Sunday, July 6, 2014

Melissa: An Independence Day Cake of Three Centuries

For this challenge (This Day in History), I had originally planned on making an early 1800's bride cake for some random event or the other, but after Jenni posted her masterpiece for Challenge 1, I knew that I would be best off finding another challenge.  I was invited to a fun little half-day event at Historic Tunnel Mill just outside of Charlestown, IN for an Independence Day celebration and reenactor party afterwards.  Of course, I needed something to bring to the party!  I wanted to find a dessert appropriate not only for the HFF challenge, but also for the time period of the event (1776) and having something to do with the Fourth of July.

I did a little research and found that Independence Day was declared a national holiday in 1870, almost a century after the country first declared independence.  I began by looking up recipes from between 1869 and 1879, using good old Google Books, and found an interesting Independence Day cake recipe from a ladies' journal of 1869.  I hesitated in using it though, because you don't want to be that person who brings an 1860's cake to a 1770's party, am I right?

I continued searching and came across Martha Washington's Great Cake recipe, and wow that thing is huge--all in all it contains around 25 pounds of ingredients!--but that would have required me candying orange and lemon peel and somehow tracking down currants in my area, plus doing extra research so that I didn't rely simply on the modernized recipe.  Plus, the Great Cake is basically the same as the Bride Cake I was going to make originally, and it would be super heavy in the unairconditioned historic house we were going to be convened in.  So, I looked back at the recipe I found in The Mother's Journal, July, 1869:

See that last line?  I had completely missed it the first go 'round, but it turns out this recipe was (at least originally) sourced from the 1770's after all!  I found the loophole!  Not only could I make a cake that historically was made for Independence Day in the 19th century, it was also period correct for the 18th century!  So, for this challenge I made a 21st century interpretation of a 19th century interpretation of an 18th century cake.  SO COOL RIGHT?!?

Of course, I had to add a little patriotic flair for my Washington Cake

The Challenge: #3 This Day in History

The Recipe: The Mother's Journal, July 1869 via Google Books

The Date/Year and Region: America, 1869

How Did You Make It: With an electric hand mixer I creamed the one pound of butter, then added in the one pound of powdered sugar, mixed in the pound of flour, beat the pound of eggs (8 eggs since modern eggs are heavier now) separate from the butter-flour-sugar mixture, then beat those in.  Once that was smooth, I beat in the gill (4 ounces or 1/2 cup) of brandy, the zest of one lemon, and two teaspoons of nutmeg!  I baked it at 350 until done in the middle, around 45 minutes (but don't count me on that one).  Once it was cooled I topped it off with a simple glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar.

Time to Complete: 30 minutes prep time and 1 hour baking time.

Total Cost: Around $7 because of the amount of butter and eggs, but everything else was in the pantry already

How Successful Was It?: It was absolutely delightful!  I think the nutmeg was a little less flavorful than it could have been since it had been in our pantry for God knows how long, and it could have stood to be a little more lemony, but all in all it was a hit.  I took both cakes to the party and came back with about 1/8 of one of the cakes still left!

How Accurate Is It?: I'm not sure how early commercialized powdered sugar was available, so it is possible that the cornstarch included in my powdered sugar is not exactly period correct.  I also used pre-ground nutmeg instead of grinding my own nutmeg, and used a hand mixer rather than doing the deed myself.  I would call it about 90% accurate!

The event itself was delightful, a very good time with fun people (one of whom discovered that her homemade orange liqueur tasted amazing on the cake!), and my beau was given both his first 1770's "battle" experience along with going on a reproduction boat for the first time and shooting cannons on said boat for the first time!  We always have a great time at Tunnel Mill, it is such a magical and beautiful place.  

I can't wait to see all of the creations for this challenge!  Happy cooking and eating!


  1. I was there- it was delicious!!!

    1. -hugs- and, I'm sure, much improved by your liqueur!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, it indeed was! The glaze, although not included in the original recipe, gave it the extra kick it needed.

  3. Great idea! I love your loophole. The event sounds like fun.