I was looking for something quick to make tonight and the title of this recipe caught my eye — Railroad Sponge Cake. Clara Schwartz contributed this intriguingly titled recipe for the 1906 Berlin Cook Book.
It is always a good idea to check all ingredients ahead of time. I discovered I had just two large eggs in the house. This is the hazard of living with others as sometimes ingredients disappear unexpectedly. I went ahead with the recipe but cut all the amounts in half.
I added 3/4 cup of sugar to a bowl and then mixed in 2 large eggs. I added 1 cup of all purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. Once this was all mixed well I stirred in 1/8 cup of hot water. I poured the batter into a round greased cake tin and baked for just over 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F.
The women of the Schwartz family must have been amazing cake bakers as they contributed a number of cake recipes to the Berlin Cook Book. The recipe printed below Clara’s is from Mrs. Schwartz and across the page is another from Annie. I’m assuming Clara and Annie are related. Susan Schwartz also contributed recipes. In the 1901 census 17 year old Clara S. Schwartz lives with her unmarried sister Barbara C (age 25) who is listed as head of household and another single sister Josephine E (age 32). The household also included three more single women as lodgers. Clara works as a seamstress and later as a dressmaker. Most of the household lists German as their heritage and the Schwartz women are Roman Catholic and are all occupied as seamstresses.
This is a quick and easy cake to make. The recipe as written would make enough batter for a two layer cake. The result is a very nice cake, although I have no idea why it is called railroad sponge cake. It is a sturdy cake which would transport well for a picnic but I don’t think it will keep very long. Sponge cakes become stale quickly. A quick internet search reveals that this must have been a very popular recipe at one time as it appeared in a number of late 19th century cook books in almost exactly the same form. There’s a reference to its toughness in a book of humor in the same era — “as tough as old pig iron or railroad sponge cake”.
RAILROAD SPONGE CAKE
1 1/2 cups of sugar, 2 even cups of flour, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Mix and add 1/4 of a cup of hot water.