Yesterday, I baked a cake using a 150 year old recipe.
Actually, that’s a lie.
In my 21st century world, everything is standardized and accessible. In Mrs. Davidis’ world, baking powder had not yet been invented.“Die Monderne’s” (myself) and “Unsere liebe Hausfrau’s” (our dear Davidis’) baking worlds are so far apart it would be hard to explain without some serious digging or at least a good story, I’ll go for the latter.
Die Moderne woke up with a craving. A craving for cake. With a determination hither-to unknown, she vigorously pedaled to Whole Foods and scanned the aisle of baking supplies at her disposal. Being an American accustomed to choice, she zipped through the aisles picking out the best quality flours and fair-trade sugar. Being a conscious millennial, she saw that cherries were in season and thought, cherry cake!
Unsere liebe Hausfrau woke up with lethargy, dreading what she knew would be a full day. There was bread to be baked, a cake to bake for Hänschen’s birthday, and fruit to dry. In preparation for this day she has already milled her flour at the town’s miller. The miller’s flour is of good quality but the white, light, tender flour that yields moist crumbs die Moderne picked up on her morning run does not exist here.
Die Moderne struggles over archaic measurements. The internet tells her a Lot is equivalent to 14.6 grams, she angrily tells the internet that she doesn’t have a scale that measures grams. She quickly ameliorates this by buying one from Amazon. The recipes asks for ½ a pound of flour. She only has measuring cups and once again asks the internet to do the conversion for her. She pours the flour into a standardized measuring cup positive that she could walk into any kitchen store in America and know that she would find a cup exactly the same size as the one she is holding in her hand. She turns to her baking table. She marvels at her beautiful stand mixer, skims the recipes ingredients and lets the machine whirl.
Die Moderne punches a few buttons and her gas stove ignites and for the next 45 minutes she waits as her stove adeptly regulates the temperature at 375°.
Unsere liebe Hausfrau´s strong arms are the only mixing tools she needs. If she hasn’t yet gotten a cast iron stove, she’ll need to go to the communal oven. She starts by mixing the coarsest flour with the starter dough — after all yeast, is also not common these days — to make bread. For the cake she takes her most finely ground flour and adds sugar from the sugar loaf. She carefully chips away pieces with her sugar nips and sieves the grains to ensure that the finest grain possible is added to the batter. She then adds eggs, but no baking powder. Baking powder hasn’t been invented yet. Dr. Oetker’s formula won’t hit the shelves en-masse until 1898.
She wants to make sure Hänschen has the best cake possible for his birthday and so she heats egg whites on the stove and adds sugar, intensely whisking the mixture to create something similar to a glaze. Butter, cream and confectioner’s sugar doesn’t come until the mid-20th century.
If Unsere liebe Hausfrau has a stove, she’ll need to do quite a few adjustments before she can use it. She ignites the coal, let’s the coal cool, adds a pan of water if it isn’t cool enough (no one wants a burnt cake!), if her stove is more advanced, she might have a dampener. She must never leave the window open. A draft can seriously affect the temperature in the oven. Then and only then can the cake be placed in the oven.
If unsere liebe Hausfrau hasn’t gotten her own cast iron stove, she makes her way to the Lehmbackofen (probably closest to a Masonry oven.) where in addition to her cake (after a first trial run) she adds bread and during the fall even fruit to dry.
What a luck it is that we live in this modern age! While for centuries, cakes were closer to sweetened bread-like goods with spices and fruits added for flavor, we now can have unimaginably moist, tender cake any time we want!
Of course, when die Moderne sat down to make a cake, none of this was in her mind. She churned, dipped her greedy fingers into a perfect batter, and delighted at the moistness and tenderness of the resulting cake without once thinking about how her liebe Hausfrau would have had to do to make it. Luckily, cake, whether modern or 150 years’ old, is still delicious.
Or like always you can just read the recipe. ENJOY!
Swiss Cherry Cake
makes enough batter for a bread pan
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2/3 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
two eggs, room temperature
2 tbsps sour cream
20 pitted cherries, give or take
1/4 cup almonds
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1. Mix the dry ingredients together
2. Cream the butter and sugar together and add to dry ingredients
3. Mix eggs and sour cream and add to mixture
4. Place around half of the batter in bread tin and add halved cherries
5. Add the remaining batter on top, add remaining cherries, add the almonds. Put the cake in the oven at 375° for 25 to 30 minutes.
6. For the glaze, mix the milk into the sugar. Add more milk if needed. Pour over cooked cake.