Wednesday, 30 October 2013

21 October 1893 - 'Angels Food' by Dora de Blaquiere

Dora goes straight from recipes for cake into recipes for, I don't know what, is it an eau de toilette maybe? But it's nice to know that homemakers were getting all misty-eyed about how much more simple and romantic things were in the good old days in the 1800s too.

The cake – or perhaps as it would be better called, the sweetmeat – known today under the name of “angels’ food” is by no means of modern origin. Indeed, the basis of the mixture may be found as far back  as the days of Queen Elizabeth, when a very light porous kind of sweetmeat was made, in a rather more clumsy mode of manufacture,  under the name of “angelic sweetmeat”. The foundation of all “angel’ cakes is much the same, the chief distinction between them consisting in the number of eggs used, which varies from eight to one dozen. Nor need the housekeeper, who is anxious to make the attempt to manufacture “angel cake” of any kind, be deterred by the seeming expense for there are plenty of good eggs to be obtained, hailing from “foreign parts” – from Normandy, Brittany, or Holland – at the comparatively small price of thirteen a shilling, or in the summer time even less.

The first recipe I shall give is quite a new one, and hails from America; it is called “angels’ food” – 1 ½ cups of pulverised (castor) sugar; 1 cupful of flour; 1 teaspoonful of cream of tartar; the whites of ten eggs beaten to a stiff froth.

The newest English-American recipe I can find differs but little from it, and is as follows: The whites of eleven eggs which have been kept in a very cool place, or upon ice, before they are used; one tumbler and a half of castor sugar; three-fourths of a tumbler of flour; one level teaspoonful of cream of tartar, and one teaspoonful of flavouring – almond, lemon or vanilla, whichever is preferred – lemon being the best, I think, of all.

The following instructions for making should be strictly followed – The ingredients should be all carefully gathered together before their blending, that they may be all to hand conveniently. Mix the cream of tartar and the flour together and sift the mixture several times, adding a small pinch of salt. Beat the eggs (whites only) to a very stiff froth, and add the sugar to it very quickly and quietly; then, when these are well mixed, put in the flour in the same manner, sprinkling both through your fingers and being careful to avoid any lumps of either. One of the secrets of making “angel cake” is the method of mixing it. You do not exactly either beat it or stir it, but you lift it up and down with your fork from the bottom of the tin; and if the first cake should turn out either tough or sticky you will know that your mixing has been too violent, and with your next you must be more gentle. Put your cake into a clean bright cake-tin (and some good authorities will tell you on no account to butter it); the oven should be a cool one, or at least very moderate, and you may bake for forty-five minutes. Wait a quarter of an hour before you look at it, and be careful not to keep the oven-door open too long. You can try the cake with a straw to see if it be done. Many people cool this cake off by leaving the oven-door open and allowing it to remain for a time, and then taking it out and standing it upon the table to cool off. Before putting it into the oven you should sprinkle the top lightly with powdered sugar; but not so much sugar should be used as would make the cake fall in baking it.

Amongst the varieties of angels’ food which are indulged in in America, are “angel surprise cake”, “almond angel cake”, “angel custards” and angels’ cake made with peaches, bananas and pineapples. The first named “surprise cake” is made with a freshly-made angel’s cake, which for this purpose should be baked in a round tin, and left in the tin until it be quite cold. When turned out, the first thing to do is to cut off the top, about half an inch thick, then take a sharp knife and cut round the inside of the cake, about half an inch from the crust, or the outer wall of the cake, and so take out the soft white centre. Then to whip a pint of fresh cream into a stiff froth and flavour with vanilla or lemon; pour it into the hollow cake and smooth it over the top so that you can replaced the lid, and make it look as if it were quite undisturbed. This of course constitutes the “surprise” when cut. Many people add candied fruit or almonds to the cream.

“Almond angel cake” is also a delicious confection made in much the same manner as the preceding, except that the cake is cut in layers and the whipped cream is mixed with half a pound of almonds, blanched, and cut in small pieces. The cream is then put in between the layers, and the top is cut open, so as to allow the cream to be the top layer; and some of the almonds, cut into long and thin pieces, are stuck into it; so as to make it look “porcupiny”.

“Angel custards” are made in a rather different manner, for the angel batter must be baked in muffin rings and, as usual, the cakes when baked must be left to get perfectly cold before being turned out. Then the top must be cut off each cake, and some of the inside taken off, which you must replace with a custard, which you may make as rich, or as simple, as you please. The following is a cheap and good recipe for a custard which you may use with angel cake, or in any other way. Take the yolks of two eggs, a tumbler of milk, and four lumps of sugar. Simmer till thick, stirring the mixture carefully to prevent burning. Add a few drops of vanilla flavouring, and pour into a clean jug. Stir till cold.

I have left the preparation of “angel fruit cakes” until the last. They are nearly all made in the same way, namely, the angel batter, instead of being baked in only one cake, is baked in layers in the small round tins to be purchased at any tinsmith’s, made for that purpose. They must not be very brown nor burnt. The lower layer of all must be spread with whipped, sweetened and flavoured cream, and then you should cover this with a layer of bananas, peeled and daintily sliced. Then put on another layer of cake, and repeat the addition of cream, and the sliced bananas. There are generally three layers of cake used, the top layer being completely covered up with the whipped cream.

Angel peach and pineapple cakes are made in the same manner, and both can be made of the preserved or canned fruits instead of the fresh, and so are suitable for winter as well as for summer use.

And no account of angels’ food would be quite complete unless it were supplemented by a mention and a recipe for “angel water” called in French Eau d’Ange. This is of very ancient use in England and is often spoken of during the time of the plague. It was also called “Portugal water” and was in great repute at one time for its healing properties. Simple “angel water” is made of the flowering tops of the myrtle only, distilled with water; but there are three or four kinds of aromatic waters under the same name, that contain many more ingredients, and are known under the various names of “distilled musk” and “boiled angel water”. In a very old cookery-book in my possession there are at least half a dozen recipes for “angel water”. A simple one that could be made at home was – 1 pint of orange-flower water, 1 pint of rose-water and ½ pint of “myrtle water”; to these put ½ ounce essence of musk and 1 ounce of essence of ambergris; shake the whole together. This recipe is marked “to be made in small quantities only, soon spoiled, either by heat or cold”.

I find a recipe for distilled “angel water” is made thus – Gum benzoine (crushed small), 4 ounces; liquid styrax, 2 ounces; cloves (bruised), ½ ounce; Calamux aromaticus (bruised), ¾ ounce; cinnamon (bruised), ¼ ounce, coriander-seed (bruised), 1 drachm, water, 7 pints; distil ½ gallon.

We have left off the home manufacture of all these fragrant water, which used to form a great part of the duties of our ancestresses. The “still room maid” retains her name, but has other duties to perform, and the recipes are shut up in mouldy and unused books. But I am aware much of the beauty of our lives went out with these old avocations and fashions; and in order to regain something lost we shall have to make our tastes more simple, and go back to that almost forgotten love of the country, its quiet and peace, and from the hurried and unrestful life of the great city.

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