One of my favorite historic American cookbooks is the first American cookbook: American Cookery, published in 1796 by Amelia Simmons, an “American orphan.” Her cookbook contains some of the first truly American recipes, featuring corn and maple syrup, pumpkins and squash, and “Cookies,” an American word derived from the Dutch. When I flip through the pages of Simmon’s thin volume, I often feel inspired by her combinations of seasonings and ingredients; especially when it comes to her baked goods. I’ve decided to cook my way through American Cookery, and I hope some of Simmon’s recipe inspire your own cooking as well.
A wonderful article on American Cookery, and why it is important, can be found here: Of Pearlash, Epmtins and Tree Sweetnin’ (American Heritage)
First up, a recipe Simmons calls simply “a rich cake.”
I was intrigued by this recipe’s use of wine as a leavening and a flavoring. I had never seen anything like it, and thought it had the potential to be really delicious. “Emptins” are a type of home-made yeast, and after it is added to the dough, it’s left to rise overnight. The result was wonderful–not too sweet, almost bread-like, and the combination of wine, cinnamon and rosewater gives it a complex and crave-worth flavor. I took it to a party and it was devoured. I’ve been requested to bake two more loaves. It’s a real re-discovery, and I encourage you to try it in your kitchen.
Amelia Simmons’ Rich Cake
From American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons (1796)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup wine – I used a red; white would have a different, put probably equally delicious taste.
1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in about 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup – 1 cup raisins soaked 1/2 hour in brandy (optional)
1. Using your hands, take the butter, which should be slightly below room temperature, and rub it in to the flour until combined.
2. Add eggs, wine, salt, and yeast. Mix well, then cover with a towel and leave in a warm place to rise overnight.
3. The next morning, add sugar, rosewater, cinnamon, and raisins. Mix gently until just combined. Don’t overwork the batter; if there are a few swirls of unmixed cinnamon, that’s ok.
4. Pour into a greased or non-stick loaf pan, sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour. It is done when a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan for 30 minutes, the tip out and let continue to cool.
Serve warm with butter; but I think it tastes even better cold or toasted the next day.
The first time I made the recipe, I did it without raisins. It’s not because of my ongoing hatred of the things, I simply didn’t have any around the kitchen. However, even I think raisins would be a great improvement to the cake’s flavor, but it was also great without. Rosewater can be found in most grocery stores in the baking department, or in Middle Eastern specialty store. Or, you can make it yourself.