Sunday, February 3, 2008

Let Them Eat Plain Cake!

Here is Martha's favorite cake. Not Martha Stewart, but Martha Logan - sort of a 1940s version of Ms. Stewart, minus the TV show and the big house in Westport, Connecticut. Ms. Logan was the Home Economist for the Swift Canadian Company Limited, makers of shortening. A very special kind of shortening, so special that they named it Swift'ning, get it?

With Martha Logan's help you can make these recipes which are "Queens of Cuisine...Aristocrats of the Kitchen." You, on the other hand, are not a queen or an aristocrat. You are a minion, baby. A Lady in Waiting to the Queens of Cuisine - and doesn't that sound like a challenging career. You know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the soup.

Well, there are a lot of recipes queening it in Martha's kitchen (yours too, if you cook with all that Swift'ning) - heaven knows what that crowd's going to do to your dinner. Smother it in lard, most likely.

So let's talk about the Queen For A Day, if you will. Here is Martha's Favourite Cake - that's what she calls it, that's what it is. The Empress of the recipes, I guess. Don't forget the 'u' in 'favourite,' it's Canadian! Here you go:

Martha's Favourite Cake

Creaming Method [this is to remind you to cream the shortening, I don't know what else you are supposed to do, toss it in the bowl still in the cardboard?]

Yield: Two 8-inch layers

1/2 cup Swift'ning
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsps double-acting baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Cream Swift'ning. Add sugar, salt and vanilla. Cream until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add alternately with milk, adding flour first and last. Mix until thoroughly blended. Line bottoms of two 8-inch layer cake pans with two layers of waxed paper. Pour equal amounts of batter into each pan. Bake. Baking Temperature: 375. Baking time: about 30 minutes. Suggested Frosting: Select any frosting.

So essentially, it's what used to be called "plain cake." My grandmother had a recipe for this, and so do most cookbooks. It isn't hard to make, and it's a good basic cake that's hard to mess up. I have seen this recipe with butter rather than shortening though. But the Swift people were hostile to butter, so Swift'ning it is.

I want to know why Martha the cooking expert considers "plain cake" the apex of baking royalty. And why doesn't she care what frosting we use? Does she like them all equally? Is she giving up on her favourite cake? That's what happens when you have too many "Queens of Cuisine," Martha - doesn't work for countries or cookbooks. Better get some fancy icing on pronto, there's a Golden Glow Cake two pages on with an nearly identical list of ingredients - and a way flashier name - waiting to take over.

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