I’m not a fan of daytime television. Soaps are too melodramatic for my taste, and talk shows that drag skeletons out of people’s closets give me the heebie-jeebs. But on Friday afternoon while I was waiting for my husband to get home with the car so I could run a few errands, I checked to see what was on. At the very least, I could catch up on the news and weather.
What was on was Martha Stewart, and she was introducing Caroline Kennedy, editor of A Family Christmas.
Picture me in jeans and a scruffy but cozy old fleece top—these are what I’ve changed into to run errands and they’re a vast improvement over my she-who-works-at-home attire—sprawled on the bed because that takes less effort than going to the family room downstairs. And there were Martha and Caroline on the screen, two of the most gracious women one could ever hope to meet.
Ordinarily I’d have changed channels because, after all, why make myself feel inferior? But they were talking about Caroline’s Christmas book (I love books and Christmas) and then they announced that they were going to bake something called A Great Cake, which was one of Martha Washington’s recipes (I love history and cake), so there I was, literally in the time it would have taken to change channels, caught up in daytime television.
It turns out this Great Cake recipe has been reprinted in Caroline Kennedy’s book—A Family Christmas. For those of you who are history buffs, here is the recipe in all its original glory:
"Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth. Then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it, a Spoon full at a time till it is well work'd. Then put in the Youlks [sic] of eggs & 5 pounds of flower [sic] & 5 pounds of fruit. Two hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace & nutmeg, half a point [sic] of win [sic] & some frensh [sic] brandy."
Okay, so I have never seen a cake recipe that calls for ingredients in pounds and pints, and I’m thinking this not a Great Cake, this is a GREAT Cake!
To prepare this colossal confection, Martha had dug out the largest mixer you or I have ever seen. And don’t even think about arguing with me. Trust me, you have never seen a mixer this big. It stood on the floor and was nearly as tall as Martha herself. Stewart, that is. I have no idea how tall Martha Washington was. Martha S did make a point of saying that in Martha W’s day, the cake would have been mixed by hand. That made me smile.
At that point I hadn’t just signed on for the cake-baking segment, I also really wanted one of those mixers. I mean really wanted one, even though I have no place to put it and not in a million years would I ever bake a cake that called for forty eggs and four pounds of butter. But this mixer is like the Lamborghini of kitchen appliances, and who doesn’t secretly long for a Lambourghini, even if it’s just to run a few errands on Friday afternoon?
Note: this four-foot-tall mixer isn’t exactly like the one Martha used, but it’s similar.
As ingredients were added to the bowl of the Lamborghini, it became clear that Caroline Kennedy hadn’t tested this recipe before including it in her book. In fact, she may not bake many cakes of any kind. And I'm with her. I don’t bake, either, not even for Christmas, which is yet another reason I don’t need the mixer.
I noticed that neither Martha S nor Caroline K partook of what remained of the bottles of wine or brandy—I told you, they’re very gracious—but if I were doing the baking, I would have been tempted. And succumbed. Maybe. Probably.
When the batter was finished, the mixer bowl was too heavy for Martha or Caroline, both of whom were, unlike me, impeccably dressed. So a burly fellow whose name might have been Tony rushed to their assistance and hoisted the ginormous bowl onto the counter. For the five pounds of fruit, they used raisins—dark and gold—and fresh cubed apples and pears. Yum. The raisins were added while the mixer was still operating but the fresh fruit was stirred in by hand.
I had been thinking that they would bake this Great Cake in, oh, maybe twenty or so cake pans, but what do I know? As the man-who-might-have-been-Tony once again held the mixer bowl, the batter was scraped and poured into ONE pan.
Okay, so here’s the thing. Cake pans THAT large do not exist in nature. If I wanted to bake this cake, I would have to find a welder-slash-sheet-metal-worker to manufacture such a pan, and then I’m not sure it would fit in my oven.
At the end of the great-cake-baking segment, the finished product, iced and tastefully decorated for the holidays, was on display and yet another had been sliced and served up to the audience. Apparently the icing should be made with stiffly beaten egg whites and flavored with rosewater or orange-flower water. Which sounds absolutely mouth watering and makes me wonder why more people these days don't cook with rosewater.
For those who might like to give Martha W’s Great Cake a whirl but find themselves without a commercial-grade mixer or a cake pan destined for a Guinness world record, there’s a scaled-back version of the recipe (only ten eggs and one pound of butter) on Martha S’s website.
Me? I’ll be satisfied with a copy of Caroline Kennedy’s Christmas book.