Cooking, Recipe

The Lady’s Cake

This is a recipe from Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, published in 1880

It was the Gilded Age in the United States, and the height of the Victorian Era in the British Empire. Wabash, Indiana became the first city in the world lit by electric lights. Thomas Edison tests his electric railway in New Jersey. The Barnum & Bailey Circus is created. Heidi by Johanna Spyri is published, as is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, Jezebel’s Daughter by Wilkie Collins, A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, and The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.

142 years later, this cake is reminiscent of a pound cake. It’s dense, rich, and very sweet. Pair it with tart berries, and it’s wonderful. Keep in mind the recipes in Miss Parloa’s day fed much larger families than we are accustomed to! If you cut this recipe in half and baked in a loaf pan you’d have a pure white pound cake, elegant and ready for shortcake, or perhaps a trifle.

The Lady’s Cake

  • 3/4 c butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 3 c pastry flour
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1 tsp almond essence (I substituted in vanilla extract)

Preheat oven to 350F, which was called a moderate oven in Miss Parloa’s time. Grease and flour your pan(s). I used a 9×13 for this amount, but it would also make two loaves, or two smaller pans. The resulting cake stands up well to being cut into layers, if you wanted to make up a torte or something needing a structurally sound cake layer.

Butter and sugar creamed together.

Beat butter to cream. Add sugar gradually, then essence, and milk. 

Egg whites beaten to a ‘stiff froth’ will hold a peak.

Beat the egg whites to a stiff froth. 

Flour sifted with baking powder for uniform distribution.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. 

Beginning with the flour, add about a third to the butter mixture, mixing it in well. Add a third of the egg whites, folding in carefully, not worrying about fully mixing here. Continue in this fashion, ending with the egg whites. Fold the last portion of the egg whites in carefully, before turning the batter into your greased pan(s). Smooth out if needed – it is a very stiff batter.

Stiff cake batter with flour and eggs fully incorporated.
Batter smoothed into greased pan

You will want to bake for about 28-30 minutes in a large sheet pan, until wood tester comes out cleanly. A loaf pan will take 50-60 minutes. 

Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove and allow to finish cooling on a rack. 

Scrumptious as a shortcake.

The finished cake
A dense, but fluffy, crumb – this is not as crumbly as modern store-bought shortcakes
Miss Parloa’s Cook Book, copyright 1880