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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- whipped cream
- mascarpone cheese
- fresh berries
- pickled strawberry sauce
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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