April 4, 2017
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Who Is Lady Baltimore, Anyways?
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Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that the woman we all knew as Lady Baltimore never actually existed.

I always figured Lady Baltimore—the woman for whom the grandiose marshmallow-frosted nut-filled layer cake was named—was some old society dame from way back when. Perhaps the wife of a railroad tycoon who hosted lavish Gilded Age soirees in her mansion in Baltimore’s tony Mount Vernon neighborhood. Maybe she was called Lady Baltimore the same way a highly important class act like Wayne Newton is called Mr. Las Vegas. An afternoon of high tea at her palatial urban estate involved bone china, slices of her namesake cake, and a riotous hour of mocking poor people. That was the real American dream the Statue of Liberty promised.

Alas, just like Betty Crocker and Mrs. Butterworth, the woman whose name appears alongside cake recipes in many of our cookbooks is fictional. History’s only actual Lady Baltimore (whose husband gave the city its name) never even set foot in the New World, died in 1649, and was in no way the inspiration for the confection. There weren’t a lot of proper cakes made in England around that time, unless you count the ones that involve beef fat and bone marrow, which I don’t.

There are several stories that surround the origin of Lady Baltimore cake, but two facts can be concretely agreed upon: It first appeared sometime around the turn of the 20th century, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the city of Baltimore. It is a house of cards, a con job, a cake of deception.

Why the lies? Lady Baltimore is a simple cake from the deep South made from relatively cheap ingredients: eggy chiffon layers covered in boiled icing, filled with raisins and “nut meats”—the lack of specification meant the baker could use whatever is plentiful in the area. Its butterless icing and dry filling meant it could hold up on the most humid of days, making it ideal for a hot summer wedding. But the name lends the cake an air of romance. Fancy balls and elegant dresses may seem routine for a fictional figure like Lady Baltimore, but for most women, their wedding day is the only shot they’ve got to feel like American royalty. Certainly, a cake befitting a made-up society lady in one of America’s poshest Gilded Age cities would also befit a rural bride imagining that, just for one day, she was the most glamorous woman in the world.

So who cares if Lady Baltimore was real or not? Maybe the point was for us to use our imaginations all along—to be able to take a bite of something so luxurious and breathtaking that we were instantly transported to an age of elegance. When we eat Lady Baltimore cake, we are not peasants: We are kings and queens who revel in the exquisite. The magic of this recipe is not the story of where it came from, but the story it’s been writing for over 100 years.

Lady Baltimore Cake

Lady Baltimore Cake

8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • For the Cake
  • 6 egg whites
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups cake or Southern Lily White flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the Boiled Icing
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2¾ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the Filling
  • 1½ cups toasted pecans
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup dried figs, cherries, or dates

Lady Baltimore cake is a glamorous American classic that, while certainly delicious at any time of year, is tailor made for serving during the hot, humid days of the spring and summer. Fluffy layers of vanilla chiffon cake sandwich a filling of toasted nuts and sweet fruits, and then the entire thing is wrapped in an ethereal Southern confection known as “boiled icing”—a misnomer that seriously undersells the fact that it’s a light-as-air pillow of fresh vanilla marshmallow.

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with parchment, then lightly grease and flour the sides.
  2. In a clean stainless steel or glass bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar to stiff, but not dry, peaks. Set aside.
  3. With a stand or hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder together. In measuring cup, stir together the milk, salt, and vanilla. On low speed, alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, stopping the mixer once it’s fully combined. Gently fold in egg whites until batter is smooth.
  5. Divide cake batter equally between the three pans. Bake in the center of the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centers pull away cleanly. Move to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before making the icing.
  6. For icing: In a large stainless steel bowl, beat the egg whites to soft peaks and set aside.
  7. In a medium saucepan, gently stir together the water, sugar, corn syrup, and cream of tartar. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush or paper towel to remove any sugar crystals. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over high heat until the mixture reaches soft ball stage: 235°F.
  8. Continue beating the egg whites on medium speed while very slowly streaming in the boiling sugar (you can increase your rate of speed as the egg whites get hotter, but you must begin slowly to make sure you don’t end up with scrambled eggs). The mixture will swell considerably. Continue beating until the whites are cool, then add vanilla and continue beating for an additional minute.
  9. Divide the frosting between two bowls. In one half, stir in pecans and dried fruit to make the filling.
  10. To assemble the cake: trim the cake layers so they’re even. Put half the filling on the first layer, top with the second, then place in the freezer for five minutes to allow to set. Repeat with the remaing filling and third layer.
  11. Remove cake from freezer and frost with remaining boiled icing. Allow to sit at room temperature to set for at least an hour before serving.

Allison Robicelli

Allison Robicelli is a D-list celebrity-chef chef, author, humorist, entrepreneur, general polymath, and all-around good time. You may remember her from such places as Food52, Eater, Food Network, VH1, and many other quirky corners of the food Internet. She is the author of the critically acclaimed cookbook/memoir Robicelli's: A Love Story, With Cupcakes, which has been called one of the funniest food-related books of all time. You should buy it.

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