Friday, January 10, 2014

Retro nutmeg cake with lemon cream cheese icing, 1956

Well, dear things, we have discussed castle-buying, and we've gone on vacation, and before that we drank a chota peg. High time we returned to our food-blogger (and ex-Chicago Baking Examiner) roots, and simply baked a cake.

This nutmeg cake with lemon cream cheese icing is a real retro recipe, taken from a cooking pamphlet called Entertaining Six or Eight published by Chicago's Culinary Arts Institute in 1956. If you love nutmeg -- of course it's already understood we love lemon -- and regret that your little jar of it tends to go stale because you can't find enough uses for it (one can't drink egg nog all year), take heart. This recipe calls for 2 and 1/2 teaspoons of the spice, plus you may sprinkle more over the finished product.

Entertaining Six or Eight's Nutmeg cake, 1956

Butter and flour two 9 inch round cake pans and set them aside. Then, sift together:

2 cups cake flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Set aside the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, cream together

1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Add to the butter and vanilla, in thirds, 3 eggs well beaten together, and beat the batter thoroughly.

Have ready 1 cup of buttermilk. Alternately blend in the buttermilk and the saved dry ingredients, above, to the butter and egg batter, the buttermilk in thirds and the dry ingredients in fourths. After each addition and at the end, beat the batter only until smooth. Overbeating will toughen the cake.

Turn the batter into the prepared pans. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Cool and remove from pans.

Lemon cream cheese icing 
Blend together --

6 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (these latter two amounts seemed rather stingy to me, who adore lemon, so I tripled the amount of lemon juice -- 3 and 1/2 teaspoons.)

Mix into this gradually 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar. If frosting becomes too stiff to handle, thin it with a little milk or cream. (As you see by the drippiness of the frosting in the photo above, I may have thinned mine a bit too much.)

Now as far as using up your little jar of nutmeg goes, -- my cheerfully telling you this will, I fear, mark me as a rank amateur to those who truly know baking, or spices. "The chemistry of nutmeg is such that aroma and flavour disappear quickly once a nutmeg is grated. Hence the profusion of nutmeg graters, intended to be used immediately before the need arises" (The Oxford Companion to Food). If there is this profusion of nutmeg graters in the world, I regret to say they have escaped my notice. I wouldn't know one if I saw one. Still the reason we, any of us, grate this spice, is because in nature it is the seed of the fruit of the nutmeg-tree, the prettily named tropical Asian Myristica fragrans. The fruit is as big as a peach so the seed is, apparently, big enough to be grasped and grated. The seed is further encased in a protective shell which is itself laced about with what looks like a "reddish ribbon," a "fruit part" botanically called an aril. The ribbon is detached from the shell and dried separately to become mace (Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking). So then this may explain why old-fashioned recipes will call for "a blade" of mace. Perhaps there is no point in buying it dried, ground, and stored in jars, either.

Our next task then, after we use up our nutmeg in baking this cake, is to keep on the lookout for a nutmeg grater for next time. The Oxford Companion tells us that they are usually manufactured in the shape of -- a mace. We assume this means the medieval weapon ("an armor-breaking club," from the Indo-European mat, hoe or club), not the aril ("probably through scribal error, from the Greek makir, fragrant resin). Good luck. 

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