Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Butter the Size of an Egg"

My culinary experiments have been somewhat hampered this week by the demise of my oven. The front door came off. I was roasting . . . potatoes (what else?!) and the creaky oven door, which lately had been difficult to open, now refused stubbornly to close. We had to remove it to avoid further mishaps. I was forced to finish cooking my potatoes in that marvelous 20th century invention, the microwave.

Stove sans oven door
The stove is original to my house, dating from the mid-1950's. When I bought my house nearly twelve years ago, the home inspector warned me that the stove was old and would need careful maintenance. Well, it is only half as old as my cookbooks. Luckily, it dates from an era when warming ovens were a bonus added to the main attraction. To the left of the main oven is a separate, narrower one used to warm bread or leftovers before the invention of the microwave.

So what can I cook in this slimmer cousin of an oven? Maybe something in a loaf pan. I found in Grandma Minnie's cookbook a recipe entitled Farley's Dutch Cake, which brings us to the topic of this week's post: "Butter the size of an egg."

Here's the original recipe:


As with many of Minnie's recipes, you have to read between the lines to sort out the steps involved. But "butter the size of an egg"? I had little idea how much this would be, and experimented with a 1/4 cup and 1/3 measuring cup. The quarter cup appeared to be closest to the volume of a large egg.

Here's the reconfigured recipe:

Farley's Dutch Cake

- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine (one-half stick)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 cup raisins

Grease and flour a 5 x 8 inch loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 350 F. (325 F. if using glass pan)
In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients and set aside.
In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
Stir in milk, vanilla, and dry ingredients.
Mix in raisins.

Bake at 350 F. for 35 - 40 minutes (40 - 45 minutes if at 325 F.)
(Reduce the baking time if you use a round cake pan.)

This is almost more of a quick bread than a cake, because the baking powder and lack of egg make the batter almost the consistency of bread dough.

Farley's Dutch Cake Fresh From the Oven

The butter (or margarine), brown sugar, and raisins make it a tasty snack to have with tea or for breakfast:

Ready to Eat!


"Butter the size of an egg" is one of those idiosyncratic measurements that make Minnie's notebook of recipes fun to experiment with. Most of her recipes use the standard measurements in teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups used in the United States, and occasionally a pint or a quart, whether for liquid or a solid such as bran. One recipe, for a white fruit cake, calls for a bowl of sugar, a bowl of butter, a bowl of nut meats --  and a wine glass of brandy or wine  --  without specifying how big a bowl or a wine glass. And a few call for a "pinch" of salt.

Shiny measuring tools
My measuring utensils pictured at left are typical of those used in the United States, although the shiny new tea- and tablespoon set is also labeled for their metric equivalents, and so is the glass pint (approximately half-liter) measuring cup.

In contrast with the typical measurements used in the United States, which measure most ingredients in volume, Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook uses European  metric measurements of weight. In the introductory chapter, there is a list of kitchen equipment which includes a kitchen scale for weighing ingredients. A footnote indicates that one can save the cost of the scale by measuring with cups and spoons, and gives a few examples: a teacup of water or milk is equal to one d.L.; a level soup spoon of sugar weighs 15 grams; a soup spoon of butter weighs 20 grams; a teacup of rice weighs 100 grams, and so on. At first it was challenging to translate and adapt the Dutch recipes due to the metric weight measurements as well as the language, until I searched the Internet and found a handy conversion calculator, which can be used to convert in both directions.

You may be wondering at this point who is the Farley that gave Grandma Minnie the cake recipe. Here's a family portrait from 1912:


Minnie and relatives - 1912

Grandma Minnie is second from left in the back row; her aunt Minnie Farley is fourth from the left. Minnie must have gotten the recipe from her aunt, after whom she was named. Or perhaps from Minnie Farley's daughter Gladys, who is not in the picture.

How stern they all look! It was a serious business posing for a family portrait a hundred years ago. . .

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