Flavoring of 1950s Cakes?

Discussion in 'Cakes' started by CherryMerryMuffin, Aug 18, 2019.

  1. CherryMerryMuffin

    CherryMerryMuffin Member

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    Dear Old Bakers,
    What did you use in the 1950s/1960s to flavor your cakes? I have heard many a person talk of the difference and cite an "almost anise-like flavor," especially in wedding cakes from these eras. However, no one seems to know what was the "secret ingredient". I would assume this was simply an anise flavored cake, but it seems improbable that this would be, as I associate anise cakes with an Italian influence, and the area I am from does not have much of a history of immigrants beyond those dropped from England in the 1600s. Also, the description is simply "anise-like", not full blown anise, and was used in everything from doll cakes to weddings.

    I thought maybe a baking emulsion like Princess flavoring, or Creme bouquet, but none of those are mentioned as having an anise flavor. Was there some sort of emulsion or recipe that was popular at the time? Why did they all taste like anise? If there are any users out there with old bakers in your family, please ask around. Thanks!
     
    CherryMerryMuffin, Aug 18, 2019
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  2. CherryMerryMuffin

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I wasn't around to taste such cakes, but what might be the remembered flavor isn't anise. It's probably almond extract. Almonds flavored a lot of things in European baking for a long while.

    Which doesn't negate anise in a lot of Italian baking...but almond was more wide spread across Europe (and so came down through immigrants from other countries, like Eastern Europe), and more wide spread in French baking, which was the big influencer on baking in the 50's and 60's.

    Why almond? Bakers to French royalty used it (almond flour is still used in some of the most elite French baking recipes like macrons). And, thus, spread it around Europe both before (when every Royal family in Europe was copying French Royalty) and after the French Revolution (when there were plenty of unemployed royal French bakers fleeing France to hire).

    French cooking and baked goods were viewed as the best of the best and the most "royal" and those baked goods used almonds. So...almonds = the best. This propaganda of the "royalty" of almonds (added into cake/cookies/pastries as flour or marzipan or flavoring) was passed down baker to apprentice, generation to generation, and to customers, as well. You want cookies to serve in the parlor? Almond! Almond says that you can afford the best, and will serve nothing less to your guests.

    And just to put the icing on this cake...the biggest influence in cooking and baking in the early 1960's was Julia Child. And in one of her most famous episodes of the French Chef, she makes a chocolate cake called "the Queen of Sheba" cake. A "royal cake" for special occasions. Or just to impress your neighbors when you invite them over for cake and coffee. Flavored with vanilla? NON! Almond extract. And her co-author, Simone Beck, she comments in the episode, who created this recipe favors far more almond flavor. :cool:

    That, at least, is what *I* surmise people old enough to remember cakes from the 50's are remembering. The almond flavor. If you've ever had certain cookies form an old European Bakery (I have) you'll recognize it. It's not subtle :p
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
    J13, Aug 18, 2019
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  3. CherryMerryMuffin

    CherryMerryMuffin Member

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    The only problem with that theory is that the people who are saying this bake with almond pretty regularly, and are still mooning after their long-lost flavor. I wonder if almond extract combined with something else would make it taste anise-y, like maybe lemon and almond, or even orange blossom and almond.
     
    CherryMerryMuffin, Aug 18, 2019
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  4. CherryMerryMuffin

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    Huh. Almonds or almond extract? Extract is different...

    And How many people are we talking about? I mean, if you’ve asked 100 different people from the 50’s this question and gotten the same answer, that’s one thing. But if we’re talking about 5 relatives....then it’s not the 1950’s. It’s the heritage of those old cake recipes. It makes a difference if we’re talking cakes they had in childhood made by parents of Italian decent as compared to, say, Russian. The cakes they tasted in the 50’s were probably family favorites that might include actual anise or anise liquors, like Absinthe, Ouzo or Pernod.

    But if you check out this site, which has a LOT of vintage recipes from the early to mid-20th century, you’ll see that there is no one common secret ingredient popular in the 1950’s that would have given most cakes any flavor similar to anise.
    http://www.twisted-candy.com/1950s-cake-recipes.html

    In fact, almost all of these use vanilla (though it seems canned pineapple was popular. Probably thanks to the Hawaii craze).

    Which is to say, you could be absolutely right that something combined with almond extract gave the cakes more of an anise flavor OR maybe there was actual anise in the cakes. Contrariwise, this mystery flavor may came from the type of milk/vanilla or almond extract common to the 1950’s. Our ingredients now aren’t exactly the same. Some packaging was deemed a health hazard (pasteurized milk/eggs rather than fresh from cow/chicken) and changed, some was changed for convenience sake (milk in cartons rather than bottles). Some ingredients changed their recipes (the buttermilk you use in recipes is not the buttermilk used in 1950’s recipes—it’s not even buttermilk, per se). Maybe the almond extract they’re using is missing the alcohol of the one used by their parents.

    OR...you have to consider that remembered flavors, especially from childhood, are different from adult flavors and maybe they can’t be recaptured. Ever gone back to taste a favorite childhood treat, made exactly the same, and found that you don’t much like it anymore?—it’s too sweet or cloying or bland? I was all into milk chocolate bars as a kid, but now, having had dark chocolate, milk chocolate seems really lackluster. In childhood flavors are more intense. Maybe the flavor of the almond cakes these people are making is the same as in their childhood...but their adult tongues can’t taste it the same.

    And while I do believe there is a flavor there that may be recaptured, I also can’t help but remember when I made my grandmother’s mythical, heavenly, unmatchable chocolate cake for some older relations. I followed the recipe exactly. They all said it was delicious...but not like grandmother made it. :rolleyes: Some remembered flavors are more about about who, what, when, etc. than they are about the ingredients.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
    J13, Aug 18, 2019
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  5. CherryMerryMuffin

    CherryMerryMuffin Member

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    I didn't think I needed to explain myself with so much backstory but...
    1. This was multiple people across multiple areas, multiple baking abilities, and multiple ages, all who would have been sampling cakes in the 50s and 60s.
    2. There is still a woman who bakes this way but refuses to share her ingredient. I have tasted it myself not more than a couple of years ago and could order the same flavor today if I wished. So this isn't a mis-remembering thing. (No, it is not peculiar to her or her recipe.)
    3. Cake bakers who baked from their homes, as well as commercial bakeries from neighboring areas used to use this flavor.
    4. Several of the very fine bakers remembering this bake with almond, almond paste, amaretto, and almond extract--they like almond.
    5. If you start talking about the "cake flavor" from the 50s and 60s, at any social event, you will get the "ooooh yeah!" from the appropriate age group, who then all say, "it was like anise but not quite."
    6. The last of the aforementioned bakeries and bakers died in the 80s, except for this one woman, who is quite a prickly thing aside from her baking. She is, however, the last who bakes this way and is therefore the darling of her community because of it.
    7. It is not merely one community. There have been other people on the internet asking on other forums. The impression that I am getting is that younger bakers are generally incredulous of their memories, tasting abilities, baking abilities, and/or experiences, yet, clearly there is something to it, hence the reason I am asking here.

    I was genuinely hoping someone knew of a very old baker/bakery who hasn't updated their system and might be able to share.
     
    CherryMerryMuffin, Aug 18, 2019
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  6. CherryMerryMuffin

    J13 Well-Known Member

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    I know you’re searching for a baker who knows what this flavor is and can just answer this question. We may have such a baker, but she seems to be away for now.

    But in case she doesn’t know, I’d still like to play detective...and the more we know, the more likely we are to find clues to this mystery flavor. So, please, bear with me.
    Okay. Knowing this would have saved us a lot of time. Now I can ask the right questions.
    (A) She bakes this way. Bakes what exactly? Is it just cakes that tastes of this, or everything she bakes (like cookies?)
    (B) If just cakes, do *all* her cakes taste this way or just certain ones? And if certain ones, which ones?

    Describe the flavor as best you can. Is it an aftertaste? Is it the main flavor? Does it seem to be related to the sweetness? If you couldn’t use licorice or anise to describe it, how would you describe it?
    Do any of them have better descriptions beyond “it tasted like anise”? Do any of them have any idea what it was? Did any of them know the recipe of a cake that tasted like this and shared it? Because if they shared it, we might be able to trace down the one item in it that had (still has) that flavor—which simply might depend on the make of the item. Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa is going to give you a very different tasting brownies than Valrhona cocoa. It might come down to a certain type of baking powder rarely used now that gives cakes that kind of flavor (example, certain baking powders use aluminum and some people can taste that in baked goods using that powder).[/quote][/quote]
     
    J13, Aug 19, 2019
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  7. CherryMerryMuffin

    CherryMerryMuffin Member

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    I appreciate your interest and desire to play detective, but I have done this process already. Asking this question on a forum, in the hope that a much older baker knows exactly what I am talking about, is my last resort, not my first. I believe I have already hit on a possible answer in cream bouquet. I have ordered this emulsion, along with several others, in the name of experiment to settle the question once and for all, but even if this is correct, it does not place the use of it in any historical context. For historical context, I will need a baker from the previously mentioned eras. I have even sent emails to various emulsion manufacturers asking their own history with emulsions. However, if you know something about the history of manufactured emulsions, then I would be very grateful.
     
    CherryMerryMuffin, Aug 19, 2019
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  8. CherryMerryMuffin

    CherryMerryMuffin Member

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    Cream bouquet, princess cake flavoring, or anything like it is not it. Back to the drawing board.
     
    CherryMerryMuffin, Aug 31, 2019
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  9. CherryMerryMuffin

    Sharzi Well-Known Member

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    I grew up in the 50's and 60's and nothing special was used that I can remember, but if you go back to the 30's and 40's you'll find that cakes were made with all sorts of flavorful things. My grandmother made all the family wedding cakes. Star anise was a favorite ingredient, but alcohol was used a lot in wedding cakes... bourbon, rum, schnapps, etc. when alcohol wasn't used, you'd find them flavored with Dr Pepper, Coca Cola, and Cream Soda. During times of rationing (wartime), nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves were used. There were also flower-flavored cakes using violets, roses, etc.

    My guess is, if there was an anise flavored cake, it either had fresh ground anise in it, or a combination of ingredients I've mentioned. It would be fun to play around with those flavors.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2019
    Sharzi, Sep 2, 2019
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