Saturday, March 24, 2007

Lady Baltimore Cake.

Yesterday I gave you a recipe for Fannie Farmer's version of Lady Baltimore Cake without giving you any history of the cake itself. My conscience was pricked and my curiosity piqued by the comment posted by T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types, who was intrigued by the name of the cake, and what is more, he actually made it, and it looks fantastic! You can see the pictures HERE.

So, to correct my omission, I give you the results of my very brief foray into the story behind the Lady Baltimore Cake.

Naturally, its origins are disputed and controversial which is good news as such stories are much more fun. We can probably fairly quickly discount the idea that it was named after the real Lady Baltimore, whose Irish husband inherited Maryland in the mid-seventeenth century. The Lady never got to America, and in any case baking powder leavening agents were not invented until well into the nineteenth century – a ‘cake’ in her day was more like sweet fruit bread. Another story says it was a variation of a cake enjoyed by Dolly Madison, the fourth First Lady but this story fails to explain why it is not then called Dolly Madison cake.

The other two common explanations have more substance, and perhaps both of them are right. One says it originated in Charleston at the end of the nineteenth century, at “The Lady Baltimore Tearooms”, and was a variation of another popular cake (aren’t all cake recipes variations of of one that has gone before?). The final story says that the original cake was purely fictional, and made its first appearance in a novel but sounded so good readers clamoured for the recipe. The book was called, in case you cannot guess - ‘Lady Baltimore’, and it was set in a Southern city something like Charleston. It was written by Owen Wister and published in 1906.

Here is the relevant passage from the book:

… at twelve, it was my habit to leave my Fanning researches for a while, and lunch at the Exchange upon chocolate and sandwiches most delicate in savor. As, one day, I was luxuriously biting one of these, I heard his voice and what he was saying. ...

Young he was, very young, twenty-two or three at the most, and as he stood, with hat in hand, speaking to the pretty girl behind the counter, his head and side-face were of a romantic and high-strung look. It was a cake that he desired made, a cake for a wedding; and I directly found myself curious to know whose wedding.

…. "Are you quite sure you want that?" the girl was asking.

"Lady Baltimore? Yes, that is what I want."

"Because," she began to explain, then hesitated, and looked at him. Perhaps it was in his face; perhaps it was that she remembered at this point the serious difference between the price of Lady Baltimore (by my small bill-of-fare I was now made acquainted with its price) and the cost of that rich article which convention has prescribed as the cake for weddings; at any rate, swift, sudden delicacy of feeling prevented her explaining any more to him, for she saw how it was: his means were too humble for the approved kind of wedding cake! She was too young, too unskilled yet in the world's ways, to rise above her embarrassment; and so she stood blushing at him behind the counter, while he stood blushing at her in front of it.

…. My day had been dull, my researches had not brought me a whit nearer royal blood; I looked at my little bill-of-fare, and then I stepped forward to the counter, adventurous, but polite.

"I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore," I said with extreme formality. I thought she was going to burst; but after an interesting second she replied, "Certainly," in her fit Regular Exchange tone; only, I thought it trembled a little.

I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It's all soft, and it's in layers, and it has nuts--but I can't write any more about it; my mouth waters too much.

Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full. "But, dear me, this Is delicious!"

A choking ripple of laughter came from the counter. "It's I who make them," said the girl. "I thank you for the unintentional compliment."

The narrator finds that the incident has ‘broken the ice’ with the charming cake-maker, and he returns to continue the flirtation. In case that still isn't enough romance for you, another embellishment of the tale of the novel itself says that Wister had been given some delicious cake by a beautiful Southern belle, and decided to write about it.

No wonder the public clamoured for an actual recipe for this romance-soaked idea of a cake!

Now for the evidence. There seems to be no mention anywhere of a cake with the name of ‘Lady Baltimore’ until 1906. Suddenly there was a spate of newpaper articles mentioning it as the ‘famous’ or ‘original’ cake, with one writer (in January 1907) coyly agreeing to part with the recipe ‘with the sanction of Owen Wister’. The very first mention of the cake that I have been able to find is on October 27th 1906 in the The Post Standard of Syracuse NY, in an article about an upcoming sale and dance on behalf of the Harmony Circle, the auxillary to the Womens and Childrens Hospital. Slices of the cake with the recipe were ‘sold by chance’ that evening, and the lucky winner was Mrs Frederick R Hazard.

The first recipe that I have been able to find appeared on December 24th 1906 in the Daily Gazette And Bulletin of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and here it is:

‘Lady Baltimore Cake’.
Beat the whites of six eggs. Take a cup and a half of granulated sugar, a cup of milk, nearly a cup of butter, three cups of flour and two teaspoonfuls of good baking powder. Sift the flour and baking powder together into the other ingredients, adding the eggs last of all. Bake in two buttered pans for fifteen or twenty minutes.
For the frosting: Two cups of granulated sugar and a cup and a half of water, boil until stringly, about five minutes usually does it. Beat the whites of two eggs very light, and pour the boiling sugar slowly into it, mixing well. Take out of this enough for the top and sides of the cake, and stir into the remainder for the filling between the two layers, one cup of finely chopped raisins and a cup of chopped nuts. This is delicious when properly baked.

Who originated this recipe? We will probably never know for certain, but undoubtedly some entrepreneurial cake-shop owner noted the interest – perhaps had even read the book – tweaked a popular white cake recipe and re-named it. Perhaps it was indeed the ladies at the Lady Baltimore Tea Rooms in Charleston.

P.S there is a yellow-cake version, using egg yolks, called, of course ‘Lord Baltimore Cake’.

P.P.S please let us all know if you find any earlier mentions of this cake!


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

All hail the Lady Baltimore! What a wonderful post and a truly delicious story! Thanks so much for finding all the sweet dimensions to this tale -- from romantic fiction to savvy tea room marketing!

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Lady Baltimore cake usually contain a mixture of chopped dried figs and raisins rather than just raisins?

The Old Foodie said...

Good Morning T.W. and Nene: There are several variations of this cake - a lot of recipes have it made in three layers, and yes - chopped figs in some of them, but this is a more recent addition I think. I look forward to enlightenment on the topic from other readers and commenters.

Andrew said...

Have you made this cake from the instructions given? I would be most interested to see how it turns out.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Andrew - no, I've never made it. Although I seem to do a fair bit of baking for someone whose kids have left home, this sort of white , super-sweet iced confection is just not my thing - I'd rather make pies or tarts or gingerbread or nutty cakes. I'd love to hear from anyone out there who has made it.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

My sharp Mom pointed out to me that there is a recipe for Lady Baltimore Cake in an old edition of The Joy of Cooking, circa 1974. She believes she made it years ago. It calls for one white cake recipe baked in three layers. The filling consists of 6 figs, 1/2 cup seeded raisins and 1 cup nut meats. The frosting is the seven minute variety. Its on page 624 of my battered edition. The revised 1997 edition (p. 965) mentions the Lady Baltimore Tea Room in Charleston, and offers a "Neoclassic Lady Baltimore Filling" made with fresh whipped cream, but this must be refrigerated. I'm going to give it a try soon, and send you photos!

fuquinay said...

Hi, and thanks. I'm doing some research on this for a book about cake, and I wanted to say a few things. First, it's nearly impossible to find anything close to agreement among various sources, scholarly though they may be, on the Internet. Second, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, was born and died in England, though he did serve in some capacity in County Clare for a brief time. George brought his second wife (whom most agree is Joan but some call Joann) to the States, and I believe they lived in Jamestown, Virginia for a time. I don't believe Cecil, George's son and second Lord Baltimore, ever came here, with or without his wife, Anne Arundell.

We Marylanders know only that Anne Arundel, Calvert, Cecil, and Baltimore are all counties, but few of us know anything about the colonists and how they lorded over the colony from far away.

And no one here considers that cake a Maryland tradition.

So I, too, wonder. I have not heard anywhere that the tearoom was called the Lady Baltimore; instead, it was the Women's Exchange.

But who knows what's true with so much history out there?

If you will get in touch with me, I'd like to credit you (your real name) with finding the first published recipe.

Unknown said...

No one but you has ever mentionned a Lord Baltimore cake. Did you make that up? And made only with egg yolks - might be a bit heavy.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Anita - No, I didnt make it up. A number of cookery books have the Lord Baltimore version - presumably intended as a way to use up the yolks. Maybe I will post a recipe for it soon?

Anonymous said...

I have been making a Lady Baltimore Cake for almost every special occasion and I must admit that it was the name that first appealed to me. This weekend I was making it for Thanksgiving (Canadian) and suddenly realized that I had no figs so I substituted chopped dried apricots and golden sultanaa soaked in abit of orange liqueur for the filling and used toasted flaked almonds to decorate the top of the cake. Well, I can't really call it a Lady Baltimore anymore, but it was a bit of heaven. Now for the name ...?

4CatsMom said...

My mother has made a fresh coconut cake every year that I can remember (I'm 60) using a Lady Baltimore cake as the cake basis. This is my first year to take on the tradition, and I came across this blog while searching for the recipe. Her recipe came out of an old recipe book that was probably printed in the '40's or 50's. She used 7-minute frosting, and I think added almond rather than vanilla flavoring.

4CatsMom said...

My mother has made a fresh coconut cake using the Lady Baltimore cake as a basis as long as I can remember (I'm 60). This is my first year to take on the tradition and came across your blog while searching for a recipe. Mother's recipe came out of an old recipe book printed in the 40s or 50s. The only different thing is that she uses freshly grated coconut instead of fruit or nuts with the 7-minute icing.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi 4CatsMom; sory about the delayed reply, I have one hand in a splint and everything takes a lot longer! I love fresh coconut in anything, so this idea sounds like a real improvemnt to me.

Anonymous said...

Two versions of this cake appear in "Charleston Receipts" One from Mrs. Howard Read (Adelaide Higgins), the other from Mrs. John Laurens (May Rose)

The first publication of this book was 1950.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Anonymous. do you mean that "Charleston Receipts" was published in 1850? or is it a facsimile from 1850 published in 1950?

Nan from Charleston said...

Charleston Receipts is a Cookbook put out by the Junior League of Charleston. Recipes are contributed by the members of the League and some are obviously quite old with old measures.(Fortunately translated into standard measures) Different printings will be fine tuned by the present group who is publishing the "Reprint" so you may or may not find the recipe you are looking for. The first printing was 1950.
I have a few printings of the Charleston Receipts.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks, Nan. I must look out for the book!