Archive for Anna Maxwell’s Recipes

Marble Cake

emm-marble-cupcakes-frostedMarble cake typically conjures up images of a beautifully swirled vanilla and chocolate cake, similar to the look of vanilla fudge ice cream. However, throughout most of the nineteenth century, the swirls in marble cake got their lovely chestnut color from molasses and rich spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, not chocolate.

As I mentioned in a previous post, chocolate as a cake flavoring in America didn’t start appearing in cookbooks until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Prior to this, chocolate was consumed mainly as a beverage. In fact, the earliest recipes labeled “chocolate cake” were meant to be eaten with hot chocolate and actually contain no chocolate at all. In the late 1870s improvements in cocoa processing created a much smoother, more delicious tasting chocolate, which better translated to cake baking.

So when Anna Maxwell of the Ebenezer Maxell Mansion began compiling a journal of recipes in the mid-nineteenth century, molasses was still the ingredient of choice for two-toned marble cakes. In fact, in addition to the marble cake, her journal has several other recipes featuring molasses, including gingerbread, gingersnaps, molasses cake and Dolly Varden cake (comprised of colorful multi-hued layers).

Molasses was an extremely important food ingredient in America’s early days. It first made its way to the colonies from the Caribbean as a by-product of the lucrative sugarcane industry. The British had began cultivating sugarcane in Barbados in the mid-1600s, and by the 1670s, there was a booming trade between Barbados and Rhode Island.  The New England colonists would receive sugar, molasses, cotton and rum in return for products such as pork, beef, butter and cider. Since it was less expensive than refined sugar, thick, gooey molasses became the sweetener of choice throughout much of America. The rich liquid was incorporated into many recipes and used to brew birch and molasses beer and distill rum. When the price of refined sugar dropped at the end of the nineteenth century, the role of molasses diminished.

emm-marble-cake-slicedNot surprisingly, this is right around the time molasses and brown sugar in marble cake recipes began to be replaced by chocolate. For several years, both types of marble cake were often listed in cookbooks, but by the early twentieth century, chocolate had pretty much taken over, evolving into the extremely popular flavor that it is today. Either type of marble cake is excellent, but I highly recommend trying Anna’s version, especially in the fall or winter when heartier baked goods are appreciated. It would be a lovely addition to your Thanksgiving or holiday table!


The original recipe from Anna’s diary:


MARBLE CAKE-Light part-Two cups of white sugar, one cup of butter, a half-cup of sweet milk, whites of four eggs, two and one-half teaspoons of baking powder, two cups of flour. Dark part-One cup of brown sugar, a half cup of molasses, one cup of butter, one-fourth of a cup of sour milk, half a teaspoon of soda, yolks of four eggs, flour to thicken, and flavor.


emm-marble-cake-cupcakesMy adapted version (this recipe makes enough batter for two round cakes two loaf cakes, two dozen cupcakes or a Bundt cake):


Marble Cake


Light part:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour


Dark part:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp cloves


  1. emm-marble-cake-batterPreheat oven to 350F. Butter pan(s) and dust with flour or line with parchment paper or cupcake papers.
  2. Beat egg whites until foamy, about 1-2 min. Set aside.
  3. Beat butter until light, about 1 minute. Add sugar ¼ cup at a time, beating 20 to 30 seconds after each addition. Slowly add milk and eggs and mix well.
  4. Add flour and baking powder a little at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Set aside.
  5. In a separate bowl, beat brown sugar, molasses and butter together, then add sour cream and egg yolks. Mix well. Sift flour with spices and baking soda and slowly add to mixture.
  6. Add light and dark batter to pan(s) in alternate intervals. When done, run a knife through the batter a few times to create a swirly pattern.
  7. Bake for 50-60 min if using a Bundt pan; 20-25 for cupcakes and 30 min for 8-in circular cake pans, or until a toothpick inserted into top comes out clean.
  8. Cool on wire racks and ice with sugary glaze if desired (1 cup confectioners sugar, 3 tbsp cream and 1 tsp vanilla).


(Sources: Baking in America by Greg Patent; The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink edited by Andrew F. Smith

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Chocolate Puffs

Chocolate Puffs2Deliciously chewy with a slightly crispy coating, chocolate puffs are delightful meringue cookies reminiscent of a baked chocolate mousse. Very simple to make, they require only four ingredients: egg whites, powdered sugar, cornstarch and unsweetened chocolate.

A sweet blend of stiffly beaten egg whites and sugar, meringue dates back to the sixteenth century. European cooks realized that whisking egg whites with birch twigs (for the lack of a better utensil), created a light, frothy mixture. They used this method to make what they called “snow,” a velvety combination of whipped beaten egg whites and cream.

It was eventually discovered that meringue hardens when baked at a low temperature (or simply left out in the air to dry), changing the texture from silky to one that is pleasantly airy and crispy. In the seventeenth century this was often called “sugar puff,” which was sometimes flavored with caraway seeds, a tradition that continued to evolve with other flavorings, creating a large number of taste combinations. In addition to sugar puffs, nineteenth century cookbooks feature recipes for lemon puffs, orange puffs, almond puffs, curd puffs and chocolate puffs, which I adapted from a recipe found in Anna Maxwell’s journal.

The recipe calls for grated baking chocolate, which gives the cookies a pretty speckled look and really boosts the flavor. However, later recipes often call for unsweetened cocoa, which is a perfectly fine substitution. This is a result of improvements in cocoa processing that occurred throughout the nineteenth century. In 1828 a Dutchman by the name of van Houten patented a way to simplify cacao processing by pressing out most of the fat and alkalizing the dry cocoa that remained. This revolutionized the manufacturing of chocolate, allowing it to assume solid, liquid, and powdered form, paving the way for all kinds of chocolate dessert possibilities. In the decades that followed, recipes for chocolate blancmanges, mousses, creams, cream pies, custards, puddings, soufflés, and syrups began appearing more frequently in period cookbooks. Chocolate puffs are actually one of the earliest chocolate recipes, dating back to the 1700s, featured in cookbooks by Elizabeth Raffald (1769) and Richard Briggs (1792).

Anna’s recipe also contains an ubiquitous nineteenth century measurement – “teacup.” This is one of the challenges in interpreting and adapting historic recipes. Before “standardized” measuring units, cooks used various types of measures. In addition to teacup as a measure, wineglass, dessertspoonful and saltspoonful were often listed as measuring devices in recipes. (We can thank Fannie Farmer for finally standardizing culinary measurements). Since we don’t know what size Anna’s teacups were, I had to improvise by looking at other recipes from the time and similar modern ones. I was able to determine that a teacup is typically about a half a cup in today’s measurements, so I went with one cup of powdered sugar to equal the “2 teacups” in Anna’s recipe, which worked great.

The recipe also says that chocolate puffs are “nice to mix with cake in the basket,” so it is likely Anna served them for tea, perhaps in a silver basket covered with lace, arranged alongside golden sponge and dark, rich fruitcake. The contrasting shades of these treats would have been a lovely presentation.

Here’s Anna’s original recipe:

CHOCOLATE PUFFS, that are nice to mix with cake in the basket, are made by beating to a stiff froth the whites of two eggs; stir in with them, gradually, two teacupfuls of powdered sugar and two tablespoonfuls of corn starch; mix two ounces of chocolate, which you have grated, with the corn starch. Bake these on buttered tins for fifteen minutes in a moderate oven. They should be dropped on the tins from a large spoon.

And here’s my adapted version (I used a stand mixer but feel free to used a hand mixer or mix by hand if you’d like a workout!)


Chocolate Puffs



  • 2 egg whites (room temperature eggs will whip easier, so for best results separate when cold and then let come to room temperature, about 30 minutes).grated baking chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 ounces baking chocolate
  • Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  (or 300 for 30-40 min?)
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Grate chocolate and mix with cornstarch, set aside.
  4. Beat egg whites in a stainless steel or glass bowl at a low to medium speed. When the egg white foam increases in volume with smaller bubbles, add the cream of tartar at the side of the bowl if desired (cream of tartar helps to stabilize the eggs and prevent overbeating).
  5. Increase mixer speed to medium. When the bubbles become smaller and more even in size, increase the mixer speed to medium-high.
  6. Add sugar slowly in a steady stream at the side of the bowl.
  7. chocolate puff mixtureIncrease mixer speed to high and continue beating until the mixture is white, fluffy, firm and still very glossy, like white cake icing.
  8. Add the chocolate/cornstarch mixture slowly and blend well.
  9. Drop spoonfuls of meringue on the baking sheets (I use a cookie scoop)
  10. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. (Or bake at 300 for 30-40 min). Cool on baking sheets for about 30 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack.

Sources:  “How to beat Egg Whites,” Baking Bites website; “Beating Egg Whites”, Good Housekeeping website; The Kitchn guide to Beating Egg Whites;; Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts by Susan Williams; Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America’s First Cooking School by Becky Diamond; Seven Centuries of English Cooking By Maxime de La Falaise and Arabella Boxer

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Charlotte Russe

By Becky Diamond

Charlote RuseIn the Victorian era it was especially fashionable to name foods after famous people and places. Naming a dish after a geographical location lent a mysterious element to a meal, summoning up images of distant horizons and alluring travel possibilities. Dishes named for people were either a favorite of that famous person or created in their honor, as is the case with charlotte russe, which was technically named after two people.

“Charlotte” desserts originated in England at the end of the eighteenth century and are essentially puddings poured into a mold that has been lined with bread or sponge fingers. They can be served baked or unbaked. The most famous baked version is an apple charlotte, which incorporates buttered bread, stewed apples and a breadcrumb topping. The name charlotte is thought to be in honor of Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III of England. Charlotte russe came a few years later. A luscious chilled dessert of vanilla Bavarian cream set in a mold lined with ladyfingers, it was created by French chef Carême at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Carême originally called the dish charlotte à la parisienne, but it is believed he changed it to charlotte russe in honor of Russian Tsar Alexander I.

Variations of the popular dessert quickly emerged, including making the pudding as individual servings, and adding gelatin or isinglass (gelatin made from the swimming bladder of certain fish) to help “set” the pudding, and make it easier to turn out in one piece, which was a common American adaptation. Victorian Americans were undoubtedly taking advantage of the newfangled powdered, unflavored gelatin that became available in the 1880s and is now recognizable as packets of Knox® Unflavoured Gelatine, sold in a little orange box. (Prior to this, gelatin was created via a lengthy process that involved making a thick, gelatinous stock from animal products rich in natural gelatin such as veal knuckle, calves feet, bacon hock and rind, poultry bones, and fish trimmings.) The charlotte russe recipe from Anna Maxwell’s journal embraced this new culinary innovation, calling for boxed gelatin:

Charlotte Russe.
Pour ½ pint of Cold water in a box of gelatine, and stand until the whole is dissolved. Make a custard of 3 eggs to a pint of milk and flavor, while hot pour the gelatine in it, + let it stand until cool, stir in the custard before quite-cold a qt of sweetened and flavored cream, line a mould bottom + sides with split-Lady fingers, and fill it with-the custard when it begins to form.

Here’s the adapted version I created:

Charlotte Russe

• 2 packets unflavored gelatin (such as Knox®)
• 3 eggs
• ½ cup sugar
• ¼ tsp salt
• 2 cups milk
• 1 tbsp vanilla extract
• Ladyfingers (one or two packages depending on the size)
• 1 pint heavy cream
• 1/4 cup powdered sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla

1. Place a metal mixing bowl and whisk(s) from an electric mixer in the freezer.
2. In a mixing bowl, sprinkle 2 packets unflavored gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand for 1 minute, then add 1/2 cup boiling water, stirring constantly until granules are completely dissolved.
3. Combine eggs, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk.
4. Cook milk in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Remove milk from heat, and gradually add to the egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in vanilla.
5. While still warm, pour in the gelatin and let cool for 20 minutes.
6. Remove chilled bowl and whisk from freezer. Place cream, powered sugar and vanilla in bowl and whip using an electric mixer on medium speed for about 7-8 min. or until firm peaks form.
7. Grease a spring form pan (or spray with cooking spray) and then line bottom and sides with ladyfingers, using whipped cream to “glue” them together to form a solid bottom.
8. Fold remaining whipped cream into custard mixture and then pour over ladyfingers.
9. Place in the freezer for an hour and then take out and carefully unmold onto a plate.
10. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just prior to serving, garnish as desired – with strawberries or other fruit, more whipped cream, and/or powdered or colored sugar.

To learn more and try a taste of this luscious dessert as well as Dolly Varden Cake, another 19th century favorite, join me at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion on March 20 for a 19th Century Food Tasting and Demo. CLICK HERE FOR RESERVATIONS



Sources: The Thousand Dollar Dinner by Becky Libourel Diamond; The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink by Andrew F. Smith)

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Lady Cake

lady cake recipeBrowse through any Victorian era cookbook and you will be rewarded with pages and pages of luscious cake recipes. Some names are familiar, such as Sponge Cake, Lemon Cake or Pound Cake, but many have long been forgotten – Election Cake, Queen Cake, Composition Cake, Taylor Cake and Black Cake (also known as plum cake). Several cakes were known by more than one name, such as the Lady Cake featured in Anna Maxwell’s diary (also called Silver Cake or White Lady Cake).


Anna’s diary actually includes two recipes for Lady Cake, a rich pound cake flavored with bitter almonds and rosewater, made snowy white by using only egg whites. In order not to waste the leftover egg yolks, “Gold or Golden” Cake was often made at the same time. This rich yellow cake with a sunny hue was a similar cake made with egg yolks. Slices of these two cakes were often alternately placed in a silver cake basket for the tea table, the contrasting colors creating a pretty striped or checkerboard pattern.


According to nineteenth century cookbook writer Eliza Leslie, Lady Cake “must be flavored highly with bitter almonds; without them, sweet almonds have little or no taste, and are useless in lady cake.” Bitter almonds (which are actually poisonous in large amounts) needed to be properly prepared prior to baking – the use of heat would safely extract their strong, bitter taste. This rather tedious process was done by blanching shelled bitter almonds in scalding water, and then placing them in a bowl of very cold water. They were then wiped dry and pounded (one at a time,) to a smooth paste in a clean marble mortar, along with a bit of rose water to improve the flavor and prevent them from becoming oily, heavy and dark. Miss Leslie suggests blanching and pounding the almonds the day before to achieve better flavor and a lighter color, thus enhancing both the taste and whiteness of the cake.


The white color and delicate texture of Lady Cake was considered so exquisite and elegant that it was often used as a wedding cake in the nineteenth century, frosted with pure white icing and decorated with white flowers. As Leslie raved, “this cake is beautifully white, and (if the receipt is strictly followed) will be found delicious. If well made, and quite fresh, there is no cake better liked.” Leslie’s recipe is apparently for a large wedding-type cake since she stipulates using “the whites only of sixteen eggs, three quarters of a pound of sifted flour, half a pound of fresh butter and a pound of powdered white sugar.”


The versions from Anna Maxwell’s diary are smaller-scale, calling for ingredients equal to half that amount. Only one of the recipes lists almond as a flavoring (and this is rather vague – it says to just “flavor with almond”) and neither mentions the use of rosewater. So, to create a present-day Lady Cake, I took bits of Anna’s two recipes along with tips from Eliza Leslie’s recipe as well as those found in Greg Patent’s Baking in America and James Beard’s American Cookery.


I felt the most important thing was imparting the almond flavor. I wasn’t sure how or if I could get bitter almonds, so I decided to blanch some almonds and crush them in the food processor along with some rose water as per Greg Patent’s recipe. However, I thought that even after the almonds were ground/pounded to a paste they might make the cake texture less tender. Since both of Anna’s recipes called for a cup of milk as an ingredient, I decided to steep the crushed almonds in milk and then pour the milk through a sieve before adding to the other ingredients. I also added some almond extract for extra almond flavor. This seemed to work fine. Another modern update I took advantage of was the use of cake flour instead of regular all-purpose flour. The lower protein content produced a finer-grained cake, and one that was whiter in color too, sticking with the pure white theme.

lady cake slice

Neither of Anna’s recipes calls for any kind of icing, so I also left my cake un-iced, Instead I gave it a liberal sprinkling of confectioners sugar and paired it with a few raspberries for a pretty pop of color. Some whipped cream would be also be a nice embellishment. An authentic icing could be made using egg white, powdered sugar, and lemon or rose water for flavoring, as per Miss Leslie’s recipe.


The two recipes from Anna’s diary are as follows:


Lady Cake.                       Houghs

The whites of 8 eggs- 4 cups flour-2 sugar-1 butter-1 milk-1 saluatus* [sic] tea spoonful-flavor with almond-gold cake made same-way by using the yolks.

* The precursor to baking soda, saleratus is sodium bicarbonate, an early chemical leavening agent that produced carbon dioxide gas in dough and made it rise.


Lady Cake

One cup of milk               Tablespoon of Butter

2 ‘’ ‘’ Sugar           one two 2 spoonsfull Baking powder

3 ‘’ ‘’ Flour                           Whites of 3 eggs


Modernized version:


Lady Cake


2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups cake flour (or 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour)

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup unblanched almonds

2 tbsp rose water

1 tsp almond extract

1 cup milk


  1. Butter a 10-inch Bundt pan, dust the inside with flour and set aside.
  2. Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, slip off the almond skins a few at a time and then pat dry.
  3. Put the almonds in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Add the rose water and pulse 4 or 5 more times. Scrape the bowl and continue pulsing until the mixture is a pasty texture. Add the almond extract and pulse to blend. (Alternatively, the almonds can be crushed with a mortar and pestle – pound 3 to 4 at a time along with a bit of the rose water to form a paste and then mix in the almond extract).
  4. Place the almonds in the cup of milk to steep.
  5. Adjust the oven rack to the lower position and preheat to 350F.
  6. Cream the butter until very fluffy. Slowly add the sugar, about ¼ cup at a time until the mixture is the texture of whipped cream.
  7. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
  8. Sift the flour with the dry ingredients. Add a little to the butter mixture, and then add a little milk, making sure you hold a sieve over the mixing bowl to catch the almond paste. Continuing alternating in the way, ending with the flour (if using a mixer, make sure it is set to lowest speed). Scrape the batter down and then gently fold in the egg whites (best done by hand).
  9. Spoon mixture into Bundt pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen and invert on a plate to cool completely.
  10. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve with fresh fruit and/or whipped cream. Or to frost with an egg-white icing as Eliza Leslie used, take 3 oz fresh or pasteurized egg whites at room temperature, 1 pound of sifted confectioners sugar and ½ tsp lemon juice or 1 tablespoon rose water. Lightly whip the egg whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Lower the speed and gradually add the sugar a cup at a time. Add flavoring and beat on medium speed for 5 to 8 minutes or until the icing forms medium to stiff peaks.

NOTE: This icing should be used within one day. For those leery of using egg whites, you can substitute ¼ meringue powder and ½ cup cold water for the fresh egg whites.


Sources: Baking in America by Greg Patent; American Cookery by James Beard; Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes and sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie; Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book by Eliza Leslie; The Well-Decorated Cake by Toba Garrett; Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts by Susan Williams



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Jelly Rolls

jelly roll 2A perfect springtime treat, pretty, dainty Jelly Rolls conjure up images of ladies tea parties, bridal showers and fancy brunches. A Victorian era creation, these delicious confections are made from very thin layers of sponge cake spread with fruit preserves or jelly, rolled up into a neat cylinder, and then sliced into elegant spirals.

Light and delicate, Jelly Rolls are not to be confused with Jelly Cake (also known as Washington Cake, Washington Pie or Lafayette Cake), a popular 19th century dessert made with thin layers of rich cake that had been baked in round shallow pans (called jelly cake tins) and stacked one on top of each other, with the jelly spread in between. Similar to pancakes, some recipes even suggest making the thin cakes on a griddle, such as Eliza Leslie’s 1828 Jelly Cake recipe from Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats: “Have ready a flat circular plate of tin, which must be laid on your griddle, or in the oven of your stove, and well greased with butter. Pour on it a large ladle-full of the batter, and bake it as you would a buck-wheat cake, taking care to have it of a good shape.” However, unlike a pancake, “It will not require turning,” she says.

Different from the airy sponge cake used in a Jelly Roll, these thin cakes were rich and substantial (like a pound cake), made with copious amounts of butter, sugar and eggs, as well as flour, nutmeg, and rose-water. Leslie’s instructions call for baking “as many of these cakes as you want, laying each on a separate plate.” She says to spread each one with jelly or marmalade, and then stack them until the pile is five or six cakes high. The top was also spread with jelly, then sprinkled with powdered sugar or iced and decorated in a triangular pattern with nonpareils or sugar-sand (colored sugar). To serve, it was cut in three-cornered slices like a pie. These Jelly Cakes were actually the descendants of today’s layer cakes – as baking power and other rising agents became available, cakes got fluffier and fewer layers were used.

According to the Betty Crocker Cookbook, the Jelly Roll is a product of the Depression era – a relatively inexpensive indulgence during that timeframe with its lower-cost homemade jelly filling. But while the delicate cakes might have been a popular, economical treat during the 1930s, they actually began showing up in cookbooks way before that – right after the Civil War.

Some food historians surmise that Jelly Rolls evolved from Genoise sponge, a light sponge cake named for the city of Genoa, Italy that became popular in the mid-19th century. Unlike typical sponge cake where the egg yolks and whites are beaten separately, Genoise sponge calls for beating whole eggs with sugar until thick, and then folding in the flour, which is also the case with jelly roll cake. And like a Jelly Roll, Genoise sponge is traditionally paired with a jelly, cream, or fruit puree filling.


jelly roll_smIronically, the first Jelly Roll recipes were also called Jelly Cake. The earliest one I found was in an 1864 issue of American Agriculturist (contributed by Lizzie Davis of Venango Co., PA). The ingredient list is short and sweet: 1 cup of sugar, 4 eggs, 1 cup of flour, 4 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in a tablespoon of milk, and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. The instructions are to mix these ingredients and “bake in one long tin, then spread with jelly, roll up, and cut in slices.”

A slightly later recipe from The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints (1870) is a little more detailed as to the mixing process: “To three well beaten eggs add one cup of powdered sugar, one of flour; stir well, and add one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, half a teaspoonful of saleratus (an early form of baking soda) dissolved in three teaspoonfuls of water. Bake in two pie-pans; spread as even as possible. Have ready a towel, and as soon as done, turn the cake on it, bottom side up; then spread evenly with jelly, roll up quickly, and wrap in a towel.”

This recipe specifies the importance of getting the cake out of the pan as quickly as possible, a real necessity with Jelly Rolls due to their extreme thinness (unlike thicker cakes which need to cool in the pan a bit before inverting). One odd thing about this recipe is that it suggests pie pans (similar to the stacked Jelly Cake recipes) instead of the long shallow pan that is key to a successful Jelly Roll. As Jelly Rolls gained in popularity, special pans (called jelly roll pans) evolved. These low, elongated pans, measuring 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1, are basically baking sheets with 1-in straight sides, perfect for baking the thin sheets of cake. The batter for Jelly Rolls is rather sticky, so today’s recipes (and some of the more detailed 19th century ones) recommend lining the pan with parchment or wax paper to prevent sticking to the pan, then inverting it immediately on a towel.

The Jelly Roll recipe I tried from Anna Maxwell’s diary was actually called Sponge Jelly. As with many recipes of the time, it was simply written and not very instructive:

SPONGE JELLY. One cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 3 eggs, 1 tablespoonful milk, 1 teaspoonful baking powder mixed in the flour; bake in thin sheets; when cool spread jelly and roll it.

This single sentence doesn’t indicate what temperature oven, how long to cook the cake, what kind of jelly, how to line the pan, etc. Luckily I had been looking at other Jelly Roll recipes from various timeframes so I was able to decipher specific directions. After cobbling together different versions, here is the final recipe for Jelly Roll I came up with based on Anna Maxwell’s.

SPONGE JELLY (based on Anna’s Maxwell’s recipe)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup flour (I used cake flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup jelly (I used raspberry for one cake and apricot for the other)

Preheat oven to 375. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper (I didn’t have the specific sized pan, so I used two smaller pans – which worked fine and then I was able to use two different types of jelly for a nice contrast on the plate); grease paper generously. Beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes until thick and lemon colored. Gradually beat in sugar, then milk. Gradually add flour and baking powder, beating just until batter is smooth. Pour into pan, spreading to the corners.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately loosen cake from the edges of pan and invert onto a clean towel generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Carefully remove paper. Trim off stiff edges of cake if necessary. While hot, carefully roll cake and towel from narrow end. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Unroll cake and remove towel. Beat jelly slightly with fork to soften and spread over cake. Roll up and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Sources: Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson; Betty Crocker’s 40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook; Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes and sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie; Baking in America by Greg Patent; Larousse Gastronomique; American Agriculturist, Volume 23 (1864); The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints By Sarah Annie Frost; American Cookery by James Beard; Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. by Andrew F. Smith

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Winter Salads

“Salads are supposed by a large class of people to be difficult to prepare; but such is not the case. They are really simple of construction, and one needs only to use a little judgment in their preparation.”
~ Murrey’s Salads and Sauces by Thomas Jefferson Murrey, 1884.

A salad of fresh, tender lettuces is a light, refreshing enhancement to any meal. Today’s high-speed transportation methods and numerous pre-washed lettuce choices allow us to enjoy fresh salads year-round. But during the Victorian era, salads were usually reserved for the upper class. Lettuces were highly perishable and therefore expensive, particularly during the colder months when they were out of season.

Resourceful Victorians got around this obstacle by using hothouses to grow salad greens and other vegetables. By 1900, cities such as Philadelphia and Boston farmed acres of vegetables under glass, including lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers and artichokes. Although the prices were steep, these commercial enterprises allowed well-to-do Americans to serve fresh green salad for lunch or dinner any time of year.

As a result, green salads dressed with vinegar and oil quickly became a fine dining essential throughout the U.S. One of the many French influences on American cuisine, these crisp, leafy greens tossed with a light vinaigrette dressing were often called “French salads” as a way to distinguish them from creamy mayonnaise-based lobster or chicken salads, which were also popular. The French style dressing was a combination of oil, vinegar, mashed egg yolk and a dash of mustard. Sometimes a little sugar was also added, and Philadelphia cooking school instructor Sarah Tyson Rorer suggested tarragon vinegar as a more flavorful substitute for plain vinegar.

Apparently achieving the appropriate balance of dressing ingredients was a source of great controversy during this timeframe. The Germantown Telegraph ran a series of letters, recipes, satire and other culinary opinion about the proper method for dressing lettuce in the late 1860s. And according to cookbook collector Elizabeth Pennell, it was formerly the Philadelphia custom for the husband to shop for the salad and dramatically put it all together at the table. Gentlemen were judged by their salad making skills, particularly the manner of blending the dressing. Eliza Leslie also advised her readers of this tradition, stating that the gentleman was to “mix up the dressing on a separate plate, and then add it to the lettuce, and offer it around, as he choose.”

Today salads are typically served at the beginning of a meal, but in the Victorian era this was not the case. The American Practical Cookery Book (1861) recommended them as a part of the second course, “given with the roast meat; it should be placed fresh upon the table, then removed and dressed by a waiter.” Mrs. Rorer preferred a “simple French dressing for lettuce, served after a hearty meal.” She advised placing the green vegetables for salads in ice water for an hour, then carefully drying them on a towel in order to preserve their freshness and flavor. “Never mix any salad with the dressing until you are ready to serve it,” she added. “Use the coldest of dishes to serve it on, and if garnished properly, it is one of the most attractive and wholesome dishes on the table.”

Celery was another popular vegetable among the elite classes during this timeframe. Today celery is typically reserved for crudité platters or chopped finely to add crunch to chicken or tuna salad, but in the nineteenth century it was considered a high-status food, mainly because it was rather difficult to grow – it had to be blanched, or protected by piles of soil as it grew in order to preserve the whiteness and sweetness of its stalks.

Celery Vases2The Victorians gave celery extra-special treatment, creating distinctive stands or vases in which to serve them. Made of decorated glass or silver, they could be tall and sturdy to hold the celery upright like a bouquet of flowers, or shaped like a low basket or oval “boat” to cradle the celery lying down.

Common celery preparations included stewed, fried, braised or dressed with mayonnaise. According to New York Cooking School instructor Maria Parloa, “celery should be scraped and washed and then put in ice water to be made crisp, at least an hour before it goes on the table.”

Both celery and lettuce were popular items on holiday menus, as evidenced by Germantown resident Cornelius Nolan Weygandt’s diary entry from January 1, 1897, which lists “our own celery” as one of the menu items from his family’s New Year’s Dinner. And referencing a Christmas menu published in the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, Mrs. Rorer noted, “The salad course is no small part of a dinner. If you cannot get lettuce or celery do not object to the inner white portion of a hard head of cabbage. Serve it with French dressing, delicate crackers toasted in the oven, and hot cheese balls.”

There were two types of cheese balls used to garnish salads: one was made from grated cheese mixed with egg (and sometimes breadcrumbs) and spices such as red pepper, paprika or Worcestershire sauce, formed into small balls and then fried in lard or oil. These were served warm on top of a salad, similar to cheese croutons.

The other method was to take a soft cheese, such as Neufchatel or cream cheese, add some grated Parmesan, spices and melted butter, then form into balls the size of an English walnut. These were also placed on top of salad greens, but served cold (kind of like goat cheese rounds are today).

Lettuce salad

Lettuce salad w French dressing2(This salad was listed on a Christmas menu featured in the Dec 1897 issue of Ladies Home Journal. It was typical of the green salads that were popular during the Victorian era and would have been served throughout the winter months).

Rub garlic in the dish in which lettuce, with French dressing (without onion) is to be served. Leave no pieces of the garlic – merely rubbing the dish will give flavor enough. The French often use garlic in salads. OR (and this is what Mrs. Henderson advised) use the simple French dressing with onion to mix with the lettuce leaves, and dispense with the garlic. Use the plain or tarragon vinegar. Nasturtium blossoms have a most pleasant piquant flavor, and make a beautiful garnish for a salad.

French Dressing
Ingredients: One table-spoonful of vinegar, three table-spoonfuls of olive-oil, one salt-spoonful of pepper, one salt-spoonful of salt, one tea-spoonful of onion scraped fine. Many use tarragon vinegar, i.e. vinegar in which tarragon has been soaked. Pour the oil, mixed with the pepper and salt, over the salad; mix them together; then add the vinegar and mix again.
(This is the usual mode of mixing the salad; but Mrs. Henderson preferred to mix the pepper and salt, then add the oil and onion, and then the vinegar; and when well mingled, to pour the mixture over the salad, or place the salad over it, and mix all together. She thought it was more evenly distributed in this manner.)
Both recipes from Practical Cooking, and Dinner Giving (1878) by Mary F. Henderson

Watercress Salad with Cream Cheese Balls
Watercress salad w cheese balls2Ingredients:
• 1 8 oz. package Neufchatel cheese
• 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
• Dash of red pepper
• ½ teaspoon paprika
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• ¼ teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and form into small balls. Chill in refrigerator on a plate. At serving time arrange watercress or other salad greens in a shallow salad bowl, put the cheese balls over the top, sprinkle with French dressing and serve.

From New Salads for Dinners, Luncheons, Suppers and Receptions (1912) by Sarah Tyson Rorer

The diary of former Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion resident Anna Smith Maxwell (1831-1912), also known as “The First Lady of the House,” contains a number of recipes for salads and dressings, including Salad Dressing (featuring raw eggs, mustard and milk), a newspaper clipping for the satirical poem “Sydney Smith’s* Recipe for Salad Dressing,” and the recipe for Mayonnaise Dressing listed below (another concept borrowed from the French). This would have been combined with any number of ingredients, such as chicken, lobster, celery or tomatoes to make a nice salad suitable for any fine luncheon. An article on “Salad and Salad Making” in an 1898 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine called mayonnaise dressing “a triumph of the culinary art when well made.”

Mayonnaise Dressing
• Two eggs
• Two tablespoonfuls of melted butter
• Three tablespoonfuls of cream (sour cream is the best)
• One quarter of a tablespoonful of mustard
• One half teaspoonful of salt
• One half cupful of vinegar
Beat the eggs, add cream and the melted butter, or oil if preferred, dissolve the mustard in the vinegar and add just as it is and put on the stove. Cook until thick over boiling water, stirring constantly.

* Sydney Smith was the author of several best-selling books, including Salad for the Solitary and Salad for the Social.

From the diary of former Ebenezer Maxwell resident Anna Smith Maxwell

Sources: Murrey’s Salads and Sauces by Thomas Jefferson Murrey, 1884; Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Economies by Sarah Tyson Rorer, 1886; Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts by Susan Williams, 1996; 35 Receipts from the Larder Invaded by William Woys Weaver.

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Strawberry Shortcake

Jelly Tins smTrue strawberry shortcake incorporates a rich, crumbly, biscuit-like cake that is not too sweet – very similar to a scone. The biscuit dough can be shaped into one large cake and then cut into pieces, or baked as separate little cakes, either by cutting the dough into rounds with a biscuit cutter, or dropping spoonfuls of dough on a baking sheet like a drop biscuit. Each individual cake is then split in half, filled with ripe, juicy strawberries and topped with fresh whipped cream.

A popular Victorian dessert, strawberry shortcake began popping up in American cookbooks in the mid-1800s, likely evolving from the shortcake and biscuit-type desserts that were common in England, such as Derby Short Cakes (also known as Derby Biscuits or Derby Cakes) – thick biscuits sweetened with sugar and sometimes currants, cut into scalloped rounds. Derby Short Cakes were apparently an offshoot of Yarmouth Biscuits, an even richer treat made with liberal amounts of butter and eggs and seasoned with caraway seeds.

But Derby Short Cakes and the other shortcake recipes that came later were different from Yarmouth Biscuits in that they all used some form of dairy  – milk, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, etc. Not only did this moisten and tenderize the dough, it also gave the biscuits a crisper crust and added structure, preventing them from collapsing in the oven.

Here’s a recipe for Derby Short-Cakes from The cook and housewife’s manual, by Mrs. Margaret Dods (Edinburgh, Scotland, 1826):

Rub down a pound of butter into two pounds of flour, and mix with this a half-pound of beat sugar, an egg, and as much milk as will make a paste. Roll this out thin, and cut out the cakes in any form. Bake on tin plates for about ten minutes. They may be iced, or have sifted sugar strewed over them.

However, these still would have been rather flat since they contained no rising agent. But once chemical leavenings came on the scene in the nineteenth century, they were added to shortcake recipes, resulting in full, fluffy biscuits with a softer crumb. For example, this recipe from 1829 by Lydia Child incorporates pearlash (potassium carbonate), which combined with an acid like sour milk or citrus, produces a chemical reaction that lightens baked goods:


If you have sour milk, or butter-milk, it is well to make it into short cakes for tea. Rub in a very small bit of shortening, or three table-spoonfuls of cream, with the flour; put in a tea-spoonful of strong dissolved pearlash, into your sour milk, and mix your cake pretty stiff, to bake in the spider, on a few embers.

(Source: The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Francis Child, 1829)

shortcakes smIt is not known for sure when strawberries were first partnered with shortcake. Wild strawberries are native to both the Old and New World, so they would have been available to European and American cooks. Although they produce smaller berries and lower yields than today’s commercial varieties, they are sweeter and more flavorful – a perfect companion for rich, not overly sweet shortcake.

Strawberries were so beloved in America that British traveller Godfrey Vigne wrote about a strawberry party, or “Fête champêtre” that took place in Baltimore in 1831. “Quadrilles and waltzes were kept up with great spirit, first on the lawn, and then in the house till about eleven. In the mean time strawberries and cream, ices, pineapples, and champagne, were served up in the greatest profusion,” he remarked.

So perhaps it was a “given” that shortcake was topped with strawberries or other fruit, it just wasn’t written down in the recipe books. In any case, the oldest mention of strawberry shortcake I was able to find dates back to 1835, published in The New York Farmer and American Gardener’s Magazine, although the author refers to it as “Strawberry Cake”: “In several parts of New-England, and I suppose wherever the worthy housewives of that portion of our country are scattered, short-cake is made, and while hot is cut open, and strawberries sweetened with sugar are put in. This cake is said to be delicious.” Sounds like the strawberry shortcake we all know and love!

The earliest recipe I found with the exact wording “Strawberry Short Cake” was published twenty years later in 1855, and it sounds absolutely decadent:

Strawberry Short Cake

Take one pint of rich sour cream, half a teaspoonful of pearlash and flour enough to make it of the consistency of soft biscuit, salt, roll it out and bake it on a large pie plate when cold enough to split and not make it heavy; split it evenly and put a quart of nice strawberries in the centre, covering them with half a pint of rich sweet cream and powdered sugar; return the upper crust, and when you serve it cut it the same as pie. Very rich for the stomach.

(Source: The Practical Housekeeper, and Young Woman’s Friend By Marion L. Scott, 1855)

But the version I decided to try was from the journal of Anna Maxwell (also known as Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion’s “First Lady of the House”). Even though I made her recipe in August, late spring would have been the time of year for serving Strawberry Shortcake in Victorian times. We have the luxury today of buying strawberries year-round, but in Anna’s day, they would have only been available when strawberries were in season, typically May and June.

shortcake dough smGardeners had begun to experiment with strawberry cultivation way back in the 14th century, and by the 19th century there would have been commercial varieties available, including the “Keens Seedling,” known for its size and flavor. However, these would have probably been smaller, juicier and tastier than modern supermarket strawberries, which are bred so they are hardy enough for transport, and to reach colossal sizes.

Anna’s recipe was so easy and required minimal ingredients – simply a joy to make. The biscuits were delicious and could be served on their own as part of a chicken dinner, paired with other summer fruit such as blueberries or peaches, or even for breakfast. In fact, my children had the leftover biscuits the next morning with a little melted butter and smear of whipped cream – they raved about this indulgent treat!

Here’s Anna’s recipe:

Strawberry Short Cake

1 quart flour, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 large cup of sour cream, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon sugar. Teaspoonful of soda dissolved in hot water, pinch of salt. Bake in jelly tins, + spread the fruit sugared + creamed between the layers when cool

The recipe can be pretty much followed exactly, but I recommend a few tweaks, including starting with just two cups flour and adding more in ¼ cup increments if needed (the 1 quart as directed in the recipe would be four cups of flour). I found that a cup of sour cream was also a bit much – ¾ cup was ok. Also, it is important that the butter is cold and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, and I dissolved the baking soda in the sour cream, not water. And instead of jelly tins (biscuit molds), I rolled out the dough and cut it into biscuits. Lastly, since the biscuits should still be warm when serving this dessert, it is helpful to prepare the strawberries and whipped cream ahead of time (directions below).

strawberry shortcake smAnna Maxwell’s Strawberry Short Cake (modern version)

For the strawberries, hull and slice 1 pound of rinsed strawberries. Place in bowl and add sugar to taste. Set aside.

For whipped cream, chill whisk beater and bowl in freezer for 15 minutes. Combine 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, ½ tsp vanilla and 1 cup heavy cream in bowl. Whisk just until the cream holds its shape.

For shortcakes:

2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces, ¾ cup sour cream, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 egg, beaten.

Preheat oven to 375. Mix the flour, sugar and salt together, then add the chilled butter, blending it in with a pastry cutter until the mixture is a fine consistency. Dissolve the baking soda into the sour cream and add to the other ingredients along with the egg. Mix with a fork until a soft dough forms; add a little extra flour if needed. Form into a ball with floured hands and roll out onto a lightly floured surface to ¾-inch thickness. Cut into 4 biscuits with a biscuit cutter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Scoop up remaining dough and roll out again, cutting out two more biscuits. Bake for about 15 minutes and cool on wire rack.

To serve, split shortcakes in half with serrated knife, spread strawberries and their juices over the bottom halves and top with shortcake tops and whipped cream. Enjoy!!!

My taste testers loved this dessert and even asked for the recipe. A true American classic that’s just as excellent today as it was during the Victorian era!


Additional sources: Baking in America by Greg Patent; The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson; The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. by Andrew F. Smith; Food in the United States, 1820s-1890 by Susan Williams, The Foods of England Project website-

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Sponge Cake

Simple, light and elegant, sponge cake was the quintessential cake of the Victorian era, transformed into endless style and flavor combinations. Some were served plain, garnished simply with fruit, whipped cream or a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar. Others took it up a notch by adding flavorings such as lemon or orange. The most elegant were delicate, two-layer cakes with a jam or cream filling and perhaps some icing drizzled on top.

Cookbooks from the latter part of the nineteenth century contain pages of sponge cake recipes – Almond Sponge Cake, Hot Water Sponge Cake, Cream Sponge Cake, even Perfection Sponge Cake, which called for a whopping fourteen eggs. Then there were the many recipes that used sponge cake as a base, such as Boston Cream Pie, Charlotte Russe (individual dishes lined with sponge cake and topped with whipped cream), Strawberry Short Cake, and the luscious Victoria Sponge. This cake sandwiched Chantilly cream and jam between two fluffy golden cake layers. A favorite of Queen Victoria, it was supposedly introduced by the Duchess of Bedford (one of her ladies-in-waiting) in the 1880s and quickly became a huge hit.

These wondrous Victorian desserts evolved from the “biscuit bread” and “sponge fingers” which spread throughout Europe and America in the 18th century. They were typically named after their place of origin – Savoy, Naples, Lisbon and Spanish biscuits, for example – and became especially popular in England. All were made from fairly similar cake batter; it was the baking molds that differentiated them. Some biscuits were a small oblong-shape (like ladyfingers), but others were essentially cake (this type of molded cake was often called a biscuit). Savoy cake was an especially fancy version of sponge cake – baked into a very high, spectacular mold reminiscent of a tall building or sculpted work of art.

In the early part of the 19th century (before chemical leavenings such as baking powder and cream of tartar came on the scene), a sponge cake’s light, airy texture was achieved by beating eggs and sugar for a long time until they were thick, smooth and pale yellow. This “mechanical leavening” whipped air into the eggs to produce a mass of bubbles called a foam, allowing the cake to rise up nice and light due to the expansion of the air bubbles during baking. It was a long and tedious process that sometimes took hours – a task often delegated to servants.

But the Victorian age introduced many kitchen conveniences, including the invention of the rotary eggbeater around 1870 and chemical rising agents such as saleratus (an early form of baking soda), baking soda and baking powder. These newfangled gadgets and ingredients made the cook’s job easier, although many still preferred using eggs as a rising agent. In the words of cookbook author Belle De Graf, “a true sponge cake contains no baking powder but is lightened entirely by the air which has been beaten into the eggs.”

Most recipes called for beating the egg yolks and whites separately, then gently folding them together with the flour and other ingredients. However, celebrated Philadelphia cooking school instructor Mrs. Elizabeth Goodfellow felt this was seldom necessary if they were just going to be mixed together, and it actually helped prevent the cake from developing streaks during the baking process. As noted by her famous pupil, Philadelphia notable Eliza Leslie, “The justly-celebrated Mrs. Goodfellow always taught her pupils to beat the whites and yolks together, even for sponge-cake; and lighter than hers no sponge cake could possibly be.”

cake molds 2Flipping through the journal of Anna Smith Maxwell (also known as Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion’s “First Lady of the House”) on one of our many freezing days this winter, I was struck by the large number of sponge cake recipes, including Sponge Jelly, Cream Sponge Cake, Orange Cream Cake and Charlotte Russe. Tired of the harsh, cold weather, I thought testing a few of these light, dainty-sounding cakes would be a perfect way to welcome spring.

The two recipes I decided to try were Hot Water Sponge Cake and Cream Sponge Cake. But as is the case with many older recipes found in manuscript cookbooks, they were just listings of ingredients, with no specific directions or guidance. For example, here is the Hot Water Sponge recipe:

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar 4 eggs. 1 ½ cups Flour

2 small tea spoonful [sic] baking powder.  4 table spoons [sic]

boiling water pinch of salt

This one especially intrigued me because it was attributed to “Wanamaker.” I thought it might have been the version served at the famous Philadelphia department store, first opened by John Wanamaker in 1876 on Market Street, complete with an in-store restaurant. It was originally referred to as his “Grand Depot” store, which Wanamaker cleverly set up in an abandoned railway station. That structure was replaced in 1910 with the beautiful neo-Renaissance style building that today houses Macy’s. Hand carved columns and intricate crystal chandeliers were special details of the store’s lavish restaurant, the “Grand Crystal Tea Room,” which served breakfast, luncheon and afternoon tea.  A 1914 menu from Wanamakers’ sister store in New York does list sponge cake and cream sponge cake – each costing just 14 cents. So although I was unable to confirm the source of the recipe, it is possible it was the version served in the Tea Room.


I looked at a number of different Hot Water Sponge Cake recipes from other sources to get comparisons and more exact instructions, and ended up using Fannie Farmer’s version from the Boston Cooking School Cookbook as a guide. Fannie’s recipe uses only two eggs (versus 4 for Anna’s), only 1 cup of flour compared to 1 ½, and slightly less sugar. So I split the difference and used three eggs, but kept the flour and sugar amounts the same as Anna’s recipe.  The only other difference was that Fannie added lemon extract, but I decided to leave it out to stay truer to Anna’s version.


So the recipe I followed ended up looking like this:


Hot Water Sponge CakeHot water sponge cake

3 eggs, separated

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 ½ cups flour

2 small teaspoons baking powder

4 tablespoons boiling water

Pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and set aside. Beat egg whites until stiff and set aside. Beat yolks of eggs until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add half the sugar and continue beating, then add the water, remaining sugar, egg whites and sifted flour, baking powder and salt. Bake 25 minutes in a shallow buttered and floured pan (I lined mine with parchment paper).  Remove cake from oven and allow it to cool for several minutes, then run a butter knife around the edges and turn the pan upside down to cool completely.


Neither recipe gives any instructions about garnishing or decorating the cake, so I just sprinkled confectioners sugar on top and rimmed the edges of the cake plate with fresh berries, then served with whipped cream. It was very good and looked fabulous, but not as “light” as I would have expected. My taste tasters said the same. Perhaps it baked a little too long, or I should have used less flour, as Fannie did. Next time I think I will try cutting the flour a bit and see what happens.

My next attempt was Cream Sponge Cake. Here’s the version from Anna’s journal:

Cream Sponge Cake

6 eggs. 2 cups sugar. 2 ½  flour. 2 teaspoonsfull Cream tartar in the Flour, stir the eggs, sugar, & flour one minute, and when ready to bake add a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in two spoonfuls of milk.   Make a Cream of Corn starch, flavored, split-the-cake and pour on the mixture.


Cream sponge cake (1)This recipe took me awhile to figure out. I found any number of Cream Sponge Cake recipes in various period cookbooks, but they were often quite different. And I had no idea what “Cream of Corn starch” was. Finally I found what I was looking for in Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book – which makes sense as other recipes from Anna’s journal were from Mrs. Rorer, who ran the Philadelphia Cooking School in the late 1800’s.  Mrs. Rorer’s recipe was almost exactly like Anna’s, except it included explicit instructions, including explaining how to make the Cream of Corn starch filling. The main difference is that Mrs. Rorer uses the weight of the eggs to balance the flour and sugar – I just used the amounts that Anna listed. Mrs. Rorer also says to dissolve the baking soda in vinegar, whereas Anna’s calls for milk – I ended up going with the vinegar. Note the filling needs to cool down so it should be made before the cake.

Here’s my version:

Cream Sponge Cake

6 eggs

2 cups sugar

2 ½ cups flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon vinegar

Break and separate the eggs carefully. Beat the yolks and sugar until very, very light, then add the whites, which have been beaten to a stiff froth, mix carefully, and slowly sift in the flour. Dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar and stir quickly into the cake. Mix thoroughly and carefully, turn into a well-greased large shallow pan (I used a 13 x 9 inch rectangular, but you could also use a springform if you prefer a round cake), and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


The (Cream of Cornstarch) Filling

1/2 pint of milk

1 1/2 tablespoonfuls cornstarch

2 tablespoonfuls sugar

Grated rind of half an orange

2 tablespoonfuls orange juice

Yolks of 3 eggs

Heat the milk in a saucepan. Beat the cornstarch, sugar, and eggs together until light, then stir into the boiling milk, and stir until it thickens; take off the burner and add the juice and rind of the orange. Stand away to cool. This should be made before the cake. When the cake is done, turn it carefully from the pan, bottom upwards, and spread it, while warm, with the filling. Cut the cake in halves, and fold the bottoms together, thus having two layers of cake with a thick layer of filling between. Cover the top with Orange Icing.


Orange Icing

1/2 pound of powdered sugar

1 tablespoonful of boiling water

Grated rind of one orange

Sufficient orange juice to moisten

Put the sugar in a bowl, add the rind and then the water and juice. The icing should be very stiff, and used immediately.

This cake was delicious! I was not surprised as all the cakes I have made from Mrs. Rorer’s recipes have been outstanding, always imparting fresh, subtle flavors – different from many modern recipes which tend to be bolder and more over the top. My taste testers loved this cake. Anna Maxwell and Mrs. Rorer would have been pleased – one out of town guest even requested some to take home. Perfect for any springtime celebration, give this cake a try and help usher in the season!



Mrs. Goodfellow – The Story of America’s First Cooking School by Becky Diamond

Baking in America by Greg Patent

The Boston Cooking-school Cook Book By Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1906

The Department Store Museum Blog –

Fannie’ Last Supper by Chris Kimball

The Food Timeline –

Historic Food Blog –

The imperial and royal cook By Frederic Nutt

Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Economics By Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer

Vrq Level 2 Certificate in Professional edited by Pam Rabone

What’s on the Menu? –

Who Made America? –


Learn more about America’s first cooking school –

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Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding photoCookies, cakes and pies are the desserts most Americans associate with Christmas today, but back in the Victorian era, plum pudding was the highlight of the holiday feast. Even the poor Cratchit family in the Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol had one on their holiday table.

We have the British to thank for bringing their love of puddings to America, particularly plum pudding, which can be traced back to the 15th century. It originated as plum pottage (sometimes called plum porridge), which was more liquidly, like a soup, and served at the beginning of a meal. Like most puddings of the time, it was meat-based, so the ingredients included chopped beef or mutton, onions and sometimes other root vegetables, as well as dried fruit, breadcrumbs as a thickener, and copious amounts of wine, herbs and spices for flavor.

This rich dish was a favorite for feast days such as All Saints Day, Christmas and New Years Day, but it wasn’t until the 1600s when it became specifically associated with Christmas, and began to be referred to as the more luxurious sounding plum pudding or even Christmas pudding. Around this time it also evolved into the larger, more solid consistency of a “boiled pudding” due to the creation of the pudding-cloth. The ingredients would be mixed together, then tied up into a tidy bundle inside the cloth and boiled in a kettle over an open fire. Sometimes the pudding was even cooked directly over a simmering stew.

So where are the plums in the ingredient list? Well, ironically, there aren’t actually any plums in plum pudding. The name comes from the use of dried plums (prunes), which were commonly used in medieval times. Later, when other dried fruits such as raisins were introduced into England, these were substituted or added, but the “plum pudding” name stuck. Over the years, the meat was replaced by suet (the protective fat around the kidneys of beef or mutton) and the vegetables were gradually phased out, although some cooks still include a token carrot in their version.

By the time of the Victorian era, plum pudding had evolved into a sumptuous dessert with a more varied ingredient list. Suet, dried fruit (typically raisins, sultanas and currants) and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were mainstays, but any combination of nuts, lemon or orange peel, chopped apple, flour, eggs, sugar, milk and liquor were also commonly added. The Godey’s Lady’s Book of Receipts and Household Hints by Sarah Annie Frost (1870) lists nine different versions of plum pudding, with interesting titles and ingredient combinations such as Soyer’s New Christmas pudding (with powdered white sugar, candied citron and blanched bitter almonds), Barbara’s plum pudding (includes apples and molasses), Rich plum pudding without flour (uses breadcrumbs instead, as well as eight or nine eggs and brandy), and Unrivalled plum pudding (incorporates an incredible two pounds each of suet, breadcrumbs and sugar, two and a half pounds of raisins and 16 eggs). A rich sauce made from rum or brandy butter (sometimes called hard sauce) added right before serving also became customary.

The Christmas pudding became even more beloved with the establishment of Stir-Up Sunday, which took place on the last Sunday before Advent – sometime during the second half of November. The name actually originated from the collect (prayer) of the day heard in church that morning: “Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” Over time it also became associated with the stirring of the Christmas pudding, which began that same week.

On this day, all the ingredients for the Christmas pudding were gathered and mixed together, and each family member would take a turn stirring the pudding – from the oldest on down to the youngest. It was believed that anyone who made a wish while stirring the pudding would have the wish come true. The pudding was supposed to be stirred with a wooden spoon in a clockwise direction with eyes closed or the wish would not be granted. Sometimes the cook would add charms and trinkets while the pudding was being stirred. When the pudding was later served on Christmas day, whoever got the piece of pudding with a charm would have good luck for the year. Examples ranged from a ring (meaning the recipient would soon be married), a coin (coming into wealth), and a thimble (either a blessed life or spinsterhood, depending on how it was interpreted).

Once all the family members had their turn stirring and making a wish, the pudding was placed in the pudding cloth and hung up until Christmas Day. Letting the pudding mature over the weeks until Christmas was beneficial as it allowed the flavors to blend and deepen. In fact, many people would make two Christmas puddings at a time, preserving one for the following year. Before serving, it was boiled for 4-5 hours, and then turned out onto a dish where the warm brandy sauce was poured over it. The pudding was then lit up and the flaming dish, garnished with a sprig of holly, was proudly brought to the table to close out the celebratory meal.

It would be fun to go back in time to see the delighted faces of those experiencing this exciting ritual at the Ebenezer Maxwell home as part of their Victorian holiday festivities. Three different plum pudding recipes are included in Anna Maxwell’s journal – one traditionally fancy and the other two more suitable for everyday dinners.

The first is described as “The orthodox English recipe:”
One pound of raisins, half a pound of currants, half a pound of sugar, half a pound of flour, half a pound of bread crumbs, three-quarters of a pound of suet, a quarter of a pound of mixed candied peel, a small nutmeg, grated, a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon, ditto of pudding spice; the juice of one lemon and one peel grated, one orange ditto, six bitter almonds blanched and pounded, and a pinch of salt; mix the day or even longer before the pudding is needed, with six well-beaten eggs, a glass of cider or milk to moisten it, and boil for ten hours.

The second is simply called “A plainer pudding:”

One pound of bread crumbs, half a pound of chopped suet, four eggs, half a pound of raisins, half a pound of sultanas, two ounces of candied peel, half a pound of sugar, a little nutmeg and spice mixed with milk or cider, and boiled for four hours.

The sauce to accompany either pudding is made as follows:
Two teaspoonfuls of corn starch, two tablespoonfuls of water, half a pint of milk, two ounces of lump sugar, the yelks [yolks] of two fresh eggs, a small pinch of nutmeg, a tablespoonful of fruit jelly; mix the cornstarch smooth with the water, and beat the eggs up thoroughly with it; dissolve the sugar in the milk, and make it boiling hot, pour it gently into the eggs and cornstarch, then stir the whole over the fire until it has the thickness of cream; take it off and mix in the cider, stirring all the time; serve in a butter boat.

The third is the most basic of all, and seems almost “Americanized,” with its inclusion of molasses:
Poor Man’s Plum Pudding

1 cup of molasses –
1 cup milk
1 cup raisins
1 cup suet chopped fine
3 cups flour
1 teaspoonful of soda
Pinch salt

I decided to make the traditional, fancy, “orthodox English recipe.” As I started gathering the ingredients, I realized suet was not going to be easy to find. I went to a number of stores, including specialty groceries, and nobody had it. Most folks have heard of suet referenced as a bird food, and it is still available for purchase in this way, just not for human consumption. One butcher did give me some beef fat for free, but unfortunately this was not what I needed – suet is solid (like Crisco). I looked at other recipes and saw that lard could be a substitute, which I thought would be easier to find, but this was also difficult (I guess folks really are more health-conscious these days). Finally I found some Goya brand in my grocery’s Spanish section. Yeah – the plum pudding was a go!

I had no problem finding the rest of the ingredients. The recipe for plum pudding in the new cookbook by City Tavern chef Walter Staib, A Sweet Taste of History, suggested using stale egg bread for the breadcrumbs so I picked up a French brioche for this purpose. I think this made a difference by producing a richer batter. I followed the recipe in Anna’s journal, mixing all the ingredients together. I then covered the bowl with plastic wrap and left it in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to blend and the mixture to thicken since it was kind of liquidy. This worked on both counts – the next day it was thicker and richer looking. I went ahead and buttered a molded baking pan and spooned it in. However, instead of boiling it, I decided to steam it in my crockpot. I covered the pan with foil, added some water to the pot, put the mold inside and closed the lid. I let the pudding steam for 4-5 hours on high, then took it out and let it cool for an hour. While baking, it gave off rich aromas – savory (almost a bacon smell) from the lard, mixed with the spicy scent of the nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.

However, when I tried to get the pudding out of the mold, I realized it was stuck pretty well. I ran a knife around the edges and banged the pan but it wasn’t budging. Finally my husband gave it a few whacks and it came out, just not all in one piece. Since we were on our way to dinner with friends we decided to bring it anyway to get their opinions on the taste. I even made a brandy sauce to go with it that I found in the White House Cook Book (1889) By Fanny Lemira Gillette:
Stir a heaping teaspoonful of corn-starch in a little cold water to a smooth paste (or instead use a tablespoonful of sifted flour); add to it a cupful of boiling water, with one cupful of sugar, a piece of butter as large as an egg, boil all together ten minutes. Remove from the fire, and when cool, stir into it half of a cupful of brandy or wine. It should be about as thick as thin syrup.
The verdict: It was delicious! Everyone loved the flavors and commented that it was similar to a fruitcake but more delicious and moist. I did want to make one that looked better, so I used the remaining batter to try again the next day. This time, however, I sprayed the pan with cooking spray and then lined it with parchment paper. Voilà! No sticking this time – it turned out perfectly, as shown by the accompanying photo. And bonus – I froze it and will now bring it out to share with my family on Christmas Day! Maybe we’ll start a new tradition….

Sources: The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink Ed. by Andrew F. Smith; The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson; The Book of Christmas: Descriptive of the Customs, Ceremonies, Traditions By Thomas Kibble Hervey; Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints; The Victorian Christmas by Anna Selby; China Bayles’ Book of Days by Susan Wittig Albert; Victorian Christmas by Bobbie Kalman and Barbara Bedell; A Sweet Taste of History by Walter Staib

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Lemon Pie

lemon pieLemon pie is often considered a Southern confection, conjuring up images of plantation parties with lovely slices of the sky-high pie served on fancy china. Others may think of it as a Diner restaurant staple, a featured highlight in the revolving glass dessert case alongside other luscious treats such as cream puffs, éclairs and cheesecake.

What many folks don’t know is that lemon meringue pie is actually a Philadelphia invention born out of the Victorian-era, courtesy of Mrs. Elizabeth Goodfellow, a 19th century pastry shop proprietress who ran America’s first cooking school.

This classic pie of contrasting sweet-tart layers evolved from one of Mrs. Goodfellow’s signature desserts, a rich lemon pudding. At some point she cleverly thought to top her famous pudding with fluffy meringue. Although there are recipes for decorating cakes, tarts, and custards with sweetened and flavored egg whites starting in the 1600s, adding meringue to a pudding (pie) doesn’t appear until the nineteenth century.

Since Mrs. Goodfellow’s lemon custard recipe calls for the yolks of ten eggs; rather than allowing the whites go to waste, she likely decided to resourcefully whip them with sugar to create a meringue for the top. Perhaps the success of this combination prompted her to accent her lemon pudding with the same topping, and voilà – lemon meringue pie was born!

Throughout the mid-19th century, domestic goddess Eliza Leslie (who had studied under Mrs. Goodfellow’s tutelage) began familiarizing Americans with the concept of meringue-topped puddings via her recipes. In her 1847 cookbook, The Lady’s Receipt-Book: A Useful Companion for Large or Small Families, she says: “Any very nice baked pudding will be improved by covering the surface with a meringue.”

By the 1860s, lemon meringue pie recipes began popping up in cookbooks nationwide, including Common Sense in The Household – A Manual of Practical Housewifery by Marion Harland and The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints by Sarah Annie Frost. Although sometimes called iced lemon pie, lemon cream pie, or lemon custard pie, they all featured a meringue topping. In fact, lemon custard pie was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln.

lemon squeezer

Lemon Squeezer

Other lemon pie iterations emerged where lemons were sliced like in an apple pie, and sometimes a top crust was added. One version that became a Southern specialty is lemon chess pie, kind of a fusion between pudding and cheesecake. But the most popular style eventually evolved into a pie of layers. The contrasting texture of a slightly crispy shell covering very sweet pillowy meringue balances the tart, thick, custardy lemon filling perfectly. The flaky pastry crust holds it all together.

The recipes in Anna Maxwell’s journal perfectly illustrate the developments and changes that were happening to lemon pie in the latter part of the 19th century. Her diary features four different lemon pie recipes – two with a meringue topping and two without – although all are labeled simply “Lemon Pie.”

I decided to try to replicate the two that included the meringue topping. Here’s the recipe for the first one:

LEMON PIE – Take one lemon, grate the rind, squeeze the juice and chop the pulp very fine; a teacupful of sugar; the yolks of two eggs; beat well together, and add one cup of sweet milk; bake immediately; beat the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, with two tablespoonfuls of sugar; spread on the pie when done, and put back in the oven to brown.

The first thing I noticed about this recipe is that it uses only two eggs, so I was a little skeptical that it would create the high layers we associate with lemon pie today. Also, it didn’t list any flour or cornstarch as a thickener, although I surmised this was the purpose of the egg yolks and lemon pulp. I followed the recipe directions, using a cup of sugar for the teacupful, and just regular milk for sweet milk (my research determined this is just a way to distinguish regular milk from sour milk, often used in baking for its acidic qualities).

Since the recipe does not call for cooking the mixture beforehand in order to develop a custardy texture, it was rather watery when I popped it in the oven. I had to bake it for almost an hour to get it to set, thus causing the crust to burn a little. (Eventually I placed some aluminum foil around the edges as a shield).

Once it cooled, the lemon layer solidified, it just wasn’t very high. I then made the meringue, but using just two egg whites didn’t yield a huge amount, so as a topping it was relatively thin, and not very attractive! However, it did taste good, and I even tried it out on some folks who are huge lemon meringue pie fans, and they thought it was fine. So, although it was okay, I think with a few tweaks it could work even better – maybe a couple more eggs and a tablespoon or so of flour or cornstarch to help firm up the lemon filling.

Some puddings and pies from this timeframe called for sponge cake as a thickener, so this is another option. In fact, one of the lemon pie recipes in Anna’s diary (without meringue) says to “stiffen with stale sponge cake.”

The other lemon pie recipe I tried was attributed to a “Mrs. McN.” It was originally “lemon pies,” with the “s” at the end of pie crossed out, so I guess at some point it was designed to make more than one (another common occurrence in the 19th century – many recipes were written to make more than one pie at a time). However, I found the ingredients were perfect for just one pie:

Lemon Pies – Grate the rinds of three lemons, and the juice of one. 8 tablespoons of sugar, the yolks of six eggs, 1 tablespoon of flour, 6 of sugar 1 cup of cream. Line the pans with crusts and pour in the mixture and bake. Take the six whites of the eggs and six tablespoons of sugar mixed well together and after the pies are baked spread it over them and return to the oven until brown.

This recipe turned out much better than the first. I think the inclusion of one tablespoon of flour helped. The lemon filling gelled nicely after baking at 350 for about a half hour. It was shiny and glossy – the consistency of rich custard. I followed the directions for making the meringue and put it back in the oven to brown. After about 10 minutes it had developed the characteristic toasted look I was seeking. Success!

My “taste testers” loved it – one comment was just that was a little thicker and more “custardy” than most lemon meringue pies today – not a bad thing, just different. I thought it had the perfect balance of sweet and tart, and definitely has a rich and decadent look and feel on the palate. I can easily see this version becoming my “go-to” lemon pie recipe, and look forward to making it again!

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