Juneteenth Recipe Suggestion: Allspice Cake from Mrs. Malinda Russell’s 1866 cookbook

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Allspice Cake, page 8 in A Domestic Cook Book 
Adapted by
Pamela Cooley

Photos by P.C.

This cake is absolutely delicious. It has a delicate crumb, a luxurious mouth feel, is perfectly moist, and has a satisfyingly crisp crust. But the stunning thing about this cake is its flavor. While making it, I was concerned that with all those spices and other flavoring agents, the results would be over-the-top or heavy with cloves and rosewater. But, I should have trusted Mrs. Russell better. The flavor is very sophisticated, delectable, and perfectly balanced with no one flavor overwhelming the others. 

It is likely that the title “Allspice Cake” refers to all the spices that are included in the cake rather than referring to the specific spice, “allspice.” The amount of allspice in the cake is exactly the same as the amount of cloves, cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg. Nothing in the recipe or the flavor of the cake makes allspice the star.

Between 1800-1899, the only known cake recipe that includes these 8 flavoring agents (5 spices along with brandy, rose water, and lemon extract) is the one in Mrs. Russell’s cookbook, so it is highly probable that Mrs. Russell’s recipe is the original. The only other recipe for “Allspice Cake” was found in Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book, 1853. This recipe is very unlike Mrs. Russell’s. It calls for the dough to be rolled and cut out and allspice is the sole flavoring agent. 

Mrs. Russell’s recipe for Allspice Cake may use some terms that you might not be familiar with. These terms are explained in the Notes below. But except for the notes on Sour Cream, Rose Water, and Nutmeg, read them only if you are interested. Following the recipe below you will still have success making this lovely cake.

Ingredients:

The measurements in the following recipe are proportionately the same those in Mrs. Russell’s recipe but cut in half. 

  • Butter (at room temperature), ¾ cup/169g
  • Sugar, 1 cup/453g
  • Eggs (separated), 4
  • Sour Cream (see Note), 2 tablespoons/59g
  • Brandy, ¼ cup/112g
  • Lemon Extract, ½ teaspoons/2.5 ml
  • Rose Water (see Note), ¼ cup/112g
  • Cloves, 1½ teaspoons/7.5 ml
  • Cinnamon, 1½ teaspoons/7.5 ml
  • Mace, 1½ teaspoons/7.5 ml
  • Allspice, 1½ teaspoons/7.5 ml
  • Nutmeg, grated (see Note), 1 ½ teaspoons/7.5 ml
  • Baking Soda, ½ teaspoon/2.5 ml
  • Cream Tartar, ½ teaspoon/2.5 ml
  • Flour, 1¾ cup/453g

Method:

Have all of your ingredients at room temperature.

Butter an 8”/20 cm cake pan or a 4-cup/1-liter tube pan very well. Then dust it with a bit of flour. Preheat oven to 350ºF/177C. 

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until lightened in color and fluffy. 

Add the egg yolks and sour cream to the sugar mixture and beat until the batter is smooth and the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

In a small bowl, combine the liquid ingredients: brandy, lemon extract, and rose water.

In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: the spices, baking soda cream of tartar, and flour.

Then add the dry and liquid ingredients alternately to the butter mixture. Begin by stirring in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then ½ the liquid ingredients, then 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then remaining liquid ingredients, and finally the remaining dry ingredients. After incorporating these ingredients, the batter should be smooth.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. As soon as the whites have reached this stage, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Then, being careful to retain as much loft as possible, fold the remaining egg whites into the batter until no white streaks are showing.

Spoon the batter into the cake pan, smooth the top, and bang on the countertop a few times. Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean. Remove to a cooling rack.

Rest the cake for about 10 minutes. Then flip it over onto the rack to release the cake from the pan and to finish cooling. If the cake doesn’t come free from the pan easily, run a plastic knife around the edges of your pan between pan and cake to loosen it. Then try flipping it again.

Notes:

Yelks are egg yolks.

The abbreviation “do.” stands for “ditto,” for example: “one tablespoon cloves, one do. cinnamon” means “one tablespoon cloves, one tablespoon cinnamon.”

The Sour Cream that Mrs. Russell would have used is unlike the thick sour cream we buy in the dairy section of our supermarkets. Instead, it would have been cream that had gone sour and the consistency, as described in a cookbook of the period, would have been “as thick as can be taken from the top of a cream jar.” In this recipe you could substitute 2 tablespoons/30 ml buttermilk or use 1 tablespoon/15 ml of milk mixed well with 1 tablespoon/15 ml of yogurt or sour cream. I used the buttermilk with good results.

A Gill is a liquid measure equaling ½ cup.

Mrs. Russell calls for Rose Water in many of her recipes. You can find culinary rose water at stores that sell Middle Eastern or Indian foods. Because this product is stronger in flavor than what Mrs. Russell would have used, it should be diluted with water. In this recipe, use 2 tablespoons of rose water and 2 tablespoons of water. 

If you don’t have Lemon Extract, 1 teaspoon of lemon zest can be substituted.

Mace is the outer, brittle, web-like covering of the nutmeg. Mrs. Russell frequently calls for the use of mace in her desserts. 

Mrs. Russell calls for a whole Nutmeg that would have been freshly grated for the recipe. However, if you do not have a whole nutmeg to grate, ground nutmeg can be substituted. Since store-bought ground nutmeg is not as flavorful, in this recipe use 2 teaspoonsful.

Cream Tartar is a white powdery by-product of the wine making process and used, along with baking soda, in many of Mrs. Russell’s recipes as a leavening agent. You should be able to find it in the baking section of your supermarket. 

A Moderate Oven is a middling oven, not too hot and not too cool. A temperature of 350 degrees for 50 minutes worked well in this recipe.

Serving suggestions:

This cake is delicious on its own, but if you want you could sift some confectioner’s sugar over the top once it is cool or serve it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream flavored with a few drops of rose water.

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