Apologies for the hiatus for the last week or so. I had a terrible cold and wasn’t up to much of anything. (I’m fine now, thanks.)
I’m getting ready to teach a baking class based on recipes from Malinda Russell’s A Domestic Cookbook — published in 1866, it’s the first cookbook by an African American – so I’ve been trying some of Mrs. Russell’s recipes. The other day I made her Queen Charlotte’s Cake and it’s fantastic.
First, though, about the name. Queen Charlotte was the consort of Britain’s King George III, who reigned from 1760 to 1820. A duke’s daughter from Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Charlotte married George in 1761 and, between 1762 and 1783, gave birth to fifteen children (which strikes me as a lot). She was known as pious and charitable. She also reputedly had some African ancestry, a rumor reportedly long familiar in African American communities.
Was that rumor current in the 1800s? Cookbooks from the 1700s and 1800s often include recipes for cakes accompanied by notes that they were Charlotte’s favorite. They also include recipes for Queen’s Cakes, which are similar to Mrs. Russell’s currant-studded cake. Typically, however, Queen’s Cakes were miniature cakes, sometimes baked in heart-shaped or fluted pans, while Mrs. Russell baked hers in a loaf pan. So she opted for a different size and shape pan. Did she also choose a slightly different name for the cake to make a statement that a woman with African ancestry could be at the top of society?
I’m speculating. I don’t know yet. I do know that this research, into Malinda Russell and her cookbook, is getting more and more interesting. And tastier too. Whatever the story of the name, Mrs. Russell’s Queen Charlotte’s Cake is moist and tender and has a mellow, sweet wine flavor. It would be perfect for brunch or an afternoon snack. Ice cream would dress it up as a dessert. Really, there’s no time of day this cake wouldn’t be good.
Here’s Mrs. Russell’s recipe.
One lb. flour, one lb. currants, one lb. sugar, half lb. butter, four eggs, one gill brandy, one gill wine, one gill cream, spice to taste; bake in a loaf.
Her recipe would yield a pretty big cake so I halved it. I converted the measurements to today’s standard ways of measuring and I added baking powder. For the “spice to taste,” I added a bit of freshly-grated nutmeg and some cinnamon, but not a lot – maybe ¼ tsp. I didn’t really taste the spices. If you want a more pronounced spice taste, add more.
Here’s my adaptation.
Malinda Russell’s Queen Charlotte’s Cake, adapted by Amanda Moniz
1 ¾ c. flour + 1 TBS. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½. c. dried currants
1 c. sugar
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
¼ c. brandy
¼ c. wine (I used white wine that I happened to have open.)
¼. c. cream
Spice to taste
Preheat the oven to 325 convection (or 350 conventional.)
Grease and flour a 9” x 5” loaf pan.
Sift the 1¾ c. flour, baking powder, and any spices you choose together.
Toss the 1 TBS. flour with the currants. (This will help the currants stay evenly distributed in the cake.)
Mix together the brandy, wine, and cream. (At first, the liquid looked curdled, but when I mixed, it was fine.)
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down after each addition.
Add the flour and liquids alternately, beginning and ending with the flour and scraping down between additions. Stir in the currants.
Pour into the loaf pan.
Bake for about 45-50 minutes, rotating once about halfway through the baking time. Bake until the cake is a nice golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
Cool in the pan about 15 minutes and then turn out to finish cooling on a rack.
Let me know what you think!