Posted by: Erica Retrochef | January 31, 2011

Cup Cakes

Retro recipes have very unpredictable results. The ones that seem strange can turn out tasty — or sometimes just as vile as they sound.

Desserts, however, are usually more reliable. Cakes haven’t changed much since the invention of baking soda, as long as you aren’t using a box mix. This variation caught my eye, though… serving individual little cakes in cups — the original “cup cake” — is an intriguing difference.

1/2 cupful Crisco
1 cupful sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoonfuls baking powder
1/2 teaspoonful salt
2 cupfuls flour
1/2 teaspoonful almond extract

(Use accurate level measurements)

Cream the Crisco with the sugar, add the well beaten yolks, then alternately the flour sifted with the baking powder and salt, lastly add the stiffly beaten whites and the extract. Bake in well Criscoed cups in hot* oven 15 to 20 minutes. When cold cut out centers and fill with whipped cream. If desired decorate with a cherry.

* 400° F is the equivalent to “hot oven.”

Swapping Crisco for butter, this seems to be a very typical cake batter — so actually shouldn’t be that hard to make.

egg, sugar, flour, crisco

My daughter was originally eager to help, but didn’t really like any of the specific jobs — whipping egg whites was too hard, creaming shortening and sugar was too hard, not being allowed to eat the sugar was too hard.

She did help sift the flour in, though.

I’ve never seen a cake batter this solid before. It was ridiculously hard before the egg whites were added, to the point that there was no folding (as is usual for put whipped whites into cake batter) — more like squishing. And that didn’t add much moisture.

I do not have enough matching mugs that I trust in then oven, so I scooped the crumbles into well-greased soup crocks.

There were no impressive transitions while baking. Crumbles in… warm slightly-melted crumbles out!

cake in cups with whipped cream and a cherry

Hollowing out the centers was simple enough, since it didn’t seem to be completely baked and just squished out of the way. (I didn’t really want to bake it longer, because that would have made the top drier and weird.) Whipped cream and a cherry on top — it looks cute, but what’s it like inside?

While this wasn’t terrible, it definitely wasn’t great. Nobody finished their serving of cake. The cherry was a slightly odd addition; whipped cream and cherry were fine, whipped cream and cake were fine, but the trio was strange. Worse, the texture was extremely dense; there just weren’t enough wet ingredients to take on that much flour, or to let the baking powder puff things up. It’s possible I screwed up measuring, although usually when that happens (and it has absolutely happened, more than I’d like to admit) I can think back over the recipe and remember where I added three scoops of something instead of four. I’m not sure whether the fault lies with me, or Marion Harris Neil, or Crisco’s advertising department. And I’m not really willing to make them again to find out.

On the plus side, I do like the almond extract instead of vanilla. Also, the idea of “cup” cakes is a very cute presentation and cuts down on prep work. No frosting required, just a nice dollop of whipped cream!

Original recipe was posted on Flickr by Look Homeward, Harlot.



  1. We recently came across a vintage brochure for “Swans Down Instant Cake Mix” (dated 1949), and it was interesting to see that early box mixes only came in one flavor–or at least, that’s what I concluded from the fact that the brochure featured ways to make the regular mix into a chocolate cake, a spice cake, etc. But your experience suggests that even that was a *huge* step forward!

  2. Looking back at this, I am puzzled by the intense emphasis on “accurate level” measurements. Since there was no real rising to speak of, and it was just a crumble of flour, shortening, and flavors, I don’t think having really precise measurements of the ingredients would be likely to make a difference one way or the other. (Or maybe this is just further evidence of a serious misprint.)

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