This week, I decided to indulge in a little hands-on history and bake something from one of my facsimile historical cookbooks. I thought I would try Jenny Lind cake, a recipe from Home Cookery: A Collection of Tried Receipts, Both Foreign and Domestic by Mrs. J. Chadwick (1853).
I was especially intrigued by the idea of Jenny Lind cake because I did some research on Jenny Lind during my master’s program. In the mid-nineteenth century, Jenny Lind was one of the most celebrated performers in Europe and the United States – she was known as the “Swedish Nightingale” for her beautiful singing voice. Lind sang to adoring crowds all over Europe, and, in 1850, crossed the Atlantic for a tour in the United States. Her tour manager was none other than the famous showman P.T. Barnum. As Lind sang all over the country, Americans flocked to her concerts, and even those who could not attend participated in the mania by purchasing all manner of items with Jenny Lind’s name on them – bonnets, hairpins, earrings, baked goods, even cigars. These were not officially licensed items; there was no regulation of the use of Jenny Lind’s name. As a result, virtually all Americans had a small opportunity to participate vicariously in the glamour and fame of the Swedish Nightingale.
Mrs. Chadwick’s receipt (nineteenth-century parlance for recipe):
JENNY LIND CAKE.
One quart of flour, two teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar put dry into the flour, about one third of a teaspoonful of soda, dissolved in a third of a cup of boiling water, a large teacupful of milk, half a teacupful of sugar, and three eggs. Mix all well together. Do not vary the receipt.
I used my best estimates for ingredient quantities that were not precisely specified, putting in 4 c. flour, 2 t. cream of tartar, 1/3 t. baking soda, 1/3 c. boiling water, 1 c. milk, ½ c. brown sugar, and 3 eggs. The dough had the consistency of a very sticky bread dough. I baked the cake in a round cake pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. As it turned out, I think I might have baked it just a tad too long or not added quite as much liquid as I should have as the cake had a rather dry texture. As you might guess from the ingredients, it also was a bit bland, but some whipped cream and blueberries dressed it up nicely. It would also taste good with butter and jam. Jenny Lind cake is definitely not overly sweet like many of the desserts we eat today; it’s more of a tea cake to be eaten topped with something else sweet.