the book) that almond, lemon, and vanilla would all be lovely. If you choose to go that route, I would add a tsp of vanilla, 1/2 tsp of almond, or the half the juice from one lemon to the milk before mixing.
As prepared by me, it was . . . fine. Not too bad, really. I suffered from egg-white-fear and did not fold them in as thoroughly as I should have. And it lacked any flavor other than the faint brush of Lemon Balm on the tongue. Next time, I would consider adding a touch of lemon or vanilla to the batter. Or Orange Flower Water! Yes, that would be excellent!
Check back on Monday for a proper introduction to Caroline, her family, and the book that has entranced me so. Until then . . .
Vanity Cake with Lemon Balm Icing
Adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King
113 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
300 g (1 ½ c) sugar
188 g (1 ½ c) all-purpose flour
64 g (½ c) cornstarch
9 g (1 ½ tsp) baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
120 g (½ c) milk
6 whites from large eggs, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 d. Liberally butter your chosen pan(s).
Sift together the all-purpose flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Cream the softened butter with the sugar until fluffy. On low speed, or by hand, mix in the dry ingredients in three parts alternated with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry. Set aside.
Whip the 6 egg whites to a stiff peak. Gently fold into the cake batter, mixing thoroughly but with a light hand.
Spoon batter into the pan, smoothing the top.
Bake 30-35 min until the top is lightly browned, edges are pulling away from the pan, and a tester comes out clean.
Let cool in pan 10 min, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
Lemon Balm Icing:
Brew a strong, small cup of hot Lemon Balm tea. Let cool. Whisk the cooled tea into confectioners sugar until desired consistency is reached.
Liberally smooth the icing over the cake.