This section is from the book "Progressive Cookery", by E. M. Hinckley. Also available from Amazon: Progressive Cookery.
Read all recipes carefully before commencing, and then try and remember them, having your book before you to refer to. Have all materials measured before commencing to mix, the pan buttered, and the baking powder in the sifted flour. Beat the butter to a cream, add the sugar and beat again. Then add the beaten yolks of eggs (if there is milk in the cake put it into the bowl the eggs have been beaten in); add alternately the milk and flour; then the flavoring. Stir in the center with the spoon held straight, occasionally stirring around the edges. When well stirred beat vigorously. Now add the well beaten whites, folding in over and over. Bake the cake as soon as mixed. For sponge cake beat the yolks ten minutes, add the sugar and beat again; then the flour, flavoring, etc., and lastly the beaten whites.
Butter the tins, and for thick cake put in a strip of paper, allowing it to come an inch above the pan. This enables you to lift the cake out when baked. Or cut paper the size of the bottom of the pan and slightly grease again. The success of cake depends on the baking and mixing. To bake thick cake heat your oven, then partly close the dampers and add more coal. If too hot, leave the door open until the oven cools off a bit, then close. Put in your cake and cover with a pan the same size as the one your cake is in. Do not open the door for half an hour, if possible; should you open it be very careful to open gently. Thin cakes will bake in twenty to twenty-five minutes; larger, in proportion to size. If necessary to move cake do it very carefully, and not until it is set in the middle. When cake shrinks from the sides and does not stick to a wisp of broom when inserted into the center, it is baked. Do not take from the oven too quickly or the cake will fall. If the oven be too hot the cake will brown before rising. When it rises in the center, breaks open and stays up it is too stiff with flour. It should first rise around the edges, then in the middle. Mix cake in an earthen bowl, never in tin. Use the best materials, the finest granulated or powdered sugar. Eggs must be fresh and cold. When making cake it is best to use a Dover egg beater for beating the whites of eggs. For meringue and egg-nog beat with wire beater and beat on a platter with a long motion, slow at first, then quicker. Put a small pinch of salt on the platter before you commence to beat, for recipes where salt is called for, such as custards, etc. Yolks can be beaten to a froth in ten minutes. Eggs must not be allowed to stand after you commence to beat them, or they will return to liquid and will not again become light. Keep eggs in a cold place, and if soiled wash them before putting away. Never allow an egg beater to soak in water. Wash it by beating in the water.
California flour is richer than Eastern flour, therefore, in cake making, use a little less butter than the recipes call for. What is called pastry flour in Eastern cook-books is the same as our best roller flour. California wheat is richer and more nutritious; therefore, our roller flour is not quite so dry as Eastern pastry flour.
Citron should not be floured. To keep citron from dropping to the bottom of cake put a layer of cake and then a layer of citron, until the materials are used up, the top layer being cake. This applies to deep cakes. Pick currants over carefully, wash and dry in a cloth; set in moderate oven to dry thoroughly before putting in the jar. Stone raisins, put in jars and set away for use, so that in making cakes, etc., they may be in readiness. If you cannot have full control of the stove do not attempt to make cake. Stir with a wooden spoon. Currants and raisins must he floured before using, or they will drop to the bottom of cake. Beating cake, etc., beats in the air. If well beaten whites are added last beat cake, and then fold in the whites over and over, but do not stir.
Pure baking powders are soda and cream of tartar mixed in the proper proportions, combined with rice flour, corn starch, or some harmless ingredient to insure keeping. Cream of tartar is often mixed with a white earth that the unexperienced cannot detect. Soda being less expensive is not so much adulterated. Consequently the using of soda and cream of tartar is objectionable. Pure baking powder can be had. I get the best results from Dr. Price's Baking Powder. Ammonia in baking powder causes the big holes and dry cake and biscuit, instead of light, flaky cake and biscuit.