Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Cake

New Year's Cake

This New Year, how about partying like it's 1834?  You'll just need a batch of New Year's cakes.

The practice of making New Year's cake arrived in this country with seventeenth century Dutch immigrants, spread from there to their New York neighbors, and then to Quakers and Congregationalists.  The cakes were a perfect match for the old New York custom of throwing open one's doors on New Year's Day to a parade of visitors.  The occasion called for impressive but achievable refreshments, so hostesses relied heavily on small cookie-like cakes; they might be cut into exacting shapes, dotted with exotic aromatic spices, or embossed with ornate designs. 

The popularity of the illustrated cakes sparked an entire industry centered on the production of carved wooden "prints" of varying size and intricacy for both commercial and home use.  John Conger was one noted print carver; his large mahogany molds are now rare and extremely valuable.

With no Conger in my kitchen, I tried making my own mold--but new to both carving and using this type of mold, I made several rookie mistakes.  Next time I'll carve my designs more deeply, roll the dough and then chill it before doing the embossing, and let the raw cookies sit overnight as instructed.  The finished cookies were great with coffee:  light and just sweet, with the unexpectedly cool, savory flavor of the caraway seeds--and the faint hint of my intended design!

New Year's Cake Recipe
-circa 1834, from William Woys Weaver, America Eats

2 sticks salted butter
2 c sugar
1 c sour cream or plain yogurt
2 T caraway seeds
5 c pastry flour
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t cream of tartar

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the sour cream and caraway seeds.  Sift together the flour, soda, and cream of tartar twice, then sift into the batter and mix well.  Wrap and allow to ripen in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

Roll part of the dough out to 1/2" thickness and if using a mold, press it into the dough and then cut out the cookie; if not using a mold, use a knife or cookie cutter to create shapes.  Rework all the dough scraps until all of it is used up.

Set the cookies on greased baking sheets with at least 1/2" between them.  Let them sit in a cool place overnight so that the imprints will set.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 10-12 minutes; the bottoms should be golden and the tops pale.  

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