Apr 27, 2011

Addie Alexander's Lady Baltimore Cake

I've recently been contemplating whether or not I should enter some food items into judgment at the Iowa State Fair this year. On Sunday I discussed the idea with my dad and he reminded me that my great-great grandmother, Addie Alexander, was quite the baker and between the years 1915-1924 she won 159 first place, 101 second place, and 19 third place prizes at the Iowa State Fair. My great aunt, Laurel Webb, made a cookbook in 2003 that features a couple of recipes for the basic cake of a Lady Baltimore Cake. I decided to try it out.

First of all, I'm not a big cake maker. Secondly, I had NO CLUE what a Lady Baltimore cake consisted of, which proved to be an experience since Addie's recipe was just for the ingredients and a guesstimate of the amounts used. No instructions...no icing or filling information...just a basic white cake recipe. I figured a cake with such a fancy name had to consist of more than just a basic white cake, so I dug through a couple of cookbooks. I found a Lady B recipe in my culinary bible, The Joy of Cooking, then decided to check my copy of The Modern Family Cookbook by Meta Given since it's such a classic collection of recipes. In each book, it explained the lady Baltimore cake to be a white layer cake with an icing and a filling consisting of chopped nuts, raisins and/or figs.

When Addie Alexander baked all these prize-winning morsels, she used a wood or kerosene stove, so I realized that there really shouldn't be instructions on what to set the temperature at, should there? The Joy of Cooking proved helpful in guiding me through the cake making and baking processes, and each of the reference cookbooks suggested a 7-minute icing, which I would like to rename "7-minutes in Hell" or "7-minute icing MY ASS"

The cake turned out okay but it was a bit dry and crumbly. The icing was supposed to be cooked atop a double boiler, which I do not own, so I had to fashion one out of a round enamel roasting pan placed upon a stock pot. The water wasn't boiling when I placed the icing mixture in the enamel pan, so I had to whisk FOREVER for the icing to form a peak. I don't know what I did wrong...but the icing turned out grainy. Maybe I didn't whisk it fast enough? Maybe there wasn't enough water in the bottom of my "double boiler"? Maybe I just needed to use a real double boiler?!

Anyhow, I baked the cake in a glass 9x13 pan, because I don't have any cake pans, let it cool, and cut it to make 2 layers. The filling, since it is made with the grainy icing, turned kind of crumbly also, and the cake itself didn't look the prettiest because I didn't have enough icing to cover the top and the sides. HOWEVER- the cake tasted fabulous!

It was quite a lot of work and quite the experiment for me since I don't make a lot of cakes. Great-great grandma Addie must have been a wonder woman to make prize worthy desserts using a wood burning stove! I have contacted the self-designated family historian, a granddaughter of Addie, to see if she has any more information or possibly recipes for me to sift through. I'm hoping there are some out there...

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