Saturday, July 23, 2016

Queen Cake: Royally Delicious!

Queen Cakes
The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

Queen Cake or Sponge Cake
15 eggs with their weight in sugar & the weight of 10 eggs in flour. 2 lemons rasped & the juice of one. let the yolks & whites of the eggs be separately well beaten. the lemon juice added just before it is put in the oven—the flour stirred in last and sifted.

About the Recipe:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a Queen Cake is "a small currant-cake, typically heart-shaped." and the OED's earliest reference for them goes back to 1734 in J. Middleton & H. Howard's 500 New Receipts with a reference for "Fine Queen-Cakes." However, an older recipe from 1725 can be found in Robert Smith's Court Cookery (London):

Being that the published recipe goes back to 1725 and given the commonly accepted belief that recipes could have existed for decades before they were ever published, it is possible that the recipe was made in honor of Queen Anne who ruled as England's sovereign from 1702-1714. However, there is no evidence to prove this, just a speculation.

Also, because most Queen Cake recipes instruct the baker to make them in individual small cakes, usually heart-shaped, it is possible that they were called Queen Cakes after the concept of the "Queen of Hearts"--but who knows?!  Morris does not specifically state that her recipe be made in this way. Perhaps she assumed they would be made that way. Her recipes are merely just "aides memoire" not designed to be too detailed and instructive in the same way a modern recipe is written. Therefore, she probably just assumed the user would know to bake them in that way. Finally, most Queen Cake recipes include the dried fruit, currants. Morris did not include them in her recipe.

To further your knowledge of Queen Cake, here are some additional period recipes to investigate:
  • Amelia Simmons, American Cookery (1796)
  • Susanna Carter’s, The Frugal Housewife (1803)
  • Lucy Emerson’s, The New England Cookery ( 1808)
  • Eliza Leslie’s, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (1828)
  • Eliza Leslie’s, Directions for Cookery (1840)
  • Elizabeth E. Lea’s, Domestic Cookery (1869)
  • Fannie Merritt Farmer’s, The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896). 
  • Recipes for Queen Cake are found well into the twentieth-century.

Queen Cake or Sponge Cake: Modern Recipe Adaptation
Makes 24 1-Ounce Cakes

  • 5 Large Eggs, Separated
  • 1 2/3 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • Grated Zest of 1/2 Lemon
  • 1 Tablespoons Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • 1.5 Cups of All-Purpose Flour


1.  Heat the oven to 350ยบ F. Grease a mini-muffin or cake pan of your choice. Note: Heart-shapes were customary in historic recipes for Queen Cakes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks together with the sugar. If using an electric mixer, beat for about 2 minutes on the medium-high setting. 

3. Add the lemon zest and juice to the egg yolk and sugar mixture and beat for just a few seconds to incorporate it evenly throughout the batter. 

Add the flour to the egg and sugar mixture by forcing it through a sieve or sifter to lighten it. Be sure to fold, not stir,  the flour into the egg yolk mixture to keep it as light as possible. Click here to learn how to fold. The flour doesn't need to be completely mixed before you move to the next step.

5. Using an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites, which are in a separate large mixing bowl, until stiff peaks form. 

Hint: If you use a copper mixing bowl to whisk the egg whites, the egg whites will be glossier and firmer than in any other type of bowl. Click here to read more about the science behind this theory.
Egg Whites Whip Up Better in a Copper Bowl

6.  Then, fold the egg whites into the egg yolk batter, being very careful to keep the batter as light and airy as possible. 

7.  Spoon 2 Tablespoons of batter into each opening of the mini cake pan you are using. Bake for 18 minutes, or until the cakes are firm and no batter remains on a skewer inserted into the center of the cakes.

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