I really enjoy making cakes from scratch. It’s certainly harder than a boxed mix, but it’s fun. However, much like pie crust, it’s not particularly easy to master — it’s not uncommon for cakes to come out dense or dry. (I’ll note that even when less-than-perfect, I still find them tasty. Just not perfect.)
So, I was rather intrigued when I came across a series of mid-1950s Crisco advertisements that promised “lighter, more tender” cake. Knowing that they also invented the whole “more digestible” baloney, I don’t have much confidence in this.
What I particularly liked about these was the later holiday-themed versions. Change the cake and frosting flavors, add some decoration, sure. But it’s too much bother to get a new hand model or ruler.
STEP 1 — Measure (all measurements level): 2 cups sifted cake flour, 1-2/3 cups sugar, 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons soda, 1 teaspoon salt. Add 1/2 cup Crisco, 3 squares melted chocolate, 2/3 cup milk. Mix thoroughly by hand (300 strokes) or by mixer (medium speed) for 2 minutes.
STEP 2 — Add 2/3 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 3 eggs (2/3 cup). Mix thoroughly another 2 minutes. Pour batter into two 9″ layer pans (1-1/2″ deep) which have been “Criscoed” or lined with paper. (For smaller pans, fill half full, bake remaining batter in cup cakes.) Bake in moderate oven 350°F. about 35-40 minutes.
So, one whole inch taller — that’s 1/2 inch per layer. Is there anything to this? Let’s find out!
There actually needed to be three cake attempts. In the first, I didn’t realize that Baker’s Chocolate has reworked the bar format to a shape much more like a candy bar: very flat squares. Instead of “one square” being 1 oz., it is now 1/4 oz.
3/4 oz. of chocolate makes a very, very mild cake.
Once all the dumb measurement errors got sorted, it turned out to be a really simple recipe to follow. Dump and mix.
I’m making one Crisco and one butter cake.
It makes a fairly fluffy batter, with whichever shortening you use. The key question is whether that will collapse in the oven while baking, though!
You’ll note these aren’t simultaneous photographs… that’s because while I like making cake, I’m not so enamored of it that I want to have two whole cakes at once. But on the right is Crisco, and on the left is butter. Notice the difference?
It’s not a whole inch taller. But it’s a good half-inch taller, and you’ll notice that the butter version has sort of collapsed in the middle. In that ultra-condensed section of cake, it did get to be nearly a whole inch shorter. The Crisco version was taller and fluffier. (Nobody more surprised than me.)
They tasted equally delicious, though. So feel free to just make extra layers if you want a taller cake.
The basic (original?) cake recipe comes from Millie Motts, the St. Patrick’s Day version from Shelf Life Taste Test, and the Christmas copy from Jon Williamson. As always, I am grateful for other vintage enthusiasts who enable recipe tests like this!