Friday, October 18, 2013
Modern Home Economics: How To Bake A Cake
I've been cooking and baking far longer than the average woman my age...and that's a fact. Mama began teaching me to cook when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Just at first, she'd prepare a meal and when I came in from school I was to heat things up so they'd be warm when she came in from work. About a year later she would 'talk' me through basic recipes as she worked nearby. By age 12, she merely informed me of the menu and I prepared the meal from scratch when I got in from school. A little later, and I was planning the meals and preparing them, too, as well as doing a bit of the summer preserving, canning and freezing. Mama taught me a lot...but she did not teach me to bake and that skill remained woefully unattended until my marriage when I opened my second favorite cookbook ( Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook ca. 1970) and began to attempt various recipes.
I love my old fashioned favorite cookbook of all time, The Culinary Arts Institute Cookbook, but cake recipes in the 1930's (when the book was first published) and cake recipes in 1970 and even now in 2013 are different. In the 1930's cakes were less sweet, less finely textured and more dry than we've become accustomed to. By 1970 the recipes had more fat and sugar which greatly changed the texture, the taste and the moisture content. However, it does pay to experiment. I love the German Chocolate Cake recipe from the older cookbook. It's by far the best I've ever had, and I don't like the pound cake recipes from either book. I prefer the gingerbread recipe in the BH&G cookbook, but none of the ones in the older cookbook suit me in the least. I daresay if I studied on it a bit now, I could adjust recipes to suit my personal tastes by adding a little more fat, or sugar, or decreasing cooking time but that's years of experimenting under my belt, you see.
Just a few weeks ago, when I took that pound cake recipe of Granny's and made it, I might well have been flabbergasted as to what to DO with the list of basic ingredients she wrote down on the card (not in the order in which they were used either!) if I were a novice baker. I'd never seen her make the cake. There were no instructions about baking times or pan sizes, etc. Making a cake from scratch is not quite the same as making up a cake mix, either. You can't just dump all the ingredients in the bowl (well...not all of the time, though there are some one bowl cake recipes that you do just that). How you prepare the ingredients and what you do with them and in what order you use them is important. I knew that since it was a pound cake, I might as well use the instructions from my go to pound cake recipe. The cake turned out very well, despite a slight error on my part, because the basics had been attended to in the proper order and way.
I am well aware that there are those cooks out there who have never made a cake from scratch. Mama used mixes and I used mixes until I couldn't afford to buy them. Mixes are what you grew up using, mixes are what you have continued to use and if you buy a cake from the grocer or baker odds are you're getting a cake made from mix for the most part. I think every good cook owes it to herself to learn to make a good cake from scratch. You'll be surprised at the vast difference in flavor between a boxed mix and a homemade cake, no matter what the Cake Doctor says! The texture is different, the flavor is different and honestly once you've had homemade it's hard to go back to a boxed mix.
As I was reading through one of my vintage 1950's September Woman's Day magazine I discovered the food section was devoted to making cakes. I was pleased to find these instruction pages and helpful hints in the section which I thought well worth sharing with you.