This is not a baking blog, but the moment I was offered a review copy of the book Vintage Cakes I had to say yes. Especially after I read more about the book and how it came about, springing from Julie Richardson’s discovery of crates of old baking books in the old Portland bakery space she took over. She had recipes dating back to the ’20s with all sorts of funny names: everything from the Shoo-Fly Cake to the Lazy Daisy Cake to the Shinny Cake. The names drew her in, but the ingredients sometimes put her off, especially the lard of the early recipes, and the cake mix substitutions of the later ones. So she went to work deconstructing and reconstructing her favorite of the old recipes, and Vintage Cakes was born.
Now it’s just my luck that the week a beautiful new baking book came in the mail would be the week I decided to go vegan. That’s worth a separate post in itself; it’s sort of an experiment for now, so if we stick with it I’ll let you know how it goes. Anyhow I’ve been baking a bunch still, trying to figure out the best substitutions for all the eggs and butter I used to use. So when I was picking out a Vintage Cakes recipe to make, I chose the one that looked easiest to make vegan. The Ozark Pudding Cake doesn’t call for any milk, and I substituted vegetable oil for butter and used a flax egg (one tablespoon flax seed meal, 3 tablespoons water) instead of a real one.
The result: not so great, which I’m going to blame on my allergied-up state of mind and the vegan substitutions. I also think that the iron skillet I used was too big, making the cake thin and crispy rather than soft and fluffy. I will say that it tasted really good–wholesome and simple, like something you’d have at a small town church potluck or at your grandma’s house. We ate the cake anyway, and if we had (vegan) ice cream around we would have crumbled it on top, and it would have been heaven.
Here’s the recipe. If you make this as-is, without any veganizing, I guarantee you it will turn out better (and look better) than mine did:
- 2 large ripe but firm pears, peeled, quartered, and cored
- 1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
- 4 Tbsp. (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (7 ounces) plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) sliced natural almonds, toasted
- 1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) dried cranberries (optional)
- Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of soft butter. Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Finely chop one of the pears and thinly slice the other.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, and salt in a bowl, and then whisk the mixture by hand to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the butter and sugar together on medium speed until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the egg and vanilla and blend on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl occasionally as needed. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture all at once. Mix until just blended. The batter will be stiff.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chopped pear (setting aside the sliced pear for the top), half the almonds, and the cranberries (if using), and stir just until blended. Dump the batter into the prepared skillet and spread it in an even layer. Arrange the pear slices on top of the batter and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and the remaining teaspoon of sugar.
Place the skillet in the middle of the oven and bake until the cake is golden in color and the center springs back when lightly touched, 38 to 40 minutes. (The heat from the pan will continue to bake the cake after it is removed from the oven, so take care to remove it when it is just barely done.)
Serve warm from the skillet with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
This cake is best the day it is baked. Well covered, it keeps in the skillet for up to 2 days at room temperature.
Vintage Cakes: Timeless Recipes for Cupcakes, Flips, Rolls, Layer, Angel, Bundt, Chiffon, and Icebox Cakes for Today’s Sweet Tooth by Julie Richardson, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group. (PS, I was too lazy to type out this recipe myself, so I stole it from Oprah’s site. Thanks, Oprah!).