There is so much that I want to say in this post, so I will try to keep slightly shorter than the novel it could turn into. Today is my Nana’s 96th birthday!!!! Please don’t tell her I told you!! Just a few months ago we weren’t sure she would make it at all and here we are celebrating another year with that crazy lady! She was up and around a little more last year than this year, but just being able to spend time with her in whatever capacity she may be in is worth it for us.
I have mentioned before that I am known as the “rummager” of the family and absolutely LOVE to dig through drawers, closets, and cabinets at my grandmother’s house. I never come out empty-handed or disappointed. On her birthday last year, High Heels to Hot Wheels was still under construction and I was looking for inspiration from any and all people. My sister Beth and I dug through her cabinet with all of her recipes and cookbooks and we truly hit the jackpot with what we found. Not only did we find Nana’s cookbooks and recipe box of all of her best recipes, we also found cookbooks and handwritten recipes that belonged to our great-grandmother. As I was flipping through a little recipe journal that I am now keeping safe in a ziploc bag, I ran across a recipe for Lady Baltimore Cake. Nana immediately responded with “Lady Baltimore cake is my favorite, my mother used to make it for us when I was little.” I knew then and there that I had to make it for her. The ingredients in the recipe were a bit antiquated and needed some translation and the instructions were vague, but come hell or high water I knew I had to figure it out and make it for her. I’m so excited to celebrate with her when I see her tomorrow (a little belated due to the weather and house business) and surprise her with her cake. I hope that it brings back sweet memories of her mother.
This is where the novel comes in and I am really going to try to sum it all up. I never met my great-grandmother and I am so happy that Hunter and my niece and nephew know and will remember our Nana. When you have never met someone you tend to underestimate the relationship that someone has with them. As I made the cake yesterday, it made me think about how much I love my mom and all the fond memories I have of her as a little girl. She will tell you “I’m not much of a cook” because my dad always does the cooking, but there were always things she did for us and that will always remind me of her. When we were sick she always gave us sprite and orange juice……funny thing is that I still love that fancy concoction, but I usually add something a little stronger than the sprite these days. :} Her lasagna and turkey tetrazini are two of my favorite dishes and any time I eat those it always makes me think of my mom. Knowing how much I love my mom and want my children and grandchildren to know her, I hope this cake helps to bring back memories for my grandmother of her mother. At 96 there really isn’t anything she needs, so the gift of sweet memories through the sweetness of a cake is the best gift I can think of to give her. It certainly has been a gift to me. Happy birthday, Nana!!
This iconic cake dates back to the early 1900s and is light, fluffy and delicious!
- 3 cups flour, sifted
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup milk
- 7 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Boiled Frosting (see below)
- 6 large egg whites
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Cherry Fruit Paste, room temperature and softened to easily spread
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla.
- Add the flour mixture in 3 batches and alternate each batch with milk beginning and ending with the flour. Stir batter until just combined.
- In another large bowl, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks.
- Stir in a portion of the egg whites into the batter then gently fold in remaining egg whites.
- Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Smooth the top of each pan of batter.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place cake in pans on a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let cool completely. Use a serrated knife to level out cakes if they formed a dome.
- Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until the hold soft peaks. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar and the water. Stir frequently. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to stir frequently. Boil the syrup until a candy thermometer reaches 248 degrees F.
- Replace egg mixture on the stand mixer and turn on. In a steady stream, carefully add syrup. Add the vanilla and beat the icing until it is smooth and cool, about 8 minutes.
- On a cake stand or cake turn table, place one cake with the flat (uncut) side up. Spread the cherry fruit paste on the cake layer and then frost the top with icing. Place 2nd cake layer on first layer and repeat. Place 3rd layer of cake on top of the 2nd layer and frost the top and sides with remaining frosting.
Traditionally Lady Baltimore Cake has nuts and dried figs, raisins or cherries in the center frosting. I changed the recipe to fit the taste of my grandmother.
The History of Lady Baltimore Cake courtesy of The Old Foodie:
Naturally, its origins are disputed and controversial which is good news as such stories are much more fun. We can probably fairly quickly discount the idea that it was named after the real Lady Baltimore, whose Irish husband inherited Maryland in the mid-seventeenth century. The Lady never got to America, and in any case baking powder leavening agents were not invented until well into the nineteenth century – a ‘cake’ in her day was more like sweet fruit bread. Another story says it was a variation of a cake enjoyed by Dolly Madison, the fourth First Lady but this story fails to explain why it is not then called Dolly Madison cake.
The other two common explanations have more substance, and perhaps both of them are right. One says it originated in Charleston at the end of the nineteenth century, at “The Lady Baltimore Tearooms”, and was a variation of another popular cake (aren’t all cake recipes variations of of one that has gone before?). The final story says that the original cake was purely fictional, and made its first appearance in a novel but sounded so good readers clamoured for the recipe. The book was called, in case you cannot guess – ‘Lady Baltimore’, and it was set in a Southern city something like Charleston. It was written by Owen Wister and published in 1906.
Here is the relevant passage from the book:
… at twelve, it was my habit to leave my Fanning researches for a while, and lunch at the Exchange upon chocolate and sandwiches most delicate in savor. As, one day, I was luxuriously biting one of these, I heard his voice and what he was saying. …
Young he was, very young, twenty-two or three at the most, and as he stood, with hat in hand, speaking to the pretty girl behind the counter, his head and side-face were of a romantic and high-strung look. It was a cake that he desired made, a cake for a wedding; and I directly found myself curious to know whose wedding.
…. “Are you quite sure you want that?” the girl was asking.
“Lady Baltimore? Yes, that is what I want.”
“Because,” she began to explain, then hesitated, and looked at him. Perhaps it was in his face; perhaps it was that she remembered at this point the serious difference between the price of Lady Baltimore (by my small bill-of-fare I was now made acquainted with its price) and the cost of that rich article which convention has prescribed as the cake for weddings; at any rate, swift, sudden delicacy of feeling prevented her explaining any more to him, for she saw how it was: his means were too humble for the approved kind of wedding cake! She was too young, too unskilled yet in the world’s ways, to rise above her embarrassment; and so she stood blushing at him behind the counter, while he stood blushing at her in front of it.
…. My day had been dull, my researches had not brought me a whit nearer royal blood; I looked at my little bill-of-fare, and then I stepped forward to the counter, adventurous, but polite.
“I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore,” I said with extreme formality. I thought she was going to burst; but after an interesting second she replied, “Certainly,” in her fit Regular Exchange tone; only, I thought it trembled a little.
I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts–but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much.
Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full. “But, dear me, this Is delicious!”
A choking ripple of laughter came from the counter. “It’s I who make them,” said the girl. “I thank you for the unintentional compliment.”
The narrator finds that the incident has ‘broken the ice’ with the charming cake-maker, and he returns to continue the flirtation. In case that still isn’t enough romance for you, another embellishment of the tale of the novel itself says that Wister had been given some delicious cake by a beautiful Southern belle, and decided to write about it.
No wonder the public clamoured for an actual recipe for this romance-soaked idea of a cake!
Now for the evidence. There seems to be no mention anywhere of a cake with the name of ‘Lady Baltimore’ until 1906. Suddenly there was a spate of newpaper articles mentioning it as the ‘famous’ or ‘original’ cake, with one writer (in January 1907) coyly agreeing to part with the recipe ‘with the sanction of Owen Wister’. The very first mention of the cake that I have been able to find is on October 27th 1906 in the The Post Standard of Syracuse NY, in an article about an upcoming sale and dance on behalf of the Harmony Circle, the auxillary to the Womens and Childrens Hospital. Slices of the cake with the recipe were ‘sold by chance’ that evening, and the lucky winner was Mrs Frederick R Hazard.
The first recipe that I have been able to find appeared on December 24th 1906 in the Daily Gazette And Bulletin of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and here it is:
‘Lady Baltimore Cake’.
Beat the whites of six eggs. Take a cup and a half of granulated sugar, a cup of milk, nearly a cup of butter, three cups of flour and two teaspoonfuls of good baking powder. Sift the flour and baking powder together into the other ingredients, adding the eggs last of all. Bake in two buttered pans for fifteen or twenty minutes.
For the frosting: Two cups of granulated sugar and a cup and a half of water, boil until stringly, about five minutes usually does it. Beat the whites of two eggs very light, and pour the boiling sugar slowly into it, mixing well. Take out of this enough for the top and sides of the cake, and stir into the remainder for the filling between the two layers, one cup of finely chopped raisins and a cup of chopped nuts. This is delicious when properly baked.
Who originated this recipe? We will probably never know for certain, but undoubtedly some entrepreneurial cake-shop owner noted the interest – perhaps had even read the book – tweaked a popular white cake recipe and re-named it. Perhaps it was indeed the ladies at the Lady Baltimore Tea Rooms in Charleston.
P.S there is a yellow-cake version, using egg yolks, called, of course ‘Lord Baltimore Cake’.