Posted on October 26 2016
This wonderful traditional pound cake comes from Amelia Simons’ 1796 cookbook, “American Cookery”. It’s a simple recipe that I think you’re going to find a little surprising. In fact, her recipe is too simple, it only has a few lines to put together this seemingly complex cake, so we had to play detective to figure out how to make this one.
- 1 lb. Butter
- 1 lb. Sugar
- 1 lb. Flour
- 1 lb. Eggs (9 large or 10 medium)
- 1 jill Rose Water (optional)
- ½ Nutmeg grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
With so little information in the original recipe, you might be tempted to throw all the ingredients together, mix them up, and toss them in the oven for the 15 minutes that it says, but then you would end up with a raw mess. By studying other 18th century cake recipes, we are given a bit more information on how to bring this cake together.
We need to start with creaming our butter with our sugar. You want your butter soft but not melted. In the 18th century they would have mixed this by squeezing it together with their hands, but you can speed this process up by using a modern mixer on high for about 5 minutes.
Next you can add in your spices. When it comes to spices, Amelia gives us basically no suggestions leaving this completely up to the cook. Many recipes like this in the 18th century would use caraway seeds, but for this recipe we’re going to be using some nutmeg and a little bit of cinnamon, both also very popular 18th century spices for this kind of a cake. Feel free to experiment with your own spices.
This is also when you would add in your rose water if you are using it. Rose water was very popular in the 17th and early 18th centuries in cooking and we kind of think of it as a spice, but really it’s more of an aromatic, a perfume, that we use in these recipes. Another aromatic that was very popular is orange blossom water. You can find either one of these either online or in Mediterranean markets. They started falling out of favor in English cooking by the end of the 18th century. When we tried this recipe out on different people, some thought the flavor was intriguing while others disliked it. If you’re looking for a traditional taste, I suggest you experiment with this, but if you can’t find them, it’s okay to leave it out.
The only clue as to the leavener in this cake that we are given are the eggs in the ingredients. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was popular to use eggs as a leavening agent by beating the eggs full of air and as the eggs cook the bubbles expand. If you are going to do this by hand, you’ll need to whisk your eggs for about an hour, however, if you would like to speed this up, you can use a modern appliance on high for not more than 15 minutes. Make sure that your whisk is free from all butter or the eggs will not whip up properly.
Once your eggs are whipped up, carefully fold them into your butter mixture, then sift in the flour little by little. Try not to over work this as we’re trying to keep as much of the air in the eggs as possible.
When we look at the baking time in this recipe, it tells us to bake for 15 minutes, so we know that this is not meant to be cooked all at once. In the 1700’s the term cake was applied to anything from the size of a great cake which could be 40 pounds or more, such as the 12th night cake recipe we did earlier, or something much smaller. Something that today we would call a cookie.
So there are several ways you could cook this. There is nothing wrong with cooking it as a cake. You can bake it in a bunt pan that is well buttered or a cake ring at about 325 degrees for about 1.5-2 hours. If you wish to cook it as Amelia Simons’ meant it, you will need a cookie sheet with paper or well buttered tart tins. If you are using paper, it won’t need to be treated at all. Once the cookies are completely cool, the paper will easily peel away.
Bake at about 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Either way, make sure to preheat your oven.
These have a really nice soft cakey texture to it and an interesting flavor.
If you would like to store these for long term, you can double bake them to dry them up and they will last for quite a while.
Transcription of Video:
Today we’re going to be making a wonderful traditional pound cake. This recipe comes from Amelia Simons’ 1796 cookbook, “American Cookery”. It’s a simple recipe that I think you’re going to find a little surprising. Thank you for joining us today on 18th Century Cooking.
The term Pound Cake today generally refers to a cake that’s baked in a round form pan, like a bunt pan and they’re generally much more dense than, say, a typical cake. In the 18th century, however, the term pound cake really comes from the amount of ingredients that are in this recipe, so generally a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of flour, and a pound of eggs and in Amelia Simons’ recipe, that’s exactly what we’ve got. Amelia also suggests a couple of other things. A jill of rose water and spices to taste.
So Amelia Simons’ recipe is too simple. It’s only got just a few lines, really, to put together this seemingly complex cake. I mean, we might be tempted to just throw the ingredients together, mix them up and toss it in the oven, but if you study other 18th century cake recipes from maybe a slightly earlier time period and books that have a little more information, we find out that we can’t do that with this recipe. We actually have to use these other techniques from other cookbooks to make this properly.
We need to start with creaming our butter with our sugar. Now this butter has been softened but not melted. Now in the 18th century they would have mixed this by squeezing it together with their hands. You can speed this process up by using a modern mixer on high for about 5 minutes.
When it comes to spices, Amelia gives us basically no suggestions. She leaves this completely up to the cook. Now many recipes in the 18th century would use something like caraway seeds. That’s very popular for something like this, but today we’re going to be using some nutmeg and a little bit of cinnamon, both also very popular 18th century spices for this kind of a cake.
Now that this is light and fluffy, we can add in our spices. I’ve got about a half a nutmeg here that’s grated up and maybe a teaspoon or a little bit less of nice ground cinnamon and if you’re going to be trying the rose water, now would be the time to add that in and then we’re going to mix this up for another minute or two.
So let’s talk a little bit first about rose water, and rose water is used in this or she mentions rose water in this recipe. Rose water was very popular in the 17th century, early 18th century in cooking and we kind of think of it as a spice but really it’s more of an aromatic, a perfume that we use in these recipes. Another aromatic that’s very popular is the orange blossom water and you can find either one of these still available either online or in Mediterranean markets. By the end of the 18th century, by the end of the 1700’s, these things were really falling out of favor in English cooking.
We tried this recipe out a number of times with the rose water and we tried this on different people and some people really thought the flavor was intriguing and others disliked it because it reminded them of the flavor of soap. If you’re looking for that kind of traditional taste, I suggest you go ahead and try to find some rose water or orange flower blossom water to experiment in this. If you can’t find those, it’s okay to leave them out.
Most modern cakes today use a chemical leavening to make them light and fluffy. Either baking soda or baking powder. In the 17th and 18th century, cakes most often used either a yeast leavener or an egg leavening. In other videos, we pointed out that Amelia Simmons uses a very crude version of a chemical leavening in some of her recipes. In other recipes, she uses yeast as a leavener. In this recipe, she doesn’t mention any leavening at all, but we have lots of eggs, so what we need to do here is beat a lot of air into these eggs. As it cooks, these air bubbles will expand. That’s going to give us our leavening.
If you wish to make this recipe as they did in the 1700’s, you’ll need to whisk this for about an hour, hand held, with a whisk. If you’re going to be using a modern appliance, you’re going to need to whisk this on high for not more than 15 minutes. If you’re using medium eggs, you’ll need 10 eggs. If you’re using large eggs, just 9 will do. Before you start to whisk these eggs, make sure your whisk is butter free or the eggs will not whip up properly. Carefully fold the eggs into your butter mixture and then sift in the flour little by little. Try not to over work this. We’re trying to keep as much of the air in the eggs as possible.
Now, you can bake this in a bunt pan if you would like. You’ll need to butter it very well and you’ll bake it at about 325 degrees for say an hour and a half to two hours. Other recipes we’ve found used a cake ring. Either a tin cake ring or a wood cake ring that was lined outside with paper and the inside buttered, but Amelia Simons’ recipe suggests baking this for just 15 minutes. Now this gives us another clue into how this version was made.
The word cake in the 1700’s could apply to a great cake and we covered something like the great cake when we did our 12th night cake recipe. Now these cakes were huge, sometimes they were 20-30-40 pounds or more, but the word cake can also refer to something much smaller. Something that we, today would call a cookie, and in fact, the first kind of reference, at least in American cookery and English cookery, is Amelia Simons’ reference to the word cookie here that she borrows from the Dutch, so if we take into account this 15-minute cooking time, there is no way that this could be baked as a big cake in a bunt pan or in one of these wooden forms. This most likely was baked as a cookie on a baking sheet, probably on paper. They might have baked them in small little tart tins that were buttered or even in a little paper tray or cup that we’ve seen some references to in 18th century cookery. We won’t need to butter the paper or treat it in any way. Once these cookies cool all the way off, we’ll be able to just peel the paper away.
If you’re baking these at home, they’ll bake for 15-20 minutes at a temperature of about 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to preheat your oven. You’ll need to watch these closely so they don’t burn. Let them cool completely before you try to remove them from the paper.
Let’s give these a try. They look wonderful. It’s actually got a really nice soft texture to it.
They have a wonderful, simple yet complex flavor to them. Nice and sweet, again really, really good texture. Nice and soft. You can definitely taste the nutmeg and the cinnamon in there. It would be really interesting to have these with a little bit of that rose water. These are wonderful and really simple and can you imagine if you baked 4 pounds of these guys? It’s likely that you either had a really big crowd to feed or you would double bake these to dry them up so that they would last for quite a while, and let’s look at one of these little bigger ones, this cupcake version here, and I can break this open here and you can see the texture. It’s got a really nice cakey texture to it. This is not dense at all. Really, all that air whipped in there did a tremendous job of leavening this. It’s really good.
Well, this one turned out great! I love these. In fact, I could eat them all day. I’m not going to. You should definitely try this one out. They are excellent! If you are interested in living history or reenacting, make sure to check out our getting started course. It’s really simple, you sign up for it on email, it’s free and you get special videos about how to get started with a little bit of in depth information. You’ll love the series. Also, make sure to check out our website and you can get one of our print catalogs from our website. This is really good. I want to thank you for coming along as we try these things out, as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century.
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