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Daffodil Cake for a 1950s-Style Dinner

Sometimes the drawbacks of less-than-regular employment are more than offset by the freedom to take on spontaneous projects.

Like when your friends buy a 200-year-old farmhouse complete with a barn featuring meat-hanging hooks and a kitchen that hasn’t been updated since 1953.

And tell you it’s being totally (but beautifully and historically) gutted in two weeks, so if you want to drive up and cook an authentic 1950s dinner in its environs, you better do it soon.

With the help of The Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book (ca. 1946), this was a challenge I was happy to accept.

daffodil cake made in a tube pan with strawberry sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

It was hard not to try out authentic delicacies like veal mousse in ham or American chop suey, but I wanted people to actually eat the food I was buying and preparing, and so decided on the following menu:

  • Canapés (aka “things on toast”): ham-and-pimento spread on pumpernickel rounds, Welsh rarebit on toast points, and hot mushroom canapes royale
  • green salad with homemade French dressing
  • molded cranberry Jello salad with fruit cocktail
  • meatloaf and tomato sauce
  • daffodil cake (see below)

We threw some big-band crooners on the hi-fi and mixed up a round of bourbon highballs and French 75s to set the mood.

And like a good housewife, I didn’t remove my frilly apron, round-toe pumps, and Bakelite necklace until the last guest had departed.

Actually, working on appliances that were a half-century old wasn’t the challenge. That oven, though small, was cleaner than any rental appliance I’ve ever encountered, so kudos to former owner Mrs. Anderson for her decades of diligent scrubbing.

daffodil cake made in a tube pan with strawberry sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

The hardest part, frankly, was sticking to the recipes as written. Lots of paprika popped up as a crutch for flavor, and I’m fairly certain it wasn’t referring to the smoked pimentòn de la vera that I usually keep in my cupboard.

I would have added a little more garlic here, a little less flour there, and lightened things up with a few wine-and-broth-based reductions. Pouring a roux-thickened cream sauce over in-season asparagus and peas was particularly painful.

While everything was more than edible and truly downright enjoyable, I’d love to take the entire menu, update it, and serve it again to the same folks for fun.

However, there was one dish I wouldn’t change by a teaspoon: we were all wowed by the daffodil cake.

daffodil cake made in a tube pan with strawberry sauce
Photo: Casey Barber

Though homely on the outside, this tube cake takes all the classic elements of an angel food cake one step further, with a light citrus flavor and a denser, yet still fine-grained sponge texture.

The daffodil cake comes together quickly with a little assistance from modern kitchen equipment. My 7-quart KitchenAid stand mixer whipped up the eight egg whites in minutes flat.

But you’ll still need to gently fold flour into the ethereally light egg white meringue in order to make it cakey enough to stand on its own, and you must do that by hand—no modern technology can help you there.

If you need a refresher on how to fold ingredients, check out the Good. Food. Stories. video tutorial above.

And though it needs nothing more than a little whipped cream for accompaniment, the subtle lemon of this daffodil cake pairs so well with pickled strawberry sundae sauce.

daffodil cake made in a tube pan with fresh fruit

Daffodil Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Daffodil cake is a yellow and white layered sponge cake that would be at home at a 1950s dinner party. Yet it's just as tasty to serve in the 21st century.

Ingredients

Cake

  • nonstick baking spray
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (267 grams; 9 1/3 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (120 grams; 4 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional Toppings

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Spritz a 9-inch angel food cake or tube pan with nonstick baking spray.

Separate the eggs into yolks and whites. Reserve 4 of the yolks for the cake and save the other 4 yolks for future use (like ice cream!).

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed until frothy. 

With the mixer running, sprinkle in the cream of tartar and salt, and continue whipping until the whites form semi-stiff peaks. 

With the mixer still running, sprinkle in the sugar gradually and continuously to make a meringue batter.

Remove the bowl from the mixer. 

With a silicone spatula, gently fold the flour into the meringue, sifting about 1/4 cup at a time over the surface.

In a separate large bowl, beat the egg yolks until they thicken and lighten in color. 

Add half the meringue batter and the lemon extract to the egg yolks, folding gently to combine. 

Add the vanilla extract to the remaining half of the meringue batter.

Pour the yellow batter into the tube pan and then pour the white batter on top, so you'll see striped white and yellow layers in the cake when it's sliced. 

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the cake is puffed and golden brown, and an instant-read digital thermometer inserted into the cake reads 205-210 degrees F. 

Invert in the pan onto a parchment-lined rack to cool for at least an hour before serving. (The Cook Book states that "the flavor of most sponge cakes is improved by standing overnight before cutting," and ours was no worse for the wear a day after baking.)

Serve with your favorite toppings like whipped cream, pickled strawberry sauce, or fresh berries.

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13 Comments

  1. Dinner was FANTASTIC. And that 1950s meatloaf really held up the next day when I ate it cold for breakfast.

    Hats off to Casey who cooked a stunning meal in a half 1950s/half construction zone “kitchen”, all with heels on that would trip a stripper. The mushrooms (yes, my addiction) were fantasmigoric. Ever the underseller of her talents, some of the “things on toast” we ate were from Casey’s own bread, which she baked to deliciously dense perfection. And the molded salad was downright Simpson-esque with its wiggle, wobble, suspended canned fruit and plastic-y sheen. Let the record show: all the guests had seconds!

    And my favorite: the cherry chiffon pie. I think for an authentic 50’s experience that color separation, like in those intricately decorated appetizers, is really important. Eating down from the top, the sweetened snow white whipped cream led to a soft pink chiffon which floated on a bed of red cherry compote, all supported by a buttery (right?) yellow-brown crust, which must have been terrible for me because I was scooping it up by the spoonful with glee. Loved it. Loved the whole meal. Thank you Casey for making a wonderful first memory in our new home.

    The laughs were just as good as the eats. Casey for President(ial chef)!

  2. I am so thrilled that we are able to now be hosts to two separate “Good. Food. Stories.” features. When we purchased our (new?) home, we immediately thought of Casey and invited her to participate in a Back to the Future dinner party in our retro kitchen. As Dan later pointed out, our kitchen (and entire house) dates to the same era that Michael J. Fox drove his Delorean to back in 1985. He then pointed out – in a horrifying moment – that if BTF was filmed in 2010, MJ would have been visiting 1980!!! But I digress. Casey outdid herself once again. The meatloaf was perfect and the Daffodil cake is still generating smiles. I do think my favorite part of the evening was returning to a clean home and a greeting from a smiling hostess sporting period jewelry and offering a Bourbon Highball. Good lord I was born in the wrong generation!!! Thank you all (David and Alan too) for a distraction from the chaos that will be our home for the next 3 months (and beyond????)

    Bryan

  3. This party looks swell. :) I love looking back at the 50’s and seeing you in the kitchen, hair in rollers, high heels on, working on vintage appliances in a kitchen with period wallpaper is fabulous.

    I was born in the 50’s — LATE 50’s — so I have fond memories of my parent’s dinner parties in the mid-60’s and while our house wasn’t steeped in funky wall papers and wood panelling and the food was more “fashion forward” and risky, the feeling was the same.

    I remember each guest bringing a wrapped gift — things like crystal ice buckets and silver tongs and coming up the front walk in high heels, beautiful dresses and jewelry on the women and sports coats on the men was de riguer.

    Those were the times my sister and I got to dress up, pass hors d’ oeuvres and hang out in the kitchen waiting for the left overs so we too could feast on the menu while listening to the adult chatter in the dining room.

    Thanks for sharing the fun and a look back at a different time.

  4. LM, heels that “would trip a stripper”??? Those are my work pumps – the Pradas I wore to last New Year’s were WAY tougher to navigate! Bryan, I’d offer you a bourbon highball every night to get you through the next few months of construction if I could.

    Fran, I have fond memories of prepping the house for parties as a youngster too, although in the early ’80s, the shindigs thrown in our wood-paneled den with bar did NOT come accompanied by crystal ice buckets. But we can all dream of the sophisticated old days, right?

    Lisa, YES, you must make a James Beard meal – and wear an embroidered kimono chef’s coat like the one we saw framed at the JB House.

    Carol, I think Aunt Gene would have been extremely proud of the first round of recipes cooked from the WHC Cook Book. It’s no longer pristine (there’s a little mushroom canape on its pages) but I’m definitely going to try more delicacies from its pages.

  5. I am one lucky neighbor to have had Bryan and LeeMichael move into the Andersen homestead (home to three generations of Andersen’s). I have been here almost 5 years and never had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Andersen….she passed away this past spring and was in her late 90’s. All neighbors say she was a delight. Her home was well preserved a true 50’s home……

    The dinner was a huge surprise and absolutely delish! Casey the chef is a glamorous hostess in heels, dress and jewels. I too loved the meatloaf…and the jello mold! The Daffodil cake was the best one and a dessert I am sure to bake myself. Dan is one lucky man to taste test Casey’s meals.

  6. This sounds like too much fun…. and that picture of you and Dan is priceless… Nice suit Dan :)

  7. Wonderful! As one who “lived through the 50’s”, that menu sounds spot-on. Although MY mother never made a daffodil cake, so I look forward to one in the near future ? (Birthday hint?)
    mmmmmm…bourbon highballs…sounds great too!

  8. I have stacks of these cookbooks at my house. I love these cookbooks ;) Crazy recipes, and you know what, sometimes they taste pretty good.

    One time I made a waldorf salad aspic and took it to a family dinner, I did it in gest, but you know what, it was actually pretty tasty.

  9. I don’t remember my Mom is those kind of heels when cooking in the kitchen!Sounds like it was wonderful–Dan, you look so 50’s!!!!

  10. The pictures were great how fun to go back in time to the 50’s.Some of the recipes carried through to the sixties on the sticks in my mind
    American Chop Suey we ate alot of that always on Monday nights.We always knew what day it was by what was for dinner.Spagetti and meat balls on Wednesday Fish on Fridays.
    Wondered if the former owners the Anderson are the same family that has graced the cover of milk cartons
    The Anderson Farms fame?Great fun!!!thanks for sharing

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