Albany Cake

cook and housewifes manual dods cover page

As part the Following Food week drawing, Pamela's pick for a food to represent the Capital Region intrigued us: Albany Cakes (or Dutch Pudding).

The dessert is mentioned in the The Cook and Housewife's Manual: A Practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by Margaret Dods, which was first published in 1828.

Going through old cookbooks is kind of like digging up old magic -- the recipes (spells) often contain ingredients and methods that now seem rather mysterious.

So, we figured it be fun to look up the recipe.

Clipped from chapter four of The Cook and Housewife's Manual -- pastry, pies, etc.:

864. Dutch Pudding, or Albany Cake. -- Mix two pounds, or rather less, of good flour with a pound of butter, melted in half a pint of milk. Add to this the whites and yolks of eight eggs separately beaten, a half-pound of fine sifted sugar, a pound of cleaned currants, and a few chopped almonds, or a little candied orange-peel sliced fine. Put to this four spoonfuls of yeast. Cover it up for an hour or two, and bake it for an hour in a wide flattish dish. When cold it eats well sliced as a sort of cake.*
* This was a bonne bouche at the substantial rural tea-parties of the State of New York. The feast, begun with fried eggs and bacon, ended with buck-wheat and other cakes, and the above preparation.

Now we're curious about what the finished product looks and tastes like. We're imaging a cake(ish) type of thing that initially bakes up kind of poofy -- because of the yeast and egg whites -- and then becomes denser, studded with the dried fruit and nuts.

Also: Eggs and bacon and this cake doesn't bad at all.

Margaret Dods

By the way: Margaret Dods was the pen name of Christian Isobel Johnstone, a Scottish woman who wrote many books of both fiction and non-fiction, and also served as the editor of periodicals. But The Cook and Housewife's Manual ended being her most popular work, going through multiple editions and becoming widely known.

Comments

This sounds interesting, I think I'll cut the recipe in half and try it.

I'd almost be willing to fool around with this recipe -- except for the very vague "four spoonfuls of yeast." A foodways historian would have to weigh in on what that typically meant in the early 19th century. Also how it would translate into modern forms of yeast. It doesn't seem as if this Dutch "pudding" is like a Dutch Baby, which is a kind of puffy pancake still made today, but there is no yeast in that. A yeasted sweet bread with dried fruits and nuts would be similar to a panettone or babka, but baking it in a wide, flat pan would change the shape and texture. It's also not a pudding in the English sense, as that would be steamed and not yeasted.

p.s. I also just learned that if you look up "Dutch pudding" online you'll find a rather appalling and unappetizing urban dictionary definition.

@Kate: If you do try it, please let us know how it turns out!

@chrisck: I had a similar thought. I was rolling through the recipe thinking, yeah, I could give this a shot -- and then I hit the part about the yeast.

I think to do a modern translation you'd have to find a comparable sweet bread recipe that uses both yeast and eggs for loft and then work it out for 2 lbs. flour, which is (sort of) 7 and 1/4 cups flour. It's the lack of precision that makes these old recipes so hard to figure out. How big a pan, how hot an oven? But it's a good reminder of how cooking knowledge used to be transmitted from one generation to another almost intuitively, even in a supposed cook book. I would try to get my German grandmother to teach me family recipes and I'd also get directions like add a "spoonful" of something (anything more exact was in grams), bake in a hot oven, and most perplexing, "bake it until nice."

Woo, interesting stuff.

2 lbs. flour, which is (sort of) 7 and 1/4 cups flour

Very sort of, it's interesting that only recently has there been a shift back to ingredient weights, especially for baking. But yeah, this could be anywhere from 6-8 cups of all-purpose flour; I have no idea but doubt that there was a distinction at the time between protein levels in flour so I guess we can ignore cake flour. More food historian questions; how much has wheat changed since 1828, and how to compensate with modern commercial products?

How big a pan, how hot an oven?

Obviously, big enough, and hot enough to cook it until done! ;)

FYI, your typical chocolate chip cookie uses about 1 to 1.5 cups flour to one egg (pretty close to this recipe). Yeast will lighten this up and even though it prescribes separately beaten whites we don't know how well beaten those whites are, but they probably don't add much air; angel food cake has no butter and was likely developed later than this anyway. And, as chrisck notes, the pan shape makes a difference. This likely sounds like something flat, dense, sweet, with a breadlike consistency, closer to a thin pound cake.

Also, on the yeast, most likely they're referring to compressed yeast, not active dry that is more common today. Conversion rate is about 1:3, that is three times more compressed yeast than modern active dry, so anyone making this now and using dry yeast, divide the measure of by 3 (and proof).

It's likely that the yeast Mistress Dobs refers to was either barm (the yeasty foam that is created as beer ferments in the tun) or emptins (the yeasty sediment at the bottom of the tun when the beer is drained off). Either of these levenings would have been collected from the brewer, brought home, and fed much like our sour dough starters are today. In fact, a rather soupy sour dough starter would make a good substitute in this receipt. Unless, that is, you wanted to get really authentic and procure some barm to bake with from your friendly local brewer, something I plan to do one of these days.

Although I haven't yet tried Dob's version, I agree with chrisck that the result would be more bread-like than cake-like. I have, however, used two other Albany Cake receipts with good results to bake a raisin studded spice cake from 1850 (Mrs. Bliss' Practical Cook Book Containing Upwards of One Thousand Receipts) and a sugar cookie delicately flavored with rose water from 1831 (An American Physician's Five Thousand Receipts for all the Useful and Domestic Arts).

I figured the 'spoonfuls of yeast' referred to a sourdough as fresh yeast likely wouldn't be measured this way. Anyway, I have some time this morning.. I'm going to try and bang one out. The hot milk + butter + flour + egg foam is very similar to the process for souffle - which the remainder of the recipe is nothing like. Mostly a morbid curiosity here...

*Greg k - yeast in the 19th c. would have been a mushy and runny compound of yeast in a liquid with sugar and such things as boiled potato starch as a growth medium. Bakers of the time got their yeast from brewers. Maybe one of the local craft brewers can oblige you.

Eric - yeah I figured it wouldn't be the same as today's dry powders - or even fresh yeast. Either way, not trying to recreate as written - just messing around for an idea. Made recipe as close to method written as possible ....not looking too hot. Used same ingredients and measure, using brioche/kugelhopf method - the dough came together much better ...baking both as I write this

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