By Donna Boen ’83 MTSC ’96, Miamian editor
I love to bake. Cheese Danish, Snickerdoodles, Monkey Bread with two sticks of butter. Yes, real butter.
Like many of you, I’m spending more time in the kitchen these days. Eager to grease a cake pan and heat up the oven, I pulled out a recipe that Frances McClure sent me years ago from one of Helen Ball’s cookbooks. Frances and Helen worked together in special collections at Miami’s King Library.
Titled Mrs. Upham’s Blitz Cake, the recipe calls for everyday ingredients – sugar, butter, eggs, milk, etc. I did have to buy pecans after I Googled the phrase “nut meats” and found out that refers to the part of the nut you eat. Why not simply say nuts?
I also Googled the definition of a “slow oven” (about 325 degrees Fahrenheit) and Blitz Cake. According to Melissa Clark of The New York Times, “Blitz means ‘lightning’ in German, referring to the lightning-quick way this old-fashioned cake comes together.”
I guessed at a couple of things, but before I jump into the details of the recipe, I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. Upham. Her last name remains well known around Miami’s Oxford campus, thanks to Upham Hall and its arch, dedicated to her husband, Alfred Horatio “A.H.” Upham, Class of 1897. He served as Miami’s 14th president from 1928-1945, leading the university through the Great Depression and World War II. Tragically, he suffered a heart attack on Miami’s charter day, Feb. 17, and died while still president.
In far happier times, he and Mary Collins McClintock married in Collinsville, Ohio, on June 28, 1905. They had one daughter, Margaret Louise.
Now let’s head into the kitchen with Mary. The recipe was vague about oven temperature, saying “slow oven,” and didn’t mention a pan of any size. I decided on 325 Fahrenheit and an 8×8 glass dish, the smallest I have. Good thing, too. The batter barely covered the bottom of it. I looked at that and hoped the 1 “scant” tsp. of baking powder would do wonders.
On the way to the sink, I licked the batter off the spoon. It didn’t have a lot of flavor. Turns out, the flavor comes from the soft meringue and generous heaping of pecans, the next two layers. Blitz cake doesn’t have icing.
The recipe didn’t say what kind of nuts, so I opted for pecans as a good “cakey” flavor and lots of them. Again, the recipe assumed knowledge and didn’t say how long to bake it, so I set the timer for 15 minutes, looked at the still-white meringue, and added 10 more minutes in 5-minute increments. It was in the oven a total of 25 minutes.
The batter did rise, although not nearly as high as modern cakes. As for the outcome, the base of the cake is an airy sponge texture and, as suspected, the flavor comes from the meringue and pecans. It’s not a lot of cake, just a light, sweet something for after dinner.
Mrs. Upham’s Blitz CakeComments in parentheses added while testing the recipe.
(Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 8×8 pan. I used Pam baking spray and a glass dish.)
Cream together (with an electric mixer, about 1½ minutes):
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup butter (unsalted, at room temp)
2 egg yolks (Divide eggs when cold, let yolks and whites come to room temp.)
2 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup flour
1 scant tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt (I added. Original recipe doesn’t call for salt.)
(Mix only until blended. Don’t overmix.)
Spread batter in prepared pan.
Blend ½ cup granulated sugar into beaten egg whites. (The two left when divided from two egg yolks. I beat the meringue into glossy peaks.)
Spread meringue over batter for a second layer. Sprinkle with nut meats. (I used 1 cup of pecans that I first toasted on a baking sheet in a preheated 350° oven for about 7 minutes. Keep an eye on the pecans. They burn easily.)
Bake the cake in slow oven. (325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes, maybe a minute or so less, depending on your oven. Let it cool on a rack for about an hour.)
Cut into squares and enjoy.