From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...This striking version of an old Southern cake is three layers high and made with a batter that's infused with rose-water. It's layers are bound with a mixture of dried fruit, candied orange peel and pecans and it's frosted with an Italian meringue. The cake originated at The Lady Baltimore Tearooms at the turn of the 20th century , but it became popular following the release of Owen Wister's 1906 romance novel Lady Baltimore. The book's narrator describes the cake in this way: "It's all soft, and it's in layers, and it has nuts — but I can't write any more about it because my mouth waters too much." It definitely is not a delicate confection. The finished cake uses 14 egg whites and 6 cups of sugar, and while its layers have a fine crumb, the rich filling keeps it from being too light and dispels any notion that it's comparable to an angel food cake. Interestingly enough, clever cooks created a male companion cake that uses all the egg yolks left following the "Lady's" construction. The Lord Baltimore Cake is a decadently rich counterpart to the sweet, easy eating version we are featuring here. This is not an easy cake to make, but its history overrode my need for simplicity. If you have never made or tasted a Lady Baltimore Cake, you might want to give this version a try. Here is how its made.
Lady Baltimore Cake...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite inspired by Saveur New Classics Cookbook
Ingredients for the cake
3-1/2 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon rose water
8 egg whites,room temperature
Ingredients for the icing
4 cups sugar
6 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1-1/2 cups roughly chopped pecans, divided use
3/4 cup raisins, minced
2 tablespoons minced candied orange peel
5 dried figs, minced
1) To make cake: Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Cream sugar and butter in a stand mixer on medium-high until fluffy. With motor running, alternately add dry ingredients in 3 batches and milk in 2 batches. Add rose water; increase speed to high and beat until batter is smooth, about 5 seconds. In a separate bowl, whip whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter. Divide batter between 3 greased 9" round cake pans; bake until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean, 25–30 minutes. Invert cakes onto wire racks; let cool.
2) To make icing: Boil 1 cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan. Stir in sugar and cook until dissolved. Boil until temperature reaches 248 degrees F, about 5 minutes. Set syrup aside. In a stand mixer, whip whites until soft peaks form. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in reserved syrup, whipping until stiff peaks form and icing is at room temperature, about 10 minutes. Beat in rose water. Transfer 4 cups icing to a bowl; mix 1/2 cup pecans, raisins, orange peel, and figs into remaining icing.
3) To assemble, place one cake layer on a cake stand; spread with half of fruit-and-nut icing. Repeat with second layer. Spread plain icing over top and sides of cake; press remaining pecans onto sides of cake. Chill 20 minutes before serving. Yield: 10-15 servings.
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