Saturday, March 31

Piece of cake

chocolate cake by Pippaloo

Momma was sorting her recipe file box this morning (which my Big Sister dumped out several years ago) and came across this chocolate cake recipe she says is "an old family recipe from the Civil War."

Silly Momma. Doesn't she know that the Civil War is going on right now?

What she says is unusual about the recipe is the use of vinegar and baking soda to create a leavening agent, a substance used in doughs and batters that causes a foaming action which lightens and softens the finished product.

Early chemical leavening was accomplished by activating baking soda in the presence of liquid(s) and an acid such as sour milk, vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar. These acidulants all react with baking soda quickly, meaning that retention of gas bubbles was dependent on batter viscosity and that it was critical for the batter to be baked before the gas escaped.

The development of baking powder created a system where the gas-producing reactions could be delayed until needed. Baking powder works by releasing carbon dioxide gas into a batter or dough through an acid-base reaction, causing bubbles in the wet mixture to expand and thus leavening the mixture.

While various baking powders (sold in separate packets) were sold in the first half of the 19th century, your modern varieties were discovered in 1843 by Alfred Bird.

Joseph and Cornelius Hoagland developed a baking powder after the American Civil War that became known as Royal Baking Powder. The small company eventually moved to New York in the 1890s and became the largest manufacturer of baking powder.

Eben Norton Horsford began his studies on baking powder in 1856 and by 1869 Horsford began the manufacture of a baking powder he named in honor of Count Rumford.

(Rumford Baking Powder was designated an ACS National Historical Chemical Landmark in 2006 in recognition of its significance for making baking "easier, quicker, and more reliable.")

Enough science. Here's the recipe for Momma's prize-winning chocolate cake.

Momma's Civil War Cake

  • ½ C. shortening 
  • 1½ C. sugar 
  • 1 C. sour milk 
  • 2 C. sifted flour 
  • 2 squares baking chocolate (or 4 T. unsweetened cocoa mixed into a paste with water) 
  • ½ t. salt 
  • 1 t. vanilla 
  • 1 T. vinegar 
  • 1 t. baking soda 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream shortening, add sugar, mix. Add one egg, unbeaten, then the other. Beat two minutes. Sift salt and flour together, add alternately with sour milk, then melted chocolate or cocoa paste; last add baking soda dissolved in vinegar (kids love this part!), mix well. Put mixture in a greased or wax-paper lined 9"x13" pan and bake for about 20 minutes. Let it cool, frost, and serve!

(Doesn't "Baking soda and vinegar!" make a magnificent expletive?!) And it's very descriptive, too.

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