31 May 2010

Family recipe Monday: more classic cakes

The oatmeal cake recipe

Yes, it is written on the back of a blank check, just as you suspected.

We are still adding to the Simple Gifts files of recipes and stories from the extended families in all directions. That would be a lot of directions, as we now have to factor in the stories from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Mexico, in addition to the Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma files. Many of the best ones were never written down, as previously noted. We're finding that to be a truism on many of the fronts.

Cakes always seem to take up a disproportionate amount of space in the written files, though. They seem to have been viewed as the true tests of baking skill. Here are three arranged in order, from simplest to fanciest.

Oatmeal cake
Pour 1 ½ cups boiling water over 1 cup oatmeal and I stick butter or margarine. Do not stir. Let stand covered for 20 minutes. Mix

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp nutmeg
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Mix oatmeal and above. Mix together and bake in greased biscuit pan for 30 minutes at 350* F.

Top with mixture of
¾ stick butter or margarine
¼ cup Pet (evaporated) milk
½ cup sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup coconut
1 tsp vanilla

Spread on cake while hot and brown under broiler.
--Lela Lawson, Vada Brooks Johnson

Note: The biscuit pan referred to above is not a pan with individual biscuit/muffin cups; it is simply a 9" diameter round metal pan, like a cake layer pan but a bit shallower. You can use a pie pan or plate to get the same results. That broiler time should be extremely short, maybe a minute.

I don't remember when carrot cakes started popping up in the family cooking options, but here is a bit of history from Candis Reade: "Carrot cake is a confectionery conundrum: it seems you either love it, or you hate it. But either way, theres no denying the appeal of this rich dessert throughout history. Food historians tell us that the origins of carrot cake were likely a type of carrot pudding enjoyed during medieval times. Later, during the Middle Ages, sweetening agents were hard to come by in Britain and quite expensive, so as a result, carrots were often used in place of sweeteners. Interestingly, despite being such a longstanding mainstay in Europe, American cookbooks didnt start listing carrot cake recipes until the early 1900s. And, it was actually in the 1960s before carrot cake began becoming a more common cake in the United States, soon becoming the dessert of choice at summer family reunions picnics and Mothers Day celebrations." Add a few commas and apostrophes there, and you're all set.

This is Carol's Carrot Cake. I am not sure who Carol is (I assume that she is the "she" referred to), but apparently someone in our line disagreed with her on the amount of cream cheese in the frosting, enough to mention it twice. Note on the other side of the recipe: “The original cook used only a 3-oz. package of cream cheese, but we prefer more cheese.” Sorry, Carol. We're nothing if not self-indulgent. So there.

Carol's carrot cake
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 cups grated carrot
1 ½ cups corn oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add oil, eggs and vanilla and blend well. Bake in three 9” pans at 350* F for 30 minutes or until done.

1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1 stick butter or margarine
1 box powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream the cheese and butter. Add sugar, vanilla and pecans. Blend well. Add milk if necessary and spread.

P. S. Grate carrots real fine and pack in cup--usually takes a whole bunch. Also she uses 3 oz. cream cheese instead of the 8 oz.
--via Shirley Johnson Shelton

Finally, here is one of the recipes that won a blue ribbon for my grandmother at the South Plains Fair. This one is a real test of skill. Warning: Any recipe with parts listed in Roman numerals is going to take up most of your baking day. I don't know what the name of it was before the Fair, but it was never going to have any other name afterward.

Prize chocolate cake

Part I
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups sweet milk
¾ cup cocoa
Cook these ingredients to a medium thick syrup and allow to cool. Add 1 tsp vanilla.

Part II
¾ cup butter
3 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
4 T cold water
¾ cup sour milk
3 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and puffy, and add eggs not separated. Next the water with soda dissolved in it. Mix well. Add flour and milk alternately and beat well. Now add part I and beat again. Pour into lined cake pan and bake at 350* F 40 minutes.

2 cups brown sugar
½ cup rich milk
2 T butter

Cook to soft ball in cold water. Beat until creamy.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Caveat I: If you're not familiar with the art of cooking sugar and candy, don't start this recipe just yet. Of all places, the Exploratorium in San Francisco has the best instructions on the science of candy here. This entire Science of Cooking section is terrific.

Caveat II: Sour milk is not the same as buttermilk. It was originally literally milk that had started to turn. You don't have to wait for milk to go bad, though. Add a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to fresh milk instead, as detailed here.

The note "add eggs not separated" is an interesting turn of phrase. I notice that this is the second recipe posted here with instructions for making "filling" rather than "frosting" or "icing." Wonder if this was an Oklahoma colloquialism that we've lost the use of today?

Happy Memorial Day, all.

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