I baked this particular one to bring to the Harrisburg Book Festival at the Midtown Scholar bookstore this past weekend, along with some jumbles (cookies) and an apple pudding, and this time was no exception - everyone loved it! The idea was to give folks a taste of authentic recipes featured in Mrs. Goodfellow: The Story of America's First Cooking School. Indian Pound Cake was one of Mrs. Goodfellow's signature dishes, and was definitely taught in her school. We know this because it appears frequently in nineteenth-century Philadelphia manuscript cookbooks with her name as the source credit - it was transcribed by the young women who took her classes and then passed down to family and friends. A little known but very important culinary figure, we have Mrs. Goodfellow to thank for many aspects of cooking that we take for granted today. For example, she was a huge advocate for the use of “American” ingredients – helping introduce a variety of New World foods that were formerly only locally available, such as the cornmeal used in this recipe (formerly as Indian meal at the time, hence the recipe's name). Her influence was a contributing factor leading to the establishment of an “American style of cooking.”
Mrs. Goodfellow's famous student Eliza Leslie even published a whole cookbook based on this concept - The Indian Meal Book, first published in 1846 in London. In this cookbook, Leslie provides recipes that feature cornmeal as a main ingredient, designed to be a nutritious and less expensive substitute for wheat flour during the time of the potato famine in Ireland. The idea was to educate the Irish and British about the versatility of maize, or Indian corn, as it was called, thus helping them survive the potato crop failure.
Here's the original version of Mrs. Goodfellow's Indian Pound Cake that I found in a manuscript cookbook housed in Philadelphia's Independence National Historic Park Library:
Indian Pound Cake (Original)
Eight eggs; the weight of 8 in sugar-the weight of 6 in Indian meal sifted, 1/2 lb of butter, one nutmeg grated or one teaspoonful of cinnamon, stir the butter and sugar to a cream, then put the meal and eggs alternately into the butter and sugar, grate in the nutmeg and stir all well; butter a tin pan put in the mixture and bake in a moderate oven.
(Source: Bellah, Manuscript Recipe Book, 40, Independence National Historic Park Library)
These directions require a set of scales to equalize the weight of the eggs, sugar and cornmeal - not a cooking tool found in too many modern U.S. kitchens! Luckily food historian William Woys Weaver reproduced Mrs. Goodfellow’s recipe as she taught it, and Greg Patent adapted it for his 2002 cookbook Baking in America. It is essential to use a fine-textured cornmeal or corn flour, or you can process cornmeal in the food processor. Make the cake a day before serving, since its texture improves on standing.
Indian Pound Cake (Modern)
(Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake or two 9-inch loaf cakes, 12 to 16 servings)
2 cups fine yellow cornmeal or white corn flour
1 cup sifted cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 whole nutmeg, grated (2-2 ½ teaspoons)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
7 large eggs
2 tablespoons rose-water
2 tablespoons brandy
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a Bundt pan (or loaf pans), or coat with cooking spray, and dust the inside, including the tube, with fine dry bread crumbs. Knock out the excess crumbs and set aside.
2. Sift the cornmeal or corn flour, cake flour, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon together; set aside.
3. Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. On medium-high speed, beat in the sugar about ¼ cup at a time, beating for 20 to 30 seconds after each addition. Beat for 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Scrape the bowl and beaters.
4. Combine the rose-water and brandy in a measuring cup. On low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter in 3 additions, alternating with the liquid, beginning and ending with the flour, and beating after each addition only until incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the cake is well browned and a toothpick inserted into the thickest part comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife around the central tube to release the cake, cover with a wire rack, and invert the two. Carefully lift of the pan and let the cake cool completely.
6. Wrap the cake airtight with plastic wrap and let stand overnight before serving. Cut into thin slices with a serrated knife.
Source: Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years by Greg Patent, 2002