As many of you may know, From Angie’s Kitchen is a recurring segment on the blog where Ray and I attempt to decipher a book of recipes handwritten by his grandmother in her youth. As with many things from a hundred years ago, it is not always easy to figure out what terms may have changed in meaning over such a long period of time, and it is often devoid of many of the key instructions modern cooks look for today such as oven temperature, pan size, cooking or baking time. This is also what makes this exercise fun, challenging and frustrating. About a year ago, when we were deciding which recipe in the book we would like to try, Ray mentioned that he would really like to try baking the Easter cake recipe. If I recall correctly, we had a reason not to try to make that happen before Easter, but made a promise that we would revisit the Easter cake in one year, which was quite optimistic on our part. We were planning to still be blogging in a year’s time, and here we are, a year later!
On the initial perusal of this recipe, it wasn’t looking too bad. Wait. What? Boiling water? Does it really say boiling water? Indeed it does. Okay, that is something I’ve never heard of, but as with all these recipes, a blind leap of faith would be required. Everything else looked “normal”. Instructions appeared to be fairly straight forward. Instructions on how to mix the cake batter, that is. As for all other baking instructions? Those instructions were glaringly absent. I see. Another episode of the technical challenge from Bake Off -Food In-Laws style would be afoot.
For my attempt at this recipe, I noticed that besides the eggs, there wasn’t another fat in the cake. I do know that the addition of vegetable oil is the secret to a light and fluffy cake, so I concentrated a bit on how to make it light. I decided that I would make an effort to make sure the eggs were beaten to have plenty of air in them and folded the flour in gently. The next step was to add the boiling water, which I did slowly and gently. I felt pretty good about my batter. I decided to go with two 9 inch round pans at an oven temperature of 350F. I would shoot for a 20-25 minute bake time. Into the oven they went! I wanted to check in on them after about 10 minutes, so I turned the oven light on and peeked through the window. Things were looking pretty good! I thought I could see a rise happening. I was very encouraged!
So what happened next? Well, I took another peek at about 15 minutes. Not much difference. At 20 minutes I decided to open the door to check. I used the spring test and left an indentation on the cake. Not ready. I decided to go another few minutes, then do another spring test. Another indentation was left behind. What was going on? My confidence started to wane. Right around the 30 minute mark, my husband Tom walked into the kitchen. I shared with him my frustrations about the cake and he pointed out to me that the oven wasn’t even on. What??? How did that happen? Well, I certainly didn’t turn the oven off! Or did I? I quickly turned the oven back on. At this point the temperature read 223F. I was sunk. How could I have put so much effort and thought into this and still manage to screw it up? After an undetermined amount of time, I removed the cakes from the oven. This was probably as good as it would get. A little while later, I noticed the oven light was still on. I walked over and pushed the off button on the oven. The light was still on. Aha! It was me. I knew instantly that I had inadvertently turned off the oven while intending to turn off the light.
Once the cakes were out of the oven and cooling, I debated what to do. I decided that I wanted to taste the cakes before going to the trouble of making a frosting and decorating. How would I do that? I would let them cool and then cut out circles with a biscuit/cookie cutter and taste the scraps before deciding what to do. They weren’t all that bad. The mini cakes were slightly under baked and dense, but considering what I’d done, not bad. I went on to make the frosting and decorate.
As I write this, I’m torn. What might this cake have been if I hadn’t botched things with the oven? Is it worth revisiting to see, or am I ready to move on? I’m not sure, but I am interested in hearing how things went for Ray….
As you may know, we don’t talk about how to interpret and make Angie’s kitchen recipes before we each try them for the first time. It is always fun for me to see how many of the same things about the recipe stood out for each of us when we write our post. Sometimes totally different things catch our eyes, and other times, like this round, we tend to fixate on the same things.
I had the same reaction regarding the fact that other than eggs, there was nothing in the category of fat, like butter or oil. I thought back to the time when we made grandma’s white cake, which was a bit dense and dry. That recipe only had a little bit of butter and one egg. This recipe had no butter, but it called for 4 eggs and I was hopeful that using that many eggs would help compensate for the lack of an additional fat.
Like Karen, I was also focused on the the fact that the recipe called for boiling water. I have never seen boiling water used in a cake recipe before either, but my best guess as to why it called for it was because of the 1 1/2 cups of sugar in the recipe. Perhaps the purpose was to help dissolve the sugar rapidly so you wouldn’t end up with a cake that was crunchy from the granules.
Lack of fat and boiling water aside, I went ahead with mixing up the ingredients. The procedure for mixing the cake was pretty clear and in no time, my batter was ready to go into the pan and the oven. As you already know from what Karen wrote above, pan size, time and temperature were a total mystery! For some reason I was not seeing a layer cake for this recipe and based on the amount of batter I had in the bowl after mixing it up, I decided it was enough for a 13×9 pan. I also chose to go with 350 degrees and I started with 20 minutes on the timer.
I’m usually pretty cautious about choosing time when I don’t have clear directions, and I thought 20 minutes for a pan that size was a good starting point. I’m glad I only chose 20 minutes because much to my surprise, 20 minutes was not only a good starting point, it was also a good ending point! I guess luck was on my side that day.
When it first came out of the oven, based on looks alone, I thought for a second that I had gone back in time to last year when we made Angie’s white cake. This cake looked exactly the same! My hope was that despite the outward appearance, it would be less dense and more moist than the white cake was.
I moved on to the frosting which was basically a thick glaze, something similar to royal icing in texture. The directions said to mix the powdered sugar, milk and lemon flavoring together and then spread “some” on the cake and save “some” to add the melted butter and green coloring to to use for decorating. Gee, thanks grandma – how could you have known more than 50 years before I was born that “some” would be my favorite unit of measurement?!?
Cleary the portion reserved for decorating would need to be thinner. Based on the thickness of the initial mix, I guessed that the “some” that I should reserve would need to be less than half of what I started with. I felt pretty safe with that guess because I was sure that 2 teaspoons of melted butter wouldn’t be enough to thin out half of the mix. I decided to spread two thirds on the cake and save one third for decorating. It was a good try, but it still wasn’t thin enough to drizzle on top in the decorative way that I had imagined. Instead, it fell off the spoon in fairly thick globs which didn’t look particularly nice, so I just spread it evenly over the first layer.
After dinner that evening, we were ready to give the cake a test drive. It rose well, although not as tall as I had hoped. Perhaps the 13×9 pan was just a bit too big. That aside, we were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have another white cake on our hands. The 4 eggs and cup of water seemed to do the trick in adding a decent amount of moisture to the cake.
It wasn’t the most moist cake I’ve ever had, but it was moist enough that it was enjoyable to eat. We found the texture to be interesting as well – my wife thought it was a bit similar to sponge cake, and I thought it was a bit like pound cake. We agreed that in terms of texture, it fell somewhere between the two.
It aged well too – we had another slice the next day and found that it was even more moist than the first day. I have often found that cakes that are glazed or have a glaze like frosting on them will draw in some moisture from the glaze. All in all, I’d have to say this was a pretty successful first round and a very nice cake for a 100+ year old recipe.
Prediction time. Will Karen give it a second try? I say yes! I believe we think similarly in these situations. If the recipe were a complete disaster from start to finish, I’d probably walk away. But to come that close and only fall a bit short because of an unfortunate mishap like switching off the oven by mistake? That would bother me too much, and I’m pretty sure it would bother her too!
On that note, I will now turn my thoughts to round two and the changes that I might like to make to this recipe. The sky is the limit in round two regarding changes, and research regarding procedure and ingredients is back on the table!
Until next time, I hope you all have a great weekend!