Friday, April 15, 2016

HFF 2.8: Literary Foods

The Historical Food Fortnightly Icon

The Challenge: Make a food mentioned in a work of literature.
"I saw Mrs. Jamieson eating seed-cake, slowly and considerately, as she did every thing; and I was rather surprised, for I knew she had told us, on the occasion of her last party, that she never had it in her house, it reminded her so much of scented soap. She always gave us Savoy biscuits. However, Mrs. Jamieson was kindly indulgent to Miss Barker's want of knowledge of the customs of high life; and, to spare her feelings, ate three large pieces of seed-cake, with a placid, ruminating expression of countenance, not unlike a cow's." -Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

The Recipe: A Very Good Seed Cake, from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management
INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of butter, 6 eggs, 3/4 lb. of sifted sugar, pounded mace and grated nutmeg to taste, 1 lb. of flour, 3/4 oz. of caraway seeds, 1 wineglassful of brandy. 
Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream; dredge in the flour; add the sugar, mace, nutmeg, and caraway seeds, and mix these ingredients well together. Whisk the eggs, stir to them the brandy, and beat the cake again for 10 minutes. Put it into a tin lined with buttered paper, and bake it from 1–1/2 to 2 hours. This cake would be equally nice made with currants, and omitting the caraway seeds.
The Date/Year and Region: 1861, British

How Did You Make It:  As instructed, I beat the butter, added in 1 lb flour, 12 oz. of granulated sugar (ran short and so substituted brown sugar for the last two ounces), 1 oz of caraway seeds, 1 tsp ground mace, and 1 Tbsp ground nutmeg (I like nutmeg, and it did say "to taste").  Beat six eggs, stirred in 1.5 oz of brandy (1 wineglassful, according to this 1840s reference), and added them to the rest of the mixture.  Continued beating the batter until light and smooth.  

No oven temperature was suggested, so I opted to try my default baking temperature of 350F.  Baked the cake until the center was solid, about 40 minutes. [The lower layer was still a bit mushy, if no loger a liquid, so I did put it back in for another 10 minutes.]

Time to Complete: Just over an hour.

Total Cost: All ingredients on hand

How Successful Was It?: Tasted alright, though I'm still coming around to caraway seeds--as with rosewater, it just doesn't register as food to me, so I sympathize with Mrs. Jameson's "soap" comparison. The texture is very similar to the sponge cake I've previously made from Mrs. Beeton's.  There was a lot of batter, almost too much for the sheet cake pan; in the future, I'd likely use a larger mold or scale down the recipe. I'd also bake it at a lower temperature and line the pan with paper, as instructed, so that the sides don't overcook before the center is baked. The caraway flavor overwhelmed the mace and nutmeg, so next time I'd either use the currant substitution, or else reduce the quantity of caraway seeds.     

How Accurate Is It?: Used the electric mixer and stove, but otherwise complied with the instructions, such as they were. 
Seed cake from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861

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