History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

24 March 2008

Regency Refreshments: Pound Cake

I am sad to report that I’ve had my first complete and utter failure. My cake looked nothing like the one pictured here.

Most of us have had pound cake, so I approached this as more of an experiment to discover the true flavor of the Georgian version. The original recipes look remarkably similar, with the exception of the addition of various spices, which seems to be a commonality among cakes of all sorts from the period. If currants are added (and they seem to have liked to add dried currants to nearly all their cakes) the recipe become nearly identical to that of Royal Cakes or Queen Cakes (The Universal Cook, 1806).

The English Art of Cookery (1788):

A “quick” oven is a hot oven, as opposed to a “slack” oven, which indicates medium heat. In looking at the temperatures required for modern recipes I don’t see any real difference, though. Most cakes are baked at around 350º, with a few requiring 400 º - 425 º. These do not, however, align with the period notions of which cakes take slack and which take quick.

Some recipes also call for “wine”, which is not further defined. I decided to use sherry, as that was a common wine and it is often used in cakes today. Other than that, I simply started with a modern recipe and altered it.

The Universal Cook (1806):

Things did not go well . . . it would not set. The recipe called for a baking time of one hour, to one-and-a-quarter hours. When I hit the two hour mark and the middle was still soup and the edges were starting to blacken, I knew it was doomed.

I’m still licking the wounds to my ego and trying to formulate a new plan of attack. I’m either going to go wit ha bunt pan, or with a series of small “tins” as in the Royal Cakes recipe. I’m hoping that one of these methods will fix the soupy middle problem.

I can report that the bits that did bake were tasty, though! Hopefully I’ll have better results to report in the very near future. Anyone out there have a wonderful "never fail" pound cake recipe they can point me at?


Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Cooking experiments like this are so intriguing, but then I have always been fascinated by the "chemistry" of cooking.

Do you think some aspects of their ingredients were significantly different from what we use today? For sure eggs were fresher. As a matter of fact most of their ingredients were probably not as old as ours are.

And what is the fascination with caraway seeds? They have been an ingredient in several of your "sweet" recipes. IMO, the caraway seed flavor is a sure way to ruin a pound cake (though I like them in savory dishes.)

On the other hand this is not just a problem with 19th century recipes. Our wonderful Dawn-in-law recently had a similar experience with a modern potato cake recipe. She is a professional cook and was catering a big party. Not wanting to waste the ingredients she used the same approach you suggest -- made them smaller so they would cook through to the middle. It worked and they were a big success.

Sorry no super pound cake recipe in this house -- though cake is one of my favorite foods.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love pound cake, and I've made my fair share of them, but kudos to you Kalen for trying an authentic early 19th century version! I agree with Mary, what is it with caraway seeds? I've seen them in potato salad and I hate them, but in sweets? And I wonder if the wine was a kind of preservative? The way my mother used to pour sherry or bourbon on fruit cakes.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

No pound cake recipes to suggest. I confess I've never baked one, though I certainly enjoy eating them :-). Last week, a friend and I taught a three day elective at her daughter's school called "The Jane Austen Movie Club." We watched "Emma," "Pride and Prejudice," and "Sense and Sensibility," and talked about the stories and Jane Austen. Every day we had tea (in china cups and saucers, with a choice of milk or lemon) and some sort of treat. The last day we had pound cake. which my friend made. It was delicious, though not a period recipe. The tea was a big hit with the kids.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry about the disaster. :-( I love your cooking posts, Kalen!

Cook's Illustrated has a very nice classic pound cake recipe; you can find it in The New Best Recipe from America's Test Kitchen--I think that's the publisher. In the write-up, they talk about 'classic' recipes from the 19th century and how they turned out in a modern kitchen, what some of the vague terms mean, what happened with varying amounts of different ingredients, etc.

1:33 PM  
Blogger TJ Bennett said...

It almost seems like there is a leavening ingrediant missing, doesn't it? Like something we'd find in self-rising flour, such as baking powder and salt? Or could the voluminous amounts of air introduced in the half hour of hand mixing been the missing ingrediant? How much mixer beating is that equivalent to? Interesting post!

1:51 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Web Site Counter
Kennedy Western University Online