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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lady Baltimore

Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart

Lady Baltimore is:

a. A novel by Owen Wister
b. A popular Southern cake
c. A former tearoom in Charleston, South Carolina
d. All of the above
If you chose "d" as your answer, you are right!

In 1898 an American writer named Owen Wister came to Charleston on his honeymoon and fell in love with our beautiful city and its people. After that first trip, Wister returned to Charleston again and again because he couldn't forget it ~ or was it the cake he couldn't forget???

There was a tea room in Charleston back then called the Woman's Exchange. The Exchange was the first of several tea rooms in Charleston and also the first eating place in town where a lady could go without an escort. There, one could buy homemade jams and jellies, needlework, simple lunches, and homemade desserts. On one of Wister's visits, he had lunch at the tea room and tasted a slice of Lady Baltimore Cake that had been made by an employee.

Something about the tea room and the cake and the pretty young woman who baked it and - of course - the romantic old city of Charleston took shape in the author's mind. He later spun his ideas into a novel called Lady Baltimore (read it online here) with the cake at the heart of the story. The book was hugely successful, luring thousands of visitors to Charleston from around the country at the turn of the century. (By the way, the Woman's Exchange later changed its name to the Lady Baltimore Tea Room no doubt to capitalize on the attention that followed the April 1906 publication of the novel.)

Needless to say, Lady Baltimore Cake became so popular that lots of versions of it were developed and to this day there seems to be no real agreement on which one is the original.

You might want to know that this cake has nothing to do with Baltimore or Maryland! Lady Baltimore Cake is simply a lady cake (a popular name at the time for a butter cake or pound cake), Baltimore-style (i.e., its candy-like cooked filling made with walnuts is what made this cake distinctive and Baltimore, at the time, had made itself a reputation for its candy-making.)

Nope, I've never made this cake. It requires a candy thermometer. I don't do candy thermometers! But for all you brave foodies out there, here's the local Charleston receipt that most of us down here believe is the original:

Lady Baltimore Cake
1 cup raisins
1 cup sherry
2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 egg whites, at room temperature
Soft icing:1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Hard icing:2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, beaten until frothy
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup chopped black walnuts

Soak the raisins in the sherry for several hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans; set aside.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder several times; set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Alternately add the flour and milk in three parts, beating well after each addition. Stir in the almond extract.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Fold a quarter of them into the batter, then fold the batter into the remaining egg whites. Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepared the soft icing. Blend the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat just long enough to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and almond extracts. When the cake layers have cooled for 5 minutes in the pan on a rack, remove them from the pans and, while still hot, spoon the icing over them.

To make the hard icing, boil the sugar and water in a medium saucepan until a very think, long thread drops from a spoon. If you're using a candy thermometer, which I advise you do, it should register between 238 degrees and 240 degrees. Pour the boiling liquid in a thin stream over the egg whites, beating continuously with an electric mixer. Add the cream of tartar, lemon juice and almond extract. Continue beating for about 4 minutes, until soft peaks form.

Spread the hard icing over the top of each of the cooled layers. Drain the raisins and sprinkle them over the top of each layer, then sprinkle the walnuts over the top of each layer. Carefully transfer one layer to a cake plate and then place the second layer on top of it. Spread icing on the sides of the cake. Allow the icing to harden before serving. (Serves 12)
Recipe courtesy of "Mrs. Whaley Entertains: Advice, Opinions, and 100 Recipes from a Charleston Kitchen," by Emily Whaley in conversation with William Baldwin (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998)


Sharon said...

I've never had the courage to make a Lady Baltimore cake either, but boy does it sound delicious! Might have to twist the arm of my foodie sister-in-law who is a fabulous cook and would surely be able to master this with no problem. Thanks for sharing! Blessings, Sharon

Marilyn Miller said...

It does indeed sound good, but I think I will wait until I can visit somewhere that serves it to taste it. It is more work than I would want to attempt.

Teresa @ Southern Touch Catering said...

Along with the cake that Angela @ "Tea with Friends" posted today, I'm going to be baking two new cakes soon! Can't Wait!!!

Denise@UniquelyTea said...

Sharon, if you're successful, let us know what it tasted like! Marilyn, I'm with you - I'll pay before I'd ever attempt to make this cake! Teresa, do let us know how it goes and it's funny but on more than one occasion Angela and I have posts on the same day about the same or similar topics. Great minds, I suppose! ha!

Rosemary said...

I've made something very similar - called a Lane Cake. Oh... it's yummy... was my mother's favorite cake, made it every year for her birthday.

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