From Too Many Chefs -

April 18, 2004
Is My Blog Burning? Thompson's Cake

Is my cake burning?
When I first heard the subject of this edition of Is My Blog Burning, I immediately knew what my task would be. I needed to reproduce, as faithfully as possible, the cake that my Grandma Liebezeit would buy each of us every year for our birthday. Or maybe it's only my imagination that we all had the same cake: my sister was born in December and my brother in February and the cake calls for fresh strawberries. No matter, in my mind, this remains the One Perfect Cake. Despite the fact that (obviously) chocolate cake is better than white...I always asked for this cake on my birthday.

Thompson's was my grandmother's favourite store in Park Ridge, IL. I don't think it's around any more, but it really was an institution in its day. It was a very large supermarket with very good produce, not part of a chain, made amazing rotisserie chickens and of course...the Cake.

I wrote my brother and sister last week to ask for their memories of the cake, to help me reproduce it. They didn't write back. So we are relying on my childhood dreams here. As I remember, the cake was layered - probably three layers. Between each of the layers was a filling of whipped cream and sliced fresh strawberries. The frosting on top of the cake was rich, thick butter cream. It was so rich it made your teeth ache. But the genius of the cake lay in the whipped cream and strawberry filling: I don't remember it being sweet at all (aside from the natural sweetness of the strawberries) and this is what saved the cake from being cloying.

Having been failed by my siblings (did I mention that?) I turned to a more reliable source for the Cake, my Fanny Farmer Cookbook. My sister recently mentioned that she got a copy of my mother's 1950's edition on ebay. So now there are only two of us in the running for my mother's copy...

Anyway, I have my 1980s edition, which is good (it includes tacos and other "exotic" foods) but not as good as my mother's (no chocolate oatmeal cookies recipe). I chose the recipe for Velvet Cake as the base for my Thompson's cake. The book says "This simple cake with its fine flavor and smooth, velvet texture is an old classic. It would be a good simple cake to fill and frost for a child's birthday." Just what the doctor ordered.

Velvet Cake (departures from original in parentheses)

1/4 lb (115g) butter
1 c (200g) sugar
4 eggs, separated
1.5 c (210 g) cake flour (as usual, I forgot and had to use normal unbleached)
1/2 c (1 dl - whatever this is) cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder (1 sachet levure chimique)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter and lightly flour two 8" round cake pans. (I had to use roughly equivalent square ones.) Cream butter and slowly add the sugar, beating until light. Beat in the egg yolks and 1/2 cup cold water. (AUGHHH! FF did not mention this in the ingredients...panic as I wonder if I'm following two different recipes? No, all is well...) Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt and baking powder and add to the first mixture. (Too many dirty bowls are going to be involved in this project - dump the dry ingredients in with the butter/sugar/egg mix and stir well instead.) Beat egg whites separately until stiff, but not dry. Gently stir a third of the whites into the first mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Spread the batter in the pans and bake for about 25 minutes, until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for five minutes before turning out onto racks.

The Filling

1 cup cream (I used crème fleurette, which did not beat as well as I hoped)
1.5 cups sliced fresh strawberries.

Beat the cream until nice and thick, or until your patience runs out. Spread half over the flat side of one of the cakes. Cover with strawberries. Spread the rest of the cream over the strawberries, and top with the second cake layer, flat side down.

The Frosting

1/4 lb (115g) soft butter
2 cups (one full container) confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup milk
a handful of ripe strawberries for coloring the piping

Mix the first three ingredients with a mixer and use most of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. This is an engineering feat that I did not appreciate when I was a little tot. The cream and strawberries want to ooze out from between the layers, and butter cream frosting doesn't stick to either of them. Never mind, it's made with love and if it were perfect, no one would know you made it at home, right? I used mashed strawberries to color the remaining frosting, mainly because the red food coloring has inexplicably gone missing from my kitchen.

And the verdict? It was very, very good, if I say so myself. It wasn't QUITE as good as Thompson's, but it was in the right vein. I think next time I'll divide the batter in three layers and spread the same amount of filling between the cakes. This would certainly make the frosting less difficult to apply.

Here is a picture of the inside of the cake and here is a picture of a slice of the cake. Mmmm...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at April 18, 2004 12:30 PM | TrackBack

oh my! strawberries and cream... and cake! wow! quite a perfect trio. the cake looks fabulous. just love the whipped cream and strawberries filling.

Posted by Renee on April 18, 2004 at 8:42 AM

Back when Let Them Eat Cake was a one or two store chain, we used to get the fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberry cake. It was light and sweet without being cloying.

Somewhere in their expansion they lost the recipe, but this reminds me of that cake.

Posted by Barrett on April 18, 2004 at 2:42 PM

It really is a nice combination - kind of like a frosted strawberry shortcake! However, it's not exactly lo-cal. I'm bringing it in to work this morning and hoping to have an empty plate by tomorrow...

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 19, 2004 at 2:54 AM

Lovely! I'm not a fan of strawberries, in general they are often too sour for me but I will eat them when combined in a cake because the combo of sweet and tart is so good and the combination of strawberries and cream just rules. I love the way you iced it, very cute!

Posted by Deb on April 19, 2004 at 9:51 AM

Sadly, Thompsons has gone the way of the dodo. I think the building is now one of the ubiquitous Walgreens stores. Funny, I was never that impressed with the cakes... Grandma's home-made baked goods were all so memorable that I guess I never thought too much about the store-bought items.

Posted by Kurt on April 25, 2004 at 12:29 AM

Ok, I spoke too soon... once I looked at the photos I remembered the cake. Yes, it was pretty good!

Posted by Kurt on April 25, 2004 at 12:31 AM

oh dear. now, some people could argue that this is a strawberry shortcake (SS). one of the big debates i've mediated over the years is "the real SS is the sponge cake vs. biscuit" thread. you just scored points for the former.

Posted by Swamp on April 27, 2004 at 2:47 PM

I am looking for a lasagna recipe from the older fanny farmer cookbook.

Posted by Rita on June 6, 2004 at 3:52 PM

Swamp - that occurred to me too when I was making the cake. Cut it open and it's a strawberry shortcake with rich buttercream frosting!

Rita - I'll ask my sister to send the recipe from her 1950s edition and see what is in my 1980s one and send them to you!

Posted by Meg in Paris on June 7, 2004 at 11:07 AM

Could I please have a copy of the Fannie Farmer lasagne?

Posted by Laraine on September 13, 2004 at 11:22 AM

Sorry, I forgot to chase up the recipe with my sister. For the moment here, is the one from the 1979 edition and I'll send her a message about the older one!

Fanny Farmer's Lasagne

3 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup chopped carots
3 cloves garlic
1 lb lean ground beef
3 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
3 Tbs butter, melted
1 tsp oregano, crumbled
1Tbs basil, crumbled,
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 lb lasagna noodles, cooked
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese, grated
2 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 lb freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onions, carrots and garlic and cook, stirring, until they are lightly browned. Push to the side of the pan and add the beef. Break it up into bits, cooking until it loses its pink color. Puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor, add to the meat and simmer 15 minutes. Add the butter, oregano, basil, salt and pepper, partially cover and simmer 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Assemble the lasagne by drizzling some sauce over the b ottom of a shallow rectangular baking dish. Put in a layer of noodles, sprinkle with some of the mozzarella and spread on a layer of ricotta. Make another layer of noodles, sauce, mozzarella and ricotta. Finish with hoodles and sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese evenly over the top and bake 20 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Serves six.

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 13, 2004 at 3:05 PM

Courtesy of my very kind mother, Marianne, here is the recipe!

Here it is from the 1959 (10th edition):

Mix in a large kettle    
     1 large can tomato puree
     2 cans tomato paste
     2 cups water
     1 tsp. oregano
     1 tsp sugar
     1 tsp salt
     1/4 tsp fresh gr. pepper
Simmer the mixture while you saute in a skillet
     2 tablespoons olive oil
     1 cup minced onion
     1 clove garlic, crushed
When the onion is golden, add
     1 1/2 lb ground beef, preferably chuck
     1 tsp salt
Cook until the meat has lost its red color and add to the kettle mixture. Simmer for about 2 hours or until the sauce is thick.
Cook as directed on the package
     1 pound lasagna noodles
Drain thoroughly, rinse and separate the noodles, spreading them on a towel to dry.
Cut into thin slices
     1 pound mozzarella
Have ready
     1 pound riccota cheese
     4 ounces fresh grated Romano cheese
Spoon some of the sauce into two 8 inch square pans or one large casserole. Put in a layer of noodles, then a layer of mozzarella and a layer of ricotta.Put in another layer of noodles, crosswise, then more sauce, and layers of noodles,mozzarella and ricotta. Topm with last layer of noodles and the rest of the sauce. Sprinkle generously with Romano cheese.
Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Let stand in a warm place for 15 minutes before serving.  

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 14, 2004 at 2:08 PM

Thanks alot for the Fanny Farmer lasagne recipe. I had misplaced my paperback edition
which I had since 1972. I still have not come across it. The recipe I was looking for was the one found in the 1959 (10th edition). This recipe has become a tradition in our family.
Thanks again, Rita

Posted by Rita on September 15, 2004 at 10:38 PM

Thank you for the 1959 recipe. I have been using this one for years. We recently moved from a large house to a small one and my book is still in a box somewhere. This morning I got a craving for it and I was grateful to find it on your site. Thanks again. Putz

Posted by Putz on October 10, 2005 at 4:20 PM

I am looking for the recipe , "Chicken Tetrazzini" from the 1950 edition of the fanny Farmer cookbook. It was made with rice and had a topping of bread crumbs and bacon, diced and cooked.

I hope that you can help me. This is for a friend whose Fanny Farmer cookbook has disappeared.

Many thanks,


Posted by Lillian Mort on February 10, 2006 at 8:47 AM