Indian Pound Cake
Katie Maxwell, Visitor Services Coordinator
I was so hopeful about Indian Pound Cake. After years of cake failure, I had finally succeeded when I made the moist and fluffy Barnard Cake a while ago. (That particular 1890 recipe can be found on page 74 of 35 Receipts from “The Larder Invaded” by William Woys Weaver.) And the rosewater I ordered online finally came.
What could go wrong?
The 1828 Indian Pound Cake entry can be found on pages 32 to 34 of 35 Receipts from “The Larder Invaded.” Dr. Weaver explains the difference between nineteenth-century cornmeal and modern cornmeal as well as the reasons why the original recipe writers, Elizabeth Goodfellow and Elizabeth Lea would have scoffed at the use of baking soda or baking powder before he lists the updated ingredients with these facts in mind.
1 ½ cups white* cornmeal, less 2 tblsp.
½ cup cake flour
1 cup superfine sugar
6 oz. butter
1 ½ tblsp. rosewater mixed with
1 ½ tblsp. brandy
1 tblsp. grated nutmeg
*I couldn’t find any white cornmeal, so I used yellow.
Dr. Weaver includes a note at the end of the recipe suggesting,
“For the weak sisters and brothers who are terrified of cakes without chemical leaveners, 1 tsp. of baking powder will serve as your saving grace.”
However, I figured if the original writers would not have wanted to use baking powder, I should give it a go without it and let the butter and eggs do their work.
(This should be your first clue.)
Time to get started.
Cream the butter and sugar until light.
I know what I’m doing so far.
Beat the eggs to a froth,
This looks frothy.
And gradually add to the butter mixture.
Before we get into the dry ingredients, in his note at the bottom of the page, Dr. Weaver also says,
“the flour and cornmeal should be warmed slightly on the stove before they are used. By driving out that small excess moisture, the cake will rise better in the oven.”
Since I’m opting out of using baking powder, I dutifully warm my dry ingredients.
Sift the flour, cornmeal, and grated nutmeg together twice,
Then fold into the batter
This. Is not. Folding.
42,386 years later…
Add the rosewater and brandy, stir until well combined; then pour the batter into a greased cake tin
(a 10-inch springform mold without a center tube is ideal).
Well, that is not a thing I have. A regular tin will just have to do. I added a circle of parchment paper on the bottom just in case.
Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until the cake tests done in the center.
I assume testing done means that if you poke it with a fork, the fork will come out clean.
Cool on a rack and serve.
It came out of the tin without a problem, but I don’t think this is right. The “cake” is flat, dry, and crumbly.
No icing is necessary.
After tasting, I agree. Icing will not fix this. It tastes a little bitter and kind of like perfume. *Sigh.
A couple of days later, I resolve to take another crack at it. I refuse to give up on baked goods. This time though I’m using the baking powder. What Mrs. Goodfellow and Mrs. Lea don’t know won’t hurt them.
I’m also taking the liberty of reducing the rosewater from 1 ½ tablespoons to 2 teaspoons, enough to be prominent, but not overpowering. (This is also how much vanilla extract Martha Stewart uses in her pound cake, and she seems like a reliable source.)
Otherwise, I make the recipe the same as before.
Creaming the butter and sugar,
Making sure the eggs are extra foamy,
Sifting the dry ingredients,
And the batter looks pretty much the same after the requisite elbow grease.
After baking at 350°F for 45 minutes, It was still on the flat side, and still somewhat dry and crumbly, but less flat, dry, and crumbly. The rose flavor was there, but not overpowering, however, I won’t be making it again.
You may be wondering what happened to the first attempt:
Ice cream sandwiches! Flat cake is usually improved with ice cream.