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  • Jennifer Rainey

Piece of Cake!: A Look at 19th Century Dessert Recipes

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Ready to have your cake and eat it, too?

In The Lovelace & Wick Series, Iago Wick is… well, more than a little enthusiastic about dessert. And because of his love of all things cake, I’ve found myself researching the kinds of recipes a gentleman demon might have sampled in the 19th century. And today, I’m going to share some with you.

Now, the Victorians may have been all about ornate dress and décor, but when it came to recipes, apparently brevity was the soul of deliciousness just as much as it was the soul of wit. Some of these recipes could occupy a single tweet with room to spare.

"The special ingredient is... arsenic!"

(Side note: Outside the realm of dessert, one cookbook felt the need to include a recipe for lettuce sandwiches. It amounted to little more than, “Butter the bread, stack on some lettuce. Ta-dah!” Oh, where’s a bit of sriracha when you need it?)

We’ll start by taking a peek inside the pages of the Worcester Family Cook Book (1895):

Cream Almond Cake

1-2 cup butter

1 cup powdered sugar

Whites of four eggs

2 cups flour

1 teaspoonful baking powder

1-2 cup milk

1-2 teaspoonful almond flavor

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, cream thoroughly, sift flour and baking powder together, add milk and flour alternately, add flavor, cut in stiff whites. Bake in two layers.

New York Gingerbread

2 cups sugar (molasses)

1 cup butter

4 eggs

2 cups milk

2 teaspoonfuls ginger

3 tablespoonfuls baking powder (or sour milk and 1 teaspoonful soda)

6 cups flour

1-2 teaspoonful salt

Cream butter and sugar, add well beaten yolks of eggs and molasses (sugar)[,] sift dry ingredients, lastly add well beaten whites of eggs. This rule makes two loaves.


Pretty brief, right? But nothing compares to the editing eye of Mrs. D. Schuneman, which is on display in the “cup cake” recipe bearing her name in The Church of the Good [Shepherd] Cook Book (1896).

Mrs. D. Schuneman’s Cup Cake

Two coffee cups of sugar, one of butter, one of cream, three of flour, four eggs, one small nutmeg, one teaspoonful of soda.

That’s the entire recipe. Mrs. Schuneman did not waste words, apparently.


In The Captain’s Lady Cookbook (1837-1917), Mrs. Ames Marriott gives us a change of pace. Not only does she give us a recipe titled “Cream Sponge Cake No. 1” without an obvious follow-up, she micromanages your time from beyond the grave.

“Cream Sponge Cake No. 1”

Beat 6 eggs 2 minutes.

Add 3 cups of fine white sugar

Beat 5 minutes.

2 cups of flour 2 teaspoonsful cream of tartar

Beat 2 minutes.

1 teaspoonful soda in one cup cold water

Beat 1 minute.

Add the juice 1 lemon or ½ rind grated.

2 cups flour

Beat 1 minute.

Observe this rule exactly and bake in two deep pans in a medium oven for precisely 1 hour.

Mrs. Marriott also gives us a brief peek into her personal life at the end of her recipe. She says, “I am cross-stitching a new sampler—Faith, Hope and Charity. Very nice but very tedious.”

Sorry, Mrs. Marriott. A demon such as Mr. Wick would be quite impressed with your meticulously crafted cake, but that sampler isn’t quite his taste.

Am I looking at desserts or hats?

These cookbooks and more can be found on The images are from the excellent And if you try to bake one of these, please let me know how it turns out.

Happy baking!



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