CASA GRANDE — Someone once told me that if you can read you can cook. And for the most part that’s true.
There’s nothing mysterious about baking or cooking. Instructions are followed, ingredients are measured and mixed and as the ingredients cook, the science takes over, resulting in a cake, bread or other type of dish.
But problems can arise when directions are difficult to follow or aren’t clear. And sometimes, when following directions from a recipe that was written several generations ago, what might have seemed clear 50 years ago is confusing when read today.
Recently, fellow PinalCentral writer Jodie Newell found an 83-year-old cookbook while rummaging through the books at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. She shared a few pages from the book with me.
I also like old cookbooks and have several in my collection, including a turn-of-the-20th-century era cookbook and some from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s interesting to flip through the pages to see how food and recipes — and the directions for preparing them — have evolved over the decades.
The cookbook Newell found, “Mary Hunt’s Pastry and Sweets Diary,” was published in 1939.
Written as the Great Depression wore on, it includes dozens of delectable recipes.
“The preparation of food is one of the great joys and inspirations of life for the language of food is simple and its appeal, universal,” the cookbook author writes in the book’s forward. “All the recipes are choice ones. Most of them have won praise from my thousands of customers who enjoyed them in my Tea Room.”
Among the recipes are various cakes including a triple layer Delmonico cake, in which every layer is a different color, a coconut cake, pineapple delight, various fruit cakes and others.
In trying to pick one to try to make, I originally planned to make the “Never-fail Fruit Cake.” I liked the name.
“This cake never fails,” Hunt writes. “It may be varied by using fewer fruits, though the more fruits the more delicious.”
Listed in the ingredients are two types of raisins, candied cherries, orange and lemon peel, dates, walnuts, almonds, sour milk, jelly and various spices. It looked like a lot of work and makes a whopping 10 pounds of cake, according to the recipe, so I settled on a less daunting “Orange Butter Cake” recipe instead.
I followed the directions exactly as they were written — as someone would have followed them in 1939 — and the cake came out light, fluffy and delicious.
While the basic ingredients for baking a cake have remained the same, probably, since cake was invented, the technique in Hunt’s book was a little different than the recipes I usually follow. For many of the cakes in Hunt’s book, the eggs are separated, the yolks creamed with the sugar and the whites beaten until stiff before they are folded into the rest of the batter.
I used my stand mixer to beat the egg whites and admire those who do it by hand, as likely many 1939-era bakers would have done.
The recipe also suggests sifting the flour three times — something I’ve never run across in a cake recipe. This does take some time, but the extra time is well worth the effort as it aerates the flour, making it lighter and fluffier.
Once the batter is mixed, Hunt’s recipe suggests baking the cake in a “moderate oven, 375” and doesn’t specify how long, so I guessed. I baked it at 350 degrees, setting my timer for 35 minutes.
While the recipe suggests using two 9-inch layer cake pans or making “30 small cakes,” I used one 11-by-8-inch cake pan and the recipe came out beautifully.
I topped the cake with white frosting and a sprinkle of orange zest.
The extra steps in this recipe — the separating of the eggs, the beating of the egg whites and the triple sifting of the flour — might seem like a lot of extra work, but it’s well worth the effort. The cake was soft, fluffy and delicious.
From start to finish, mixing the ingredients for this cake took about 45 minutes, a bit longer than the average cake in which ingredients are simply mixed together and baked. But it was a nice change of pace.
In a world where we tend to rush many of the things we do, taking the extra time to handle the ingredients and work through each technique might seem tedious, but it’s a reminder to slow down and enjoy every step in the process in whatever task we’re doing. Cooking and baking can be like that. It can remind us to take the time to appreciate the simple joy that comes from creating.
Orange butter cake
Mary Hunt’s Pastry and Sweets Diary
½ cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 large orange
Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add egg yolks and beat until creamy. Add flour sifted three times with baking powder, and water, alternately. Add grated orange rind and one-half cup orange juice. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour in two 9-inch layer cake pans. Bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees). This recipe will also make 30 cakes.
Mary Hunt’s Pastry and Sweets Diary
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1¾ cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup butter
1 cup crushed pineapple
2 cups heavy cream
Sprinkle the bottom of a glass serving dish with cracker crumbs. Cream the butter and 1½ cups sugar with the unbeaten eggs till light and fluffy. Drop this mixture by teaspoonfuls on the cracker base. Whip the cream until stiff, sweeten with remaining sugar and spread over the egg-sugar mixture. Now spread on the crushed pineapple, drained free of excess juice. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cracker crumbs. Use more if necessary to completely cover the pineapple. Chill 20 hours. Cut in squares and serve with whipped cream.
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