THE ‘CUP’ CAKE

As I’m sure most of you, I grew up with the occasional packaged cupcake treat in my lunchbox.  Whether it was Little Debbie’s or Hostess, that chocolaty cupcake with its white squiggle and creamy surprise inside was a lunchtime treat.  Or if you were lucky enough to have a Mom who enjoyed baking, you probably had one of Mom’s yummy, little cakes for your lunchtime dessert.  Cupcakes were child-sized, sweet desserts, which, for the most part, were served only at birthday parties and sold at school bake sales.

Somewhere along the line though that all changed.  I believe it was in 2007 when Oprah waved her magic wand and swooned over the single-serving, glamorous little cakes being sold by Williams Sonoma, adding them to her much sought-after “O” list of ‘favorite things’.  The homey cupcake quickly became one of the trendy foods. The trendy food title was then permanently cemented when Carrie Bradshaw and her girlfriends indulged in these miniature, buttercream topped cakes on an episode of the cultural phenomenon Sex in the City.  Boom!  All of a sudden a new industry was born.  What were once lunchbox treats were now sought-after designer desserts.  Specialized cupcake bakeries sprang up all over the country.  The Food Network even created an entire baking competition series around them, “Cupcake Wars”.

If you are interested in the history of everyday things, as I am, you may have read about cupcakes being invented here in the U.S. in the late 1800s.  Well, sorry to disappoint, but cupcakes have been around a lot longer than that.  There are actually two schools of thought.  One is that these small, single serving cakes, were derived from the very popular, single-serving mince pies so popular in England in the 18th century.  The mince pies  were baked in miniature, sculpted tin molds and were served displayed on a platter in an artfully-shaped pattern.

Queen’s cakes, spiced pound cakes with currants, were also quite popular.  As the aristocracy tired of  miniature mince pies, they turned to cakes.  Chefs began using the tin molds, or “patty pans”, from baking mince pies to baking Queen’s cakes.   Whether baked in these individual pans or cut out using them, these miniature, iced cakes would also be presented on a platter, forming a variety of elaborate patterns.

Having been made by a craftsman or tinsmith, a set of these miniature mince pie or cake molds would have been very expensive … something the middle and lower classes would never have been able to afford.

A very romantic, but probably unlikely theory, suggests that the baker or head chef would occasionally hold out a little batter from the large lavish cake he was preparing for the Lord of the Manor’s evening dinner, to give a bit of a treat to the staff.  Certainly, not enough for an entire cake, but enough perhaps for a few single servings.  After the aristocracy enjoyed their lavishly decorated dessert cake, the staff downstairs could look forward to enjoying the leftover cake batter, baked in earthenware tea ‘cups’.

The very popular, early 19th century British cookbook author, Maria Rundell, actually suggested baking cakes in ‘little tins, tea-cups or saucers’.  In her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy and Adapted to the Use of Private Families. By a Lady, Mrs. Rundell suggests two ways for baking these miniature cakes “… butter little tins, tea-cups, or saucers, and bake the batter in, filling only half.  Sift a little fine sugar over just as you put into the oven.” or “… butter small patty pans, half fill, and bake twenty minutes in a quick oven.”  [A New System of Domestic Cookery. Maria Rundell, 1808].  It seems to me using “buttered tea cups” would certainly make something called a ‘cup cake’.

The second school of thought for the origin of “cup cakes” is that name for the individual cakes came from the measurement of ingredients required to bake a cake.  Prior to this, measurements were by weight … now they were by volume or “cup”.  These cakes became known as number cakes, or 1-2-3-4 cakes because the easy-to-remember recipe called for:  one cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour, and four eggs.  I’m not sure how this simple recipe became associated with individual servings of cakes baked in cups.  For that reason, and because in Great Britain baking is still measured by weight, I’m going along with the first belief.

Wall Street and the Huffington Post report that the “cupcake craze” is over.  But, I’m not convinced.  You can’t go into a shopping district or market place without seeing one, perhaps two, specialized cupcake bakeries.  Even the bakery departments in supermarkets have upgraded their grocery store bakes, selling delectable little treats, individually or prepackaged, in tiny ‘one bites’ up to massive ‘two-handers’.  Every season and holiday now has a festive cupcake specifically decorated for that event.

What once was a simple, little lunchbox treat has grown into a cottage industry.  Customers patiently line up at cupcake food trucks anxious to try some of the creative, and occasionally unusual, flavors which seem to be a very popular trend.  No longer are we satisfied with vanilla.  Now it has to be peanut butter fudge, lemon blueberry ripple, salted caramel apple, banana toffee crunch …. and more.

Maybe Wall Street is right and the frosting has fallen off some of the top cupcake chains, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t become a child again at the irresistible offering of a cupcake.  For me though, there will never be anything better than that little chocolaty treat with the white squiggle on top and the surprise inside!

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References:  Researching Food, Revolvy, Cupcakes, The Atlantic, Food Timeline
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SUMMER PUDDING

It’s June.  My most favorite month of the year.  It’s also our wedding anniversary and I wanted to make a very special British dessert.  But when you think of British desserts, heavy, rich pastries, cakes and steamed puddings come to mind.  So, what should it be?  June is the month when strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are plentiful.  Seems like the perfect time to attempt a Summer Pudding!

Of course, I can’t begin to make something without first doing a bit of research.  All recipes, no matter the country or the culture, originated out of necessity …. using what was in season, as well as using up items that might already be in the kitchen (before they go bad).  It seems to me this recipe originated for both those reasons.  The ingredients are very simple, seasonal berries, bread and some sugar for sweetening.

This pudding (dessert) is not from Elizabethan England as I had thought.  It was created in the early 1900s and originally called “Hydropathic Pudding”.  “Hydropathic” because it contained a lot of water and was served to those who couldn’t tolerate the heavier, rich pastry desserts that Great Britain was serving at that time.   Because it was deemed “healthy”, it was routinely served to patients in nursing homes and hospitals, as well as to those staying in “health spas” wanting to shed a few pounds.  Is it healthier than other desserts?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

FIRST EDITION OF LIZZIE HERITAGE’S CASSELL’S NEW UNIVERSAL COOKERY BOOK, 1894,

FIRST EDITION OF LIZZIE HERITAGE’S CASSELL’S NEW UNIVERSAL COOKERY BOOK, 1894,

The recipe seems to have first appeared as “Hydropathic Pudding” in 1894 in one of the essential Victorian cookbooks at the time, Lizzie Heritage’s Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book. But apparently, the name “Hydropathic Pudding” didn’t make peoples’ mouth’s water.  I don’t know who decided to change the name to “Summer Pudding” but it seems to have been established by 1904 when Miss E.S. Poynter, a missionary in of all places, India, used this name in her cookbook, “Cooking in India“.

The traditional recipe calls for a mixture of blackberries, raspberries and black currants. Unfortunately, this is NEW England and I can’t find black currants anywhere.  So, it’s going to be cherries!

SUMMER PUDDING
34 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
5 cups of washed blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and cherries (pitted and halved)
10 slices white bread (I used Pepperidge Farm), with crusts removed
to serve:
2 cups sweetened whipped cream
sprigs of fresh mint

The preparation time for this is about 10 to 15 minutes.  It does, however, have to chill in the refrigerator preferably overnight, but at least 5 to 6 hours.  So, if you are going to be serving this after dinner, be sure to get it in the frig first thing in the morning.

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Wash and prepare all your fruit.  You’ll need at least 5 to 6 cups.  Put the fruit into a saucepan and add 3/4 cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon.  I think the acidity from the lemon juice helps to cut the sweetness of the fruits.

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Bring to a boil and then simmer for about two minutes – just until the sugar is dissolved.  If you cook the fruit too long, it will turn into jam.  Turn off the heat and let cool.

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Find a bowl (glass, plastic, ceramic – it doesn’t matter) which will be the pudding’s mold.  The first cut of bread you want to make is the one that will fit on the bottom of the bowl (which will become the top of the pudding).  Put the bowl on top of the bread and use that as a template.  Cut to fit.

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Dip the trimmed bread into the pan to sop up the sweetened berry juice, then place it juice-side down (which will be facing out after you unmold it).

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Continue dipping the bread into the pan to absorb the berry juice and line the bowl.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Squish the bread together so there aren’t any gaps.  When finished, take a slotted spoon and take the berries out of the pan and put them into the bread-lined mold.

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Then cover the top with more bread dipped in juice.  Make sure the seal is tight.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATop the bowl with a plate that will fit inside. Then place a weight of some sort on the plate. You want to press the pudding together so that it will setup.  Chill til firm – 6 hours or overnight.

It’s time for the unmolding ……. keeping fingers crossed!

 

Run a knife around the edge of the bowl, when ready to serve.  Place a plate on and flip.  It should unmold without any difficulty.  Garnish with whipped cream and enjoy!  Serves 4 to 6 easily.

So light, fruity and refreshing.  This is a dessert which will have your family and friends wondering how you did it.  Absolutely delicious!!


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References:  Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, Household Books, BBC.UK/recipes
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