Dream Gingerbread (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

It was Caroline's Aunt Sophie who brought Dream Gingerbread into the Campion home. The recipe was given to Sophie by her mother  (Caroline's maternal great-grandmother), and was one of family lore. As the tale was told, Sophie's mother "made the cake in a beautiful dream one night, and waking, was so impressed by the quality of her dream cake that then and there she flew to her kitchen in nightcap and gown and made a cake exactly like the one in her dream."

Gingerbread has been around since at least the Middle Ages, and save texture differences, has not changed all that much since then. Beyond the charming name, this is a pretty typical specimen, redolent with molasses, not too spicy. I remember reading somewhere that the Victorian palate veered towards the bland, so perhaps to the 18th century this cake would have had quite a bite, but to today's standards it rather mellow. A kid-friendly kind of gingerbread.

What really drew me to bake this cake was not the cake itself but rather the brief quip about Aunt Sophie preferring it topped with nothing more than a paste of brown sugar and sour cream. I've had that combination in crepes, but never once thought of trying a dollop on a cake. 

I brought the cake into work with both the sugared sour cream as well as powdered sugar, and let people pick their poison. Going with Sophie's choice myself, I rather liked the tang in contrast to the spice and can imagine it's even better when the spice is kicked up a notch. 

Dream Gingerbread
Adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King

1/2 cup (113 g) soft shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick; 113 g) softened unsalted butter
1 cup (220 g) dark brown sugar
1 cup (336 g) unsulphured molasses
1 cup (240 g) sour milk or buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 T powdered ginger
1/2 t each powdered cinnamon and mace (you can use nutmeg)
3 1/2 c (437 g) all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350° and prepare a 9" x 13" baking pan.
Whisk together the flour and spices and set aside. Beat the shortening, butter, brown sugar, and molasses on medium-high speed until thoroughly whipped and lighter in color. Add each egg, one at a time, beating well before cracking in the next. Stop and scrape the bowl! On low speed, alternate adding the flour/spice mixture with the sour milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry. Stop before all of the dry has disappeared and mix the rest in by hand. Smooth the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 32-35 minutes, or until a cake test comes back with just a few stragglers and the cake starts pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Serve with Sugared Sour Cream (I mixed 1/2 c sour cream and 1/4 c brown sugar), powdered sugar, or plain.

1,2,3,4 Cake (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

Always baked by Mother, and flavored to the preference of the celebrant, this "simple old receipt, a stand-by in every family" was the base of every birthday cake in the Campion household.

Caroline and her sister, Kitty, were fond of a chocolate version (made by substituting some flour for cocoa powder), while eldest Emily preferred Almond. Maud chose lemon; Molly, orange; Father, raisins; Aunt Sophie, citron; Uncle George, nuts and spices. As Emil and Anna's birthdays were separated by just a week, Mother would bake a large cake flavored "in true German fashion with anise" for them to take to Anna's for a private celebration. Caroline does not record what flavor Mother herself was fond of, though for some reason i like to think that she would have chosen coconut. 

In a time before wide-spread literacy and standard measurements, the 1,2,3,4 Cake was about as democractic a cake as one could get. The ingredients few, the taste fantastic, it really was, and is, the classic yellow cake. The birthday cake. (Alice Waters agrees. See The Art of Simple Food.)  And let it be known that this is not the last time you will see 1,2,3,4 Cake here, I love it that much.

1,2,3,4 Cake
Adapted from the 19th c. (and Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King)

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c (400 g) sugar
3 c (375 g) all-purpose flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp baking powder
1 c (240 g) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare a large capacity loaf pan (like a Pullman) and set it on a baking sheet just in case.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder and set aside. 
Add the vanilla to the milk and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each in fully before adding the next.
Stop and scrape the bowl!
On low speed, mix in the flour mixture and the vanilla milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry. 
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and slide into the hot oven. 
Bake for 70 minutes or until a cake test comes back clean and the sides of the cake begin pulling away from the pan. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely. 

Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

The King's Shoelaces (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

It is not surprising that a man of Father's presence held great attraction for the ladies. Every unattached female who came into our home, and many, I fear, who were already safely married, had her flirtatious eye on him. Visitors, pensioners, clients, all fell before Father's Irish charm; but he, to do him justice, was to all appearances quite unconscious of his conquests, while mother was merely amused. (p. 82 of Victorian Cakes)

The passage above is from the enticingly-titled chapter Father's Lady Friends. In it, Caroline introduces us to a variety of women who made frequent visits to the Campion home and were smitten with her father, Robert. All of them are remembered through the cake recipes they contributed to the families collection, but none are quite like The King's Shoelaces.

A Miss Lizzie Dexter can be thanked for bringing this confection to the family table. "An Irish gentlewoman of a certain age," Lizzie was introduced to the family following the Great Fire. Though suffering no loss herself, she volunteered to aid those devistated by the blaze, among them being the Campions, who "barely escaped with their lives." Quickly befriending Mrs. Campion, she soon became a beloved guest and the woman whom Robert jokingly proclaimed to be who he'd like for a second wife (causing much flustering for Miss Dexter and, I imagine, Mrs. Campion as well because, I mean, come on). 

Though skilled in many areas that she demonstrated, it was with this cake that Lizzie made her strongest impression. "Its name had a glamorous sound, and the cake was uncommonly good," Caroline remarked. And I have to agree . . . once you get past the sheer oddness of cake served in such a manner, it really is a lovely little bite, redolent with the Orange Flower Water and Lemon used to flavor the strips.

The King's Shoelaces
Adapted from Victorian Cake by Caroline B. King

3 large eggs, divided, at room temperature
1 c (125 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 tbsp. Orange Flower Water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with a Slipat or parchment paper

Separate the eggs and set aside. Whisk together the flour with the baking powder and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, rub the zest of the lemon into the sugar until incorporated. Add the egg yolks and beat at medium speed until foamy, about 4 mintues. Remove from the mixer and, by hand, fold in the Orange Flower Water followed by the flour. Beat the egg whites on medium-high in a clean bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the batter with care. 

Spread the batter evenly across the prepared half-sheet pan. Put into the oven and bake for 15 minutes until a cake test comes back clean and the top is faintly colored. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

To make into "shoelaces," lay the cooled cake upside down on a large cutting board liberally dusted with powdered sugar. Carefully peel away the Silpat or parchment, then dust the exposed cake. Using a pizza cutter, slice the cake into long, thin strips, dusting each with powdered sugar before setting aside.

In the book, Caroline remarks that they would enjoy the cake with cold milk or lemonade in the Summer or Hot Cocoa in the Winter, and indeed, any of those accompaniments would be perfect. 

Thoughts on the Perfume Cake (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

When Sarah first contacted me about baking together—the Perfume Cake in particular—in the Fall of 2014, I had been planning a different cake project to kick off 2015. Her request drew me back into Caroline's book and planted the seed for the Victorian Cakes project.  

Much of what there is to say about the initial experiment Sarah covered with aplomb in her Etsy piece, but I have been thinking about this particular cake quite a lot and thought it worth it to add a few notes of my own. 

It was fun to try The Parlor Apothecary's Victorian Spirit blend, and I do think some of the reason it came out inedible is due to the quantity we added. Though it is the only cake I have ever thrown out—ever—I don't feel done with Perfume Cake yet.

I really do want to try it out with Violet since Caroline does mention that fragrant little bloom as the family favorite. That said, a natural Violet essence does not exist. I have thought about trying a few scant drops of synthetic Violet or even the liquor Crème de Violette, which would probably prove more palatable.

Violet aside, I recently had the chance to visit the home studio of Julianne Zaleta, the woman behind Herbal Alchemy (whose extracts Sarah mentions in the Etsy piece). Her space is dream-like, headily-scented, and an antique bottle lovers dream. As it was our first meeting and I didn't want to intrude, I found myself practically sitting on my hands to keep from photographing her entire place. We sipped seltzer water flavored with her own Peach essence out of delicate glasses and talked about cakes and perfumes and possible collaborative kitchen experimentation. I learned a lot in the little time I was there and really look forward to going back and tinkering more with fragrant baked goods!

Perfume Cake garners just a small mention in Victorian Cakes, it being a riff on Emily's Vanity Cake, but it certainly is a stand-out. More than any other recipe I have tried from the book so far, it thrillingly connects me and these experiments to those done by a group of sisters in a Chicago kitchen over 100 years ago.


Devil's Food Cake (Project VICTORIAN CAKES)

It’s hard to believe that Devil’s Food Cake, or any chocolate cake for that matter, is a relatively recent invention. Recipes for cakes incorporating chocolate as an ingredient did not begin to appear until the late-19th century. Prior to, a mention of chocolate with cake tended to mean a cake to be served with chocolate.

Interestingly enough, some food historians believe that Caroline’s passage in Victorian Cakes makes the first mention of Devil’s Food subscribed to a specific time period. In the case of Caroline’s book, the “dark and sinful” cake made it’s appearance on their Sunday evening tea table sometime in the later part of the 1880’s.

Thanks for its introduction to the Campion household must be given to Caroline’s older sister, Maud. “Aunt Sophie used to fear Maud was vain, but then she had the only naturally curly hair in the family. . . . Surely with such hair, Maud’s vanity was excusable.”

Considered the “socially inclined” sister, Maud made frequent visits from house to house gathering gossip, trends, and recipes. It was from one such visit, specifically to The Waterman’s, that she returned with the recipe for Devil’s Food.

The finished cake, three layers tall and covered in billowy white icing, was a hit with the Campions, even their selective Father. His reaction to another Waterman recipe had been “enough to bring tears of disappointment and mortification to Maud.” That cake: Angel Cake. As for Devil’s Food, says Caroline, “Secretly, I have always thought its name appealed to him.”

Devil’s Food Cake with “Piquant” Boiled Icing
Recipe adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three 8” round cake pans.

In what ever way you prefer, melt:
3 squares (3 ounces) unsweetend baking chocolate
and set aside to cool slightly

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
313 g (2 ½ c) flour
1 scant tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt

and set aside.

Whisk together:
240 g (1 c) sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

and set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together:
½ c unsalted butter, softened
400 g (2 c) sugar

until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat in 
5 eggs, one at a time

Don’t forget to stop and scrape the sides!

Once all of the eggs are in, beat the batter on medium speed for 1 minute.

Turn the mixer to low and alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients in three parts, beginning and ending with the dry. Stop when there are still a few streaks of flour left and fold by hand until all is incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. Put into the oven and bake for 25-30 min. or until the cake test comes back clean. Let cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing the cakes to racks to cool completely.

“Piquant” Boiled Icing
Adapted from this recipe on Serious Eats

“The Waterman’s receipt called for a thick boiled icing made pleasantly piquant with a few drops of citric acid. But citric acid sounded dangerous to Maud . . . so [she] used lemon juice, sparingly and judiciously, and the result was perfect.” I happened to have citric acid (purchased through King Arthur Flour, so I went with that, but feel free to substitute lemon juice (1 tsp). That said, I really enjoyed the addition of the citric acid. The tartness cut the sweet without adding additional flavor. I highly recommend!

Put 1 c water and ½ c sugar in a small saucepan set over high heat, and cook until the mixture registers 240 degrees.

In the meantime, whip 4 room-temperature egg whites high until it holds soft peaks.

Once you’ve reached 240, and with the mixer running on high, slowly and carefully pour the hot sugar into the egg whites. Whip for 30 seconds, then add in 1 tsp. powdered citric acid. Continue to whip (it. Whip it good.) until it’s a nice and spreadable yet sturdy, beautiful and billowy concoction.

An aside, I actually made this cake twice. The first time I took the 3 squares of chocolate too literally and ended up using about 3/4 an ounce of chocolate. Needless to say, that's not terribly devilish. Above shows slices of both.