To continue with “Madame De Ryther Mondays” in the run up to Christmas, I would be remiss if I did not first mention (on Thanksgiving Eve) that a post I created last year contained Madame’s recommendations for a festive Thanksgiving dinner (click here).
Now back to this post. Here is a clipping from 1904 that offers recipes for two cakes.
The first, which is for a molasses/gingerbread cake, includes ground mace, a spice that seems to be absent these days from most grocery stores. I am not sure why that is, but, in any case, you may have to go to a specialty store or order it online. Amazon carries it in both the ground and blade form. Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg seed and blade form seems to be more highly praised for its flavor than ground. But for this recipe, it seems logical to go with the ground version.
The second recipe, for “Surprise Cake,” contains nothing that most kitchens would not have on hand. So I decided to try this one. It’s short and sweet, and to the point. After doing a bit of investigation, I learned that “sweet milk” simply means whole milk as opposed to buttermilk. I only had skim on hand, so that is what I used. The addition of all that baking powder resulted in a very robust-looking batter. The recipe calls for a little grated nutmeg; I only had ground on hand so I added 1/8 tsp.
After getting the batter in a cake pan, I put it in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes but checked it with a toothpick (not a “broom splint,” as Madame directs) and decided it needed an extra five minutes. That seemed to do the trick (bear in mind, we are at a very low elevation, so more time may be required for those not in low-lying locations).
For the icing, I cheated horribly and used a tub of Betty Crocker’s vanilla icing (Madame De Ryther no doubt did an eye roll) and then sprinkled chopped walnuts on top (see image below).
I served slices of the cake for dessert with a bit of pistachio frozen yogurt. My “guinea pigs” gave it “two thumbs up.” The cake was very moist and light. The nutmeg was not too overpowering, but I do think I’d use a little less next time or try vanilla or lemon flavoring, alternatives the recipe suggests. But, overall, Madame De Ryther delivers what she promised: a cake that is “cheap, easy to prepare, and much better than the store-bought article.” Well, I can’t honestly say it is better than store-bought given how many superb bakeries exist today, but—straight from your oven—it will certainly be fresher.
At the start of her article, Madame De Ryther described cake-making as becoming a lost art among city women—thanks to the rise in popularity of store-bought cakes. I don’t think my grandmother on my father’s side would have been swept up in that trend. She would have been 22 at the time this column appeared, and she was quite the baker. My Dad used to wax lyrical about her culinary specialties. She probably would have devoured anything and everything Madame De Ryther wrote. My Mom’s mom, on the other hand, would definitely have been one to head to the bakery! She just did not enjoy cooking or baking, although she had the know-how. Let’s face it, some love to bake and some don’t. As the saying goes, “To each their own,” and Vive la différence!
Well, if anyone out there tries either of these recipes, feel free to share your results below!