Recently I have become fascinated with Southern cakes. I kept coming across different recipes for southern cakes while I was thumbing through my various cookbooks and just sort of fell into the subject and it took over. One of the recipes that I most wanted to try was Lady Baltimore cake. I recently got a copy of Nancie McDermott’s wonder book “Southern Cakes” and low and behold there was another recipe for Lady Baltimore Cake and I just knew that it had to be the first cake I tried out in my foray into southern cakes.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the origin of this cake. Historians agree that the first mention of the cake seems to be in 1906 when recipes for it began showing up in newspapers. Another author sites that novelist Owen Wister mentioned the cake in one of his romance novels set in Charleston, North Carolina, which led to many believing that the cake originated there. Still another source claims that the cake was invented by the proprietors of the Lady Baltimore Tea Room in Charleston. Janet Clarkson of The Old Foodie blog states that the first recipe for it appeared in the Daily Gazette And Bulletin newspaper form Williamsport, PA on December 24th 1906. And in a completely different direction, James Beard states in his book, American Cookery that the cake originated in Maryland. So as you can see, there are many different opinions as to when and where this cake actually originated, but no matter which story you choose to believe, you will agree that it is totally delicious.
It is a white, egg foam cake which is filled with dried fruits and nuts and completely covered in swirls of billowy white boiled icing ( or what my mom used to call Sea Foam frosting, also known as Seven Minute frosting). It makes a 3 layer cake and is perfect for a dinner party or fancy tea party. It has also been popular as a wedding cake in many areas. No matter how you choose to use it, you will be rewarded. The traditional fruits for the filling are raisins, figs and dates and pecans. I have also chosen to add apricots, dried cherries and dried cranberries.
In a medium bowl combine fruits and nuts and toss with about 2 -3 tablespoons of brandy and allow to sit for one hour. Whip egg whites until they are stiff and glossy and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt and mix to combine. Mix mild and vanilla and set aside. Cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy and then with the mixer on low slowly add the milk mixture until just combined. Add all of the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Add one-third of the whipped egg whites and stir in to lighten the mixture, then add the rest of the whites and gently fold until combined. Divide the batter amongst three cake pans and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until done. Cool on a rake for 5 minutes, then unmold and reinvert on racks so the tops are up and cool completely.
To make the frosting, in a heatproof bowl, combine sugar, corn syrup, egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Place the bowl over a pan of gently boiling water and with a hand-held electric mixer whip on high-speed for 7 minutes until the frosting is tripled in volume and fluffy and holds soft peaks. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes more. Add about 1 1 /2 cups of the frosting to the fruits and combine. Fill the cake layers with the fruit/nut filling and frost the entire cake with the remaining frosting.