Cake Revolution #3: Layers

Layer cakes opened the door to endless possibilities that still fire the imagination of cooks.

Layer cakes opened the door to endless possibilities that still fire the imagination of cooks.

#3 Layers

Okay so this is really a continuation of  #2 but layers are so integral to our imaginings of what a cake should be I felt it deserved its place as an invention in its own right. The Little House Cookbook explains:

You could make enough batter for all your small milk pans, bake all the batches at once and stack up the results in a single, glorious confection. Thus was the American layer cake born.  With the introduction of fine cake flour at the end of the century, its triumph over the pie as dessert favorite was assured.

I could go add on a number of other inventions such as affordable fine milled flour and refined white sugar which led to ever lighter more delicate creations but these three are my favorite. Without the invention of cast iron cook stoves, baking powder and layers cakes would still be something us common people would rarely taste.

As a child I dreamed about layer cakes, usually with some element of chocolate. For example chocolate cake with raspberry jam filling, German chocolate cake sandwiched with chocolate butter cream and iced with its nutty coating, white cake with fresh berries and fluffy butter cream icing. Flat rectangular cakes just dodn’t have the possibilities inherent to layer cakes.

As an adult the perfect homemade layer cake remained a dream until I discovered the…

Victorian Baking Tip of the Week

When making a layer cake do not cut your well risen  beautiful cake into layers, it will only lead to heartache and lopsided-asymmetrical disappointment .  Instead decide how many layers of cake you want and divide the batter between that many pans.

Simple cake layers

My Grandmother’s 1961 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook uses this method but only ventures to 2 layers. Trust me you can make as many layers as you want within reason. I wouldn’t try to replicate the Petronis towers or anything.

I recognize the average household today will be short on the requisite number of milk pans but do not let that deter you. Inexpensive round cake pans can be purchased from many stores for a few dollars. The small outlay of cash is well worth it when  you can wow your friends with a beautiful cake of uniform layers.

If you insist on trying to cut your beautiful cake into layers here are the tips from my Betty Crocker Cookbook circ 2000. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This really seems to complicated

This really seems to complicated

So the next time you are ogling that fantastic layered creation on the cover of Women’s Day or are weighing up your options at the bakery stop and think of the Victorian house wives who used the inventions of their day to revolutionize cakes.

Happy Baking!


A Brides Cake and 5 Tips For The Victorian Baker

A beautiful reprint of the original cook book, complete with Victorian advertisements, out dated punctuation and at times sketchy detail.

A beautiful reprint of the original cook book, complete with Victorian advertisements, out dated punctuation and at times sketchy detail.

Do you remember attending weddings as a child?

I don’t know about you but next to the dress my  favourite thing was the cake. That tower of loveliness with its flowers and and ribbons, promising such great things but more often than not proving a bitter disappointment,  too sweet, too dry with flavourless foamy icing and slightly salty flowers.

To avoid having one of those cakes that are better to look at than to eat try this recipe from The Boston Cooking-school’s Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book . Don’t forget to follow the 5 tips extracted from the instructions for mixing butter cakes. These are real tips for real Victorian’s so warm up those arm muscles and get ready for some serious mixing.

Bride’s Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter.
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar.
  • 1/2 cup milk.
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.
  • Whites six eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Follow recipe for mixing butter cakes. Bake forty-five to fifty minutes in deep, narrow pans. cover with white frosting.

For mixing Butter Cakes

  1. An earthen bowl should always be used for mixing cake, and a wooden cake-spoon with slits lightens the labour
  2. Count out number of eggs required, breaking each separately that there may be no loss should a stale egg chance to be found in the number, separating yolks from whites if rule so specifies.
  3. When yolks and whites of eggs are beaten separately, whites are usually added at the last as is the cas when whites of eggs alone are used.
  4. A cake can be made fine grained only by long beating, although light and delicate with a small amount of beating.
  5. And never stir a cake after the final beating, remembering that beating motion should always be the last used.

Mixing the cake is only the beginning. “The baking of cake is more critical than the mixing. Many a well mixed cake has been spoiled in the baking”. 

There is an entire page of fine print, unalleviated by paragraphs, devoted to the details of baking cakes, remember at this time “no oven thermometer has yet proved practical“.  It gives guidance on how to open, check and raise back covers, or to leave oven door ajar all without disturbing the cake. Also it warns against putting the cake too close to the fire box as it may burn on one side.

How much we take for granted when we cook our cakes, pre-washed fruit, ovens that stay mostly a constant temperature and do not require years of experience to expertly operate and not to be forgotten,  reliable baking powder.

This is all extremely fascinating but I opened with tantalizing memories of wedding cakes not bride’s cakes. “What?” I hear you say, “Aren’t they one and the same thing?”

No gentle reader they are not.

There are Brides’s cakes, Groom’s cake and Wedding cakes to be covered in more detail on Monday.

Don’t forget the flowers of the week….

What emotion should you call up if you find someone has slipped a French Marigold and sprig of Frog Ophrys on your pillow? And who would send such a message?

leave your guesses in the comments or tweet me @seahamber.