Archive for January, 2010

In 1837, Eliza Leslie followed up the publication of her
highly successful Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes,
and Sweetmeats
(1828) with the larger work Directions
for Cookery in its Various Branches
. This new volume
contained receipts for a wide variety of dishes and,
like its predecessor, went through numerous editions.

Although many of the receipts found in one or more
editions of Seventy-five were included in Directions,
many were not. Some, altho included, were greatly
altered. For instance, New-Year’s Cake (1836 ed.)
didn’t make it. Neither did New-York Cup Cake. Well,
at least not in the same form. What was included, or
rather, what it became, was New York Cookies.

Or did it?


New York Cookies.

Take a half-pint or a tumbler
full of cold water, and mix it
with half a pound of powdered
white sugar. Sift three pounds
of flour into a large pan and
cut up in it a pound of butter;
rub the butter very fine into
the flour. Add a grated nutmeg,
and a tea-spoonful of powdered
cinnamon, with a wine glass
of rosewater. Work in the sugar,
and make the whole into a stiff
dough, adding, if necessary,
a little cold water. Dissolve
a tea-spoonful of pearl-ash
in just enough of warm water
to cover it, and mix it in at the
last. Take the lump of dough
out of the pan, and knead
it on the paste-board till it
becomes quite light. Then
roll it out rather more than
half an inch thick, and
cut it into square cakes
with a jagging iron or with
a sharp knife. Stamp the
surface of each with a cake
print. Lay them in buttered
pans, and bake them of a
light brown in a brisk oven.

They are similar to what are
called New Year’s cakes, and
will keep two or three weeks.

In mixing the dough, you may
add three table-spoonfuls
of carraway seeds.


Now, the ingredients are almost the same as those used
for New-York Cup Cakes (see 1/27), except there are no
eggs. The above also calls for water instead of milk and
rosewater instead of wine. The ingredient amounts are
different. There’s also kneading involved. And, possibly,
caraway seeds! Notice the combination of cup (half-pint
tumbler) and weight measurements, and the abandonment
of the ingredient-list-first format, as well.

In addition, they may be called “cookies,” but having been
rolled out at “more than a half inch thick,” it would seem
that they’re rather cake-like. And yet, isn’t that just what
a cookie is? A small cake-like treat? After all, the word
“cookie” is the Americanization of the Dutch word “koekje,”
which means “small or little cake.” Remember, too, back
when looking at the various New Year’s Cake receipts
in previous posts, that I often mentioned the end results
were small cakes and, thus, were more like what we would
classify today as cookies.

Incidentally, notice that Leslie writes:
“They are similar to what are called New Year’s Cakes….”
“Similar.” Not “the same”!
In fact, she has one receipt for New-Year’s Cake and
a separate, and different, one for New-York Cup Cake
in the 1836 edition of Seventy-five. (Which was
the first time she offered up either one.)

So, despite the similarities between the New-York Cup
Cake and the New York Cookie receipts, I’d have to say
that they are not the same. Again, they’re two separate,
and different, receipts. The cup cakes didn’t so much
become cookies as they were replaced with them.

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Something else that begins to show up in 19th century published
cookbooks here in America are receipts for New-York Cup Cake.
Yep, New Year’s and now, New York.

Before I go any further, we need to look at those two little
words “cup cake.” What they do NOT refer to are those small
individual fluffy cakes with dollops of creamy icing that are
stuffed into paper baking cups. Rather, they refer to the way
in which the various ingredients were measured. You see,
in previous centuries, ingredients were measured by weight
or volume: two pounds of flour; half an ounce of butter;
a pint of milk; two quarts of currants; and so forth. It was
not until the late 1800s that ingredients were given according
to the more standardized, and “scientific,” system of cups,
tablespoons, and other level measurements.

Incidentally, we can largely thank Fannie Farmer, head
of the Boston Cooking School in the 1890s and a cookbook
author, for popularizing this system. She also standardized
the written form of receipts whereby the ingredients and
their amounts were listed first, followed by the instructions.
Farmer wasn’t the first to do so, however. But that’s a topic
for another day.

Back to the New-York Cup Cake. In addition to many of its
ingredients being measured by the cup instead of by weight,
the resulting mixture is baked in a cup of some sort, as well.
These could be anything from assorted old tea cups to small
tin hoops to little redware cups. And so, yes, my cup cakes
might be larger (or smaller) than yours, based on the different
sizes of our respective baking containers.

Below is a receipt that first appeared in the 1836 edition
of Eliza Leslie’s Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes,
and Sweetmeats
. Note not only the cup measurements,
but also Leslie’s comment about the size of the cup used:
she reverts back to the old measures.

New-York Cup Cake.

Four eggs.
Four cups of sifted flour.
Three cups of powdered white sugar.
One cup of butter.
One cup of rich milk.
One glass of white wine.
A grated nutmeg.
A tea-spoonful of cinnamon, beaten.
A small tea-spoonful of pearl-ash.

The cups should hold about half a pint.

Warm the milk and cut up
the butter in it, keeping it
by the fire till the butter is
melted. Prepare the spice,
and sift the flour. Beat
the eggs very light, and
stir them into the milk
in turn with the flour. Add
the spice, and wine, and
lastly the pearl-ash, having
melted it in a little vinegar.
Stir all very hard.

Butter some small tins,
fill them half full with
the mixture, and bake
them in a moderate oven
of equal heat throughout.

NEXT: the evolution of the New-York Cup Cake

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“where ya been?”

Howdy. Yeah, I’m still here. Gee, what has it been?
Ten days?!? eeegad. It’s amazing how chunks of time
can pass by basically unnoticed. It sure flies when
you’re…doing other things! dagnabit. There was
some personal business, feeling under the weather,
then a bit of…well…oh, blah, blah, blah.

Excuses, mckooses! My apologies. Now let’s get back
to work!

Okay. Before my little (big?!) break, I’d been writing
about New Year’s Cake, which I noted seemed to have
become more prevalent in America towards the end
of the 18th and on into the 19th century. We viewed
a variety of receipts from published and manuscript
sources, all of which seemed both nearly alike and
yet vastly different. We began with Amelia Simmons’
bread-like version in American Cookery, which used
yeast, and watched as it evolved during the next
fifty-some-odd years into a more cake-like treat,
courtesy of other leaveners, and then into what,
essentially, are cookies.

The majority of my historic cookbooks (facsimiles, all)
are from the mid to late 18th century and the early
19th (up to about 1850). I have a few books dating
beyond that, but not many. As you now know, of course,
I found New Year’s Cake receipts in many of the pre-1850
works. In the few post-1850 that I have, however, there
was not one receipt. It seems to have fallen out of favor.
However, more research is necessary before a definitive
statement can be made. [Has anyone out there already
done so? I’d be interested in learning more.]

Of course, at some point, maybe for the next New Year,
I’d like to make New Year’s Cake, using several different
receipts. Determine for myself which is good or bad or
plain ol’ so-so, as well as just how each differs in taste,
texture, and overall composition. Ahhh…another project
for next, er, later this year!

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Yep, I have another receipt for New Year’s Cake. It’s from the manuscript
cookbook of Elizabeth Ellicott Lea, which she most likely began in 1821
and completed in 1842. It was eventually published as a book in 1845.*

Now, it may look rather familiar. That’s because it’s nearly
the exact same receipt as the one in Eliza Leslie’s Seventy-five
(1836 edition) that I posted earlier (see 1/9/2010).
It calls for a little less butter and the use of saleratus instead
of pearl-ash, but other than that, it’s identical. Well, that, and
the addition of either grated nutmeg or lemon zest.

As with some of the other receipts we’ve seen, this one also
makes little cakes, or what we’d probably now call cookies.


New Year Cake.

Mix together three pounds of flour,
a pound and a half of sugar, and
three-quarters of a pound of butter;
dissolve a tea-spoonful of saleratus
in enough new milk to wet the flour;
mix them together; grate in a nutmeg,
or the peel of a lemon; roll them out,
cut them in shapes, and bake.


*Lea’s manuscript was re-published in 1982 as A Quaker Woman’s Cookbook,
The Domestic Cookery of Elizabeth Ellicott Lea
, by William Woys Weaver.
A revised edition was issued in 2004.

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Good, because I have more New Year’s Cake receipts to share!

This one is from an 1846 issue of The Genesee Farmer,
the first major agricultural journal published in New York.
Note the instructions “to roll it thin and cut it in small cakes,”
resulting in what we today might call cookies.


New Year’s Cake.

Seven pounds of flour, two pounds
and a half of sugar, two pounds
of butter, and a pint of water,
with a teaspoonful of volatile*
salts dissolved in it. Work the
paste well; roll it thin and cut
it in small cakes, with a thin
cutter; lay them on tin plates
in a quick oven, for fifteen minutes.


This receipt is somewhat similar to an earlier one, and yet,
it’s not. The amounts of the ingredients are exactly half
of those in Amelia Simmons’ receipt in American Cookery:
seven pounds of flour, instead of 14; 2 1/2 pounds of sugar,
not 5; and only 2 pounds of butter, instead of 4. Although
it calls for water and not milk, oddly the amount of liquid
is still the same. There’s plenty of kneading with “work
the paste well.” And the yeast or the dissolved pearl-ash
is exchanged for volatile salts (aka spirits of hartshorn
or ammonia) placed in the aforementioned pint of liquid.
It’s kinda, sorta, almost the same combination.

However, there are no eggs or caraway seeds, making it
less rich. Of course, another receipt we looked at earlier,
the one from Eliza Leslie’s Seventy-five Receipts, also
didn’t have any eggs or seeds. It calls for the exact
same ingredients, yet not the same amounts. Surely,
the resulting cakes must be quite different? Or no?
Of course, the receipt above was published 50 years
after the one in American Cookery. Perhaps a few
alterations should be expected?

What’s interesting, as well, is that these receipts, whether
nearly the same or wildly not, are all called New Year’s Cakes.
I suppose, though, as with many other receipts, it’s not really
all that unusual. Still, with a specialty item such as this, seems,
perhaps, that they would be even more alike than they are.

The best thing to do, I suppose, would be to make each one.
See which tastes similar, and which tastes totally different,
either despite, or because of, the varying mixtures of ingredients.


*volatile salts=spirits of hartshorn, ammonia
water, ammonium carbonate

I gather it’s meant as a leavening agent that acts
much as yeast or pearl-ash would.

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Receipts for New Year’s Cake also found a place in the pages
of individual manuscript (handwritten) cookbooks. Below is one
from the home of Elizabeth Van Rensselaer (1799-1835), who
was a member of the upstate-New York Philip Van Rensselaer
family. As is typical of personal receipt books, it merely lists
the necessary ingredients. Of course, there was no need for
anything more, because Elizabeth knew what to do. It was
assumed, too, that if another person, whether a relative or
a friend or a neighbor, borrowed it, she also would know (but
of course!). Such meager lists were merely meant to jog
a cook’s memory both as to what items were needed and
what to do with them.


Approved Receipt for making New Year’s Cake

14 lb Flour
4 ” Butter
1/2 lb Lard
3 1/2 lb White Havana Sugar


Interestingly, the above is somewhat similar to the one
I posted previously from the second edition of Amelia
Simmons’ American Cookery (1796). There’s the same
amount of flour and butter, with a little less sugar.
At the same time, there’s no yeast sponge, no eggs,
milk, or caraway seeds. Is it the same receipt, but
those ingredients were left out on purpose? If so,
it must make quite a different cake! Same, too,
if it’s simply a totally different receipt. Perhaps
they’re items that Elizabeth knew were included,
and so there was no need to write them down?

I suppose one way to discover the answer would be
to make the cake per this receipt, as is, and then do
it again, adding the other ingredients. Still, will that
really prove anything? Maybe, maybe not. It might
just be one of those things we’ll never know.

Ahhh, more food forensics. What fun!

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Receipts for New Year’s Cake began to appear frequently
in 19th century published cookbooks. Here’s another,
from the ninth edition (1836) of Seventy-five Receipts
for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats
, by Eliza Leslie.
Interestingly, this was NOT included in her first edition
(1828) or any other earlier editions.

Other items of note in this receipt are: the layout,
with ingredients and their amounts listed separately,
followed by the instructions; the use of pearl-ash,
a leavening agent extracted from wood ashes,
instead of yeast; the amount of kneading; and
the option to apply a design.

The fun part, however, is the paragraph dealing
with the required kneading!



Three pounds of flour, sifted.
A pound and a half of powered white sugar.
A pound of fresh butter.
A pint of milk with a small teaspoonful
of pearl-ash melted in it.

Having sifted the flour, spread the sugar
on the paste-board, a little at a time,
and crush it to powder by rolling it
with the rolling-pin. Then mix it with
the flour. Cut up in the flour the butter
and mix it well by rubbing it in with your
hands. Add by degrees the milk. Then
knead the dough very hard, till it no
longer sticks to your hands. Cover it,
set it away for an hour or two, and then
knead it again in the same manner. You
may repeat the kneading several times.
Then cut it into pieces, roll out each piece
into a sheet half an inch thick. Cut it into
large flat cakes with a tin cutter. You may
stamp each cake with a wooden print,
by way of ornamenting the surface.

Sprinkle with flour some large flat tin or
iron pans, lay the cakes in them and bake
them of a pale brown, in an oven of equal
heat throughout.

These cakes require more and harder
kneading than any others, therefore
it is best to have them kneaded by
a man, or a very strong woman.

They are greatly improved by the addition
of some carraway seeds worked into the dough.


NEXT: New Year’s Cake at home

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