Yesterday’s source, the Twentieth Century Home Cook Book, by Mrs. Francis Carruthers, the Celebrated Authority on the Science and Art of Cooking (Chicago, 1905) contains suggested menus for various holidays and other special days, including the following:
MENU FOR CHRISTMAS.
Breakfast. Grape nuts and cream, baked apple, ham omelet, velvet muffins, coffee.
Dinner. Blue points, crackers, tomato soup. French tenderloins, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, pineapple sherbet, white asparagus salad mayonnaise, spaghetti au gratin, fruit cake, white grapes, nuts, dates, St. Julien claret, café et noir.
Late luncheon. Sliced turkey, mustard sauce, celery and nut sandwiches, chocolate, fruit.
The item that jumped out at me for comment today was the velvet muffin. I have never heard of velvet muffins before, although I consider myself something of a muffin aficionado. The book did give a recipe for the muffins, although their inclusion sans recipe suggests that readers would have known what they were. The book does contain a recipe for Velvet Cream, which I transcribed lest I was unable to find instructions for the muffins.
Two tablespoonfuls of gelatine dissolved in half a tumbler of water, one pint of rich cream, four tablespoonfuls of sugar, flavor with sherry, vanilla, extract of rose water. Put in moulds and set on the ice. This is a delicious dessert; it can be made in a few minutes. Serve with or without cream.
Deep in our hearts we all know that the raison d’être for the modern “muffin” is to justify the eating of cake for breakfast. The velvet muffin, then, is perhaps based on a pre-existing velvet cake? The well-known Red Velvet Cake is a relatively recent invention - the first recipe I know of appears in an American newspaper of 1961, but perhaps there were previous color-not-specified cakes?
I give you my potted-history notes on Velvet Muffins and Velvet Cake:
The earliest recipe I have found to date for a Velvet Cake is in a Canadian magazine:
One pound of sugar, one pound of flour, half a pound of butter, four eggs, one teacup of cold water, one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, half a teaspoonful of soda. Flavor with extract of lemon. Beat the sugar and butter to a white cream, dissolve the soda in the water, and sift the cream of tartar into the flour, mixing thoroughly. Add to the butter and sugar the pound of flour and the water; beat it all well. Beat the eggs - the yolks first, and then the whites - to a stiff froth; beat them together for a minute, and stir into the cake. Flavor with a teaspoonful of extract of lemon, and beat the cake well for about three minutes. Bake an hour. This will make two loaves, and is the nicest cake I know of - better than pound cake. It may be flavored with nutmeg and spices, or with raisins and currants, or be made into delicious chocolate cake by being baked in layers, and filled with chocolate frosting. It makes nice jelly cake.
The New Dominion Monthly (Montreal, 1871)
I have come across a few references from the late 1880’s for Velvet Muffins, but the first recipe I have found so far was given in the Aurora Dearborn Independent (Indiana) of June 19, 1890. It is not at all cake-like, and is a reminder that once upon a time, “muffins” were made from yeast-raised batter cooked on a griddle - the style now sometimes called “English” muffins.
Sift one quart of flour with a level teaspoonful of salt in int. Rub into the flour thoroughly four ounces of butter. Mix it with one teacupful of good yeast and as much fresh milk as will make a very stiff batter. Beat four eggs separately, very light, stir these in and set in a moderately warm place to rice. In three hours it will be sufficiently light.
The Piqua Leader Dispatch (Ohio) February 7, 1903 contained a recipe for Velvet Muffins in an article on Californian cooks and cookery. The muffins are leavened with baking powder and have a relatively small amount of sugar added, so are a step closer to the modern variety, although are cooked in hot muffin pans in a similar manner to popovers.
Velvet muffins are a Californian breakfast standby worth heralding abroad. Stir to a cream two tablespoonfuls each butter and sugar. Add two well-beaten eggs, one cupful of milk, one scanty quart of flour sifted with two teaspoonfuls of baking powder and a quarter of a teaspoonful of salt. Beat until light and bubbly, thought the batter must be quite stiff, and turn at once into the muffin pans, which should be hot enough to hiss as the batter goes in. Bake in a quick oven.
By 1949, the Abilene Reporter News (Texas) of January 16 gave a recipe which was attributed to a visiting Kentuckian. The muffins are slightly sweeter than the above , and are clearly cake-like in style and method of cooking.
In step with other Kentuckians. Mrs. J. W. Williams of Bowling Green has recipes for many dainty dishes. Guest here of her daughter, Mrs. Rufus Wallingford for a number of visits, Mrs. Williams has made a wide circle of friends who have found her cooking “a delight.”
By request, she is publishing today her recipe for Velvet Muffins.
The amount for the muffins: Two cups flour, ¾ teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 1 cup milk, 1 egg, 3 tablespoons sugar, 4 tablespoons melted butter.
Method: Beat egg, add baking powder, salt and sugar to flour, add to other ingredients. Measuer flour after it is sifted, and do not add butter while it is too hot.
Grease muffin tins, pour in the mixture, and cook in a moderate oven.