Once upon a time, before the advent of leavening agents such as baking powder, a ‘cake’ was essentially a sweetened, and often be-fruited, loaf of bread. At another once upon a time, ‘muffins’ were small,yeast-risen, bubbly, griddle-baked ‘cakes’ (in the sense of small lumps of something, as in a cake of soap.) This latter form of muffin is sometimes still referred to as an ‘English muffin’ to differentiate it from a modern muffin, which is a cupcake without the frosting, and allows us to eat cake (in the modern sense of the word) for breakfast.
The concept of cake for breakfast is not new – only the style has changed over the centuries. I give you a random selection of historical ideas for breakfast cake, and hope you enjoy them:
An ordinary Breakfast Cake.
Rub a pound and a half of butter into half a peck of flower, three pounds of currants, half a pound of sugar, a quarter of an ounce of mace, cinnamon, and nutmeg together, a little salt, a pint and a half of warmed cream, or milk, a quarter of a pint of brandy, five eggs, a pint of good ale-yeast; mix it well together, bake it in a moderate oven. This cake will keep good a quarter of a year.
The Lady's Assistant for Regulating and Supplying her Table: being a complete system of cookery, containing one hundred and fifty select bills of fare, properly disposed for family dinners ... with upwards of fifty bills of fare for suppers ... and several desserts: including likewise, the fullest and choicest receipts of various kinds (1777) by Charlotte Mason.
Cakes, Bath Breakfast.
Rub into two pounds of flour half a pound of butter, and mix with it one pint of milk a little warmed, a quarter of a pint of fresh yeast, four well-beaten eggs, and a tea-spoonful of salt; Cover it, and let it stand before the fire to rise for three-quarters of an hour; make it into thick cakes about the size of the inside of a dinner plate; bake them in a quick oven, then cut them into three, that the middle slice, as also the top and bottom may be well buttered. Serve them very hot.
The Cook's Own Book (Boston, 1840) by Mrs. N.K.M.Lee
I am intrigued, that at a time when bread straight from the oven was considered by many to be an unhealthy choice, that several of these dishes were intended to be served hot.
The following rather similar idea sounds quite delicious too – although I have no idea of the authenticity of the reference to General Washington in this context.
General Washington’s Breakfast Cake.
Sift into a pan 1 lb. of flour, and put into the middle of it 2 oz. of butter warmed in a pint of milk, a small spoonful of salt, 3 well-beaten eggs and 3 tablespoonfuls of fresh yeast. Mix well and put in a square tin pan greased with butter. Cover it, and set in a warm place, and when very light, bake in a moderate oven. Send it to table hot, and eat it with butter.
Dwight’s American Magazine, 1845
And for contrast, a very no-frills version of the concept:-
Hommony Breakfast Cake.
Three spoonfuls of hommony, two of rice flour, a little milk, salt and butter. It must be stiff enough to bake in a pan.
The Carolina Housewife (1847)
And another, even more austere (but somewhat adaptable) version:-
Oatmeal Breakfast Cake.
Oatmeal makes a very tender breakfast cake, the most readily prepared of any thing we put into the oven. Wet oatmeal with water until it can be easily shaken down flat, pour one-half to three-fourths of an inch thick, and bake until the surface is slightly brown. It is not at all exacting in the amount of heat required. It is good with little, better with more, and not spoiled with quite a high degree, provided, of course, that it is not burned. It is, in fact, one of the most accommodating materials on the bread catalogue. In the first place, the amount of water used in wetting it up may be greatly varied. It may be wet up hard, spread out on a bread board and baked before the fire, as they say is often done in the isles of Scotia and Erin. Again, for a hasty bread with very little fire, it may be stirred stiff and baked on a griddle. The oatmeal flavor is not quite so marked as in the "mush," and most people like it on first trial. It can also be made up with wheat meal and with corn-meal, better with the latter, in proportions of one-third corn-meal to two-thirds of the oatmeal.
An experiment just tried demonstrates very prettily the accommodating nature of oatmeal. The meal was wet with cold water till two or three spoonfuls of the latter ran freely on the surface of the mixture. This batter was poured into a frying-pan to the depth of half an inch more or less, covered close, and set upon a stove just hot enough to bake it without burning. In fifteen minutes the cake was turned out, light, sweet, tender, with a deliciously crisp under-crust, and far more wholesome than a whole stack of griddle-cakes. This may seem hardly dignified enough for the ordinary family breakfast-table, though it needs nothing but custom to make it so; yet many a housewife will be glad to produce such a dish for the early breakfast of some friend who must hurry off to the train; and many an obstinate coal fire may be cheated out of its vexatious dilatoriness by thus putting the breakfast cake on the top of the stove instead of in the oven.
The Ladies' Repository (Cincinnati and New York, 1870) a monthly magazine produced
by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Want some vegetables with that?
Squash Breakfast Cake.
One pint of sifted squash, one egg, a small cup of sugar, a piece of butter the size of an egg, two tablespoonfuls of yeast, and enough flour to mold up. Set to rise overnight. In the morning dissolve a teaspoonful of soda in a little water and put into the mixture; mold, and cut into biscuit. Let them rise, and bake fifteen minutes.
Los Angeles Cookery: Fort Street Methodist Episcopal Church (1881, Los Angeles, Calif.).
And as a final offering, from the unashamedly-entitled chapter ‘Fruit-Cake Breakfast’ in What to Get for Breakfast: with more than one hundred different breakfasts, and full directions for each (1882) I give you:-
Cherry Short Cake.
This delicious cake, when made in perfection, can hardly be surpassed, and meets with an especially warm reception among the juveniles, who always make a triumph over early rising when this cake is served for breakfast. To begin with, you must not use an acid cherry, however ripe. Only very sweet and very ripe ones will answer for this cake. These too, must be of the very best quality. Make a short cake as for strawberry, short cake in Breakfast No. 45. When the cake is baked, split and butter the inside of each half. Have the cherries stoned. Add them thickly and liberally to one half of the cake, sweeten to taste, and lay the other half on the top of the cherries. If you have two or more cakes, do not pile one on the other. Keep them separate, or they will be soggy. They look nicer when baked in Washington-pie plates, and cut pie fashion when served.