Pound Cake Project, Part 4

The fourth recipe in this project finally takes us into the 20th century.  It comes from a book called The Perfect Hostess Cook Book, written by Mildred O’Knopf in 1950.

This recipe’s format gives us the first glimpse of a modern recipe and looks much like what modern cooks expect to see today.  Except for the butter, all the ingredients are given by volume rather than weight.  In the span of the sixty or so years between the previous recipe used in the project and this one, the way in which ingredients were measured at home changed dramatically:

Pound Cake, Chris
Pre-heat oven to 325°F

1/2 pound butter
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
5 whole eggs
3 1/2 cups pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brandy or Scotch whisky as preferred
rind of 2 lemons
juice of 1 lemon
confectioner’s sugar

FIRST Cream 1/2 pound of butter with 2 cups confectioner’s sugar until very pale in color and smooth as satin.  Add 5 whole eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  After all have been added beat for 20 minutes by hand or 10 minutes at beating speed on the electric mixer.

SECOND Sift 3 1/2 cups pastry flour. Measure and sift three times with 3 tablespoons baking powder.  Add the flour alternately to the batter with 1 cup milk and beat until smooth.  Then flavor with 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon brandy or Scotch whisky, the grated rind of 2 lemons, and the juice of 1 lemon.  Bake in a buttered and floured loaf pan in a 325°F oven for 1 1/2 hours.  Turn out to cool on a cake rack.  Sprinkle lightly with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

The way the ingredients are measured is the least dramatic of changes in to the pound cake recipe found here.  This recipe barely resembles the recipe from a mere sixty years prior.  For the first time we see ingredients that had not been present before such as milk, vanilla, and pastry flour.  This shows to what extent the availability of ingredients improved from the end of then 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.  Refrigeration also played an important role in the evolution of recipes as ingredients like milk could be kept without spoiling and thus were more widely consumed.  Also, the explicit use of a mixer shows the incredible advances in the home kitchen since the turn of the century.

While the milk certainly changes the consistency of the final product, no other ingredient in this particular recipe makes more of a difference than the baking powder. Although baking powder had been around since the middle of the 19th century, it was not very commonly used by the home cook.  Cream of tartar was widely used but it was in short supply during World War II.  During this time, a special type of chemical leavening was created that did not require cream of tartar.  This mixture, which contained baking soda and sodium pyrophosphate mixed with cornstarch, became the first single-acting baking powder.  This revolutionized the world of baking, made it easier and more reliable.  This changed the pound cake because home cooks no longer needed to rely exclusively on the creaming of the butter and sugar together as a rising agent.  Now pound cake could get at least some of its rise through chemical leavening.  This also greatly reduced the preparation time as the amount air that needed to be worked into the butter through creaming diminished.  It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention and at no other times is this more true than during war-time.

The final product itself was light in comparison to the previous cakes.  This is not surprising considering the introduction of chemical leavening.  It was also very moist and not necessarily in a good way.  The milk plus the lemon juice undoubtedly contributed to this.  In general, this cake was not as aesthetically pleasing nor as good tasting as the previous ones.  This is an excellent example of how the implementation of technological advances does not necessarily lead to a better product.

2 Responses

  1. October 29, 2014

    […] you can see, there is no leavening in this recipe, chemical or otherwise. As I explained in this Pound Cake post, chemical leavening like baking powder, although around in some form since the middle of the 19th […]

  2. March 23, 2021

    […] you can see, there is no leavening in this recipe, chemical or otherwise. As I explained in this Pound Cake post, chemical leavening like baking powder, although around in some form since the middle of the 19th […]

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