Barnard Cake

Katie Maxwell, Visitor Services Coordinator

I am approaching cake with trepidation. I love all desserts, but I’m not very good at cake. I can do pie, cookies, brownies, but something always goes wrong with cake. One time I accidentally doubled the butter, another time the chocolate birthday cake I was making for my sister just didn’t rise. To this day, I have no idea why.

Anyway. . .


This 1890 cake named for Richard Meredith Barnard, a prominent Abolitionist (73) can be found on page 74 of 35 Receipts from “The Larder Invaded” by William Woys Weaver. It at least looks straightforward.

The Ingredients

1 cup butter

3 cups granulated sugar

4/12 cups pastry flour *

4 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon

1 ¼ tsp. Baking soda

Ingredients for Barnard Cake

* I couldn’t get pastry flour, so after doing a little online research I’m replacing two tablespoons of every cup of flour with two tablespoons of cornstarch.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy

Butter and sugar creamed together by hand

This is the best I can do with my hand mixer.

Beat the eggs to a froth

Eggs whipped until frothy

Looks frothy to me.

And combine with the buttermilk. Beat the egg and butter mixture together, add the lemon;

Frothy eggs added to creamed butter and sugar

Then sift together the flour and baking soda twice.

Sifting the flour and baking soda

My parents have an actual sifter, but I think a cheap strainer works just as well.

Gradually sift and fold this into the batter.

At this point, I have been preheating my oven for a little while, and with the weather being unseasonably warm today, it is just too hot to linger in the kitchen, so I don’t so much fold the flour mixture as dump the flour mixture into the batter.

It’ll be fine.

Ingredients incorporated into a batter

Grease two round 10-inch cake pans–preferably spring-form — and fill no more than ⅔ full.

Greased cake pan with parchment paper

I don’t have spring-form pans so I’m greasing the pans and some parchment paper to be extra safe.

Batter in cake pans ready to bake

Bake in an oven preheated to 350℉ for 45-50 minutes, or until the cakes test done.

Barnard Cake, fully baked in pan

Looks like cake. No disasters so far…

Cool on racks before removing from the pans.

After some time to cool, it is finally time to taste some cake.

A slice of Barnard Cake, served

To my great surprise, this actually worked! The cake is light, fluffy, and a little lemony, but not overpowering. I heartily endorse Barnard Cake. (Dr. Weaver recommends against icing for this cake, and I agree, it is good without it.)

Cake for Thanksgiving!