Baking powder (Recipe: coffee spice cake)
While cleaning out several decades' worth of accumulated stuff in his barn, my friend Matt discovered a small book, which he passed on to me.
Published in 1939, A Rhode Island Rule Book is not about football, or dating, or straight lines.
It's a cookbook. More precisely, it's a cheat sheet for women (yes, women) who already know how to cook. The introduction explains:
The Rule Book of the past contained only those rules which were too complicated to be memorized by the cook, the mother.
Directions for cooking eggs, fish, meats, and vegetables were unwritten lore handed down from mother to daughter, who learned by doing. These were fundamentals and to know them not was a disgrace...
I am sensing disgrace in my future.
In the chapter titled Cakes and Frostings, the Rule Book states that "Baking powder is new-fangled. Saleratus and cream of tartar will keep cake more moist."
Saleratus? I had to look it up. (See? Disgrace.) Saleratus is sodium or potassium bicarbonate: baking soda, which has been used in baking since ancient times. The "new-fangled" baking powder has been on the market only since 1856.
You can't really talk about one without the other, so once again we're back at the difference between baking soda and baking powder. To recall which is which, remember that in alphabetical order, acid comes before alkali, and powder comes before soda. Baking powder = acid, baking soda = alkali.
Most baking powder consists of baking soda, cream of tartar and/or aluminum sulfate, and corn or wheat starch -- a formula designed to ensure that the chemical reaction that causes leavening happens at the right time. It's a popular ingredient in baked goodies of all types, including rosemary loaf, carrot cake, lemon cupcakes, orange-cranberry biscotti, molasses cookies, eggnog pound cake and cornbread.
Rumford Baking Powder is, for me, the epitome of eating local, as it was developed in East Providence, Rhode Island. It's one of the few baking powders that does not contain aluminum. Many people claim they can detect a metallic aftertaste in food baked with other types of baking powder. My palate isn't that sensitive, but it does seem like baking without more chemicals than absolutely necessary is a good idea.
When using baking powder (or baking soda) in a recipe, be sure to sift it along with the flour and other dry ingredients, to distribute the baking powder evenly and to eliminate any clumps. Store baking powder on a cool, dry pantry shelf, well sealed to keep moisture out, for up to one year.
By the way, in June 2006, the American Chemical Society designated the development of Rumford Baking Powder a National Historic Chemical Landmark.
No disgrace in that.
Coffee spice cake
Word for word from A Rhode Island Rule Book, with the original punctuation, here is the recipe in its entirety. No mixing instructions. No guidance on spices. No pan size. No oven temperature. Can you help fill in the blanks?
1 cup of sugar, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of butter, 1/2 cup of strong coffee
2 cups of flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
Little salt and 2 teaspoons of mixed spices
1-1/2 tablespoons melted butter, 1-1/2 cups confectioners sugar, 1-1/2 tablespoons cocoa, and 3 tablespoons strong coffee.
None provided in the book!