Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Celebration Cake: or, In which we attempt to deploy icing decoratively

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are secretly foisting blogging challenges on our unsuspecting relatives! That's right, with my uncle and his fiancée visiting for the first time since their wedding which was yesterday, we're making cake! After all, the theme for this round of the Historical Food Fortnightly is making something with presentation, and what could be more presentational than a cake made from a recipe containing the line "garland plate with pink roses or other fresh flowers"?

All Electric-Mix Recipes Prepared Specially for your Dormeyer Mixer, 1946

Celebration Cake
2½ c cake flour (or 2¼ c all-purpose)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1¾ c sugar, divided
⅔ c butter, margarine, lard, or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 c milk*
1½ tsp vanilla
5 egg whites
Tinted sugar

Heat oven to 350°. Line the bottoms of two 9" round cake pans with wax paper, then grease them.
Make a meringue of the egg whites and ½ c of the sugar: Beat the egg whites until frothy. Scatter the sugar, a spoonful or two at a time, over the surface. Try to sprinkle it so lightly that it doesn't deflate the egg whites it is landing on. Beat in the sugar thoroughly. Add the remaining sugar in the same way. You should have very stiff peaks, but if it's kinda floppy the cake should still come out fine. Set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining sugar. Cream the butter (you needn't clean the meringue off the beaters). Sift in the dry ingredients, add milk and vanilla, then beat on low speed for 2 minutes. Put in the meringue in all at once and beat one minute more.
Pour into pans and bake for 35 minutes, or until done.
Ice with seven-minute icing and sprinkle on tinted sugar. Garland with pink roses or other fresh flowers (yes, this line's in the original recipe).
*If using butter, margarine, or lard, reduce milk by 2 tbsp.
To make tinted sugar, mix a little food coloring into a teaspoon of water. Add this to ¼ c sugar and mix with your fingers. Spread out onto a sheet of copy paper to dry. When it dries, break up the clumps (they should be loose enough to break up with your fingers) and fish out any sugar rocks that formed.

All Electric-Mix Recipes Prepared Specially for your Dormeyer mixer, 1946

This recipe is surprisingly hard to read when you're up to your sifters in dry ingredients. They kept repeating the measurements and put every single brand mention in all capitals- which makes a lot of things you have to skip over while reading a recipe in fine print. Also, we had misgivings about using waxed paper in baking pans. Would the wax melt into the cake? I was sort of inclined to figure it can't be that bad for you, but people at the time also bought asbestos pads to put on their stove burners and asbestos oven mitts(!) and thought there was no conclusive proof smoking is bad for you. As a side note, don't start looking at photos of asbestos inspection and abatement. You'll find yourself unable to enter a building from before 1990 without getting paranoid.
Note our way of tracing out the pan size by smashing the paper over the pan for cutting a perfectly fitted circle.

Well, we're going to go ahead and put wax at the bottom of the cake this once. It's historical.

We're also going to actually sift things rather than skipping over that line and dumping it all into a bowl.
Yes. I actually sifted for once. It better make this cake come out good enough to justify digging out the sifter.

I gotta say, this recipe involves getting out a lot of bowls and other assorted kitchen crap. It's really galling to use a recipe that tells you to use a sifter three times, make a bowl of meringue, and separately cream the butter when the recipe then goes on to say "Now for the 'Mix-Easy' Part..."
Left to right: meringue, butter, milk and vanilla, dry goods.

I love how they don't actually tell you to do a meringue as such. They just throw that bit of direction in as an afterthought.  The recipe just says "Add five egg whites, beaten to a meringue" like that's not going to be the most failure-prone part of this recipe.

I say the meringue is the most failure-prone part of this recipe, but that's actually not where I messed up. I messed up at the point where you're supposed to get everything except the egg whites into a bowl and sic your mixer on them until it's all beaten. It didn't look right, somehow. I don't think cake batter is supposed to look like you've been kneading it or make the mixer produce pathetic whining sounds.

Checking the recipe to see if I forgot anything, I noticed I'd made a crucial omission.

Sure, adding all that extra sugar is going to change what you've got in the bowl, but this seemed too... solid. We checked and re-checked and re-re-checked that there wasn't supposed to be some liquid besides that one cup of milk in there.

All right, we've got literally everything except the egg whites mixed in. I don't think you're supposed to be able to stretch the alleged cake batter in your hands. I tore off a piece to see if it at least tasted right, and it was tough, gummy, overbeaten, and ready for the trash can. Upon re-re-re-rereading the recipe to see what went wrong, we discovered that we used only half the butter the recipe calls for. This is how we feel about wasting an entire two-layer cake's worth of cake components:
Miss Coco Peru does not approve of waste.

At this point, we decided that the recipe writers could take their excessive sifting and other tedium and shove it. Critics may point out that skipping half a recipe is not historically correct, but we would counter that it is very likely that many housewives looked at their culinary failures and mumbled "eh, fuck it" (though not loud enough for their husbands and impressionable children to hear) while doing the exact same.
Take two!

For our second attempt, rather than sifting, measuring, sifting, creaming, sifting again, and all that, we just dumped everything in the bowl and inserted the mixer.

The reward for half-assing the recipe? A bowl of perfect cake batter! Now, most recipes where you're putting in beaten egg whites will tell you to carefully fold them in lest you deflate the precious bubbles. This one just says to dump the whites in and have at them with the mixer until you have no more lumps of egg foam.
Looks good to me!

Right, with two pans of cake batter in the oven, it's time to turn our efforts toward the historically-correct seven-minute icing!

In the name of the Historical Food Fortnightly, we're even making the icing recommended in the cake recipe (actually, the recipe recommends two icings but the other has raw egg which apparently bothers other people) and pulling the icing recipe from the same pamphlet from whence came the cake! While the cake had a lot of ridiculously complicated steps, the icing looked near impossible to mess up. All you need to do is put all the things in the double boiler, place over hot water, and flog it with a mixer until the timer dings.
This shouldn't be hard.

Sure enough, at the seven minute mark, we had this glorious, creamy-dreamy, beautiful icing!

Look at it! It's so white it borders on unnatural. And it's just so darn pretty to look at. We have a fricken pot of clouds! Or so we thought. We smoothed out the top so we could cover it until the cake was ready to ice and this happened:

Our happy cloud of icing turned into gray cottage cheese! At this point, we were done with historical accuracy. Besides, look what putting it over a stovetop did to the mixer.
You're not a serious cook until your recipes cause carcinogenic fumes.

We briefly considered attempting the icing again, but we already had this many egg yolks just sitting out from all the whites we used today as it is.
We ended up scrambling them and putting them in the dog bowl.

Besides, we already had a really big pile of dishes. The icing could wait until we were no longer annoyed at throwing out a bowl of cake batter followed by a batch of icing and then having to wash everything. We didn't even start on the tinted sugar. Did I mention that you have to make your own sprinkles for this recipe? I'd have been infuriated at the extra work, but it only took 10 seconds for me to see that I had overdone it on the food coloring.

For those of you making your own pink sprinkles at home, tiny amounts red coloring don't make a nice pink. You end up with this weird, washy salmon color. Your really nice, pretty pinks come from using just a teeny dab of magenta, not red.
That pink is so nice, I feel like the Susan G Komen people are about to sue me for copyright infringement.

And so, having done all the work we were in the mood for, we left the cake layers cooling in pans and the sprinkles on a sheet of paper overnight to think about what they'd done.
The next day, it turned out that even if you're not comfortable introducing wax into your cake, the recipe writers were right to say you should line the pan with something. The cake and paper were very soundly glued together. I was so glad I could at least get the whole thing out of the pan in one piece.
Look at the cake refusing to let go of the paper.

And so, with our not-so-historically-correct buttercream icing (read: butter and powdered sugar), we attempted to actually ice the top and sides of a cake for the first time in memory. Seriously, even for our grandparents' anniversary we just dumped glaze on.
It looks like it's melting.

And wait! We have homemade sprinkles! We dyed the sprinkles ourselves!

Now, it was hard to come up with flowers. At this time of year, the best you can get are buds. While there definitely weren't any roses (pink or otherwise) blooming, we did manage to find enough open flowers on the purslane. So yes, we did actually garland the cake plate with flowers just like the recipe says. And so, to complete the presentation and also because they just got married a day ago, we finished the cake by coloring some of the extra icing and writing a special message. Sharp observers will see where I traced the letters out to make sure they were all well placed and then couldn't follow my own lines.
To my uncle and new aunt: Happy marriage!

Was the cake worth it? Well, it's worth all the effort I would have put into it had I not messed up so many times. Even doing my own sprinkles was a nice touch. Since sugar is ground finer than the colored crystal sprinkles, it didn't have the same annoying grittiness.

All right, here's our Historical Food Fortnightly homework!
The Recipe: Celebration Cake
The Date/Year and Region: 1946, America
How Did You Make It: Mess up the recipe repeatedly and somehow end up with cake.
Time to Complete: About 2 hours excluding baking time due to the aforementioned messing up.
Total Cost: Nothing. We already had everything.
How Successful Was It? Really successful! Everyone thought it was delicious!
How Accurate Is It? The cake itself: pretty accurate, though I didn't use cake flour, nor did I excessively sift everything. The icing: Not period correct at all. Or at least, I didn't see a recipe like it in the book.


  1. I am LOLing at your misadventures. You are brave to blog about them and laugh at yourself. Instead of wax paper, try parchment paper or foil sprayed with PAM next time you bake or grease and flour a pan the old-fashioned way.

  2. Thank you! I honestly think things like this are funny, whether it's me or someone else doing it. I usually use foil, but I was trying to be period-correct to the original recipe just this once. Parchment probably would be better than foil for this since it held on to the paper so much- if there were any hard-to-see little pieces that got really stuck, biting into them wouldn't ruin anyone's dessert.