Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Friday, March 25, 2011

Triangle Fire, Bundt Kuchen and Brownies with Coffee Frosting

Today is the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the worst industrial accident in New York City's history; 146 very young women and men lost their lives when flames engulfed their workspace.  (Read more about it in Richard Chesnoff's excellent article in the Huffington Post.)

Hundreds of events to commemorate the tragedy were scheduled throughout the country and my place of employ, Henry Street Settlement, hosted a tea and reception last Sunday to honor the victims and to celebrate the progressive reforms (worker's rights, workplace safety, and more) that emerged from the fire's ashes.

The Triangle Tea and Reception featured talks by historian Joyce Mendelsohn and Vivian Sorenson, granddaughter of a Triangle employee; Liz Magnes on the piano, playing period music; and (since I was involved) a spread of refreshments all typical of 1911 and curated by historic gastronomist Sarah Lohman.

In 1911, Henry Street was18 years old, and the very population (southern and eastern European immigrants) that perished in the fire were the agency's first clients. We wanted to honor that history, in part, by recreating some of what existed in 1911, including serving the type of food eaten in the Settlement's dining rooms and in the tenement apartments of the new immigrants.

We served two savory dishes, deviled eggs and cheese & anchovy sandwiches, and two desserts, bundt kuchen and brownies with coffee frosting.  All were made from recipes in the c. 1915 edition of the Settlement Cook Book, originally published by a settlement house in Milwaukee in 1901.

The bundt kuchen, flavored with lemon and nutmeg, was delicious and typical of the time -- short on sugar and butter, and raised with yeast.

The yeast mixture, ready to add to the batter.

The batter barely fills the pan when it's first put in.

After an hour or more of rising, it's ready to bake.

The cut cake, beautifully plated by Sarah Lohman.
The "brownies" are really tiny cupcakes, meant to be baked in the gem pans popular at the turn of the 20th century, but I found mini-muffin pans worked just fine.  Again, typical of the era, they used (compared to today) a very small amount of chocolate and were not overly sweet.  The coffee frosting took them to a new level.

Because I made so many, I found it much more efficient to use a pasty bag to pipe the batter into the pans.  They baked in about 9 or 10 minutes.

Guests enjoy the spread in Henry Street's historic dining room.  

1 cake of yeast (1/2 oz)
1 cup lukewarm milk
1 cup flour
Set the yeast with a cup of the flour and the milk and let rise in warm place. Then proceed with the following:
1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
Zest of a lemon
Grated nutmeg
Beat the butter to a cream, add the sugar, eggs one at a time, rind of a lemon, a little grated nutmeg. Now add the yeast and the remaining flour; a little more if desired. Have pan well greased. Place dough in pan let rise very light and bake 45 to 60 minutes in a moderately hot oven.

1 cup brown sugar
1 square melted chocolate
½ cup butter
½ cup sour milk
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
Mix flour and soda. Cream butter and sugar; add egg, chocolate and the milk alternately with the flour mixture. Grease small timbale moulds; place one teaspoon full of the mixture in each and bake in a moderate oven 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 60 little cakes. Frost with Coffee Filling.

2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons strong black coffee
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cocoa,
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Cream butter and sugar together, add the coffee and vanilla, and lastly the cocoa.


  1. looks delicious. so interesting that these treats weren't overly sweet or chocolate-y. reading the recipes here really shows me that taste buds -- and financial resources -- made for a different eating culture back then.

    what a thoughtful way to have us thinking about that tragic fire -- which led to reforms on so many levels. on friday, i heard a retired firefighter talk about how the firetruck ladders at that time didn't reach high enough to save the workers. i think he said the ladders only went up to the ninth floor and the women were on the 11th floor.

  2. Betty -- Thanks for the comment. As you know, I can relate food to anything -- celebration, tragedy, whatever. And yes, the short ladders did impede the rescue efforts, but it's important to recognize, as you say, all the reforms that resulted from the fire.

  3. Susan is an amazing person. She created a great event to honor the memory of 146 workers who died in the Triangle Factory fire on March 25, 1911. It was held in the historic dining room of Henry Street Settlement where founder Lillian D. Wald and other Progressives articulated their vision of social justice. Susan produced an afternoon of talk and music and offered food that would have been served in 1911 that was enjoyed by all on that very special Sunday afternoon 100 years later.

  4. @Anonymous: Why, thank you so much for your very kind words.