On April 16, lots of us celebrated finishing our income taxes. A more significant holiday to observe is Emancipation Day. President Abraham Lincoln signed the act April 16, 1862, which immediately freed all the slaves in Washington, D.C. These days, April 16 is an official holiday in D.C. It took until the end of the Civil War in 1865 for emancipation to take effect nationwide.
To raise money for the anti-slavery cause, a movement decades old by the time Lincoln freed the slaves, Mary Merrick Brooks, an abolitionist in Concord, Massachusetts, used to make and sell this week’s recipe, a perfectly lovely tea cake.
Named Brooks Cake, this 19th century tea cake made with real butter, flour, sugar, eggs and milk, and studded with currants, is easy to assemble and delicious. Ruth Thurston in Machias sent me the recipe years ago, mostly, I suspect, because she knows I am intrigued by historical ones, but years of baking up treats from the 1800s has taught me that some of these old-fashioned things are a nice break from chocolate chip mania or trendy caramel and sea-salt.
And surely there are some out there who pause in the late afternoon for a cup of tea and a little sweet on the side as a pick-me-up. Brooks Cake is perfect then, and will remind you of a pound cake, similar in flavor and in its dense, moist texture. It will tolerate a ride in a lunch bag to school or office, can be toasted lightly, and is delicious warm with a bit of butter spread on it.
The recipe is easily doubled, make one to eat now or to share maybe at Easter dinner, and one to freeze. If you use a mixer, which poor Mrs. Brooks didn’t have, the assembly is speedy.
Yields 1 loaf
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
1 cup or 4 oz. dried currants plumped in a little hot water
1. Heat an oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan or line it with parchment paper.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, and beat to incorporate into the mixture.
3. Whisk together flour and baking powder.
4. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter, sugar and egg mixture, beating the batter on a low speed until it is all incorporated.
5. Drain and fold in the currants.
6. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean. The loaf may crack on the top and should be a pale golden color.