The great Hinsdalean bakeoff
Last updated 10/4/2023 at 4:23pm | View PDF
I love a good cooking challenge. So, I had no reservations when I agreed to write a 150th village anniversary column featuring a historic Hinsdale recipe. That was until I found myself in the basement of Immanuel Hall - in the archives of the historical society - talking about hospital food.
As it turns out, the oldest known cookbook in Hinsdale is a collection of vegetarian recipes from Hinsdale Hospital called "The Sanitarium Cook Book." The book dates back to 1921 and was written by the hospital's chief dietitian and chef, Curtis Benedict. As I was examining the pages trying to decide on a recipe, there were more than a few staunchly healthy dishes that had my taste buds cringing - asparagus broth, cream of lettuce soup and mock salmon salad, to name a few.
Determined to find something more exciting, I kept looking. Eventually, as I was reading the baking chapter, I found a recipe that was both historically significant and delicious - angel food cake. Angel food is a uniquely American cake that originated in the mid- to late 1800s, around the time of Hinsdale's founding in 1873. There are some origin stories that place the cake's creation in St. Louis, but the first widely published recipe was in the New York Times in 1880.
Back home in my kitchen with the cake recipe in hand, I was eager to begin. As I studied the recipe, I suddenly felt like I was a contestant on "The Great British Bakeoff." Here I was competing in my own technical baking challenge. First, the recipe called for a "slow oven," which had me wondering how low of a temperature is slow? Next, many of the older measurements required mathematical conversions. Then there were cooking questions that I had never pondered before, like exactly how many eggs are in a pint? So, I did some calculations and sketched out a quick plan.
A short time later, I was baking. My stand mixer was on overdrive beating all the egg whites and sugar. Then, after folding in the flour, it was time to place the cake in the oven. I found myself doing an oven dance - wondering how the cake was baking but not daring to open the door. Then came more waiting, as the cake had to cool upside down.
But as I tipped the cake out of the pan, it was fluffy, golden and everything I had hoped for. Now for the real test, the judges. My blue-eyed Paul Hollywood of a husband let me know that angel food is not his favorite type of cake. Alas, a Hollywood handshake seemed unlikely, but there was not a crumb left on his plate.
Next were my two daughters. My youngest, a sweet Mary Berry of a judge, gave it two thumbs up and a smile. Finally, the wildcard, my oldest, who is more discerning. She definitely has Prue Leith's "Is it worth the calories?" frame of mind. Surprisingly, she was the one who loved it most and gushed about how good it would be with whipped cream. Inspired, I went on to create a showstopper 150th anniversary edition of this cake with lemon whipped cream and berries. So, bakers, I invite you to step into the tent and join me for a delicious slice of Hinsdale history.
- Amy McCauley of Hinsdale is the paper's
food columnist. Readers can email her at