About this recipe
Welcome back to the Retro Recipe Project! The goal of this project is to explore our Region’s culinary heritage through a look back into our old cookbooks and recipes to understand our past and to find inspiration for dishes that deserve a place on our tables today. This time around I decided to explore a Rhode Island success story through their 1908 cookbook. The Rumford name has become synonymous with baking powder. That red container is what many Americans associate with the generic term of ‘baking powder’ and Rhode Island is lucky enough to be the home state of Rumford Chemical Works. You can find the entire cookbook online over here.
I decided baking would be the best way to go for this cookbook, baking powder didn’t really contribute to many of the savory dishes. I chose the German Apple Cake on page 141 because it used baking powder and because I was incredibly curious about the sugarless cake base. The only sweetness in the recipe comes from the apples and the sugar sprinkled on top “to taste” just before baking. Those are my official reasons for choosing the recipe, but off the record our apple trees are doing exceedingly well this year and I thought “what could be more local than apples from my front yard?
Researching the origin of the German Apple Cake took a little bit of time, there are a lot of apple cakes on the internet. But finally I made a breakthrough after I saw a similar recipe referred to as apfelkuchen. The recipe contained baking powder and similar amounts of egg, milk, and flour. I dug a bit deeper and found this quote from a book about Jewish cooking in America:
“Kuchen, any of several varieties of coffee cake, were the pride of every nineteenth-century immigrant German baker, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Each cook or housewife had a yeast-based “kuchen” dough, which she would shape into rectangular crusts and top with either fruit or cheese, or she would twist with cinnamon and nuts into a streusel or coffee cake, or roll up jelly-roll style in to Schenecken…By the end of the century, baking powder came into use and replaced yeast in many kuchen. Quick breads and cakes gradually replaced the slower yeast-raised doughs.” (Jewish Cooking in America, Joan Nathan, 1998)
I finally found the reason for baking powder, a relatively contemporary invention in the history of baking. The kuchen‘s identity as more of a breakfast pastry or cake in addition to its humble origins explained the complete lack of sugar in the recipe. This cake would be fantastic slathered in homemade jam or drizzled with honey and served alongside a cup of coffee. And by baking it so thin (the recipe asks for you to bake it about of 1/2 of an inch thick) you get a surprisingly tender cake, infused by the flavor of the apples.
The Baking process was simple enough. You rub a scant amount of butter into the flour and baking powder almost as you would making a pie crust. Then you add the milk and a beaten egg to the mixture until a stiff, wet batter forms. The recipe mentioned “rolling” out the dough into the baking vessel which would have been impossible considering it was essentially a cake batter. It worried me for a split second but I pressed on. I buttered and floured my tart pan and poured the batter in. I decided a tart pan with a removable bottom was my best bet if the cake decided to try and stick to the sides, it’s kind of my go-to for summer fruit cakes. I peeled and cut the tiny little apples into eighths and nestled them into the fluffy dough. I generously sprinkled sugar on top and baked it at 350 degrees (my interpretation of the cookbook’s suggestion of a “moderate oven”) until golden brown and the dough had risen up around the juicy hunks of apple.
Sift together the flour salt and baking powder rub in the butter and mix to a light dough with the beaten egg and milk.
Roll out about half an inch thick and lay on a greased shallow baking pan.
Pare and core the apples cut into eighths lay the pieces on the dough and sprinkle with sugar to taste.
Bake about half an hour in a moderate oven and serve hot with whipped cream.
Accept that this ‘cake’ won’t be conventionally sweet,
That being said, add a bit of sugar or honey to the batter if you like and make sure to sprinkle some on top to get a beautiful brown crust!
Try the batter with other fruit. Peaches or plums would be delicious and give the batter a beautiful color
Spices like cinnamon, vanilla, or even cardamom would be a welcome addition to this relatively plain recipe
Whipped cream, ice cream, or a silky creme anglaise would be delightful with a warm slice