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Baking with Pre-World War II Recipes


kalypso
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When we packed up for a kitchen remodel I found an old booklet of receipes that had belonged to my grandmother. The booklet was originally from a flour company (Town Crier Flour) and had a date of 1937 on it. My grandmother was an accomplished baker and several of the recipes were marked. I set the little book aside with the intent of trying some of the recipes after the remodel was over.

The recipes were clearly written with the tacit understanding that people already knew how to bake and cook; the recipes were clear but not dumbed down. They also were not written in the style where the ingredients are listed in the order in which they are used in the recipe. So for each recipe I've made so far, I've had to sit down before I started it and kind of rearrange the ingredient list to match the order of use. The method for mixing is pretty standard, and begin with creaming the sugar and fat. Flour is sifted 3 times, the last with the leavening, before being incorporated. Since baking recipes are more like formulas, I also paid fairly close attention to the ratios and proportions of the ingredients and they all seemed pretty solid.

I've now made 8 recipes from this little booklet. The overall taste, flavor, and texture has been very good to excellent. But there has been one glaring problem and I need some help/suggestions on how to rectify it. With the cakes and coffee cakes I've tried the centers fall or sink within the last 5 minutes of baking, or within the first 5 minutes of being removed from the oven. The portion that falls is not gummy, sticky or uncooked. In fact, it is cooked through with the same crumb and texture as the remainder of the cake.

Here is what I've tried already:

- Changing the size of the baking pan

- Adjusting baking times

- Convection vs. conventional baking, it makes no difference

- Leavening has been fresh

I don't think ingredients have changed much in 70 years, I mean an egg is still and egg, nuts are still nuts, sugar is still sugar. Flour? That possibly could be different. Since, on the surface, the recipes appeared to be sound, I haven't messed with them yet. I'm a pretty competent home baker, but I'm not particularly skilled at trouble-shooting baking recipes. The centers falling seem to indicate a structural support problem. Some of the other things I've considered doing are:

- Increasing the amount of flour by about few tablespoons, or reducing the number of times it's sifted

- Decreasing sugar

- Playing with the amount of levening

- Not using my stand mixer, using a hand mixer instead (very few of the recipes call for a stand mixer and it occured to me that perhaps I might be inadvertently overmixing?)

I would really like to find a solution to the fallen centers of the cakes and coffee cakes because

1) the end result of everything I've made so far has been outstanding (except, of course for the fallen centers)

2) these recipes are a last remining link to my grandmother

Any suggestions?

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I think you could reduce the leavening a little; that's where I'd start.

Are you weighing the flour/sugar, etc? Because if scooped, a cup of flour might weigh 5 ounces, if you sifted it three times it might weigh 4 ounces; I don't know that I would reduce the sugar. Sifting is more for aeration rather than mixing so not sifting would work so long as you were weighing accurately...

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I think you could reduce the leavening a little; that's where I'd start.

Are you weighing the flour/sugar, etc? Because if scooped, a cup of flour might weigh 5 ounces, if you sifted it three times it might weigh 4 ounces; I don't know that I would reduce the sugar. Sifting is more for aeration rather than mixing so not sifting would work so long as you were weighing accurately...

There are no weights in the recipes, only measures. Weighing is definitely more accurate, I could certainly try converting the measures to weights for flour and see what happens.

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You are probably using too much leavening. According to Shirley Corriher, a rule of thumb is to use 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder for each cup of flour or 1/4 tsp. baking soda. But is is variable. If your pan is larger, you will need less baking powder because the batter will be thinner than if in a smaller pen. One thought is that the original recipe may have used single acting baking powder while most of what you get today is double acting.

Edited by Norm Matthews (log)
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Are you measuring the flour before or after sifting?

Flour in those days had to be sifted two or three times to removed hard clumps and bits that were not fine. Mills did not produce a flour that was 100% finely ground and was sold in cloth bags that did allow some moisture exchange.

With modern flour, if you are measuring AFTER sifting, you can just put the flour in a bowl and stir it well with a wire whisk.

Then measure and whisk the other dry ingredients into it.

Use a sifter if you wish, but it really isn't necessary. I have a lot of old recipes from that era and that's what I do.

When I was a child, after sifting a quart or so of flour, there would sometimes be 1/4 cup of coarse bits left in the sifter - sometimes tiny bits of rock and other inclusions. The milling machinery changed greatly in the late '50s, early '60s.

As others have said, use less baking powder - as noted in the previous post, single action baking powder was in wider use back then - and in fact in the '40s when I was a child.

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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Eggs were generally smaller in those (pre-factory) days.

Some of my mother's favorite recipes from the classic red & white Betty Crocker binder of the 1950's actually specify egg sizes - usually Small or Medium.

Therefore, you may need a bit more dry ingredients (or less egg).

You may be overmixing as you suspected; older mixers were not as powerful as today's.

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My 1946 Toll House baking book, likely unchanged from the 1937 edition, says 1 cup sifted white flour=one quarter pound (4 oz). It also says 8 average size eggs is 1 cup, so that suggests a pretty small egg by todays' standard, as Baroness says.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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