Regarding yellow cake, reader Sandra submits a flurry of interesting questions:
What about the fat used? Oil or butter? Cake method or muffin method? In this times, when healthy rules, what do you think to use oil for a cake? In your opinion which are the main differences in the crumb using oil instead of butter? Baking powder appears at the end of 1800 right? Do you know how Careme use to do his fluffy cakes for Maria Antoniette?
Hey Sandra! Butter is undoubtedly the preferred fat for an American-style layer cake. The flavor of butter is, at least to my way of seeing things, a crucial component of the overall flavor profile. That’s not to say that layer cakes can’t be made with oil. Oil cakes are generally quite moist and tender because the fat remains liquid even after the cake has cooled. However they can be tender to the point of being wet inside depending on how much oil is used. They can also weep oil, which I find rather unappealing. In general I’m not a fan of oil cakes, though I confess I have a soft spot for Italian olive oil cakes, which have a very unusual flavor.
Regarding mixing, I tend to like the one bowl method, which I used when I was first taught to make cake layers, and I still think creates a superior texture.
Baking powder has been around since the very early 1800’s in America, but didn’t become a common commercial ingredient until about 1850. It was used on the Continent in those days, but not so much among pastry chefs. Rather it was considered an ingredient of last resort, useful in military applications (i.e. baking up quick breads in the field) but not much else. More than a few Continentals still feel this way.
Regarding Antonin Carême, I’m honestly not sure what sort of mixing methods he preferred, but then it’s important to remember that cake as we think of it now and cake as it was known then are very different things. In those days “cake” was what we moderns would call “bread”: fine, white fluffy bread which would have differed markedly from the dense, dark loaves that average people ate. Sometimes that fluffy white bread was enriched with butter and/or egg yolks (brioche), and maybe sweetened with a little honey. Cakes as we know them know didn’t become common until the late 1800’s.
Unfortuntely brioche is probably as close as Marie Antoinette ever got to cake as we think of it. Worse still she never got to taste one of Carême’s, since she was beheaded when he was just nine years old! 😉