Friday, 3 April 2009

Wheatless, Eggless, Butterless, Milkless, Sugarless... Cake?

I stumbled on this recipe in a post by The Old Foodie, who is actually a not-so-old person interested in Old Food. This is a cake from the 1918 wartime, and it sounds completely impossible that such a thing could be edible. And yet - cinnamon, raisins and cornmeal... that could be pretty good.

It might perhaps be a decent breakfast type of cake? Not too rich, not too sweet, perhaps it could work? I like sweet food in the morning, but not too sweet. I go for things like toast and marmalade, a peanut butter and honey sandwich, fruit yoghurt, porridge with golden syrup, or hot cross buns... Definitely not a dessert level of sweetness.

I made some muffins on Tuesday that I am just going to have to throw out. I found a White Wings "low fat" variety muffin packet mix up the back of the pantry, that I bought in a fit of unreason when I tried out Weight Watchers a few years back. I boldly challenged my prejudices about diet foods! And in consequence, had them confirmed in spades. These aren't even "diet" muffins, just low-fat. And ingredient number one on the list is not flour, but sugar. The orange-poppy ones are very nasty, and the chocolate ones are sorta kinda OKish, if you think of them as cake. I've eaten half a one, and not actually spat it out like I did with the orange.

Anyway, here is the original recipe, copied over for convenience.

Wheatless, Eggless, Butterless, Milkless, Sugarless Cake
1 cup corn syrup
2 cups water
2 cups raisins
2 tablespoons fat
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 ½ cups fine cornmeal, 2 cups rye flour; or, 3 ½ cups wholewheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, or, ½ teaspoon soda

Cook corn syrup, water, raisins, fat, salt and spices slowly 15 minutes. When cool, add flour, soda or baking powder, thoroughly blended. Bake in slow oven 1 hour. The longer this cake is kept, the better the texture and flavor. This recipe is sufficient to fill one medium-sized bread pan.


So how would I go about that?

It's an American recipe, and the corn products they use are not common here. You can substitute a few things, though. This page from The Joy of Baking is quite useful to give you ideas. Also, as you see, the recipe uses an out-dated sense of "sugarless". It actually does contain sugars, just not the granulated white stuff that presumably was in short supply in 1918.

"Fat" - that is pretty vague. I'm personally inclined to toss the butterless aspect and go for real butter here. Obviously if you wanted that austerity/vegan version you could go for a vegetable shortening like margarine, or maybe an oil. I had a quarter pack of butter left after the seedcake, which is about double the amount you officially want. Since this is an austerity recipe, a little extra is unlikely to hurt, so I used it all. (Remembering that 1 US tbsp=15ml - and that's about 15g, since butter and water weigh much the same.)

Salt - I tend to reduce this. A small pinch, rather than a teaspoon works better for my taste.

"Corn syrup" - We can actually buy corn syrup here. The recipe doesn't say whether light (very mild) or dark (stronger flavoured). IGA & Woolies both stock the imported Karo brand: it's kept near the sugar and baking supplies. But I like the taste of golden syrup, so I'll stick with that. Honey is another obvious option. Or I suppose you could even use sugar.

"Cornmeal" - fine polenta will do here. But absolutely not cornflour/cornstarch. I don't quite understand why the different quantities of different flour options. I'm only baking one, though. If it works, I may try a different flour some other time.

"Raisins" - in the US, they call sultanas "golden raisins". I strongly prefer the dark raisins, but you could legitimately use sultanas. Or perhaps notice that this recipe is quite big on alternatives, and just use any dried fruit you fancied.

And a "slow" oven is 140-150C.


How did it work? Surprisingly well! I may well even make it again.

I was worried at a couple of points. The mix is very liquid, and it just poured into the loaf pan. It didn't rise at all, that I noticed, the top is totally flat. I think I took it out of the pan a little early: it almost cracked. I'd recommend that you let it cool in the pan for fifteen minutes or so, for safety.

The recipe claims that it's best as it gets older, but I cut a slice when it was still warm. It was nice - the crust was a bit chewy, the crumb quite soft and packed with juicy raisins. I've also tried it cold, yesterday morning, and it does indeed work for me as a breakfast item. It's got cereal, fruit and sugar and is not too cloying. Last night I tried heating up a chunk, to pretend it was a pudding, but this was less successful. It seemed drier when warm.

The raisin flavour in this cake is very strong. And I mean very strong indeed: I find that it overpowers the golden syrup, which is no mean feat. I rather like the idea of swapping in chopped dates for a different effect. And after my recent post on Hot Cross Buns, perhaps adding in some mixed peel and using orange juice instead of water might be a good idea.

So there you go: surprise! It's actually rather good.


Aqua, of the Questioners said...

Hmmm - I read the original recipe as suggesting either (1 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 cups rye flour) or (3 1/2 cups wholemeal flour). That'd give equal volumes flour.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Cath - this is fantastic. I love it when someone actually makes one of these historic recipes and posts about it.
The flour amount is, as Aqua has suggested meant to be a total of 3 1/2 cups (either all wholemeal, or a mix of cornmeal and rye)
I am now going back to my original post, and putting in a link to this.

Cath said...

Oh, that's funny. It worked as 1 1/2 cups polenta anyway. Even baking isn't so precise an art as some say!

Aqua, of the Questioners said...

Absolutely, baking isn't that precise (depending on what you're after). I make original cookies with no exact recipe pretty regularly. They get gobbled up.

I'd imagine the character of this recipe would change quite a bit with and without 2 cups rye flour. Both perfectly edible, but different things.

Anonymous said...

oops, it isn't wheatless, best to change title.

winter dew said...

can i use some other kind of flour instead of cornmeal? semolina may be? what do you say?