I suppose it is time to stop apologising for the gaps between my posts since this is turning out to be the new normal. But I am now home again and can give you the story of an experiment I did earlier in the week.
I enjoy going flea marketing and occasionally find vintage kitchen toys to play with, like that mortar I used a while ago. Three weeks ago, it was a glazed earthenware cake mould. These are not uncommon on flea markets in Germany, but mostly quite large, so I was gratified to find one more in keeping with my 1.5-person household’s needs and the size of a modern electric oven. It is basic, I think it is pretty, and it most likely dates to the mid-twentieth century when these were mass-produced. It is glazed on the inside and has a spike going upwards that is meant to ensure the dough is cooked all the way through. Once I had the time to play with it, I was resolved to do that.
The recipe I went with was simple, a scaled-down version of a heavy yeast cake as we find it in nineteenth-century cookbooks. I also used dry yeast rather than live for logistical reasons, so this doesn’t really count as a reconstruction experiment. It was 300g of flour, 100g of sugar, a pinch of salt, some cinnamon, mace, and cloves, and the dry yeast mixed with one egg, 75g of melted butter, and enough warm milk to make a heavy dough. I then folded in about 3/4 cup each (I did not weigh them) or raisins and chopped nuts. This sounds a lot like Stollen because it is from the same family, just simpler and less rich. The dough took a long time to rise and did not grow by a lot, but it turned out adequate to its purpose.
My cookbooks did not offer much help about technique, so I went with a commonsense approach. As the oven pre-heated, I put in the cake mould to warm it up, then brushed it with butter on the inside and put in the dough for a final rise on top of the stove. That turned out to work very well. Afterwards, I put it into the oven at 180°C, and I suspect it might have done better at a higher temperature. It took a lot longer than any metal pan would have, finally cooking through after over 90 minutes. I expected the insulating properties of the pottery to play a role, but was surprised at how much. Not all the dough had fit, so I opted for a metal pan to bake the rest and it was done and beginning to be unpleasantly dry after 40 minutes.
The result was not like what we think of as a Kuchen today. It was hard and dry on the outside, heavy and dense, and not very sweet. However, it improved with a few days’ rest, which the recipes tend to assume (in one case, the cake was even meant to be sent by parcel post). I brushed it with melted butter and dusted it with fine sugar, again a common practice and still how you treat Stollen. The result, while still harder and drier than that, was very nice and went well with butter and jam.
I wonder whether a thick-walled cake mould like this might not work as a baking option on an open hearthfire if it was covered thoroughly and turned regularly to produce an even heat. It may well be suitable for much more liquid and richer doughs and batters, and I will befinitely try that. As it is, though, it is far less practical than modern metal pans and will at best be used occasionally.