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Old-Fashioned Cakes


David Ross
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Growing up in the 60's, my Mother and Grandmother always seemed to have a cake under a glass dome on the counter, (or in the fridge. "Icebox" cakes were one of my favorites).

Over the past decade(s) or so, some of the "Old-Fashioned" cakes seemed to have been pushed out of the way in favor of trendy cupcakes with flavors and frostings we never would have imagined back in 1964. However, old isn't always bad, and if you're like me, you still have a sweet tooth for a slice from one of the "Old-Fashioned" cakes you remember from your youth.

My Mother often frosted her cakes with "7-minute Frosting,"-a frosting made with egg whites and literally "cooked" over a double-boiler for 7 minutes until it had a glossy sheen. Mother often frosted a "Burnt Sugar Cake" with the 7-minute Frosting.

Years before caramelized sugar was the rage in pastry, we called it "burnt sugar," which when you think of it, is an appropriate definition. Sugar melted until it "burns" or turns golden. I suppose putting the term "burnt" on a cake menu wouldn't sound appetizing today so we call it "caramelized" instead.

I still make Mother's Burnt Sugar Cake with 7-minute Frosting, but I add Heath Bar bits to the cake for a nostalgic crunch, and I add some burnt sugar syrup to the frosting. I gussy-up Mother's cake with a coating of toasted coconut and a dusting of Heath Bar bits.

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Now I'm not a Master Baker and I don't always present bakery quality cakes in terms of presentation. Mother didn't either, but trusted, prized cakes don't have to win beauty contests. They have to taste great.

Do you have a favorite "Old-Fashioned Cake" you still make?

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Dad got up super early to go to work as a butcher and mom always packed a hearty lunch which had to include cake. There was always a cake in the cupboard that the kids were not supposed to eat because Dad needed it. He favored cakes with no icing or just a powdered sugar glaze and liked them dense. We often baked them in a bundt pan. Three favorites that jump to mind are a grated chocolate cake that included instant mashed potatoes, the poppy seed cake off the Solo poppyseed filling can, and a poundcake style "swirl" one that used Jello pistachio pudding mix and included chocolate.

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Dad got up super early to go to work as a butcher and mom always packed a hearty lunch which had to include cake. There was always a cake in the cupboard that the kids were not supposed to eat because Dad needed it. He favored cakes with no icing or just a powdered sugar glaze and liked them dense. We often baked them in a bundt pan. Three favorites that jump to mind are a grated chocolate cake that included instant mashed potatoes, the poppy seed cake off the Solo poppyseed filling can, and a poundcake style "swirl" one that used Jello pistachio pudding mix and included chocolate.

Wonderful memories--and stories of cake. Imagine, a Pastry Chef today would have a bonanza creating a poundcake with pistachio and chocolate flavors!

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Interesting that this topic would appear! I've just been thinking that I need to make "Mrs. Gourley's Chocolate Cake" (she was a friend of my grandmother). It's a very moist, dark cake that's just barely sweet, made with cocoa powder and buttermilk. Always frosted with 7-minute frosting. It's SO good with a glass of cold milk.

I haven't made it for a long time. Maybe I'll carve out some time this weekend. I have buttermilk on hand. I just wonder if I can find the recipe...

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Chocolate cake with boiled frosting is an excellent combination. Cake is one of those things I always want to have around the house to eat, but since I'd be the only one eating it, that would be a sure path to caloric ruin.

My top vote has got to go to carrot cake, though. Whenever I see that on a menu, I can't resist.

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My grandmother always made a "Danish Cake". Don't have a clue why it's named that, but it was always a favorite.

It was a basic buttermilk cake that had chopped dates and chopped pecans in it. Then a cooked icing of buttermilk, sugar, butter and coconut was poured over it.

I still have the recipe and have wanted to make it, but haven't had an occasion. But, I need to fine one :).

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My grandmother made Gum Drop Cake. It isn't the one that most recipes make which is very similar to fruit cake. This was a lovely golden pound cake with whole big gum drops except the licorice ones.

I remember one year she made it for a younger sister's birthday, frosted it with a thin glaze, and sprinkled with pink sugar. My grandfather gathered some little winter iris and put them in the hole. A very pretty presentation.

Sadly I lost the recipe and haven't been able to make it.

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Oh my. My grandmother was primarily a pie baker, but most of all she was a baker, and we frequently had: Angel Food Cake with Chocolate Glaze; Tomato Soup Cake and Mayonnaise Cake, both dusted with 10x although the tomato soup cake occasionally got chocolate frosting; chocolate layer cake; and Coconut Cake, a specialty, often with lemon curd filling,frosted with buttercream and flaked coconut. And her yeasted coffee cake, although not the type of cake you are talking about here, was to die for. We all still talk about it.

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My grandmother made Gum Drop Cake. It isn't the one that most recipes make which is very similar to fruit cake. This was a lovely golden pound cake with whole big gum drops except the licorice ones.

I remember one year she made it for a younger sister's birthday, frosted it with a thin glaze, and sprinkled with pink sugar. My grandfather gathered some little winter iris and put them in the hole. A very pretty presentation.

Sadly I lost the recipe and haven't been able to make it.

It's sad to lose something like that. Do you think it could be re-created with a regular pound cake recipe?

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My grandmother made Gum Drop Cake. It isn't the one that most recipes make which is very similar to fruit cake. This was a lovely golden pound cake with whole big gum drops except the licorice ones.

I remember one year she made it for a younger sister's birthday, frosted it with a thin glaze, and sprinkled with pink sugar. My grandfather gathered some little winter iris and put them in the hole. A very pretty presentation.

Sadly I lost the recipe and haven't been able to make it.

It's sad to lose something like that. Do you think it could be re-created with a regular pound cake recipe?

Ah yes, a favourite of my Newfoundlander friends - I second the pound cake idea.

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Some of the best Old-Fashioned cake recipes can be found on the advertising pages of "Women's" Magazines of the first decades of the 20th Century. I happen to collect vintage magazines to get inspiration from old recipes, but at the same time to learn from a historical perspective about recipes from the past. Many of these old cake recipes don't need to be updated for contemporary tastes.

This evening I checked my copy of the March, 1934, Edition of "Woman's Home Companion" and there are recipes for:

"Delecta White Cake," on an ad for Crisco

"Wonder Chocolate Layer Cake," on an ad for Swan's Down Cake Flour

A basic yellow cake recipe on an ad for Royal Baking Powder

"Lemon Gold Cake with Luscious Lemon Frosting," on an ad for Calumet Baking Powder

A "Cheese Torte" which is a type of cheesecake

"My Best Gingerbread" on an ad for Brer Rabbit Molasses

An ad for Pillsbury "Sno-Sheen" Cake Flour

"Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream Frosting on an ad for "Sparkling" Pyrex Ovenware

Gosh, cake was quite popular in 1934!

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My mom made more cookies and bars, especially brownies, and cakes were for special occasions. Every Valentine's she'd make a heart-shaped red velvet cake with a cooked milk frosting using her mother's recipe called Waldorf Cake. After she frosted it, she'd let us decorate it with red hots candies, which I guess my grandma had done, too. We loved that cake, and one year we convinced her to make a green one for St Patrick's. That only happened once :)

And the other two were my dad's favorites and made mostly for his birthdays. A poppyseed with a penuche-like frosting. The other was my dad's mom's recipe for a chocolate cake with walnuts and dates and sugar sprinkled on top, no frosting.

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"Lemon Gold Cake with Luscious Lemon Frosting," on an ad for Calumet Baking Powder

Sounds fantastic! Can you share?

My pleasure. Courtesy of Calumet Baking Powder, 1934, (edited to fit within more familiar techniques today)-

Lemon Gold Cake-

2 cups sifted cake flour

2 tsp. Calumet Baking Powder

1/2 cup butter or other shortening

1 cup sugar

3 egg yolks, beaten until thick and lemon-colored

3/4 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla or 1/2 tsp. lemon extract

Sift together flour once, (not sure if this means after it was sifted before measuring), add baking powder and sift together three times. Cream butter thoroughly and add sugar gradually and cream together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat well. (I assume the egg yolks should be beaten together ahead of time as directed in the ingredient list then added to the creamed mixture). Add flour alternately with milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition until smooth. Add flavoring. (I think a couple of teaspoons of freshly grated lemon zest would be a nice flavor addition). Beat well.

Bake in two greased 9-inch layer pans in moderate oven (375) 25 to 30 minutes. (You would want the cake pans to cool at this point for about 10 minutes then remove the cakes from the pans and let cool before frosting). Spead Luscious Lemon Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Double recipe to make 3 10-inch layers.

Luscious Lemon Frosting-

3 tsp. grated orange rind (odd they call it lemon but call for orange rind)

Dash of salt

3 tbsp. butter

3 cups sifted confectioner's (powdered) sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. water

(I think you could also add some lemon extract and lemon zest to the frosting for a boost in flavor)

Add orange rind and salt to butter; cream well. Add part of sugar gradually, blending after each addition. Combine lemon juice and water; add to creamed mixture, (I think you could substitute milk for the water), alternately with remaining sugar, until of right consistency to spread. Beat after each addition until smooth. Makes enough frosting to cover top and sides of two 9-inch layers. For a deeper yellow frosting, tint with yellow (food) coloring.

I think back then food coloring was not a taboo addition to add coloration to recipes. Seems like today we try to achieve color in a recipe through natural means without the addition of food dyes, (even if they are natural dyes). Heck, if it makes the frosting more "yellow" I'm all for it.

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Thanks, David. I recently got "How to Bake" by Nick Maglieri out of the library, and he includes several "old fashioned" style cakes in the cake chapter, including a spice cake with boiled frosting, angel food cake, and a good-looking carrot cake without too many frou-frou additions. I just wish I had an excuse to make one - it makes me want to run a good old-fashioned cake walk.

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My grandma had a recipe for Mahogany Chocolate Cake with Fudge frosting that was amazing. It was made with cocoa and chocolate, and had sour cream in it. It made a huge cake, 9" with three thick layers, six if you split the layers. It was so tender and delicate you had to cut it with a piece of floss, so it didn't just crumble. My dad credits that cake with getting through the ecoli epidemic in Wisconsin in the early 90s, it's so calorie dense he basically lived on it for the two weeks he was sick! I lost my grandma's recipe box (the cause of much consternation in the family) and have been meaning to track down that recipe specifically, to see if it's as good as I remember it, now that I bake chocolate cakes from various recipes at least once a week...

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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My grandmother made Gum Drop Cake. It isn't the one that most recipes make which is very similar to fruit cake. This was a lovely golden pound cake with whole big gum drops except the licorice ones.

I remember one year she made it for a younger sister's birthday, frosted it with a thin glaze, and sprinkled with pink sugar. My grandfather gathered some little winter iris and put them in the hole. A very pretty presentation.

Sadly I lost the recipe and haven't been able to make it.

Courtesy of my friend Winston - this is his sister's recipe.

Gum Drop Cake

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Recipe By: Dee

Serving Size: 12

Yield: 1 cake

Ingredients:

Cake:

1-1/2 cup butter

2 cup sugar

3 egg

1 cup 2% milk, warm

1 tsp. salt

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 cup gum drops

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3-1/2 cup flour

Icing

1/4 cup shortening

1 tsp. vanilla extract

icing sugar, to mix

Directions:

1. Cream butter & sugar. Mix other ingredients. Bake 325°F for 1 1/2 hours.

2. If use small pans (4/sheet) makes 5 loaves, bakes for 1 hour (on convection at 300°F).

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My old fashioned cake is one that I actually have yet to taste. This cake was baked in 1935/36 by my dad, then a high school student and farm son, required to take 6 weeks of Home Economics classes at his small town school.

Of the rest of his month and a half of domestic training, he remembers nothing except for the beautiful and delicious, triple layer, reddish chocolate cake that he baked in class, his one and only cake baking experience, at least so far that is, he will be 91 in a few months.

There was no coloring used in the recipe, but rather a reaction between some of the ingredients, including cocoa, together turned the cake a reddish brown. I suppose that is why it made such an impression on him. It would be so fun to find a vintage recipe that might be similar to the one he used, but I believe, from what I have read, that the color reaction would not be possible with modern ingredients, something to do with the cocoa, I think, and possibly soda and vinegar.

My dad requested this cake recently for a special occasion. It was called Mahogany Cake, as also was Genkinaonna’s grandmothers cake above. When I could not find a way to duplicate my dad's 1930’s cake, I made an adapted version of a Red Velvet Cake instead, which was quite nice.

My mother had a wonderful German Chocolate Cake that our family has loved for decades. The coconut/pecan frosting has chocolate in it and is cooked in a double boiler and is different than many recipes, I think.

Looking forward to trying some of the delicious cakes above.

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Well I emailed my aunt to see if she still has the Mahogany chocolate cake recipe, none of the ones on the internet seem quite right...hopefully she'll get back to me and I can post it.

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~Author Unknown

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I grew up in the 1940s and we always had cakes. My grandfather's cook was a wonderful cake baker and I wish I had her recipes.

The ones I remember best are:

Coconut cake which took two days to prepare

The cake layers were baked and then drizzled with a syrup made with the coconut water so the interior was very moist and the icing was an Italian meringue (aka "fluffy white icing).

Red Velvet cake, unlike any other recipe but I know the secret to this one.

Into the batter went an entire jar of maraschino cherries, crushed and mashed, no food coloring.

again the icing was the fluffy white Italian meringue.

Orange chiffon cake - the recipe was on the Softasilk cake flour box in 1947.

7-layer Devil's Food cake with cherry jam between the layers and fudge icing.

Spice cake with burnt sugar frosting.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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My Gram made a black walnut cake with penuche frosting every year for my dad's birthday. I have the recipe, and still make it when I'm feeling nostalgic, or sometimes for my own birthday. I'm not usually a fan of rot-your-teeth-sweet frosting, but this stuff was divine.

She also made an excellent shoofly cake. Mmmm.

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One of my bachelor uncles made a *very* molasses-rich sheet cake. Even though Uncle Art was mostly a before-his-times health/natural foods fan, this cake had a lot of white sugar poured on top of the batter before baking. The sugar made a thick, fudge-like layer at the top of the cake...delicious! I have his recipe, if there are any other molasses fans who would like it.

Edited by baroness (log)
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