The cakes in “Vintage Cakes” by Julie Richardson (Ten Speed Press, $24) are ones your grandmother used to make — or would have if she had really known her way around the kitchen. They’re mouth-watering, masterful and emphatically unfussy. Having acquired a treasure trove of recipes dating to the 1920s, Julie Richardson, who owns a small-batch bakery in Portland, Ore., went on to examine old cookbooks and poll family and friends about childhood favorites.
She tested the most promising recipes and revised them for the modern palate (less sugar, more flavor). The results include old favorites (carrot cake with cream cheese frosting) as well as twists on the classics (angel cake with chocolate and orange freckles) and temptations for the more adventurous baker: Peppermint Patty flourless chocolate cake.
Like her cakes, Richardson’s book is simple and beautiful. I loved the insistence on quality ingredients, as well as the wide range of recipes (Ozark pudding cake, anyone?) and the winning back stories (Bess Truman, wife of President Harry Truman, put Ozark pudding on the menu for a dinner with Winston Churchill).
The Texas sheet cake recipe I tried produced a moist, flavorful chocolate cake with rich, gooey frosting that was a big hit at a recent block party. My only quibble was that the directions were a little vague about when to start the frosting. I’d now suggest starting it 10 minutes before the cake comes out of the oven; I gave mine too much time to cool, and it didn’t achieve the smooth, glossy finish in the photo.
In an era when too many too-perfect confections look and taste like plastic, Richardson is keeping it real.