Editor’s note: Food columnist Judy Buchenot was given a little editorial license in profiling a “ghost” at Naper Settlement for Naperville Eats this week. Have a little fun, get a little history lesson and enjoy the ghoulish cake recipes, too.
Once a year, Naper Settlement welcomes all things ghoulish to their hysterical buildings for an annual observation of All Hallows Eve.
Among this year’s spooktacular events is a haunted wedding. Hilary Bakenburn, who recently turned 153, has been summoned to bake an authentic Victorian wedding cake for the frightful festivities. An accomplished Naperville baker with more than 100 years of experience, she is looking forward to using the kitchen of the Martin Mitchell Mansion, which is similar to the one she worked in during the late 1880s.
“At that time, it seemed that Queen Victoria ruled the world,” she notes. “Even though we were Americans, we embraced her values and formality. It was a time when there was a proper way of life with serving pieces to match. There was no one-spoon-fits-all mentality. We had lemon forks, bon bon spoons and proper piccalilli scoops. Those were the days.”
Bakenburn notes that the family was held in high regard during Victorian times.
“It was a time when home and family were everything, and the kitchen was the center of that world,” she explains. “Entertaining in the home was done with such grace. Twelve was the ideal number of guests. The mistress of the house was responsible for seeing coffee was served while the master took care of wines and liqueurs. Of course, the cordials and cigars were never brought out until the ladies retired to the parlor.”
Although it was a time of elegance, Bakenburn is quick to point out that her kitchen was not extravagant.
“We never wasted food. We always had two stock pots going for all the extras — one for the white and one for the brown. Some of the stock was reduced down to a glaze that was cooled and stored in a sausage casing to be sliced when needed. Leftover bread was made into bread crumbs, and all the potato peelings went out to feed the pigs,” she recalls. “We did a lot of preserving, too. The July orchard was always transformed to become January’s larder.”
Cakes were one of Bakenburn’s specialties.
“Our ovens were more touchy back then,” she says. “There were none of these thermostats. I used to sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour onto the floor of the oven. If the flour was still white after a few minutes, I knew the oven was not hot enough. If it quickly turned black or started to flame, I knew the oven was too hot. But if the flour turned a golden brown, then I knew it was time to pop in my cake.”
Since there were no electric mixers, Bakenburn made all her cakes by hand.
“I beat the butter and sugar hard until it is like a fluffy cream,” she explains. “Then there is no more hard stirring. I put in the flour with a gentle motion of my spoon, turning everything from the bottom up to the top, adding air to the batter. Hard beating at the end can leave big holes in the cake creating a tough texture.”
Bakenburn, a distant relative of Naperville resident Hilary Decent, notes that Napervillians have always loved entertaining.
“We would look for any excuse to have a party. We even had birthday parties for people who had passed on. Napervillians have always loved their spirits,” she says with a wink and a grin.
She notes that early 19th-century weddings often had a bride’s cake, a groom’s cake and a cake for guests.
“The bride’s cake was usually the only white cake. White sugar was expensive and used very sparingly. The groom’s cake was dark, and the guest cake was often more like a fruit cake.”
She is making a set of phantom cakes for the wedding ceremony and has adapted two of her favorite cake recipes for others to try.
“I do hope the wedding goes well on All Hallow’s Eve, but it is always complicated when love rules the emotions. We hope others will join us for a boo-tiful evening.”
Lovely Cake for the Bride
(Adapted from “The White House Cookbook,” 1903)
1 cup butter
3 cups sugar
1 cup milk
12 egg whites
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup cornstarch
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring
Cream together butter and sugar. Add milk and mix well. Beat egg whites to form soft peaks. Add to milk mixture. In a separate bowl, sift together baking powder, cornstarch and flour. Slowly add to milk mixture and combine until well blended. Bake in two 9-inch round pans that have been buttered and lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees until cakes test done by pressing lightly on the cake — about 30 minutes. Ice cake with desired frosting.
An Excellent Cake That Will Keep Good A Year
(Adapted from “The Cottage Gardener,” 1850)
12 ounces butter
12 ounces brown sugar
12 ounces self-rising flour
12 ounces currants
12 ounces raisins
1 ounce almonds
1 ounce lemon peel
1 ounce orange peel
1 wine glass brandy
Cream butter and sugar together. Fold in flour. Mix in currants, raisins, almonds, lemon and orange peel. Beat the eggs and add to the mixture. Add brandy. Pour into a greased 8- or 9-inch cake tin that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Reduce temperature to 300 and bake for another hour or until cooked. Cool and wrap to store. The raisins and currants tend to dry out during cooking. If the cake is allowed to set, they will absorb moisture and plump up again.
If you go
What: Two of the darkest nights of the year with haunting creatures, eerie entertainment and must-see horrors.
Who: The scariest characters of the past, present and future who come to life to present a Village of Fear that is rated PG creepy. (Not for children younger than 8 or easily scared.)
When: 6:30 until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18 and 19
Where: The grounds of Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville
Admission: Advance tickets $10 until noon Oct. 17. Tickets at the door $15.