Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Harvard v. Princeton: The Cake-Off

The names of vintage cakes in my collection of recipe cards and old cookbooks are so evocative. Moonlight cake, and Lovelight cake. Lady cake.  Cold Water cake. Hot Water cake. Burnt Sugar cake.  Lady Baltimore. Puff cake. Sand torte. And the unfortunately named Tunnel of Fudge cake (itself the subject of an upcoming post).

So on Saturday, when I came across both Harvard Cake and Princeton Cake just pages apart in my 1931 Boston Cooking School Cook Book, I couldn't resist baking both to see who performed best in the kitchen (as opposed to on the field).

The two couldn't be more different.  The Harvard is a buttermilk spice cake topped with a marshmallow-raisin frosting.  The Princeton is a citrus cake, probably chosen because the Princeton color is orange.

The judging proved harder to accomplish than baking the cakes.  DH much preferred the Princeton because, while he generally dislikes anything in New Jersey, he dislikes marshmallow frosting even more.

I brought both cakes to work, where the staff at Henry Street was split down the middle.
Wanting to get more feedback, I decided to feed some cake to my colleague David (below), a Brooklyn neighbor, the executive director-elect of Henry Street, all around good sport and, most importantly, a graduate of Harvard College.

David ate his alma mater cake, and took a bite out of the Princeton, too.  His verdict:  "It doesn't surprise me that the Harvard cake is delicious, and that Yale has none."  For there was nary a recipe for Yale cake in the entire Boston Cooking School Cook Book.  So much for that ivy rivalry!

Some baking notes:  I've included the cake recipes, but honestly wouldn't make these two again.  (In fact, I feel like I *owe* David a really delicious piece of cake.)
The flavor of the Princeton was excellent, but its texture was not; it didn't even rise -- and in fact sank in the center -- during baking.  And the frosting needed a stick of butter (not called for in the recipe) beaten in at the end for flavor, texture and to make enough to frost the cake.
And while the Harvard had an excellent texture and nice flavor, the frosting was a bit odd.  Perhaps chopped raisins folded into a marshmallow frosting was all the rage in the 1920s, but it is perhaps best left to that decade.
A microplane, pictured above, once found only in the tool shed, is an excellent and efficient kitchen device for zesting  the two oranges needed in the Princeton cake and frosting.


  1. Did you really post this at 4:58 AM??

  2. @Anthony: Thanks so much.
    @Anonymous: While I'm often up that early, the answer is no. I can't seem to adjust the time gadget on Blogger, but I'm so technically challenged about so many more important things, I've put that on the back burner, so to speak.

  3. Speaking of blogger challenges, i did post a reply re: Paul's distaste for all things Jersey. But it seems to have been "disappeared".

  4. @Margaret: Well, you know it wasn't me. I'm sure I couldn't figure out how to moderate (i.e., make disappear) comments if my life depended on it! Try to repost.

  5. It's funny, but I just made the Princeton orange cake for my girlfriends birthday. I used a chocolate frosting for the cake and it was delicious. I didn't encounter any problems with it rising, however it cooked in half the time the recipe called for. I got mine out of the fanny farmer cook book

  6. I don't know where you got your recipe for Princeton cake, but I have made it-- MANY times, and of course, I changed the recipe, as I always seem to do! In my cake, I first cooked orange slices, in bottom of heavy (oven safe) pan (on top of stove), than did the cake, as usual, but for texture, I DID add not only the grated rind and juice, I also sectioned an orange and wow; texture was there, and my cake did not fall in any place. One thing you must do, when baking upside-down cakes, is to ladle the cake=mix on top of the fruits. It works, and it spreads evenly.. IN the end, I had a very light cake, which was inverted and the boiled slices were the topping. If you would like, I can send you my revised recipe. OR, look up Princeton Cake, in Fanny-Farmer, the oldest and best stand-by, im MY library!
    Good luck with it next year!

  7. Try using the Fanny Farmer recipe for the Princeton Orange Cake. That recipe calls for cake flour which will make a pleasing texture and crumb. Fanny Farmer suggests a White Mountain Cream Frosting.

    For more information about cake flour and a cake flour substitute, read the following (source:

    Cake flour is a highly specialized type of wheat flour, intended for use in making cakes, cookies, and other delicate baked goods. Several characteristics differentiate cake flour from other wheat flours, making it unsuitable for certain tasks like baking bread. Many markets carry cake flour, and in a pinch a substitute can be made with ¾ cup sifted bleached all purpose flour and two tablespoons of cornstarch.

    When baking a cake, most cooks aim to create a light, fluffy cake with a tender crumb. This requires a flour with a low protein content, as protein promotes the production of gluten, which can make baked goods more tough. It also means that the flour must be very finely milled, to keep baked goods from getting heavy. Finally, a flour which is starchy and able to hold large amounts of fat and sugar without collapsing is required.


  8. I have to laugh as I read through here. Fanny Farmer vs. 1930's Boston Cooking School Cook book. Both are hand in hand together. Research Fanny Farmer...