A classic you rarely see on menus anymore.
In brief, Lady Baltimore Cake is a white layer cake with a boiled icing and (dried, typically) fruit and nuts mixed into the filling. The use of the name dates to around 1906, after Owen Wister wrote a book called “Lady Baltimore” in which a cake is referenced, though not described in great detail.
So what did the book actually say about the cake? Not much:
“I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore,” I said with extreme formality.
I thought she was going to burst; but after an interesting second she replied, “Certainly,” in her regular Exchange tone; only, I thought it trembled a little.
I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I Had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts — but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much.
Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full. “But, dear me, this is delicious!”
Not a particularly enlightening description, considering that also describes German’s chocolate cake, Hummingbird cake, and lots of other cakes. We do know one other thing from the context of the scene — it’s not a suitable cake for a wedding, since the scene in the book turned on the cake being an entirely inappropriate thing to order for a wedding.
After the book came out, newspaper reports focused on a search for the recipe for the cake as described in the book, and ultimately settled on one like the one below, which includes the filling recipe missing from our version. From the December 7, 1910 edition of the Racine Daily Journal:
Lady Baltimore Cake.
Promising a young lady reader, in case we came across a recipe for making the famous Lady Baltimore cake, we would publish it. Here it is:
The “Lady Baltimore” cake, which has had quite a run everywhere in recent years, has for its basis what used to be called a lady cake or a white cake. Unlike angel cake, this belongs rather with the pound cake than which the sponge cake batters: less butter is used in proportion to sugar and eggs than for pound cake, but still enough to give a rich, melting rather than very light feathery texture. That is easily to be had in plain, light baking powder cake, simple and wholesome, and especially good when freshly baked but not coming within the class of rich or company cakes.
Proportions vary somewhat in the many recipes published in different quarters for Lady Baltimore cake. For an easy rule by measure, a cupful of butter to a cupful and a half of granulated sugar, and the whites of six eggs may be trusted. Three cupfuls of flour, a cupful of milk and two teaspoonfuls of baking powder make the other materials.
Mix in the stiffly-beaten whites with a part of the flour last. Bakes in layers and put together with a rich filling of boiled icing, in which chopped fruit and nuts are stirred, this makes a very handsome cake. The filling often has finely-cut figs, almonds and pecans added, and a plain icing besides to cover the sides and top.
(Some line breaks added for clarity. — Adam)
As for the rest of the novel, I didn’t read it–I focused on the parts about the cake–but I’d be hesitant to given this excerpt from a review in the August 25, 1906 edition of the Terre Haute Saturday Spectator:
In “Lady Baltimore” the trials borne by the proud southern people from the negroes spoiled by being given suffrage, immediately upon gaining their freedom, is put in a forceful way without entering into any long arguments on the subject. John Mayrant, the hero, a fine type of a thoroughbred, high-minded, proud southern young fellow, has a position in the custom house. A negro is placed in a position over him under whose orders he was compelled to work. He does not rant and show temper about it, and because he does not a cousin insults him, and his relatives are deeply incensed. He resigned soon, as he intended to from the first, as one can see he must do without raising a scene, if he is true to his instincts as a southerner and a gentleman. A well deserved rebuke is given to the northern philanthropists who have tried, without knowing the situation, to force the negroes upon the southern people in an insolent fashion.
And I was like:
From the box of A.D. from Lutz, Florida, by way of Pennsylvania in the 1940s, and originating in Ohio in the 1920s.
Lady Baltimore Cake
3/4 c. butter
1-1/2 c. sugar
1 c. milk
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
6 egg whites
1 tsp. flavor [vanilla]
Cream butter and sugar. Beat until light. Add milk. Add flour and baking powder. Mix well. Flavor and fold into egg whites.