It is that time of the year again - the time of year when I vicariously enjoy Thanksgiving with my American friends, my contribution to the day being some recipes and menus from past times.
When I look back at my Thanksgiving week posts from previous years, I have covered many variations on the themes and recipes of the day. Many, if not most of them are listed and linked below this story, in case you want to look back. It might be thought – indeed, I thought it momentarily myself when I looked at the list – that there is nothing else to cover on the topic. The theme, however, is inexhaustible, as I hope to demonstrate for many more years yet.
We have certainly never covered the Thanksgiving Loaf in past years. Today, courtesy of the New York Times of November 25, 1894, I give you, inclusive of all of its enthusiasm, fine advice, recipes, and disparaging comments on domestic cooks:-
A SHORT ESSAY ON CAKE
With some Specially-Culled Receipts for the Thanksgiving Loaf.
The little fancy cakes and other confections of the caterers, together with the tendency nowadays, at least among city housekeepers, to oversee, not participate, in the family cooking, has almost made the art of cake-making a lost one. Yet it is a real accomplishment to make light, delicate cake, and one which the faddish hostess, seeking for a novelty, will find more striking than a new pâté or a fresh salad dressing.
Like trimming a kerosene lamp, to make a good cake requires judgement, and a degree of intelligence that is not, as a rule, a part of the natural endowments of the kitchen queen. Many a cook will tell you she can make a cake as light as a feather, and so, perhaps, she can, the feathery element being imparted by free use of baking powder. Such cake is as different from the real, old-fashioned, fine-grained, rich flavored cake as is the turned and glued furniture from hand-made cabinet work. Both are called by the same specific name, and both do a similar duty, but only one is really furniture so only one is really cake.
Cake is such a luxury always, and should be regarded as such. The best of materials are the sine qua non of all wholesome cake. If cake can be afforded at all, then sweet butter, fresh eggs, good flour, and sugar can go into it. Don’t try to use inferior articles, and trust to generous flavouring to condone the offense. The result must inevitably be disaster. Marion Harland, on one of her cook books, happily quotes an epicure: “Cooking butter is a good thing, an admirable thing – in its place, which is in the soap fat kettle or upon wagon wheels.” It is certainly out of place in cake, as are limed eggs, skimmed milk, poor flavoring extracts, or any similar subterfuges of the false economist. It is perfectly easy to go without cake; it is impossible to make good cake without the best of materials.
The knack of making cake is not acquired without practice. You may study an authority on whist for years, you will never become an accomplished player except through long practice. So the good cakemaker reaches that height, often after many failures; she learns, finally, however, that eggs vary in size and weight, and other ingredients must be proportioned accordingly; that holes and lumps in the loaf show poor mixing as clearly as if it were written down, and that a cake touch, a certain light quick movement, in putting the materials together, is as valuable in its way as a good touch on the piano.
When the cake impulse comes, look first of all to the oven. An even, strong, heat is needed for most cake; open the oven door as little as possible; every cakemaker sighs for the speedy coming of the announced day of glass oven doors. To look at her cake without danger of the disturbing chill of the outer air reaching the oven will be a boon indeed.
After testing the oven, see that all the materials are together and ready. Have the eggs broken, the yolks in one bowl, the whites in another, both in the ice chest; the flour sifted first, then duly measured, and on a deep pie plate; the cup or half cup of milk ready; the lemon and grater at hand, or the vanilla or rosewater bottle out; the baking powder measured and sifted into the flour; the butter measured and in its cup; and the sugar also measured, and in another deep pie plate like that which holds the flour; if fruit is to be used, have raisins stoned, currants washed and floured, citron cut, almonds blanched and chopped or shaved, figs or citron cut up, and pans and greased paper at hand.
Cream the butter with a wooden spoon in the large cake bowl, add the sugar by degrees, and beat the mixture to a frothy lightness; if someone is helping you, she may beat the yolks to have them ready when the butter and sugar are creamed, but, if doing the work alone, the cold yolks will beat in one minute, and the cake foundation suffer no harm from the wait; stir part of the yolks in, part of the milk, and part of the flour; repeat the round till materials are used, adding the flavoring, and giving the mixture fifty seconds hard whisking a the end of the process; the whites must be frothed to the standing-alone point, and quickly stirred in, the fruit, if any, being added at the same time; then the mixture is ready for the oven. In many kitchens the tradition survives that cake should be stirred only one way; the writer is willing to admit that is does in hers. Two cake receptacles are necessary. A tin box keeps crisp and dry such cakes as should be so kept, as ginger snaps, jumbles, and the like, while a stone crock, wide and deep, to hold loaves unbroken, and with a close cover, keeps fresh and moist sponge, loaf, and layer cake. Fruit cake made to last months should be folded in dampened cloths and put in a separate stone jar. It should be iced only as needed. A great improvement is to pour sherry wine over the loaf when it is about a month old, or as it is need to use. Ice afterward.
It is an excellent plan that the daughter of the household should be the cakemaker. Let her serve her novitiate as assistant to her mother, and soon the mantle of this accomplishment may fall wholly upon her.
A delicious loaf to grace the Thanksgiving table is taken from a private receipt book:
Delicate and Fruit Cake:- The whites of five eggs, two cups of sugar, three-quarters of a cup of butter, two and a half cups of flour, one cup of sweet milk, three teaspoonfuls of baking powder; flavor with lemon or vanilla. For the fruit cake: To two large wooden tablespoonfuls of the cake dough left after putting two layer tinfuls in the oven, add half a cup of raisings, one-half cup of flour, one-half cup of molasses, a few currants, and little chopped citron. Bake this in a third layer, putting it between the other two, with jelly. Ice the top.
A very good chocolate cake, which cuts up prettily in a basket with pieces of the above delicate cake, baked plain, is made as follows:
Chocolate Cake.- Mix one-half cake of unsweetened chocolate* with one-half cup of milk; add yolk of one egg, and sweeten to taste; flavor with one teaspoonful of vanilla; leave mixture on back of stove till soft, then stir into cake.
The cake is made from one cup of sugar, one-half cup of butter, one-half cup of milk, two eggs, one teaspoonful of soda, and two cups of flour; stir in the chocolate and bake in a slow oven about three-quarters of an hour.
[*this refers to a ‘cake’ of compressed, ground cacao beans – the earlier form of cocoa; it does not refer to a block of eating chocolate.]
Previous Thanksgiving stories:
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