Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Velvety Food for Christmas.

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:

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.

Velvet Cream.
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:

Velvet Cake.
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.

Velvet 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.
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.

Velvet Muffins.
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.


Shay said...

There is a product here in the US called "Bisquick" -- a baking mix mostly used for muffins, quick breads, etc. One of their staple recipes, that has been on the back of their box at least since I can remember, is called a Velvet Crumb Cake. I have a Bisquick recipe book from the late 50's, and it's in there.

It's a basic quick cake with a cinnamon/sugar topping, so I'm not sure what's "velvety" about it. It's good but doesn't keep well.

Beth said...

I don't know where it came from, but I have this recipe in my files (some of which date back to the mid-1800s. The use of the term beetroot makes me suspect it's English in origin. Maybe a cake from before red food coloring became readily available?

Chocolate Beetroot Cake aka Natural Red Velvet Cake
2 1/3 cups flour
2 ¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup cocoa powder
3 oz chocolate
4 ½ oz salted butter
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 ½ cups cooked beetroot, coarsely grated (or pureed if desired)

Prepare the flour in a large bowl and set it aside. For a darker, more bitter cake, sift cocoa powder into the flour. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a pot of hot water. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar, and then beat the beetroot in. Stir the fuschia pink and chocolate-butter mixtures together before incorporating it into the flour. Pour it into a greased-lined 9X13 pan and bake at 350˚.

Joe said...

The oldest recipe I've so far identified using Velvet in its title is (this would produce a English Muffin style result):

[1836] Velvet Cakes

MAKE a batter of one quart of flour, three eggs, a quart of milk, and a gill of yeast; when well risen, stir in a large spoonful of melted butter, and bake them in muffin hoops. [Randolph, Mary, "Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook", p141 (Baltimore MD) [1836]

As for the Beetroot Velvet Cake recipe - 1) it is a rare recipe, too bad its source can't be cited, but 2) likely the recipe is 1950s and not 1800s (though it could be as early as 1930s). My research on Red Velvet Cake is that it did not appear on the culinary scene until the 1930s, and possibly only in the late 1940s or early 1950s) It appears to be a derivative recipe of Devil's Food Cake.

Joe said...

I should note, it was Lynne Olver on Food Timeline who researched and discovered the 1965 Chocolate Beet Cake recipe - and the recipe does not suggest it is related to Red Velvet Cakes - that is likely an association which came later.

Another clue in the age of the recipe is the 13 x 9 cake pan; as near as I can determine those did not come into common usage until the 1950s, primarily due to cake mixes. Prior to that most cakes were bake in round pans and assembled as layer cakes.