For the past month I’ve been working on a chapter about the rise of the white cake, the layer cake, the fluffy and utterly unflavored cake, the “sweet nothings,” as I’ve tentatively titled it. I’ve nearly finished a draft that explains this phenomenon, really nothing less than the evisceration of the American sense of taste, by way of Victorian table manners, the invention of the eggbeater, a gastric fistula, yogurt enemas, jello salads, and fears of sexual excess. And that is just one chapter. People, seriously, you will want to reserve a copy on Amazon as soon as humanly possible.
In the meantime, I’ve needed to bake a number of Gilded Age recipes, including something called “cornstarch cake” that tastes distressingly reminiscent of an expired snack cake found in the trash after the vending machine has been refilled. But not everything that came out of that era of American baking was inexcusable. The angel food cake is lovely when made well. And the layer cake isn’t inherently bad; it’s just too often made that way. It can be redeemed. Consider, for example, the coconut cake.