This is a great project to demonstrate the idea that a simpler lifestyle required hard work. See what Great, Great Grandma had to go through to provide this delicious dessert to her family and guests.
Obtain the ingredients. Gather one pound of eggs (approximately 8 - 10, depending on size), one pound of flour (approximately 4 cups), one pound of sugar, and one pound of unsalted butter. To add interest to this project, describe how weights were used to determine amounts, and weigh your ingredients.
Three important points to consider and discuss:
- All ingredients MUST be at room temperature. Without electricity, how was food refrigerated? Ice chests were small and required the purchasing of local ice. How was ice produced and who would sell ice?
- Most cake and bread recipes require a leavening agent. Yeast (or baking powder) adds the bubbles that cause the product to rise during the baking process. The texture of the traditional pound cake comes from stirring and beating the eggs. Again, this is all done by hand.
- The butter must be salt-free. After all, the butter, made from the cream, which came from the milk, which came from the cow, is salt-free! Salt is used to bake traditional yeast breads and acts with the yeast to produce the gas which causes the bread to rise (it actually retards the growth, but it is a requirement).
In a bowl, place the butter at room temperature and quickly stir. Wooden spoons were the utensil of choice. Modern whisks began to appear at the end of the 1800s, but some early recipes called for a group of twigs to be used in a similar manner. The texture of the pound cake will be determined by the stirring of the butter and the whipping of the eggs.
Once the butter is light and fluffy, slowly add the sugar and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and well creamed.
In a separate bowl, whip the eggs until they are "white and frothy" and have form. This may take anywhere from 100 strokes to 20 minutes. Again, without leavening, the texture of the cake comes from the introduction of air during the stirring and whipping process. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar, stirring to ensure all ingredients are well combined.
Slowly add the flour to this mixture, ensuring all ingredients are combined. Overstirring now will tend to release the air that was introduced in the previous steps. So do not overstir at this point.
Pour into a pan and bake.
- A Bundt cake pan or loaf pans can be used. Since the mixture has a high amount of sugar, this will cause the cake to stick to the sides of the pan while baking. Grease the pan before using. After baking, you may need to use a knife to cut around the cake to help it release from the pan.
- What size should the pan be? Whatever fits the batter! Here is the beauty of the recipe--Great Great Grandma knew what pans she had and would tailor the final product to her baking pans. She would start with the "appropriate" number of eggs and use the weight of the eggs to measure the other three ingredients so the recipe always worked. A simple scale would be used and can be made for this project. Even though it is called a pound cake, the recipe also works with 5 or 6 eggs. Trial and error and learning from "Grandma" helped to perpetuate this recipe between the generations.
- What temperature? Great Great Grandma's recipe called for a moderate oven. Since wood (and later coal) was used to burn and generate heat, controlling the heat was achieved by controlling the amount of combustible material and the speed at which it was allowed to burn (by regulating the air the fire received). Time in the oven became dependent and varied depending upon the oven temperature. Not an easy job just to bake a cake. Modern recipes call for a temperature of 350 degrees F. and a time of 70 minutes to 90+. All recipes agree on testing the cake to see if it is done. Place a toothpick or skewer into the middle of the cake and remove. If clean, the cake is done. If not clean, the cake is too moist and requires additional baking.
With this basic recipe, a number of additional ingredients were later introduced. A spoon of vanilla, possibly lemon or even fresh fruit if in season and available from your trees or your neighbor's trees.
Although a professed amateur baker and cook, my real occupation involves the sale of real estate and training the agents who enter into the profession Jim RealtyVan.com