For this year’s DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Chapter Christmas party, we are making recipes that were special to our Founding Fathers, or signers or the Declaration of Independence. Most of the baking recipes come from the book “Baking Recipes of our Founding Fathers” by Robert W. Pelton. Google Books has a scan of the book here, if you are interested. The recipe I refer to can be found on page 162, and the link should take you straight there.
I purposefully selected a more vague recipe, “Custard Creme Layer Cake”, a favorite of Samuel Adams, because I like a challenge!
Not being one to just present a baked item without previous practice, I decided to make a trial run this weekend to ensure everything worked out just the way I wanted it to. I adapted the recipe to be made using modern appliances, like a stand mixer and kitchen scale, but if you want to give it the old Colonial go and make it entirely by hand, be my guest!
Of course I encourage you to sift out and level the flour and powdered sugar to ensure you aren’t overdoing the dry ingredients, and would always encourage you to weigh out both pans before baking to ensure you have two exactly even layers. Speaking of which, the recipe doesn’t tell you how many layers to make, so I filled two 9″ cake pans, baking them for 20 minutes, and they turned out perfectly. Including the cake pans, each pan weighed exactly 36 ounces prior to baking, but yours will vary depending on your baking equipment.
The custard was a little more tricky. Just from reading the recipe it seemed that what they were going for was a creme patissiere, but since it was my first time making the recipe, I wanted to make it as the recipe stated – which makes it easier to improve upon. I had to improvise though because the first portion of the custard (just the boiled milk and arrowroot) only thickens so much, and certainly not enough to make a thick cream between cake layers like the recipe calls for (and even at that, YUCK on the bland flavoring). Instead I made a game time decision to mix in all of the egg/sugar mix into the milk/arrowroot like you would if you were making creme patissiere, and just split the custard between the frosting and the layering. This, though, really doesn’t leave enough for both, and the cake is plain enough that it really needs the extra filling. And since I am complaining, I don’t really like using arrowroot or corn starch as thickeners because the outcome always looks lumpy. So there.
Taste-wise, it is like Boston Cream Pie without the chocolate. Nothing terribly exciting, and definitely relies on the custard to carry it. The cake itself has a very delicate taste, and a very fluffy crumb. According to the write up by the author, this was a favorite of Samuel Adams. Sorry Sam, but I just don’t see it. I mean it is OK. Maybe it will be improved with the addition of more custard.
So here is what I would do next time:
1. The cake is fine – a good basic white cake, with a delicate Madeleine-type flavor.
2. Make a creme patissiere instead of this custard, and then double it. This will make enough to not only create a substantial filling, but also fully frost the top. And not have it look lumpy.
When asking my husband what he thought the cake needed to be better, aside from the addition of chocolate or raspberry, he, too, thought it needed more custard/cream in the middle.
From a historical perspective I can justify subbing in a creme patissiere, because Samuel’s close cousin and second President John Adams spent a great deal of time in France, and there were many French men supporting our own Revolution. Of course, to me, taste and visual justification is paramount to historical replication.