The next cake up in the project, Harlequin Cake, comes from another of eldest sister Emily's recipes. I was drawn to it for many reasons, one being the use of beets and spinach to color two of the layers, another being the use of something called Lemon Honey as a filling. The passage introducing the cake did not diminish my interest either:
A celebrated cake in our household was Harlequin Cake. We all loved it, except my father, who always shunned it himself and frequently warned us not to eat it. "No food was ever intended to be colored like that," he would say sputteringly. "If you eat it and are poisoned, you will have no one to blame but yourselves."
It's not a difficult cake, but it is time consuming. The end result, though, is rather good and quite different from most cakes today. As you can perhaps tell from the picture above, I had issues with the icing. A recipe for one used with the cake is not given in the book; Caroline mentions a white frosting, so I decided to go with basic meringue . . . which failed miserably. I can practically hear it sighing as gravity pulls it slowly down. Ha! Bemoaning aside, it's not the biggest deal, really, as the heart of the cake is the layers and the Lemon Honey.
Speaking of, Lemon Honey is the real winner to me. It's quite a lot like lemon curd, but brighter, tarter, and somewhat transparent. A real joy for the mouth, I highly recommend making just that if you feel so inclined!
Harlequin Cake with Lemon Honey
Adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King
You'll need four 8" round cake pans for this. I had three on hand and bought a disposable one from the market for the fourth which was fine. Not ideal, but better than letting the batter sit.
As for the flavorings, the beet juice worked perfectly for color and the flavor was faintly there in the finished product, but not in a terrible way. The spinach, on the other hand, was a bit difficult. I found that the amount of spinach juice (just what's left over in the pot after steaming spinach, strained and cooled) needed to get a good color altered the batter in an unpleasant way. That said, I used a touch of the juice and some green coloring as well. Exact quantities in the recipe below.
At least a few hours before you bake the cake, if not a day or two, make the Lemon Honey so that it has time to cool and thicken.
Zest and juice from 2 large, clean lemons
200 g (1 c) sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 large egg yolks
Thoroughly blend all of the above together either using an electric mixer or with stamina and a whisk. Once everything is nicely combined, pour into a small pot. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until thickened slightly. Remove from heat, let cool a bit, then refrigerate until cold.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare four 8" round cake pans.
2 sticks (1 c) unsalted butter, softened
400 g (2 c) sugar
375 g (3 c) all-purpose flour
15 g (1 tbsp) baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
220 g (1 c) milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
The whites of 6 large eggs
1 tsp beet juice
1 tsp spinach juice plus just a drop of green food coloring
1 square unsweetened baking chocolate, melted with a tiny, tiny pinch of cinnamon. Let cool.
To make the cake:
**Weight your mixing bowl and write the number down somewhere handy.**
Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside. Measure the milk and add the vanilla extract to that. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On low speed, slowly mix in the dry ingredients with the milk mixture, alternating dry/wet/dry/wet/dry. Divide this batter equally into 4 different bowls (weigh your bowl now with the batter, subtract the empty bowl weight, and divide by 4).
Whip the egg whites on high speed until the mass hold stiff peaks. Again, divide by four. Gently fold 1/4 into each of the four bowls of batter along with the colorings. One bowl is left plain, one has the beet juice, one the spinach/green, and the last has the chocolate.
Spoon and smooth out the batters into each of the four pans and slip into the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the sides begin pulling away from the pan and a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes in pans on racks, then remove from the pans to cool completely.
You can stack the layers in any way you desire, spreading a big spoonful or two of the Lemon Honey between each, and a bit on the top of the cake if that takes your fancy. Optional, but feel free to frost with a billowy white icing. The recipe I used is not worth repeating here, but a classic Italian Meringue would be perfect.