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

Lemon Cake, page 11 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Mercy Ingraham

Lemon Cake, baked and photographed by Julie Power

This is a delicious cake! It nearly doubled in volume during baking and had a lovely light lemony taste. I used a Bundt pan and our tester used a Nordic Ware Fancy Bundt pan to bake it. Both produced a beautiful tasty crust. It was perfectly moist for a pound-type cake, and the crust was tangy. We will make this in the 21st century because it tastes so good.

I believe Mrs. Russell dissolves the soda in milk as a residual from the earlier time when you had to dissolve the leavening of saleratus or pearlash in milk or water before it was mixed with the dry ingredients. I prefer to add the soda later in the process, by mixing it into the flour. I used 4 large eggs rather than 5 as the directions stated because there is evidence that eggs were smaller in the mid-19th century than today’s standard large supermarket eggs.


  • Butter, unsalted, 1 cup / 226 grams
  • Sugar, white superfine, 3 cups / 634 grams
  • Eggs, 4 large, separated
  • Milk, 1 cup / 248 grams
  • Lemon, 1, grated rind and juice
  • Flour, unbleached all-purpose, 4 cups / 440 grams
  • Baking soda, 1 teaspoon / 5 ml

Have all ingredients assembled and at room temperature. Measure and weigh all ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF / 175C. Butter well a 10” / 25 cm Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and beat in the sugar gradually; continue beating until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, beat the egg yolks well until light colored and mix into the butter/sugar mixture.  Add the lemon juice and lemon rind and mix to distribute evenly.

Add the soda to the milk, stir to dissolve and then mix into the batter.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters or a whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the batter with a spatula.

Lastly, mix the flour and soda and sift gradually into the batter, stirring well but gently after each addition. Mix just until you can no longer see any trace of the flour.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes in the preheated oven, until cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back when touched in the center, and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes; then unmold and continue to cool.

Serving Suggestion:
Adding a light lemon glaze is recommended –perhaps Mrs. Russell’s Cold Icing, on page 12 of A Domestic Cook Book.

Historical Context: 
I was surprised to find that there were no recipes for Lemon Cake prior to the Civil War in my research–which covered Hannah Glasse, Mary Randolph, Harriott Pinckney Horry, Amelia Simmons, Susannah Carter, and Mrs. Child. Mrs. Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1858) had two recipes for Lemon Cake and Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book (1860’s)had one–which resembles Mrs. Russell’s recipe very closely. Mrs. Child, who published The American Frugal Housewife in Boston in 1833, used Lemon Brandy in two cakes, but otherwise I saw no reference to any lemons and none for Lemon Cake.

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

Soft Ginger Bread, page 6 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Kate Hayes

Photo by K.H.

This is the first of about a dozen recipes for ginger bread, cake, or cookies that Mrs. Russell included in her book. This version bakes up beautifully, with a nice bit of rise to it (about an inch). Not very sweet, and not heavily spicy at all, with the molasses and spices well balanced.

After comparing gingerbread receipts in the five cookery books listed below (24 recipes total), gingerbread could be soft or hard, and either with or without eggs. I decided to follow a hybrid method, as there seemed to be no consistency in all of these recipes. Some melted the fat and mixed with the molasses; Leslie cuts the fat into the flour. Some are very stiff and thus rolled or patted into a shallow pan; many are not really specified.

The original recipe makes a very large amount of gingerbread; quantities here are half of those given by Mrs. Russell.


  • Flour, unbleached all-purpose, 4 cups (450 grams)
  • Baking soda, ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml)
  • Allspice, ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml)
  • Ginger, 1 teaspoon (5 ml)
  • Cinnamon, 1-1/2 teaspoon (7.5 ml)
  • Lard or shortening, ¾ cup (170 grams)
  • Sugar, granulated white,  ¾ cup (170 grams)
  • Molasses, medium (not blackstrap), 1 cup (322 grams)
  • Sour milk or buttermilk, 1 cup (238 grams)


Have all ingredients at room temperature. You can substitute shortening for lard, or use butter if you like.

Preheat oven to 325ºF / 165C.

Grease a 13” x 9” x 2” / 33 x 23 x 5 cm baking pan.

Mix the flour with the spices and soda until uniformly distributed and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the lard or shortening with the sugar until light; Mrs. Russell would have done this with her hand, but it’s okay to use an electric mixer. Mix in the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Mix in the molasses to make a stiff dough.

Pat into prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Mrs. Haskell (see Sources) admonishes the cook to bake at moderate heat and watch carefully as molasses burns easily!

Serving suggestion:

Delicious with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife (1824)
Eliza Leslie, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828)
Esther A. Howland, The New England Economical Housekeeper (1844)
Anne Howe, The Kitchen Directory, and American Housewife (1841)
Mrs. E. F. Haskell, The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia (1861)

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

Queen’s Party Cake, page 7 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Genevieve Bardwell

Queen’s Party Cake with buttercream frosting; this is the modern version, using more eggs for lightness. —Photo by G.B.

Queen’s Party Cake is rich with butter and sour cream, aromatic with spices, and packed with dried fruit. This is the first of several spiced, fruit filled cakes in the book; perhaps it was Mrs. Russell’s favorite. The quantities in the original recipe will serve a very large party indeed, and would have been baked as small cakes, allowing for an elegant hand-held treat. Because the original recipe yields more cakes than would be needed for most occasions, the recipe has been reduced to one-eighth quantity. We suspect that the typesetter made an error setting Mrs. Russell’s copy, and that the recipe should include larger quantities of cream of tartar and baking soda.

For lighter, more modern results, use double the number of eggs.

The quantities here will yield 24 standard-sized cupcakes, up to 48 if you increase the eggs.


  • Flour, unbleached pastry or all-purpose, 2-3/4 to 3 cups (330 grams), divided
  • Raisins, 1 ¾ cups (283 grams)
  • Currants, 1 ¾ cups (283 grams)
  • Figs, chopped, ¼ cup (85 grams)
  • Cloves, 2 teaspoons (4 grams)
  • Cinnamon, 2 teaspoons (4 grams)
  • Nutmeg, ½ teaspoon (1 gram)
  • Baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml)
  • Cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon (5 ml)
  • Butter, 12 ounces, 1 ½ cups (340 grams)
  • Sugar, 12 ounces, generous 1 ½ cups (340 grams)
  • Egg yolks, 1 large [2-4 for a modern, lighter version]
  • Lemon or vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons (10 ml)
  • Sour cream, ½ cup (118 grams)
  • Egg whites, 2 large [4 for a modern, lighter version]


Measure and bring all ingredients to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).

Grease 24 standard cupcake tins (48 if you have added additional eggs), or line with cupcake papers.

Take 3 tablespoons (50g) of the flour and rub this well into the chopped fruit, being sure that all of the pieces are separate and coated in flour. This will prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom while the cakes are baking.

Sift remaining flour with spices, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Set aside.

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Make sure the butter is very soft and add the sugar. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and light. Add egg yolk, mixing until blended. Add the vanilla or lemon extract and mix until blended.

Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternately with the sour cream, mixing after each addition just until the flour is blended in, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The batter will be quite stiff.

In another bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks, and gently fold this into the batter just until most of the whites have disappeared.

Lastly, add the fruit and gently fold in just until evenly distributed.

Fill greased cupcake tins ¾ full.

Bake in the preheated oven until browned around the edges and cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Serving Suggestions: Mrs. Russell would have iced these cakes with a sugar and egg white “iceing.” For modern tastes, add a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream on top of each cupcake.

Queen’s Party Cakes, original recipe, with Cold Iceing. Test and photo by K.P.W.

Bonus Recipe: Cold Iceing, page 12 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Kimberly Palmer Wright

Use the recipe only if you trust your egg source, or use pasteurized egg whites, as the eggs are not cooked. Four large modern eggs are equivalent to 5 medium eggs. One-half recipe (1/2 lb sugar, 2 large egg whites, juice of 1/2 lemon) will yield plenty of icing for 24 cupcakes. “Pulverized sugar” would have been made by pounding the sugar in a mortar and pestle until very fine. In our modern kitchens, we recommend whirling granulated sugar in a food processor until reduced to a powder.

Mix sugar, egg whites, and lemon juice, and whip until thick and opaque, like a soft meringue. Coat the cooled cakes with a thin layer of the icing and allow to dry until no longer sticky. Apply a second coat and allow to dry until hard. Cakes containing high proportions of butter and fruit will keep for a long time when iced this way.

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

Strawberry Short Cake, pages 12 & 13 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Mercy Ingraham

Recipe tested and photo by Linda Jacobs

The confection called a shortcake has been around for hundreds of years.  It is first mentioned in 1642 in a biographical essay. By the early 19th century Strawberry Shortcake was a popular seasonal treat.

Mrs. Russell’s recipes for Strawberry Short Cake and Short Cake assume experience on the part of the cook. Because of that, they are missing so much in the way of directions–and important things–like flour–that I incorporated some of the directions from the first recipe above for Strawberry Short Cake.  I also had to do some research to find out what a cream biscuit was and how to make it. 

Apparently the Cream Biscuit gets its name from the cream you use as liquid.  One recipe stated that you didn’t need to add any butter because the fat was contained in the cream and would make the shortcake “short” enough.  Mrs. Russell is specific about the butter so I of course included it.  This is also apparently a class of “tea” biscuits and the directions for forming that are to either “roll the dough out a little more than an inch thick” and “cut it out with a tumbler” OR to “mold a smooth loaf.”  I chose the latter.

After pulling all of this together, this is my adaptation of Mrs. Russell’s recipe. I cut her recipe in half.

[Notes from the food scientist in the group: during the course of testing these recipes, we have found a number of typesetter’s errors in the text. From evidence in other recipes, it is clear that Mrs. Russell was aware that baking soda needs to be combined with an acid such as cream of tartar to act as a leavening agent. Another possibility is that the milk or cream should be sour, like modern buttermilk, rather than sweet. Mrs. Russell may also have used a softer, lower-protein flour similar to our modern pastry or biscuit flour. —K.P.W.]


  • Flour, unbleached, preferably pastry, 2-1/2 cups (265 grams)
  • Baking soda, 1 teaspoon (5 ml)
  • [Cream of tartar, 2 teaspoons (10 ml)
  • Salt, 1/4 teaspoon (my addition)
  • Unsalted butter, 4 ounces (113 grams)
  • Light cream, 1 cup (236 ml)
  • Strawberries, 1 pound (453 grams)
  • Sugar, to taste, ½ to 1 cup (108 to 215 grams)
  • Heavy cream, 1 cup (236 ml)


Before you begin, measure out all ingredients and have them at room temperature.

Preheat your oven to 450ºF/232C. In a large bowl thoroughly combine the dry ingredients–flour, baking powder, cream of tartar if using, and salt. Once it is thoroughly mixed, blend in the softened butter with your fingers or a pastry blender.

Next make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the light cream, blending it in with a fork until it is well mixed.  Add additional flour as needed to reduce the stickiness of the dough, about ½. Knead the dough about 5 turns to blend it.  Mold the dough into a rectangle 1 ¼ inch/ high by 10 inches long by about 4 inches wide, (about 3 x 25 x 10 cm). Place on an ungreased baking pan and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until it is golden brown.

While the short cake is baking, clean, hull and cut up the strawberries into pieces.  Put them in a bowl and mash them together with about ½ cup of sugar, or more depending upon your taste for sweetness.  Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes to form a syrup, stirring occasionally.

For an individual serving cut a portion of the short cake and split it in half.  Butter the bottom half and spoon strawberries and syrup over it. Cover this with the top of the biscuit, spoon more strawberries and syrup on top, and pour cream over all.  Or if you prefer to assemble it on one large serving dish, slice the entire shortcake in half and butter the bottom, spoon half of the strawberries and syrup on bottom.  Replace the top, add the rest of the strawberries, and allow people to top their portion with either heavy cream, iced cream or whipped cream.  Serves 8 to 10.

Serving Suggestions:

It is best made when strawberries are fresh and locally in season.  I would be inclined to add a little sugar to the whipped cream. It is also delicious served with iced cream. 

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

Macintosh HD:Users:pamelacooley:Desktop:Allspice cake.jpg

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.


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


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.


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.

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

Raspberry Tea Cake, page 13 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Pamela Cooley

Photos by P.C.

Mrs. Russell’s Raspberry Tea Cake is quick and easy to make, includes only a few ingredients, and is a perfect platform for fresh berries in season. Serve it as a tasty, refreshing dessert on a hot summer night.

Between 1766-1966, there are only four known recipes for Raspberry Tea Cake besides Mrs. Russell’s 1866 version, and hers is the earliest one and therefore most likely the original. The others appear in the early 1900s. Unlike Mrs. Russell’s, they include eggs, and call for raspberry jam rather than fresh berries. 

Mrs. Russell’s recipe 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 and nutmeg, read them only if you are interested. Following the recipe below, you will still have success making this lovely, not too sweet tea cake.

  • White Sugar plus extra to sweeten the berries, 1 cup/215g
  • Butter (melted), 3 tablespoons/42g
  • Sour Cream (see Note), 2 cups/480g
  • Flour, 3 cups/330g
  • Baking Soda, 1 ½ teaspoons/7.5 ml
  • Cream Tartar, 2 teaspoons/10 ml
  • Grated Nutmeg (see Note), 1 teaspoon/5 ml
  • Fresh Raspberries, 1 pint/


Preheat your oven to 400ºF/205C.  Butter  a 11”x 7”/28x18x5 cm baking pan, then cut a piece of parchment paper to cover the bottom of the pan and to reach up the sides (about 17”x 7”). Line the pan with the parchment paper, tucking in the ends if they reach above the edges of the pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the butter and sugar together, then stir in the sour cream (see note below). In a larger bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Add the sour cream mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring gently just until the batter is blended and no streaks of flour are showing.

Pour the batter into your buttered and papered pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 23 minutes or until the top is light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, mash the raspberries, saving out a few for garnish if desired, and as Mrs. Russell says, “sweeten to your taste.” Set them aside to macerate.

When the cake is done, set it on a rack to cool then, grasping the parchment paper “handles,” remove the cake to a cutting board. Cut the cake in squares and split each square in half horizontally. Place the bottom slice on a plate, spoon on some of those juicy raspberries, cover with the second slice and spoon more raspberries on top. Garnish with whole raspberries if desired. 


The abbreviation “do. stands for “ditto,” for example: “one and a half teaspoon soda, two do. cream tartar” means “one and a half teaspoon soda, two teaspoon cream tartar.”

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.” For a modern equivalent, you could substitute 2 cups of buttermilk or use 1 ⅔  cups of milk mixed well with ⅓ cup of yogurt or sour cream. I used the buttermilk with good results.

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. 

Mrs. Russell calls for freshly Grated Nutmeg, and this works best but ground nutmeg can be substituted. Since ground nutmeg is not as flavorful, you will probably need to add a bit more to the batter.

Sheet Paper is white paper similar in weight to modern-day copy paper. It was used in this case, just as parchment paper is used today. It was also used to “tent” baked goods in the oven to keep the tops from getting too brown.

The image of Dripping Pans below illustrates rectangular tin pans of various sizes. They were originally used to catch the drips from meats roasting on a spit in the hearth but had evolved to have many different functions including cake baking. An 11”x 7” baking pan was used in this recipe.

A Quick Oven is a very hot oven. For this recipe, 400 degrees for 23 minutes worked well.

A Gell Cake is a layered cake with jelly spread between each layer.

Serving suggestions:

Plating these tea cakes and refrigerating them about ½ hour before serving gives the juice time to saturate the layers. For a more up-to-date finish, a dollop of sweetened whipped cream flavored with sugar and a pinch of nutmeg could be added just before serving. And of course, other types of berries could be used.

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

Dover Cake, page 7 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Kimberly Palmer Wright

Dover Cake, tested and photo by Deanna Berkemeier

This is a lovely, moist cake, and keeps well.

Dover Cake was a popular ‘fancy cake’ in the early 19th century. It is still baked today, usually flavored with vanilla, which Mrs. Russell only rarely called for. Flavorings she seems to have favored include rosewater, nutmeg, and other spices. In selecting “flavor to taste” I have followed the suggestions of her contemporaries for Dover Cake, and used rosewater, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The combination of rosewater and nutmeg was popular in the 18th century and continued to be enjoyed well into the 19th century. Mrs. Russell may have used a pan with a tube like a Bundt pan, although some writers recommend a sheet cake-type pan and cutting the baked cake into squares.

At the end of the recipe you will find notes on ingredients that may not be familiar to you.


  • Sugar, granulated white, 2 cups / 430 grams
  • Eggs, 4 small to medium or 3 large / 181 grams in the shell
  • Butter, unsalted or lightly salted, 1 cup / 225 grams
  • Soured cream (see note following recipe), 1 cup / 240 grams
  • Flour, unbleached pastry or cake, 3 cups / 330 grams
  • Cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon / 5 ml
  • Baking soda, 1 teaspoon / 5 ml
  • Flavorings to taste, from contemporary recipes
    • Rose water, 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon / 5 to 15 ml
    • Ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon / 5 ml
    • Nutmeg, freshly grated, 1, about 2 teaspoons / 10 ml


Have all ingredients at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350ºF/175C. 

Butter and flour a 10”/25 cm Bundt pan, or a 13” x 9” x 2”/33 x 23 x 5 cm sheet cake pan; you can also make 32 cupcakes.

Sift the flour with the cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl and with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light; then mix in the rosewater, set aside. In another bowl, use the electric mixer (if you have a whisk attachment, use it) to whip the eggs until light, fluffy, and increased in volume; ideally, the eggs should thicken. The air in the eggs will help to leaven the cake. Add the eggs to the reserved butter and sugar, mixing by hand, or at low speed with the mixer, until well blended. Add the flour mixture alternating with the sour cream, and fold in gently until just incorporated.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; the pan should be no more than 2/3 full. If the batter doesn’t fit into your pan, bake the remainder as cupcakes. Smooth the top, and gently tap the pan on the countertop a couple of times to eliminate large air bubbles.

Bake in the pre-heated oven until the cake just pulls away from the sides of the pan, a toothpick comes out clean, and the cake springs back when touched lightly in the center. The time required will depend on the choice of pan; in a Bundt pan this will take 60-65 minutes, less in a rectangular pan, and about 20 minutes for cupcakes.

Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes before turning out. 

Notes on ingredients:

Modern sour cream is thicker than what would have been available to Mrs. Russell. The simplest modern substitute is one cup of heavy cream soured with a tablespoon of lemon juice. The sour cream contributes moisture to the cake, as well as contributing acid for leavening.

Pastry or cake flour makes a more delicate cake with a finer crumb than unbleached all purpose flour. Mrs. Russell lived in the South. Her flour might have been similar to the Southern brand, White Lily. If you can’t find it, use all-purpose flour.

Cream of tartar and baking soda are components of baking powder. A little kitchen chemistry: soda is alkaline, cream of tartar acidic. When combined, they release carbon dioxide, which as tiny air bubbles makes the cake light. The acidity of the sour cream also contributes to leavening the cake, as do the eggs.

As rosewaters vary in strength from brand to brand, use the smaller amount if you are unfamiliar with the ingredient. If your local market doesn’t carry rosewater it can be found online, and from markets catering to Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.

If you can find it, use Ceylon cinnamon, which is the type that was grown in the West Indies in the 19th century. It has a more delicate flavor than the more common supermarket cinnamon, and is what would have been used by Mrs. Russell.

Fresh nutmeg is a large dense seed. Mrs. Russell will have used freshly grated nutmeg. Pre-packaged, pre-ground nutmeg has lost much of the aroma of the spice. If you can’t acquire whole nutmegs to grate, then we recommend you drop the nutmeg. The cinnamon and rosewater will be enough flavoring.

Serving suggestions:

Mrs. Russell would most likely have iced this cake. The icing recipes in her book are made with sugar and egg whites, often lightly flavored with lemon. For a simple modern touch, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar and serve with fresh strawberries or peaches, and a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, perhaps flavored with a little grated lemon zest.


Leslie, Eliza. Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes & Sweetmeats. (1828)
Lea, Elizabeth Ellicott. Domestic Cookery, Useful Receipts, and Hints to Young Housekeepers. (1859)
Harland, Marion. Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery (1871)

A mini Dover Cake for a small household, using quarter quantities of ingredients. —Photo by K.W.