Sunday, 13 October 2013

Vintage Cake Recipes (Tried & Tested)

As you probably know, I have a terrible second-hand shop habit, and one of the things I like to pick up is a good old-fashioned cookery book. The oldest I have is from the 1860s. Partly because it entertains me browsing through recipes for broiled anchovies, but also because sometimes, I like to have to a shot at some of the more appealing recipes.

For this year's arts trail where I live I cooked several cakes from vintage cookbooks, promised that I would post up the recipes, and then completely forgot. Better late than never, so here goes.

Chocolate Cake, 1901
From 'The Book of the Home, Vol 4'

This was awesome, but is not sweet chocolate cake for kids. It is proper grown-up chocolate cake.

The Book of the Home is one of a series and is completely fascinating. It contains things like maid's duties and uniform and how to lay a table and pictures of Edwardian ice-cream-making machines. If you have the complete series of eight books, it is worth £200. I only have one, and when I asked the woman in the charity shop if they had any others, she said they might have been chucked. Grrrrr. If you ever see one of the others, please buy it for me!

1/2lb butter
2 oz powdered chocolate (I used 100% cocoa powder, not hot choc powder)
4 oz castor sugar
4 eggs
4 oz flour
clotted cream
whipping/double cream
apricot jam
crystallized apricots*
*these are unobtainable in the UK, think you can get them in France or Spain? I used chopped dried apricots.

Butter and paper** a plain round mould and sprinkle it well inside with equal parts of sugar and flour. Beat the rest of the butter to a cream. Work in the chocolate and the castor sugar, and continue working for ten*** minutes. Mix in alternately eggs and flour very gradually, and beat for 12 to 15*** minutes. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for ½ hour. When it is perfectly cold slice it horizontally, spread all but the top slice with equal parts of seived apricot jam and very thick or clotted cream, and fit all the slices together. Serve garnished with whipped cream and crystallized apricots.
**I skipped this, as the Edwardians didn't have non-stick cake tins.
*** I probably did five. It came out ok.

It came out looking like this. The combination of really dark chocolate and apricots and cream was unexpectedly good. If I cooked it again, (which I very happily would) I'd be more generous with the cream.

Lemon Cheese Cakes/Lemon Curd Tarts, 1934
Complete Illustrated Cookery Book

Because I am stupid, I thought this was a cheese cake recipe. It's not. It's lemon curd tart with homemade lemon curd. It was surprisingly easy, and bloody delicious. This book assumes you are a professional cook, so some of the instructions are a bit vague. For example, a 'fairly hot oven' in 1934 is probably a medium one today. However I really did find it an easy recipe. I made one big flan rather than individual tarts, which saved faffing. The original recipes suggests you blanch your own almonds for the topping, I suggest you just sprinkle some flaked almonds on top instead.

4oz butter
2 lemons
4 oz castor sugar
1lb short crust, rough puff or flaky pastry
2 eggs
flaked almonds

Blend the butter and sugar to a cream. Beat the eggs one by one, and add with the grated peel of 2 lemons and the strained juice of one. Stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens slightly. Cool and put the mixture into patty pans lined with the pastry. Bake in a fairly hot oven* for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked. Remove from the patty pans and place on a lace d'oyley on a suitable dish.

Clearly the most important part of these instructions is the lace d'oyley. I didn't even know that was how you spelt it...

Battenburg Cake, 1953
Good Housekeeping Picture Cookery

The original recipe makes a cocoa/vanilla cake. I think this is because food colouring may have been difficult to obtain when the recipe was first published in 1950, as some foods were still rationed. I substituted red food colouring for the cocoa suggested in the book.

Making the cake for this is very easy: (wo)manhandling into shape is the difficult bit, and requires a good level of dexterity. Probably not a recipe for the clumsy! However it looks great when done, and tastes completely unlike the pale imitation you get in shops.

4 oz margerine (I used butter)
4 oz sugar
2 eggs
8 oz self-raising flour
pinch salt
milk to mix
vanilla essence
red food colouring
apricot jam
castor sugar

Cream together the fat and sugar and beat in the eggs. Sieve the flour and salt and add to the creamed mixture, together with enough milk to give a dropping consistency. Divide the mixture into two portions, adding a little vanilla essence to one half, and the red colouring to the other. Bake in two greased loaf tins in a moderate oven (375F), for about 30 minutes, then turn on to a wire tray to cool.

Trim each sponge to an oblong by removing outside edges, cut each cake in half lengthways.

Spread the strips of cake with jam and put them together as shown, pressing the pieces firmly together.

Roll out the marzipan and cover the cake. Crimp the edges and the top, sprinkle with sugar, wrap cake in paper and and leave for several hours.

If you make any of these please leave a comment and let me know how you get on. It's a bit of social history as well as something nice for tea!


  1. I'd like a slice of each please! : )

  2. Its a hard life. I think we should all thank you for so selflessly testing these recipes!

  3. I know, I know, I only hope that people appreciate my sacrifice...

  4. Those are such pretty cake stands - love them! I definitely need something better than a plate.

    cake stand & tableware