Author: Montgomery, L.M.
Book: Anne of Windy Poplars
Difficulty rating: Anna Karenina
Deliciousness rating: Outstanding
“I wish I could get Miss Ellen’s recipe for pound cake,” sighed Aunt Chatty. “She’s promised it to me time and again but it never comes. It’s an old English family recipe. They’re so exclusive about their recipes.” (Montgomery 26)
“Well, we’ve got the recipe for the pound cake anyway. Thirty-six eggs! If you’d dispose of That Cat and let me keep hens we might be able to afford it once a year.” (Montgomery 57-58)
Our blog was named in honor of the dish we wanted to make most: Miss Ellen Pringle’s pound cake from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Windy Poplars. The problem: we couldn’t seem to find a recipe anywhere! This was a huge surprise, as both food bloggers and Anne fans are pretty obsessive, and we figured there had to be someone (actually, we expected many) who had tried this already.
What we know about this pound cake from the book:
- It is very good.
- It is an old English family recipe.
- It contains the legendary 36 eggs.
- Its sweating process, which is described as the cake being wrapped in several thicknesses of brown paper and several more towels and left for three days, is indispensable.
Pound cake is traditionally a pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. Obviously, with 36 eggs going into the batter, the Pringle pound cake does not follow custom.
Dr. Annie Gray (see acknowledgements below) advised us to use the smallest eggs we could find, since they were smaller back in the day. To make a pound cake with 36 eggs, she told us, we could weigh the eggs and add an equal amount of the other three key pound cake ingredients.
We had a good number of flavorings to choose from. Here were the possibilities listed in our historical recipes:
- Almonds, sweet (Beeton)
- Brandy (Henderson, Seventy-Five)
- Caraway seeds, caraway comfits (Glasse, Williams)
- Cinnamon, powdered (Seventy-Five, Miss Leslie’s)
- Citron (Beeton, Williams)
- Currants (Beeton, Glasse, Henderson, Williams)
- Lemon essence (Seventy-Five)
- Lemon juice (Miss Leslie’s)
- Lemon peel, candied and sliced thin (Beeton, Henderson)
- Lemon peel, shredded (Henderson, Schurr)
- Orange juice (Miss Leslie’s)
- Orange peel, candied and sliced thin (Beeton, Henderson)
- Mace (Beeton, Seventy-Five, Miss Leslie’s, Schurr)
- Nutmeg (Miss Leslie’s, Soyer)
- Rose water (Seventy-Five, Miss Leslie’s)
- Wine (Seventy-Five, Miss Leslie’s)
A noted researcher who goes by the pseudonym Plum Cake delved deeply into the book to accurately date this recipe for us. Anne of Windy Poplars was the fourth book in the series, but the seventh book LMM wrote. Anne of Green Gables takes place around 1880, which sets Anne of Windy Poplars around 1890. Plum Cake found a line: “It has a big, white, wooden woman off the bow of Old Captain Abraham’s famous ship, the Go-and-Ask-Her, in the orchard and billows of southernwood about the front steps, which was brought out from the old country over a hundred years ago by the first emigrating Pringle” (33-34). Therefore, the recipe would theoretically be from pre-1790. It is an 18th century recipe made by late-19th century characters written by an early-20th century writer. Complicated much? Considering all of these factors, we looked at historical recipes from pre-1790 to 1936. (See below for bibliography.)
THE OFFICIAL BAKE: 3/21/2015
- 18 smallest eggs we could find + 18 yolks (34 oz exactly in our case). Our friend Alli, whose family owns a farm and chickens who lay wee eggs, donated two dozen for our project. The rest we got from Ripe, which also has little local eggs for 70 cents each. Make sure they are room temp!
- Equal weight of Kerrygold butter, room temp.
- Equal weight of raw sugar
- Equal weight flour + 0.5 tbs salt (Because we dropped some of the butter + sugar + eggs on the floor, we took out a bit of flour.) According to Dr. Gray, plain flour would have likely been used over cake flour. The original recipe would have used English flour, which was naturally low in gluten, but Canadian and American flour were stronger. The flour that Anne would have bought would probably have been Canadian plain flour and on the stronger side. Considering the products that were likely to be available in pre-WWI rural Canada, it’s best to use the least processed products we can get for authenticity.
- 1 cup brandy
- 1 tsp of mace
- 0.5 tsp of nutmeg
- 1/4 cup caraway seeds
- Extra butter for the parchment paper and pan
- Fire bricks
- 16″ cake pan
- Giant mixing bowl
- 4 large mixing bowls for each of the key ingredients
- Measuring cup and spoons
- Unbleached parchment paper
- Old towels, cut into strips and soaked in water
- Safety pins
- Brown paper (we used cut up lunch bags)
- 3 flower nails
- Small clean towels
1. Leave butter and eggs out of the fridge overnight to make sure they are room temperature. If you forget, you can put them in warm water.
2. Crack 18 eggs into a bowl. Separate an additional 18 eggs and add just the yolks to the bowl.
3. Weigh the eggs. In our case, the eggs + egg yolks weighed 34 oz.
4. Measure out equal weight of butter in another bowl.
5. Measure out equal weight of sugar in another bowl.
6. Measure out equal weight of flour in another bowl. Add the salt to the flour.
7. Beat the butter with your hand until paler in color and fluffy. Add sugar until incorporated.
8. Beat the eggs a little in the bowl and add them little by little until incorporated.
9. Beat with your hand for a full hour. We recommend 5 minute intervals, switching off with a partner. It is a WORKOUT.
10. Add brandy, spices, and caraway seeds.
11. Sift the flour and salt into the batter and fold it in, a little at a time.
12. Line the bottom of the oven with fire bricks and pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.
14. Trace the bottom of the cake pan onto parchment paper and cut it out. Press it into the bottom of the cake pan.
15. Butter the parchment paper.
16. Pour the cake batter into the pan. Cut through the batter with the spatula and pick up the pan and drop it a few times to prevent air bubbles.
17. Safety pin wet towel strips on the outside of the cake pan. Try not to have it overlap like we did.
18. Wrap brown paper around the cake pan and secure with twine.
19. Put flour nails in a triangle in the middle of the cake batter, with the head down, equidistant from the sides and the middle of the cake pan.
20. Bake at 325 for an hour. Lower heat to 275 and bake for 40 minutes. Check with skewer in multiple spots.
21. Cool for just a few minutes. Run a knife along the sides and flip out onto a board (or anything else it’ll fit on that’s strong enough.)
22. Put the cake pan over it for 15 minutes to let it sweat.
23. This cake does taste very nice fresh out of the oven — the practice cake did NOT improve with age, but we shall see with this one.
Miko’s Notes from the Cooking Session
- If we’d had it, we would have added 2 tsp of mace instead of just 1.
- We should have left it in the oven a touch longer — one side was a little raw. It needed the same thickness of towel all the way around, and we had used a thinner towel on one side of the pan.
- We would like to try separating the whites, whipping them, and then folding them in last next time to see if we could get more lift.
- A pretty delicious pound cake — some of the best we’ve ever had. Much softer and meltier than the practice bake! We have triumphed!
Ingredients & Supplies
- 15.7 oz of the 4 core ingredients: 6 eggs and 6 yolks, sugar, butter, flour
- 1/3 cup brandy
- 1 tbs caraway seeds
- 1 tsp mace
- Brown lunch bags
- Well-buttered 10.5″x3″springform pan
- 1 flower nail
- 325 degrees for an hour, lowered to 275 degrees for half an hour. Total baking time of 90 minutes.
- Neither Jenne nor I have much experience baking pound cakes, so we wanted to do a smaller-scale trial run to figure out their chemistry. Jenne had done the calculations for batter amount ahead of time, but before we ordered a pan, we wanted to see how much pound cake batter would rise.
- The butter, sugar, and eggs mixture did curdle a bit when we were creaming everything together. We’re not sure of the exact cause. Perhaps we didn’t beat the butter enough first. Maybe we added the sugar too quickly, or it was because the eggs and butter weren’t room temp.
- You might’ve noticed that we used a Kitchen Aid stand mixer for the trial, but for the official bake, we’ll be mixing it by hand!
- Next time, we would add a ton more caraway seeds!
- Make sure to drop the pan on the counter a few times before putting it in the oven because we got air pockets.
- We used makeshift cake strips (old wet towel) and layers of brown lunch bag, secured with safety pins and string. We put a flower nail in the middle of the pan. The cake did seem to bake very evenly.
- We need a cookie sheet’s worth of bricks to line the bottom of the oven for the final bake.
- We did wrap a quarter of the cake in brown paper and towels for the “sweating process,” so we shall try the cake again in three days. * It just tasted 3 days older and drier.
We’ve consulted with a number of experts in attempt to solve the pound cake recipe mystery: historians, professors, librarians, bakers, chefs… Everyone was extremely helpful and enthusiastic, and we’re tremendously grateful for their advice and guidance. See below for acknowledgements of their many contributions!
Culinary Historians of Canada & Sylvia Lovegren
The Culinary Historians of Canada were kind enough to include our inquiry in their February newsletter. It was posted to their Facebook page, and one Sylvia Lovegren replied. Sylvia is a culinary historian and food writer; she also wrote Fashionable Food: Seven Decades of Food Fads, which Jenne had read and loved. (And Jenne is as picky a reader as she is an open-minded eater.)
Sylvia referred us to the Queen Cake recipe in The Cook Not Mad (Kingston 1831) and Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cookbook (1906). Sylvia also clarified for us that when an old recipe says to mix with your hand, they literally mean to use your hand as the utensil to mix the batter — a technique we employed for our final bake.
Mr. Day is a food historian and a noted authority on historic table settings. He has a private working museum of antique kitchen utensils, where he teaches historic cooking courses. He suggested weighing the eggs, leaving out half the whites, and putting in equal weights of the other key ingredients recipe. He also referred our query to his research assistant, Plum Cake.
Dr. Elizabeth Epperly & Terry Kamikawa
Dr. Betsy Epperly is quite possibly the foremost scholar on L.M. Montgomery in the world and the founder of the L.M. Montgomery Institute. She’s written a gajillion books and articles on LMM. She referred us to Terry Kamikawa, owner of the Blue Winds Tea Room on Prince Edward Island, where they serve pudding made from LMM’s own recipe. Which we are definitely visiting before we die. Terry referred us to the Beeton and Flynn recipes for pound cake.
Dr. Annie Gray
Dr. Annie Gray is a food historian and pops up pretty frequently as an expert (in costume!) on The Great British Bake Off, the best show ever. She also has an incredibly charming Twitter (@DrAnnieGray) that makes us want to be her BFF. She was our cheerleader during the early stages of our research and provided us with a great deal of invaluable advice about resources, ingredients, and baking large cakes.
Dr. Nicola Humble
Dr. Nicki Humble is a professor at University of Roehampton and specializes in literature and cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries. She listed women’s writing, children’s literature, and culture and history of food as some of her greatest interests. So of course we had to contact her! Jenne had also read and greatly enjoyed her book: Cake: A Global History.
Katherine Humphus, or Chef Kat, was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She worked at wd-50 and The French Laundry before becoming executive chef at BO-beau kitchen + bar. She recently left the Cohn Restaurant Group to start Kat’s Kitchen Collective, an online cooking class. Katherine recommended splitting the batter into a few pans and baking at 350. When we told her that we were determined to bake it as one cake, she advised us about cake temperatures and baking time.
Plum Cake works as an assistant researcher for Ivan Day. She tracked down a copy of Anne of Windy Poplars and not only read it — she analyzed it line by line to find all possible clues about the Pringle pound cake. It’s due to her that we have a more accurate estimated date for the original recipe.
Prince Edward Island Public Library & Gary Ramsay
Gary Ramsay is a Reference Librarian at the Confederation Centre Public Library in Charlottetown and winner of the Nora Bateson Award of Excellence in Library Service. And we can see why! As fellow librarians, we do enjoy a beautifully organized response to a reference question. He recommended Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book from the Kitchen of L.M. Montgomery and referred us to the Crawfords in Norval.
Laurie is a fellow Oberlin alum and graduated with highest honors for her thesis on…who else? L.M. Montgomery! So of course we asked Laurie for help on this project! She has an M.A. in Historical Administration and she works as a curator for the Lake Bluff Historical Society. She was the one who found a pound cake recipe that actually did call for exactly 36 eggs (the Schurr, btw).
Mireya works at Whole Foods as a baker and also does some pretty serious baking on her own (she’s done a wedding cake!), and we invited her for drinks one evening to pick her brain about how on earth to bake such a giant cake evenly. She knows her cake, this one. The girl has an 18″ cake pan, for heaven’s sake. (And we will borrow it to make Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake — coming soon!)
Alli is an avid cook and an architect, so she was the perfect source for advice about the type of bricks we should add to our oven. They also have chickens on her family farm, and she supplied us with 2 dozen of our little eggs for our final bake!
We have consulted many sources — both in print and online — to find the perfect Pringle Pound Cake recipe. Here’s our exhaustive list!
Historical Pound Cake Recipes
Acton, Eliza. Modern Cookery for Private Families. London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1860. PDF file.
Beeton, Isabella. Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book and Household Guide. London: Ward, Lock, and Co., Limited, 1898. PDF file.
Flynn, Katherine C. Lewis. Mrs. Flynn’s Cookbook. 1930. Reprint. Charlottetown: The Prince Edward Island Heritage Foundation, 1981.
Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy: Which Far Exceeds any Thing of the Kind Ever Yet Published. London: 1774. PDF file.
Henderson, William Augustus. The Housekeeper’s Instructor. London: J. Stratford, 1805. PDF file.
Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery. Directions for Cookery, In Its Various Branches. Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1851. PDF file.
Leslie, Eliza. Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Boston: Munroe & Francis, 1836.
Schurr, Eugene. The Baker’s Hand Book. Chicago: Eugene Schurr, 1895. PDF file.
Smith, Eliza. The Compleat Housewife. London: J. and J. Pemberton, 1739. PDF file.
Soyer, Alexis. The Modern Housewife. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., 1849. PDF file.
Williams, T. The Accomplished Housekeeper, and Universal Cook. London: 1797. PDF file.
Crawford, Elaine and Kelly Crawford. Aunt Maud’s Recipe Book: from the kitchen of L.M. Montgomery. Norval: Moulin Publishing Limited/Elaine and Kelly Crawford, 1996.
MacDonald, Kate. The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook. Illus. Barbara DiLella. Toronto: Seal Books, 1985.
Stewart, Martha. Everything You Need to Know about Pound Cakes. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc., 2015. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.
Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Windy Poplars. New York: Harper & Row, 1936.