In the Year of Fearless Baking: Detour #2: 18th Century “Leopard Cake” [5.21.16]
It hasn’t been long since my last detour. To recap, just a few weeks ago I had some insomnia and stumbled upon a Spanish recipe for ‘Giraffe Bread’. Since I am a maniac, it follows that I had to immediately translate that recipe and give it a spin. The following week, I tried out the new technique with sourdough, which was deliciously successful. Food52 wrote this piece about it, which I hope will result in a wave of animal printed breads flooding my Instagram feed. A girl can dream.
Which brings us to this week. Coincidentally, I was doing research at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard last week, and stumbled upon this recipe hiding in the middle of a hand-penned cookbook manuscript.
Leopard Cake. From a cookbook dated 1764. Too cool. And of course, since it seems that the precedent had already been set, if follows that I had to transcribe this recipe and try it out.
Since there are no mixing instructions at all, I had to draw on what I know about baking chemistry and make some assumptions. I also divided the recipe in half, because I almost always do when it comes to desserts.
What resulted is pretty cool. It’s basically half gingerbread and half Lady Baltimore cake, alternated in the pan to make stripes.
That’s right. Stripes, not spots. This makes me wonder about the place of the leopard in the popular imagination of the 18th century. Were people using the word ‘leopard’ to refer to a different animal (say, a tiger)? Or, were the big cats all just kind of lumped together in the American mind and presumed striped?
Which further begs the question: how much were people thinking about animals from ‘exotic’ locations during that time? ‘Leopard’ must have been a fashionable reference; did the mere word set the imagination free to wander arid deserts far away?
Over two hundred and fifty years after the ink dried on the page of that manuscript, here I am, eating cake and just wondering.
In the Year of Fearless Baking: Detour #1: Giraffe Bread [5.1.16]
People, I’m going to get right to the point. I had every intention of getting something checked off the list this weekend, but stumbled upon something so outrageous it demanded my immediate attention. Giraffe bread, or pan de jirafa.
Trying out this challenge appealed to me for a couple of different reasons. First, I just really dig giraffes. They are super weird, beautiful creatures, and I recently saw this footage that made me even more interested in them. Second, the idea of making bread that is animal printed is, well, hilarious.
To start, I had to translate a recipe from Spanish. Shockingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be (shout out to to my teen self for all those years of studying). I used this recipe here. Essentially, this recipe is a basic milk bread, but then you divide the dough into three parts and add cocoa powder in different quantities to two of them. Then, using a technique rather like millefiori, the doughs are rolled out and wrapped around each other.
For a first attempt (from a recipe that wasn’t even in English), it came out pretty well. The flavor and texture are nice. I wish I had taken the extra step to roll everything out double and cut them to make twice the spots- I was worried about overdeveloping the gluten so I skipped it, but I think it would have handled the extra attention just fine. Also, in retrospect I think this recipe definitely requires a pullman pan. Looking forward to future attempts- stay tuned for more animal-print shenanigans. Maybe someday I’ll realize my new dream: a perfect, square, peanut butter and jelly sandwich which just happens to be zebra striped.
Things are about to get weird.