Marie Antoinette is sadly best known for wondering why the starving masses didn’t eat cake (or brioche) if they were out of bread. In that spirit, I’ve attempted to make a cake recipe which originated from an era of privation, although not famine — World War II and the days of sugar rationing.
(At this point, I’m trying to picture Eleanor Roosevelt, the best approximation of Marie Antoinette at the time, saying something ignorant about people putting up with rationing. It’s not a very plausible picture, is it?)
Sugar rationing was never nearly as bad in the US as it was in Europe; however, there were limits on what you could get, and the housewife who wanted sweets for her family needed to be creative. To help them adapt, numerous companies encouraged them that they could make cakes anyway, without one or more of the critical ingredients (butter, eggs, sugar). One long pamphlet was put out by Rumford Baking Powder (brought to the internet by RecipeCurio.com), with a very 1940’s locked sugar can on its cover and many recipes inside.
A lot of its ingredients actually strike me as cheating — the sugar is replaced with corn syrup or (in the recipe I tried) honey, so they’re not really “sugar-free” in the modern sense. But the modern definition really depends on a culture with lots of diabetics who want to eat candy and cookies without eating sugar, not on a nation which must restrict its sugar usage so Hershey’s can make chocolate bars for the troops overseas.
Rumford Honey Cake
2 cups sifted cake flour
3 teaspoons Rumford Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening [I used butter]
2 egg yolks
1 cup honey
1/2 cup milk
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sift together flour, Rumford Baking Powder and salt. Cream shortening until light. Beat egg yolks until lemon colored, gradually adding 1/2 cup of the honey while beating. Add the egg-honey mixture slowly to the creamed shortening, creaming while adding. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk, mixing well after each addition. Beat egg whites until stiff; gradually beat in remaining 1/2 cup of honey until mixture stands in stiff peaks. Fold into cake batter until well-blended. Bake in 2 greased 9-inch layer cake pans in a moderate oven (375° F.) for 30 minutes. Cool and frost as desired.
They include the note, Any nutrition expert will tell you about honey’s qualifications as a pure natural sweetening–-and you’ll find out that it helps a cake stay fresh longer! Whatever. I’ve never had much trouble with cake sitting around until it gets stale. The one time we did end up with stale cake, I still got Buzz to eat it.
The step of folding in beaten egg whites means this wouldn’t be my first choice for making a cake from scratch. I prefer dump-n-mix recipes, that aren’t likely to be affected by a little too much stirring. But ohhhhh my, egg whites and honey are delicious together. I bet you could make little meringue cookies out of that.
The hardest part of this recipe was, sadly, due to my mixer. I expected the Totally Awesome Kitchen-Aid Mixer to never let me down, but the fact that I needed three bowls of various mixed things threw me for a loop — it only comes with one. I had to mix, transfer, clean, mix, transfer, clean, mix, transfer, clean… it was silly 🙂
These pictures are just to show you that, once again, I’ve made a baked good that strongly resembles Clayface. (But it didn’t destroy my mixer this time. HA!) The color and consistency are just uncanny.
One interesting thing is to contrast the two baked cake layers. The pan of the upper cake was greased with butter. The pan of the lower cake was greased with PAM. Notice the chunks missing from the PAM cake? Good old butter is the way to go… or maybe I just needed more PAM, who knows.
Cocoa whipped cream icing is fast to make, and a decent contrast to honey cake. Sprinkles are on top just because that’s what happens when you cook with a preschooler in the room. (We had bright pink macaroni and cheese for dinner one night, for example. These things happen.)
The flavor possibly would have been more like white-sugar cake if I’d used store-bought honey rather than some from the Farmer’s Market, which tends to be darker. But the only strongly honey bites were the first few; after that, it was not really noticeable. This would taste great with some nuts mixed in, or even turned into a fruitcake. It certainly doesn’t seem like sugar rationing would have been unbearable if the backup desserts were of this quality.