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Reading Food : Cookbook Favorites--The Volumes That Changed Our Lives


Some of the best cookbooks are out of print, replaced by a constant surge of new recipe collections. One old-timer that deserves longer life is "Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking" (J.G. Ferguson Publishing Co.), a two-volume set first published in 1947 and revised in 1959. I picked up Vol. 1 in the Goodwill years ago and found it so valuable that I was thrilled when, months later, I came across Vol. 2.

The recipes are amazingly thorough, detailing techniques that most cookbook authors would never think to describe. I appreciated this when called upon to make an angel food cake for a birthday celebration. Following Given's instructions to the letter, I beat the egg whites by hand with an old-fashioned flat wire whip, sifted the dry ingredients seven times and counted the strokes used to fold in the egg whites. The result was a magnificent cake--tender, beautifully textured and delicately flavored with almond.

This book was widely circulated--the 1959 edition says that more than one million copies were then in use. So if you scour the used book shops, you will eventually find one or both volumes. The cake chapter alone is worth whatever the price may be. It appears in Vol. 1.


1 cup cake flour

1 1/2 cups fine granulated sugar

1 1/3 cups egg whites, 10 to 11

1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Have ready 10-inch tube pan, preferably with removable bottom--do not grease. Bake on bottom rack of oven. Start oven 10 minutes before baking; set to slow (300 degrees).

Sift flour, measure, resift 6 times with half the sugar. Turn whites into 4-quart mixing bowl; sprinkle cream of tartar and salt over whites. Now hold bowl slightly tipped, turn it slowly and beat with a flat wire whip until whites are stiff enough to hold pointed, glossy peaks. Now set bowl flat on table and add remaining sugar in 6 portions, sifting it over whites, beating about 20 strokes after each portion. Then beat in flavorings with 10 more strokes.

Add flour-sugar mixture in 5 portions, sifting each portion over whites, and turning bowl slowly, fold in gently but thoroughly with wire whip using 20 complete fold-over strokes after first 4 portions, then use 40 strokes to blend in last portion. Now flow batter quickly but gently into pan, turning pan slowly to even up batter. With a knife, cut gently around through batter with a wave-like motion to break air bubbles, to level top and to push batter a little higher around tube.

Place in center of oven rack. Bake 65 to 70 minutes or until cake is delicately browned and springs back when lightly touched with finger. Remove from oven; invert at once over large funnel or large bottle if pan does not stand on tube or side supports. Leave upside down until just cooled. To remove cake, use spatula or thin-bladed knife to loosen carefully around sides and tube, using straight down-and-up strokes--not sliding spatula around the cake. Then lift out by tube and run spatula carefully under bottom of cake. If bottom of pan is not removable, tap edge of pan sharply against edge of table to loosen. To serve cake unfrosted, place top-side-up on plate; if frosted, place bottom-side-up on plate.

Note: For high rounded top, add 1 tablespoon cake flour; use 1 1/2 cups egg whites (12 to 13), increase cream of tartar to 1 1/2 teaspoons, salt to 3/8 teaspoon and vanilla to 1 1/2 teaspoons.

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