Cooking the Old Colony Cake

So the Old Colony Cake didn’t turn out too bad!  While the ingredients were identical to traditional cake recipes, the ratios were a bit different.  The result was very thick batter and a dense cake, but the lemon added a much needed bright flavor.  Not sure which way to add the lemon, I added both a squeeze of juice and some zest, and it seemed a perfect balance.

I ended up cutting the recipe in half and had just enough batter to fill your standard cake pan.  The recipe didn’t provide a cooking time, or a cooking temperature, of course.  I baked it according to what I usually do with cakes – 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  However, I ended up upping the timer every time I checked it until it baked for almost an hour.  The long baking time did make for a nice crispy outside and perfectly baked inside.

As I was baking the halved recipe I tried to imagine Ms. Tilgham baking this cake in 1860.  Whenever I recreate these historic recipes, I’m always curious about the cooking time and temperature.  While the recipes spell out the exact measurements of the ingredients, I wonder how random the actual baking was.  And I wonder how many cakes were tossed out because they were over or under cooked.  Perhaps this falls under the category of differing expectations, but I know I have thrown out many a cake and cookies for being baked wrong, and I have all the direction and control in the world (even adjustments for baking at different altitudes!).  Perhaps a little dry or burnt on the bottom was more acceptable when there wasn’t as much temperature control.

If anyone baked along, please share your results.  And I’m open for suggestions for another dish!

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Tracey Kry

Assistant Curator of Manuscripts and Assistant Reference Librarian, American Antiquarian Society

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