Articles on Cooking Archives

November 11, 2004

General Observations on Cakes

- Taken from American Matron 1851 -

It is an excellent plan for the mistress of a household to keep always a tire*, high in the neck, with short sleeves, for herself or her domestic to put on, when either bread or cake is to be made. Always requre your cook to do this more especially if she has other duties to perform out of the kitchen. Have it well understood that it must be kept for this purpose, and this alone. To be taken off when this duty is accomplished.
Have every thing which you require in your preparation at hand, before commencing. Be equally careful not to make trouble for your domestic or yourself, by scattering materials, by soiling your tables or the floor, or by the needless multiplication of utensils.
Have your pans buttered, your flour and sugar sifted and weighed; your butter washed and weighed; your eggs counted, ready to be broken; the spices and fruits all ready. Use wood or earthen in preference to tin vessels to make your cake in.
Put your eggs into cold water some time before breaking them. They will beat to a finer froth, and in shorter time when cold. In summer, put them into water with a little ice. It is better to beat them in a cold place rather than a hot room.
All cakes are decidedly lighter if the whites and yolks are beaten separatly. It is well always to require this to be done. Beat the yolks well, adding graducally the sugar, where there is no butter to be used. But if the butter is needed, work your butter to a cream, adding from time to time the sugar, until the quantity is used; then, the yolks, well beaten; and lastly, the whites, beaten to stiff froth. Every one will, I think, be sufficiently repaid for the time and trouble in so doing, by the finer quality of thier cake.
In mixing your cake, do not use the hands, if possiable to avoid it, particularly in warm weather. The warmth of the hand will be apt to make your cake heavy. A wooden spatula or spoon should be kept for this purpose alone.
All cakes, not made with yeast, should be bakes as soon as possible after they are mixed, as the ingredients are very liable to separate.
Sugar should be rolled with the rolling-pin to a powder on a clean bread board, and sifted through a fine hair sieve. Crushed white, or loaf sugar, must be used for sponge and pound cakes, and all other rich white cakes. Brown sugar, coarse grained, but clean, will answer for plum cakes, and some of the cup and loaf cakes. Still these last are nicer made of crushed sugar. It can be purchased, ready powdered, at the stores.
Firkin butter should be cut in small pieces, well washed and drained before using it, or the cake will be heavy.
Lemon peel should be pared very think, and with a little sugar, beaten in a mortar (marble if you have it) to a paste; then mixed with either wine, cream, or little milk, so as to divide easily among the other ingredients. The better way to give the lemon flavor to cake or custard, is to rub a piece of sugar some time over the rind of a fresh lemon; the hard sugar tears the cells in which the oil of the lemons is enclosed, and the oil is attracted into the pores of the sugar. As the sugar us discolored, scrape it off with a knife, and it is well, perhaps, to dry this sugar before using it in delicate cakes. This can be kept in jars or bottles. Any oil or essence, to be added tocake, should be dropped upon a lump of sugar, and then put into the dough to dissolve.
Black or white plum cakes requrie less butter and eggs, for having yeast in them, and eat equally light and rich. If the dough be only of flour, milk, water, and yeast, it becomes more tough and is less easily divided than if the butter be first mixed with these ingredients and the dough afterwards set to rise.
Fresh eggs are required for nice white cakes. Sponge cake, savory biscuit, pound cake, and ladies'-finger cakes, should never be attempted without fresh eggs.
Eggs kept in lime, or in any other preparation, will answer for simpler mixtures.
Fruit is the last article to be added to cake, and immediatly before putting it into the oven. Cask raisins should be washed before they are stoned, as also box raisins, unless they are fresh. To stone them, cut them once or twice, and remove the stones. Some persons chop them very fine.
It is well to prepare currants before they are needed. Wash them well in warm water, rubbing them between the hands; and then drain off the water. Continue to do this until the water is clear, drain them in the colander, spread them on a cloth on the table, and rub them dry with the cloth. Finish drying them in a very gentle heat. If they are added to cakes or puddings damp, they will make it heavy.
Buttered paper should be put in the bottom and sides of pans, when the cake requires a long baking; and paper not buttered is good for other cake to prevent burning. If the oven is too hot, place a sheet of paper on the top of the cake, to prevent the top from burning.
The heat of the oven is of great importance in baking cakes, especially those that are large. If not pretty quick, the batter will not rise. If not long enough lighted to have a body of heat, or if the heat has become slack, the cake will be heavy. To know when it is well soaked, take a broad-bladed knife that is very bright, or a clean straw, and plunge it into the centre, draw it out instantly, and if there should be the least stickiness, the cake is not cooked, and should be immediately returned to the oven. Saleratus or soda should be always kept, rolled and sifted, and when used for hot cakes, should be dissolved in a very little warm, not hot, water. Some people keep saleratus dissolved ready for use. Put as much saleratus into a bottle as will dissolve, when filled with water, using two table-spoonfuls of the liquid instead of a tea-spoonful of powder. This answers better for hot cakes than for cup or loaf cakes. When eggs are broken, be exceedingly careful that noe of the yolk becomes migled with the white. A very little of the yolk will sometimes prevent the white from foaming well. Take a cup and break the shell on it; allow the white to fall out into it, and put the yolk into a bowl; transfer the white from the cup into a shallow meat-dish. Beat them with an egg-beater, or a long bladed knife. Hold the knife almost parallet with the dish; give a quick, sharp stroke througgh the whole length. Beat them in a cool place till you can cut the froth, or till it slifes from your knife in one mass. It is better not to stop beating, when once begun, until you have finished; as it will become liquid and cannot be restored, and your cake will be heavy. These directions are given, to be applied to each of the following recipes; and are now given to avoid useless repetition in each recipe. Almonds can be obtained ground in Europe. I know not that they are so prepared here. To blanch them, pour boiling water over them, let them stand from ten to fifteen minutes, drain them, rubb their skins off with a cloth; lay them in a warm place to dry. If to be pounded, add orange water or rose water to prevent them from oiling. Keep this paste in a cool place. Stir the almonds into the sugar and butter, or the cake will be streaked. This should be prepared the day before wanted.
Griddle cakes may be made with new-fallen snow, very light, in proportion of a tea-cup of snow to a pint of milk.
Fresh-fallen snow contains a large portion of ammonia, which renders the cakes light; but which also soon evaporates, rendering the old snow useless for this purpose.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES. As all families are not prepared with scales and weights, the following list will be found useful:-
Wheat Flour, one pound is one quart.
Indian Meal, one pound two ounces is one quart; sixteen large table-spoonfuls are one half pint.
Butter, when soft, one pound one ounce is one quart; eight table-spoonfuls are one gill.
Loaf Sugar, when broken, one pound is one quart; four large table-spoonfuls are one half gill.
White Sugar, powdered, one pound one ounce is one quart; a common-sized tumbler holds one half pint.
Best Brown Sugar, one pound two ounces is one quart; a common-sized wine glass holds one half gill.
Eggs, average size, ten eggs are one pound.

*Meanings of Words:
Tire - apron like piece of clothing.

November 22, 2004

Sweetmeats - Preserved Fruits

General Remarks.
THE introduction of iron ware lined with porcelain has fortunately almost superseded the use of brass or bell-metal kettles for boiling sweetmeats; a practice by which the articles prepared in those pernicious utensils were always more or less imbued with the deleterious qualities of the verdigris that is produced in them by the action of acids.
Charcoal furnaces will be found very convenient for preserving; the kettles being set on the top. They can be used in the open air. Sweetmeats should be boiled rather quickly, that the watery particles may exhale at once, without being subjected to so long a process as to spoil the colour and diminish the flavour of the fruit. But on the other hand, if boiled too short a time they will not keep so well.
If you wish your sweetmeats to look bright and clear, use only the very best loaf-sugar. Fruit may be preserved for family use and for common purposes, in sugar of inferior quality, but it will never have a good appearance, and it is also more liable to spoil.
If too small a proportion of sugar is allowed to the fruit, it will certainly not keep well. When this experiment is tried it is generally found to be false economy; as sweetmeats, when they begin to spoil, can only be recovered and made eatable by boiling them over again with additional sugar; and even then, they are never so good as if done properly at first. If jellies have not sufficient sugar, they do not congeal, but will remain liquid.
Jelly bags should be made of white flannel. It is well to have a wooden stand or frame like a towel horse, to which the bag can be tied while it is dripping. The bag should first be dipped in hot water, for if dry it will absorb too much of the juice. After the liquor is all in, close the top of the bag, that none of the flavour may evaporate.
In putting away sweetmeats, it is best to place them in small jars, as the more frequently they are exposed to the air by opening, the more danger there is of their spoiling. The best vessels for this purpose are white queen's-ware pots, or glass jars. For jellies, jams, and for small fruit, common glass tumblers are very convenient, and may be covered simply with double tissue-paper, cut exactly to fit the inside of the top of the glass, laid lightly on the sweetmeat, and pressed down all round with the finger. This covering, if closely and nicely fitted, will be found to keep them perfectly well, and as it adheres so closely as to form a complete coat over the top, it is better for jellies or jams than writing-paper dipped in brandy, which is always somewhat shrivelled by the liquor with which it has been saturated.
If you find that your sweetmeats have become dry and candied, you may liquefy them again by setting the jars in water and making it boil round them.
In preserving fruit whole, it is best to put it first in a thin syrup. If boiled in a thick syrup at the beginning, the juice will be drawn out so as to shrink the fruit.
It is better to boil it but a short time at once, and then to take it out and let it get cold, afterwards returning it to the syrup, than to keep it boiling too long at a time, which will cause it to break and lose its shape.
Preserving kettles should be rather broad than deep for the fruit cannot be done equally if it is too much heaped. They should all have covers belonging to them, to put on after the scum has done rising, that the flavour of the fruit may be kept in with the steam.
A perforated skimmer pierced all through with holes is a very necessary utensil in making sweetmeats.
The water used for melting the sugar should be very clear; spring or pump water is best. But if you are obliged to use river water, let it first be filtered. Any turbidness or impurity in the water will injure the clearness of the sweetmeats.
If sweetmeats ferment in the jars, boil them over again with add itional sugar.

October 14, 2005

Making Bread

-This is taken from a book published in 1839 The Good Housekeeper -

A large family will, probably, use a bushel of flour weekly; but we will take the proper quantity for a family of four or five persons.

Take twentyone quarts of flour, put it into a kneading trough or earthen pan which is well glazed, and large enough to hold double the quantity of flour. Make a deep, round hole in the centre of the flour, and pour into it half a pint of brewer's yeast, or the thick sediment from home-brewed beer--the last if good, is to be preferred. In either case the yeast must be mixed with a pint of milk-warm water, and well stirred before it is poured in. Then with a spoon stir into this liquid, gradually, so much of the surrounding flour as will make it like thin batter; sprinkle this over with dry flour, till it is covered entirely. Then cover the trough or pan with a warm cloth, and set it by the fire in winter, and where the sun is shining in summer. This process is called "setting the sponge." The object is to give strength and character to the ferment by communicating the quality of leaven to a small portion of the flour; which will then be easily extended to the whole. Setting sponge is a measure of wise precaution--for if the yeast does not rise and ferment in the middle of the flour it shows that the yeast is not good; the batter can then be removed, without wasting much of the flour, and another sponge set with better yeast.

Let the sponge stand till the batter has swelled and risen so as to form cracks in the covering of flour; then scatter over it two table spoonfuls of fine salt, and begin to form the mass into dough by pouring in, by degrees, as much warm water as is necessary to mix with the flour. Twenty-one quarts of flour will require about four quarts of water. It will be well to prepare rather more; soft water is much the best; it should in summer be warm as new milk; during winter, it ought to be somewhat warmer, as flour is a cold, heavy substance.

Add the water by degrees to the flour, mix them with your hand, till the whole mass is incorporated; it must then be worked most thoroughly, moulded over and over and kneaded with your clenched hands, till it becomes so perfectly smooth and light as well as stiff, that not a particle will adhere to your hands. Remember that you cannot have good bread, light and white, unless you give the dough a thorough kneading.--Then make the dough into a lump in the middle of the trough or pan, and dust it over with flour to prevent its adhering to the vessel. Cover it with a warm cloth, and in the winter the vessel should be placed near the fire. It now undergoes a further fermentation, which is shown by its swelling and rising; this, if the ferment was well formed, will be at its height in an hour--somewhat less in very warm weather. It ought to be taken at its height, before it begins to fall.*

Divide the dough into seven equal portions; mould on your paste-board, and form them into loaves; put these on well floured tin or earthen plates, and place immediately in the oven.

The oven, if a good one and you have good dry wood, will heat sufficiently in an hour. It is best to kindle the fire in it with dry pine, hemlock furze or some quick burning material; then fill it up with faggots or hard wood split fine and dried, sufficient to heat it--let the wood burn down and stir the coals evenly over the bottom of the oven, let them lie till they are like embers; the bricks at the arch and sides will be clear from any color of smoke when the oven is sufficiently hot. Clean and sweep the oven,--throw in a little flour on the bottom,--if it burns black at once, do not put in the bread, but let it stand a few moments and cool.

t is a good rule to put the fire in the oven when the dough is made up--the batter will rise and the former heat in about the same time.

When the loaves are in the oven, it must be closed and kept tight, except you open it for a moment to see how the bread appears. If the oven is properly heated, loaves of the size named, will be done in an hour and a half or two hours. They will weigh four pounds per loaf, or about that--thus giving you twentyeight pounds of bread from twentyone quarts (or pounds) of flour. The weight gained is from the water.

It is the best economy to calculate (or ascertain by experiment) the number of loaves of a certain weight or size, necessary for a week's consumption in your family, and bake accordingly. In the winter season bread may be kept good for a fortnight; still I think it the best rule to bake once every week. Bread should not be eaten at all till it has been baked, at least, one day. When the loaves are done, take them from the oven, and place them on a clean shelf, in a clean, cool pantry. If the crust happen to be scorched, or the bread is too much baked, the loaves, when they are taken out of the oven, may be wrapped in a clean, coarse towel, which has been slightly damped. It is well to keep a light cloth thrown over all the loaves. When a loaf has been cut, it should be kept in a tight box from the air, if you wish to prevent its drying.

*There are three processes in fermentation--the vinous, which makes the dough light and white--the acetous, which turns it sour and rather brown--and the putrefactive, which utterly spoils it.--The only good bread is made by baking the dough when the vinuous fermentation is exactly at its height. As soon as the acetous commences, the dough is injured. It it may be in a measure restored by mixing diluted pearlash or sal?ratus, and working it thoroughly with every portion of the dough--then baking it quickly.

October 17, 2005

DIRECTIONS for procuring the best...Potatoes

Potatoes, take rank for universal use, profit and easy acquirement. The smooth skin, known by the name of Howe's Potatoe, is the most mealy and richest flavor'd; the yellow rusticoat next best; the red, and red rusticoat are tolerable; and the yellow Spanish have their value - those cultivated from imported seed on sandy or dry loomy lands, are best for table use; though the red or either will produce more in rich, loomy, highly manured garden grounds; new lands and a sandy soil, afford the richest flavor'd; and most mealy Potatoe much depends on the ground on which they grow - more on the species of Potatoes planted - and still more from foreign seeds - and each may be known by attention to connoisseurs; for a good Potatoe comes up in many branches of cookery, as herein after prescribed.---All Potatoes should be dug before the rainy seasons in the fall, well dryed in the sun, kept from frost and dampness during the winter, in the spring removed from the cellar to a dry loft, and spread thin, and frequently stirred and dried, or they will grow and be thereby injured for cookery.
A roast Potatoe is brought on with roast Beef, a Stake, a Chop, or Fricassee; good boiled with a boiled dish; make an excellent stuffing for a turkey, water or wild fowl; make a good pie, and a good starch for many uses. All potatoes run out or depreciate in America; a fresh importation of the Spanish might restore them to table use.
It would swell this treatise too much to say every thing that is useful to prepare a good table, but I may be pardoned by observing, that the Irish have preserved a genuine mealy rich Potatoe, for a century, which takes rank of any known in any other kingdom; and I have heard that they renew their seed by planting and cultivating the Seed Ball, which grows on the vine. The manner of their managing it to keep up the excellency of that root, would better suit a treatise on agriculture and gardening than this - and be inserted in a book which would be read by the farmer, instead of his amiable daughter. If no one treats on the subject, it may appear in the next edition.

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