Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake

Emily Dickinson's  coconut cakeI had read somewhere that Emily Dickinson was a baker, but I somehow pictured the reclusive poet making only loaves of spartan bread. When I began reading about her cooking, however, I realized that my image of her was all wrong. She was a prolific and joyful baker, and she delighted in making not just bread (and very good bread) but also puddings, cakes, gingerbread, and candies. Continue reading

Eliza Leslie’s Indian Pound Cake

Indian pound cake

I wanted to make Eliza Leslie’s Indian pound cake partly because it sounded so good — the ingredients include cornmeal, eggs, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brandy — but also because its creator seemed so interesting.

Born in 1787, Leslie was one of five children of a Philadelphia watchmaker. Her father, who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, died heavily in debt when she was sixteen, and she and her mother ran a boardinghouse to support their family. According to culinary archivist Jan Longone, Leslie set out to become a writer of novels and stories but wrote a cookbook, Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828), because her friends kept asking her for recipes. (She had been a pupil at Mrs. Goodfellow’s cooking school in Philadelphia.)  Continue reading

Pound Cake

Mary Randolph's pound cake

I knew that “pound cake” referred to cakes made with a pound of butter, but I didn’t realize until researching 18th-century cakes that this term once referred to the cake’s other ingredients as well — a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, and even a pound of eggs. Here’s Hannah Glasse’s recipe for pound cake from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):

Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream: then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven.

Two things about this recipe really struck me: first, that Glasse recommended beating the butter with one’s hand; second, that she beat the batter for an entire hour!  Continue reading