Recipe adapted from Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastries, Cakes, and Sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie.
This recipe highlights the use of an ingredient indigenous to the Americas: corn meal. A staple to the diets of those native to the continent, by the time of the recipe’s publication (1827) corn meal had long found its place on the plates of new arrivals as well. It appears in Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, the first baking and dessert book ever published in the United States.
The book’s author, Eliza Leslie, was a writer at heart. Her great love was for penning novels and children’s books, but fame came via recipe books. Seventy-Five Receipts was written after Eliza had been sent to a popular cookery school in Philadelphia in order to help at the family boarding house. The school was run by Elizabeth Goodfellow, a very well-regarded teacher, and most (if not all) of the recipes in Eliza’s book come from Mrs. Goodfellow—though Eliza insisted that they were all "…original, and have been used by the author and many of her friends with uniform success."
Eliza went on to write 16 more books, both fiction and nonfiction, before her death in 1858. Her 1837 book, Directions for Cookery, was the most popular cookbook of the 19th century and she even wrote an entire cookbook dedicated to corn meal, The Indian Meal Book, published in 1847.
The cake itself is very sweet—like the sweetest corn bread you’ve ever tasted—and redolent with nutmeg. I tested the recipe 6 times (!) and can attest that it is much better on the second (even third) day, the resting time giving it a chance to mellow in both sweetness and “egg-nog-ness.” Don’t be dissuaded by the long baking time—the modern baker in me balked at adding minutes, but the lengthy time in the oven is really needed to cook it all the way through. —Jessica Reed
fine-ground cornmeal or corn flour (the fine grind is important; do not substitute)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Generously butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan and line with a buttered parchment paper sling.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the corn meal, all-purpose flour, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Crack all 8 eggs into a separate medium bowl and gently whisk them together. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and lighter in color, about 3 minutes.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl then, with the mixer running on low speed, add in half of the flour-nutmeg mixture. When mostly combined, stream in half the whisked eggs. Beat for 30 seconds. Keep the mixer on low and repeat with the remaining flour-nutmeg mix and eggs. Once everything has been incorporated, turn the mixer to medium speed and beat for 3 minutes. The mixture should be fluffy and light.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. It will fill it nearly to the top, but should not rise much in the oven. Just in case, set the loaf pan on a baking sheet.
Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, tenting the top with foil for the last 30 minutes to preventing burning. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then use the sling to remove the cake and place on the rack to cool completely.