Americas love affair with baking stretches back only two hundred years, yet
in this relatively brief period weve developed a large and varied tradition
rivaling that of countries that have been around for thousands of years. Where
did all these recipes come from? I became fascinated by this question as I
leafed through Seventy-Five Receipts, for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats in
the cozy wood-paneled rare book room of the Los Angeles Public Library.
There, in the earliest American baking book, written in 1828 by Eliza Leslie
(A Lady of Philadelphia), an unusual recipe called Indian Pound Cake
grabbed my attention:
The weight of eight eggs in powdered sugar.
The weight of six eggs in Indian meal, sifted.
Half a pound of butter.
One nutmeg, grated—or a tea-spoonful of cinnamon.
Stir the butter and sugar to a cream. Beat the eggs very light. Stir the meal
and eggs, alternately, into the butter and sugar. Grate in the nutmeg. Stir all
well. Butter a tin pan, put in the mixture, and bake it in a moderate oven.
Pound cake, a traditional English cake normally made with fine
white flour, had been transformed into something new by the substitution of
an authentic American ingredient, cornmeal, known at the time as Indian
meal, for the flour. And it was flavored with an entire nutmeg to boot.
Intrigued, I wondered what the texture would be like. And would the nutmeg
overwhelm the flavor? I couldnt wait to get into the kitchen to find out.
My first attempt didnt work because the regular supermarket
cornmeal I used was too coarse, making the cake heavy and gritty. When I
switched to fine cornmeal, however, the cake had a deliciously complex
texture, tender yet a bit toothsome, the nutmeg adding a marvelous aroma
and a not-too-strong spiciness. I was hooked. I searched through other
nineteenth-century cookbooks and found many more Indian pound cake
recipes. Some were flavored with rose water, or with brandy, or both. Rose
water, the distilled extract of rose petals, contributed a floral aroma and
flavor, and when I added brandy as well, the taste was exquisite. (Try the
recipe on page 180 and youll see what I mean.)
Baking the almost two-hundred-year-old recipe made me feel an
unexpected kinship with Miss Leslie. It was as if she were with me in my
kitchen. Past and present coexisted. What other treasures, I wondered,
might I find by delving into old cookbooks? Would I be as successful at
resurrecting them as I had been with the Indian Pound Cake?
BLUEBERRYLEMON CURD STREUSEL MUFFINS
These big, delicate, berry-filled muffins have a delightfully crunchy topping
and a hidden surprise of lemon curd in the center. They rise above the rims of
their cups, making an attractive brim. A nonstick pan works best for these.
Theyre delicious plain, but butter makes them even better.
Makes 12 large muffins
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
11/2 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/31/2 cup Lemon Curd (page 292)
1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Butter a 12-cup muffin pan, preferably nonstick. Set aside.
2. For the topping, combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. With a pastry
blender or your fingertips, work in the butter until it is in small flakes. Stir in
the nutmeg. Refrigerate.
3. For the muffins, sift the flour, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt
together into a large bowl. Add the butter and cut it in with a pastry blender or
two knives until the pieces are about the size of small peas. Add the
blueberries and toss them in the mixture with your fingers. In a small bowl,
beat the egg lightly, then stir in the vanilla and milk. Add the milk mixture to
the flour mixture all at once, folding it gently with a rubber spatula just to
moisten the dry ingredients. The batter will be stiff.
4. Divide half the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Top each with a
small spoonful of lemon curd. Spoon the remaining batter evenly over the
lemon curd. Sprinkle the streusel mixture on top of the muffins.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and spring
back when gently pressed. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Invert the pan onto
a baking sheet, wait for a few seconds, and slowly lift off the pan. The muffins
should all come out easily; if not, use the tip of a sharp knife to dislodge
them. Turn the muffins upright and serve at once.
MALTED MILK BLACK-AND-WHITE POUND CAKE
This is a beautiful, mysterious cake. Part of a vanilla batter is spread in the
pan, chocolate is added to the remainder, which is poured over the light
batter. The two batters are not marbled or swirled. During baking, the
chocolate layer is swallowed by the lighter batter and is only revealed when
you cut into the cake. You can find malted milk powder in supermarkets,
where the dry milk is sold.
Makes one 10-inch tube cake, 12 to 16 servings
3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 cup malted milk powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
21/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
7 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup chocolate syrup (I use Hersheys)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°
F. Coat a 10-x-4-inch tube pan, with a removable bottom, with cooking spray
and dust all over, including the tube, with fine dry bread crumbs. Tap out the
excess crumbs and set aside.
2. Resift the flour with the malted milk and salt; set aside.
3. Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed for
1 to 2 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar about 1/4 cup at a
time, beating for about 30 seconds after each addition. Add the vanilla and
beat for 6 to 7 minutes, until fluffy and light in color. Beat in the eggs one at a
time, beating for about 30 seconds after each addition. Increase the speed to
medium-high and beat for 1 to 2 minutes more. Scrape the bowl and beaters.
4. On low speed, add half the flour mixture and beat only until incorporated.
Beat in the milk, then the remaining flour, beating only until well combined.
Scrape 5 cups of the batter into the prepared pan and level the top with a
rubber spatula. Add the chocolate syrup, baking soda, and almond extract to
the remaining batter and beat only until thoroughly combined. Pour the
chocolate batter over the light batter and smooth the top; do not mix the two.
5. Bake for 1 hour and 25 to 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the cake is golden
brown on top and springs back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted
into the thickest part comes out clean. Do not overbake.
6. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Cover with another
rack and invert the two. Carefully remove the pan, cover with another rack,
and invert again to cool completely right side up.
7 Transfer to a cake plate and let stand, covered, for several hours, or
preferably overnight, before serving. Use a serrated knife to cut into thin
Copyright © 2002 by Greg Patent.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.