I have been writing a monthly food column for my local newspaper for more than 10 years. Click here to view articles from 2004-present.
- Click here to read my 2001 article about Boston Cream Pie.
- Click here to read my article about Angel Food Cake.
- Click here to read my article about Please Don’t Call It Pound Cake.
This is a relatively new monthly newspaper food magazine insert with a circulation of over 9 million. Jill Melton, who was senior food editor at Cooking Light magazine for 15 years, is the food editor. Click here to access my articles, many of which were co-written with my wife, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.
Food & Wine
Award-winning authors Matt and Ted Lee profiled as “The Cake Crusader,” in the November, 2004 issue of Food & Wine magazine. Click here to access the story. You will also be able to access my baking recipes in the story.
The Boston Globe
Soon after the publication of Baking in America, Robin Dougherty wrote this article based on an interview with me:
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PASTRY
Author: Robin Dougherty Date: January 12, 2003 Page: D9 Section: Books
It’s difficult to imagine the world without layer cakes, but until the introduction of baking powder in the mid-19th century, it was a pound-cake world.
Thanks to Greg Patent, author of “Baking in America,” you can stir your way through 300 years of American goodies, from the 1828 publication of Eliza Leslie’s Indian Pound Cake (eight eggs, equal amounts of powdered sugar and “Indian meal,” or cornmeal, half a pound of butter, and one nutmeg, grated) to the New York Cheese Cake, more authentically American than either apple or pumpkin pie. The 250 recipes in “Baking in America” make use of 21st-century labor-saving devices, not to mention modern measurements for those of you no longer using gills or tumblers. Because even such ingredients as sugar and butter have evolved, making these old recipes as written was all but impossible. Nonetheless, Patent, a contributing editor to Cooking Light, says he’s remained true to the spirit of the original cooks.
Q. What is the beginning of American baked goods?
A. It turned out to be Amelia Simmons in 1796. She had over 50 recipes for all kinds of baked goods 20 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. She was very experimental about pastries. . . . Eliza Leslie wrote the first baking book in 1828, and it already had very American things. . . . The British adapted their oatmeal recipes to the cornmeal here. It’s remarkable how these things happen.. . . We’re wonderful at taking something and making it our own. It’s not always good, but I love the spirit.
Q. What’s an example of something that’s not very good?
A. Like turning the croissant into a croissandwich. . . . Or salads that are already made for you with the dressing and the croutons in the bag. . . . Are there people growing up who don’t know what lettuce looks like? . . . There’s a disconnect today. What I have learned about baking in America, there was a connection.
Q. Why is Eliza Leslie’s Indian Pound Cake the first quintessentially American recipe?
A. It’s because you wouldn’t have found it anywhere else. I don’t think cornmeal had found its way to [general use] in Europe yet. Polenta was originally made with chestnuts. . . . What made [the recipe] really American is the use of cornmeal in a pound cake.
Q. What about peanuts? They’re also a quintessential American food, but they were animal feed until the Civil War.
A. The peanut thing is fascinating. It really was George Washington Carver who made peanuts acceptable to people. With the Civil War, there were food shortages.
Q. What baked good has the most interesting history?
A. The Boston Cream Pie. I spent a full year researching [it]. What we call the Boston Cream Pie – the cream filling with the chocolate glaze – I wanted to know where it came from. I could find [old recipes for] butter cakes with a custard filling and sometimes a dusting of powder sugar, but no chocolate.
In the first “Joy of Cooking,” in 1931, [Irma Rombauer] called it Washington Pie. I had seen the term Boston Cream Pie in [an advertising pamphlet from] 1877 with a recipe for a [cake] with cream filling. If you get a menu for the Parker House from the 1950s, Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie is listed on the menu. [It says] “Famous at the Parker House for over 100 years.” Were they making up history or did they have something called Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie?
Things became clarified when I talked to someone at the Parker House [and got a packet of their original recipes]. There was one recipe called Boston Cream Pie. I think they renamed it after the fact.
I took one look at this and knew why I never found it in an old cookbook. It’s a butter sponge cake. . . . You cut it in half and brushed it with a rum sugar syrup and then you made a nice custard and put a thick layer of it between the layers. And then you pressed on sliced toasted almonds. . . . For the chocolate glaze, you had to make a fondant. No wonder you never saw a recipe. To make a cake plus a candy would have been a bit much.
I searched and searched in old newspapers to try to find some mention of this particular cake. I was not able to find it. What do we have in its place? We have a facsimile that people make at home. We have a butter cake, not a butter sponge cake. . . . The Washington Pie – two layers of cake with some jelly – that became the basis for what we call Boston Cream Pie.
Q. Talk about the layer cake.
A. That’s definitely American. It’s linked to baking powder. It came along for a number of reasons. It represented a shift from farm life to city life, where eggs and butter were more expensive and less plentiful. Therefore you would need an agent that would help you make your cake with less of those things.
And the cast-iron range – it’s not the wood-burning oven where you had a hot surface that helped the baked goods rise. . . . You had different circulation of air. . . . People were looking for something quick to make things rise. Yeast was the only leavener, but yeast goods don’t give you the same kind of texture as baking powder; foods made with chemical leaveners don’t stay fresh as long.
We had the jelly cake. [It was] like pound cake baked in a shallower pan. [Then] somebody came up with the idea of baking powder – a couple of acidic ingredients with an alkali. The first ad was in a Boston newspaper in 1856. . . . No kneading necessary, no waiting. Who could resist? View online >>