Recipe adapted from A Domestic Cookbook by Malinda Russell.
This is a serious pound cake (20 egg yolks!) and, with brandy and rosewater (still popular flavorings) and cooked icings (becoming more and more common), typical of the time. (Also typical of the time is the recipe in the book for Magic Oil, which includes laudanum, chloroform, and hemlock amongst the ingredients. But that’s another article.)
Not much is known about Malinda Russell, for whom we can credit with this recipe, beyond what she said in her own words that open A Domestic Cookbook, the earliest known cookbook by an African American. I would quote verbatim, but instead I’ll just summarize with this: Her mother was the daughter of an emancipated slave, “one of the first families set free by Mr. Noodle of Virginia,” so by law, Malinda was born free. As an adult, she was twice robbed of her life savings made, at differing times, by working as a laundress, running a boarding house, and managing a pastry shop. Married for four years before the death of her husband and the single mother of “one child, a son, who is crippled,” she made her way from Tennessee to Virginia, back to Tennessee, and then onto Michigan during the Civil War.
It was in Michigan where Malinda wrote and published A Domestic Cookbook. “Hearing that Michigan was the Garden of the West, I resolved to make that my home, at least for the present, until peace is restored, when I think of returning to Greenville, Tennessee, to try and recover at least part of my property.” It is not yet known if she ever made it back; research into her story has only just begun. —Jessica Reed
Prepare a 10-inch tube pan by buttering thoroughly or spraying with non-stick cooking spray.
Separate the egg yolks and whites into two separate bowls. Gently whisk the egg yolks just to break them up; set aside. Store the egg whites to use for meringue, macarons, or pavlova.
Mix the brandy and rosewater together in a small cup; set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and lighter in color, about 3 minutes. Add in the egg yolks in two additions, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl often. Turn the mixer speed to low and beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients until just combined, then half of the brandy and wine mix, another 1/3 of the dry, the last of the brandy wine. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the remaining dry ingredients using a rubber spatula and a light hand.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake begin shrinking away from the sides of the pan.
Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the cake to a rack to cool completely.
For the boiled Icing:
In a saucepan, gently stir together the sugar and water. Place over medium heat and cover the pan. Let cook for three minutes, then remove the lid. Gently swirl the mixture and continue to cook at a low boil until it reaches 235° F on a candy or instant-read thermometer.
While the sugar syrup is cooking, whip the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they hold medium peaks.
Once the syrup is done, carefully and slowly stream it into the mixer (while running it on low speed), trying your best to avoid both the whisk and the sides of the bowl. Once all of the syrup is in, turn mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the bowl is cool, and the frosting holds its shape and is a good, spreadable consistency. Whisk in the lemon extract on low speed.