Lady Cake & The Myth Of Lady Baltimore Cake
Iced Lady Cake
Lady Cake & The Myth of Lady Baltimore CakeAccording to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest reference to lady cakes goes back to 1832; however, recipes for cakes with other names but with similar ingredients and methods date back to the 18th century.
Lady cakes are notable for being white cream-style cakes (as opposed to sponge cakes) that are made with egg whites and bitter almond flavoring. However, Lady Cake variations exist such as Yellow Lady Cake which is made with egg yolks. Additionally, some Lady Cake recipes do not contain bitter almond but rosewater, whiskey, or rum instead. Lady Cakes can be iced, cut in slices, or made into small cakes. According to Eliza Leslie in her c. 1857 book, Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book, “Ice a lady cake entirely with white, and ornament it with white flowers. It is now much in use at weddings, and if well made, and quite fresh, there is no cake better liked.” In addition, recipes often suggest using lady cakes cut in slices (hence Lady Fingers) in Charlotte Russe and floating islands, among others.
A famous version of Lady Cake is Lady Baltimore Cake, a white layer cake filled with fruit and nuts and frosted in white. The cake only became known when it was mentioned in the book Lady Baltimore written by Owen Wister (1906). Supposedly, Owen Wister visited the Lady Baltimore Tea Room in Charleston, South Carolina where he was served a cake of this description. He loved it so much that he used it as the name of his 1906 book and included a description of it in the book, as well:
I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore," I said, with extreme formality ... I returned to the table and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It's all soft, and it's in layers, and it has nuts—but I can`t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much. Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud and with my mouth full. "But, dear me, this is delicious!
Subsequently, Lady Baltimore Cake is now associated with Baltimore, Maryland. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Lady Baltimore Cake as described by Wister ever existed in Maryland prior to his introduction to it in Charleston. In my database of over 9000 Maryland 19th century recipes no mention of a Lady Baltimore Cake exists. However, recipes for these cakes can be found after the 1906 publication of Wister's book, such as in Frederick Stieff’s Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland (1932) and in Helen Avalynne Tawes, My Favorite Maryland Recipes (1964), among others. This is clearly a case where life imitates art. Notably, a handful of Maryland manuscript commonplace books contain recipes for Lady Cake, but not Lady Baltimore Cake. For example, a recipe for Newport Lady Cake is found in the c. 1824 Baltimore manuscript by Ann Maria Morris. It is not uncommon for recipes to be associated with particular place names but often difficult to account for their provenance.
Newport Lady CakeSift a pound of flour, mix with it, a teaspoonful & a half of cream of tartar. Then take a light pound of powdered sugar, half a pound of butter creamed, six eggs beaten separately, a tea cup full of milk & cream, half a nutmeg, half a teaspoonful of soda. Mix well together, & bake slowly for half an hour.
Recipe ProvenanceThis recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover.
Modern Recipe Adaptation: Newport Lady Cake
Ingredients:4 cups (20 ounces) all-purpose flour1 tbsp baking powder1 tbsp ground nutmeg1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened1 pound of powdered sugar 6 large eggs, separated½ cup whole milkDirections:Preheat oven to 375° F.Grease a tube pan and set on a baking sheet.Sift together the flour, baking powder, and nutmeg.In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and powdered sugar. Then, add the milk and egg yolks.In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Then add the egg whites to the wet ingredients and mix just enough to incorporate.Then, add the dry ingredients. Pour into the prepared baking pan.Bake 45-60 minutes, or until cake is golden and springs back to the touch.Ice with sugar paste/fondant, dust with powdered sugar or glaze with a royal icing of your choice. Also, you may top with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, sugar paste decorations, and/or crystallized mint.