How to Bake a Victorian Ribbon Cake and How To Avoid Messing it Up!

As some of you know, I described a ribbon cake in my short story "Forget Me Not" featured in Legacy: An Anthology. I'm not a baker, but I've always looked at baking the way people look at art, with respect and appreciation.

So first I tried to do this on my own and ruined the cake, and then after getting the help of my husband, who actually knows what he's doing in a kitchen, I learned what mistakes to avoid, what changes to make, and also some interesting tid-bits all of which I will share with you so you can bake it too!

Answers to Questions Left From This Recipe

This recipe came from the Northamptonshire and Soke of Peterborough Cookery Book. I originally thought it was Victorian in nature, but I later learned it might actually be from a different era closer to the 1940s but the book doesn't actually have a date to make a final determination. Regardless, it was meant for bakers of a previous time, so it leaves out key information we are used to seeing in recipes, like oven temperature, bake time, pan size, etc. It also provides measurements in terms we are not used to like ounces. Through trial and lots of error, I figured out all the answers to these questions.
  • Size: Be prepared for this recipe to make a small batch. It must have been meant for a small cake or for the baker to double or triple as needed.

  • Measurement Conversions: 
    • 5 ounces: About 3/4 cups
    • 1/2 ounces: 1 tablespoon
    • 1/4 pound butter: 1 stick of butter 
    • Castor Sugar: This was just what we now call quick dissolve sugar, but before you run out and get some, which I did, know that we got away with using regular granulated sugar.
    • Cochineal: Is crushed beetles, horray! This is what used to be and sometimes still is used to color stuff. The Victorian also used stuff like lead and arsenic, so we're just going to use food coloring instead. Historical accuracy is not as important in baking as it is in fiction! 
    • Sandwich tins: round or square cake tins (use small ones if you use the amounts on the recipe without doubling). 
    • Bake temp: 350 Fahrenheit or 180 Celsius 
    • Bake Time: 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean

    How Much of Everything We Used
    We basically doubled everything that was in the original recipe, but we were kind of baffled by the small amount of flour it called for. After comparing it to a modern recipe, my husband suggested we make a few tweaks, which is why there are three additional ingredients below, marked by an (*). I just took him at his word after I messed up the first cakes.
    • Sugar: 1 & 1/2 cups 
      • We got away with using regular granulated instead of quick disolve
    • Butter: 2 Sticks
    • Eggs: 6 with yokes and whites separated
    • Flour: 3 & 1/4 cups
    • Baking Powder: 1 tablespoon
    • Salt: 1/8 teaspoon*
    • Milk: 1 cup*
    • Powdered Chocolate: 2-3 tablespoons
    • Food Coloring: I combined green and blue to make teal instead of pink because I was already using pink frosting
    • Vanilla Extract: 1 & 1/2 teaspoons*
    • Pink Frosting: 1-2 containers
      • I just barely had enough frosting to cover the size cake that I did (we doubled the recipe), so you might want to get two just to be safe unless you plan to do a small version.

    Mistakes I Made That You Can Avoid
    This is what you don't want your cakes to look like!
    They didn't rise because I didn't cream the butter properly.

    1. I didn't know that "cream the butter" meant to whip the cold butter as is with the sugar, so I melted it and just mixed it in. I just thought they wanted me to mix it!

    2. I didn't use a sifter to ensure that the flour or the powdered chocolate was uniform. 

    3. I didn't flour the pans. You need to spray a nonstick spray and then put a small amount of flour into the cake pan and shake it around the bottom and on the sides. A fine layer will stick to the pan. This will keep you from having to attempt Wikihow's How to Fix a Baked Cake Stuck to the Pan tricks for like an hour.

    Some Useful Tricks I Learned Baking this Cake!
    The recipe leaves a lot for the cook to figure out. That's probably because back in the day, women who baked just knew their way around a kitchen. To include all the information I'm including would just seem excessive and unnecessary to them.

    1. Separate the yokes from the whites. You can do this easily by using the back and forth shell method (that's probably not the actual method's title).

    2. If you've never turned egg whites into stiff foam peaks, you might want to watch this video to get an idea of what they mean because I know the first time I did it, I was like what? 

    My poor husband who had to come in from working in
    the garage to instruct his helpless wife on baking basics. 
    3. Whisk with the bowl tucked under your arm and your elbow up high, so you're using your arm and not your wrist. If you are like me, and are used to whisking with your wrist, this might be challenging at first, but imagine how much whisking and whipping those women had to do when they didn't have electric mixers and made almost all their own baked goods! They must have been buff! 

    4. Before you frost, you have to line the cake up. The cake layers will rise unevenly. Those who bake often have these wire cake cutters that you can use to make the tops and bottoms perfectly flat. If you don't (which of course I didn't) you either have to try to shave some off with a knife (but being the klutz I am, I wasn't willing to try this) or line the cake up and eyeball it while turning it to get it to look even. I did the latter, and it came out fine.

    5. Frosting was made to hide mistakes! The original recipe said to just put jam or frosting in between the cakes, but as you can see the sides browned and hid the color so my husband said just frost the entire thing.

    6. Traditional home made cakes are dense - in a good way! They are filling, so start with a small slice!

    Exactly As My Husband Showed Me (LOL!)

    We doubled/altered the recipe.

    We creamed the butter with the sugar. Don't melt it!

    We used a sifter to make sure the flour was all uniform, and we mixed in the baking powder and salt while we were sifting.


    We separated the egg yokes and whites and then whisked them both but kept whisking the whites until my arm was numb, and they had formed stiff peaks.

    We added the yokes to the mixer and then alternated adding the  milk and the flour/salt/baking powder mixture until it was all in. This is also when we added the vanilla extract. Finally came the peaked egg whites. Once all was mixed, we divided the batter into three dishes.

    Because I thought we didn't have any powdered chocolate (which we did) I ground up chocolate morsels and ran it through the sifter to make sure it was all uniform.

    We colored one third of the batter with the chocolate, one third with the food coloring, and left the last one it's natural color.

    We baked for 25 minutes at 350F.

    After letting the cakes cool in the pans on racks for about five minutes, we turned them upside down, and this time, thanks to our lesson about coating with flour, they came right out. We let them cool about ten more minutes.

    After eyeballing the cake (with the help of two boys who knew more about this than I did I might add) while rotating to make sure it was even, we put frosting in between the layers. I didn't put a lot because I was concerned I didn't have enough frosting with only one container of it. I was lucky enough to just scrape by at the end. I decided to frost the entire thing because of the browned sides.

    Frosting the outside was surprisingly easy. I had been battling with this cake for like six hours because of my mess-ups and recipe confusions, so I was expecting it to be difficult, but it just went on and looked good doing it too!

    Of course the final touch was my husband's recommendation, some chocolate morsels on top, which also gave it a nice crunch. You could do sprinkles or nuts or just leave it plain.

    Hey, hey, look at that. I managed to bake a cake! I have always been a big cake fan but man, I have a whole new appreciation for what cake can be and what it takes to make it!

    And look how pretty when it's cut! It was yummy too!

    Don't forget to look for the ribbon cake in "Forget Me Not" featured in 
    Legacy: An Anthology!

    OMG, I can't believe I made this freaking cake!


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