Saturday, November 24, 2012

Christmas Cake or Black Cake

Black Cake certainly doesn't sound as festive as Christmas Cake as it was sometimes called, or even Fruit Cake or Plum Pudding.  Not only does it not sound festive, black cake doesn't sound too appetizing... thoughts of burnt cookies or toast spring to mind.  But it is tasty, rather like a spice cake if only raisins are used. 

The slices pictured, contain chopped raisins, molasses, spices, and brandy from Lea's 1846 recipe [below]. Black Cake was a 19th century lighter version of the Fruit Cake, with chopped raisins, currants, citron, spices and brandy. A few cookbook authors called it 'Black Cake or Christmas Cake.' 

Fruit Cake

The book, Economic Cookery. (Newark, NJ: 1840)  gave a recipe for a fruit cake and added that “Black Cake is made the same way, with the addition of one teaspoon full of pounded nutmeg, one dozen pounded cloves, mace and cinnamon.”  The Fruit Cake ingredients were “1 pound sugar, 1 do. flour, 1 do butter, 10 eggs, 2 pounds raisins stoned and chopped fine, 2 do. dried currants, 1 do. citron.” 

Christmas Cake

“Christmas Cake,” “New England Wedding Cake,” and a “Black cake that will keep for a year” were recipe titles for Black Cake.  
A MAGNIFICENT CHRISTMAS CAKE.  Two pounds of flour, two pounds of sugar, two pounds of raisins, stoned and chopped, two pounds of currants, cleaned, one pound of citron, cut in strips, one pound of butter, ten eggs swell, beaten, four tea-spoonsful baking powder mixed with the flour, a pint of sweet milk, lemon, nutmeg, and allspice to taste, and a little salt. Mix and beat thoroughly. Put in plenty of spice. Bake four or five hours, and then ice. Trim it with holly wreath, and branch.  [Hirtzler, Victor.  The Hotel St. Francis Cook Book.  Chicago: 1919]

LaFayette tribute

In 1824-25 LaFayette took a triumphant return visit to the United States.  Several recipes were named in his honor, including Fayette Pudding (Randolph 1825) which was a simple bread pudding, Lafayette Gingerbread (Leslie 1828), and Lafayette Cakes (Allen 1845) as listed HERE

Christmas Cakes were not left out of the name changing.  An article titled "La Fayette Christmas Cake" lyrically described a huge cake in The National Advocate, New York City: Dec 28, 1824:

"...a mammoth Christmas cake, containing 63 pounds of flour from Utica, 270 pounds of currants from the weeping Grecian Isles, 750 eggs from the cackling fowls of Dutchess county, besides citeron from the east, sugar from the west, and a confectioner of splendid talents and unrivalled genius to blend the production of different climates together, and from the apparent confusion make the celebrated La Fayette Cake, of 530 pounds..."
Black Cake – with baking soda, Lea  1845
Rub a pound and a half of softened butter in three pounds of flour, add a pound of brown sugar, rolled fine, a pint of molasses, a table-spoonful of rose brandy, a nutmeg or some mace, four eggs well beaten, a pound of raisins stoned and chopped; mix the whole well, and before baking add a tea-cup of sour cream with a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in it—beat it up again, have the pans -well buttered, and put in about three parts full; this quantity will make about six cakes, in bread pans; bake as bread and if it brown too much, put paper on it, if it seems too stiff, add a little more molasses or cream. It will keep several weeks in cold weather.  [Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (1793-1858) was born in Ellicott City, Md and wrote three editions of Domestic Cookery, the first edition in 1845]
Leslie gave this recipe for the icing in her 1844 book:
The basic ratio was “A quarter of a pound [1/2 cup] of finely powdered loafsugar, of the whitest and best quality, is the usual allowance to one white of egg. … Beat the white of egg by itself till it stands alone. Have ready the powdered sugar, and then beat it hard into the white of egg, till it becomes thick and smooth; flavouring it as you proceed with a few drops of oil of lemon, or a little extract of roses.
Ice it next morning; first dredging the outside all over with flour, and then wiping it with a towel. This will make the icing stick.  Spread it evenly over the cake with a broad knife or a feather; if you find it too thin, beat in a little more powdered sugar. Cover with it thickly the top and sides of the cake, taking care not to have it rough and streaky.
When dry, put on a second coat; and when that is nearly dry, lay on the ornaments. You may flower it with coloured sugar-sand or nonparels; but a newer and more elegant mode is to decorate it with devices and borders in white sugar; they can be procured at the confectioners, and look extremely well on icing that has been tinted with pink by the addition of a little cochineal.”  [Leslie, Eliza.  Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches, 1844]
Before you cut an iced cake, cut the icing by itself with a small sharp penknife. The large knife with which you divide the cake, will crack and break the icing.”  [Leslie, Eliza.  Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes and sweetmeats.  Boston: 1836]

The image of the cake with the castle "device" and "borders" is from The Little Mouse, who made itself a House in a Christmas Cake, found in Aunt Affable's New Books for Children.  London: 1844. HERE

The photographs are of a Black Cake made from Elizabeth Ellicott Lea's 1846 receipt which used raisins, brown sugar, molasses and was iced with whipped egg whites and sugar.  Each layer of icing was hardened in a slow oven.  

 ©2012 Patricia Bixler Reber

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