Baking Our Way Through American History – Harriott Horry’s Water Cake

We started baking our way through American History with the book American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer by Anne Byrn (you may also know her as the Cake Mix Doctor!). We’re currently in the 1650-1799 time period and our first cake was the American Gingerbread. We really enjoyed the first cake – both the process and the results – and were excited to try our next cake from the time period.

We chose Harriott Horry’s Water Cake for our second cake! Harriott Horry managed a large rice plantation in the south during the Revolutionary War – even entertaining George Washington in her home – and wrote down many of her “receipts” – even before the first American cook book. The water cake is a sponge cake that got it’s name because sugar from the West Indies was often sold to the colonies in large bricks – the cooks would then either need to crumble off sugar or, as with this cake, dissolve it in water first.

This was the first sponge cake that my mom and I had ever made, and I have to be completely honest here – it did not turn out well for us. I have no doubt that the recipe is good and it was human error. See below for the process and where I think we may have gone wrong…

Water Cake Ingredients
The ingredients for our water cake – pretty simple!
Water Cake: Dissolving Sugar
First step – dissolving the sugar into the water over the stove.
Water Cake: Lots of eggs
While the water cooled, we combined the eggs and egg whites (LOTS of eggs in this cake!)
Water Cake: Mixing the batter
Then we mixed in the sugar/water combination and frothed up!
Water Cake: Folding in the flour
Folding in the flour!
Water Cake: Batter in Pan
Into the pan it goes!
Water Cake: Progress
Out of the oven, cooked and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Water Cake: Spreading on the Lemon Curd
We spread on some lemon curd!
Water Cake: Final Cake
Garnished with fresh raspberries and whipped cream!

Now, in the interest of full disclosure – while the cake looked pretty good, it did not taste good. It was super chewy…. Sponge cake shouldn’t be chewy.

I have a few guesses as to where we went wrong. First, we dissolved the sugar in the water over low heat. I think I may have overcooked the sugar water and pushed it more towards almost a candy temperature. Also, maybe we over-mixed when adding the flour?

Although it wouldn’t have impacted the taste, we also ran into some problems with the batter leaking out of the springform pan. Overall, this cake proved harder than we anticipated… I mean there are like 6 ingredients, we thought it would be a piece of cake! (Pun intended!) But not so much. Oh well, it was still fun and I still enjoyed learning about the historical baking methods!

I think our next cake is going to be a King Cake from New Orleans! Hopefully that one will turn out better!

About Lindsey

Hello! I'm a 30 year old, newly married, lady living outside of one of the best cities in the USA! I work in communications, love to read, recently purchased an RV with my husband (yay for road trips!) and am looking forward to starting a family soon-ish. I love to smile and hope to make other people smile too!

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