Day 358 Christmas Cake

There are only a few more days until Christmas so it is time to make Christmas Cake. This recipe was contributed to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book by Mrs. W. H. Erbach of Baden Ontario. This is a typical recipe since it makes a large quantity of fruit cakes. Time will tell whether this recipe results in the hated door stop style of fruit cake or a nice moist tasty cake.

In the beginning there was butter, sugar and eggs.

In the beginning there was butter, sugar and eggs.

If I attempted to make this recipe in the original quantity, I not only would be broke but I’d also have enough Christmas Cake for every reader and then some. Instead, since the recipe calls for three pounds of so many of the ingredients I’m going to make one-third of the recipe. It has quite specific directions that are easy to follow I started by weighing the sugar. Fortunately butter comes in pound blocks so I unwrapped one and creamed 1 pound of butter with 1 pound of sugar. Next I used my rudimentary math skills to calculate that 2 dozen eggs equals 24 eggs so one-third would be eight eggs. I started cracking and beating medium size eggs into the creamed mixture one by one.

One of the liquids -- brandy -- in the cake.

One of the liquids — brandy — in the cake.

Once the eggs were all incorporated I measured and added the brandy and molasses to the bowl. Next I weighed the raisins, currants, lemon peel, orange peel and citron peel and stirring each one into the cake batter. As discussed in some other entries I had far less to do to prepare the raisins and peel than a woman in 1906. I didn’t have to seed or chop these ingredients. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough of the various peels. I discovered that the bulk container I assumed had more peel was instead full of preserved ginger. I decided that wouldn’t be a good historical substitute (even if it might have been tasty). In the end I had about half the required amount of total peel. Considering that peel is my least favourite fruit cake ingredient, I wasn’t too upset.

Almost ready -- just a few more ingredients.

Almost ready — just a few more ingredients.

Finally it was time to weigh the flour and add the spices. I added 1 pound and three ounces of regular white all-purpose flour and 2/3 teaspoon of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. I kept stirring until the cake batter was well mixed.  I selected a variety of containers to use for the cakes. I greased and filled three small loaf tins, one regular bread loaf sized pan and a round cake pan. You might notice that there is no leavening (baking soda, baking powder, yeast etc) in the recipe so I filled each pan to the top before putting it in the preheated oven. Although Mrs. Sachs recipe is detailed about preparing the cake she does not provide any baking instructions. I decided to try 325 degrees and I started checking on the smaller pans after 30 minutes.

I strongly recommend getting a kitchen scale if you want to use historic recipes but here are the approximate Imperial measuring equivalents to the weights I used in the recipe. This is a combination of my measurements and the ones listed at the beginning of the 1906 Berlin Cook Book . . . and remember one pound equals 16 ounces:

  • 1 pound raisins = 2 cups
  • 1 pound currants = 2 cups
  • 1 pound lemon peel =
  • 1 pound orange peel =
  • 1 pound citron peel =
  • 1 pound butter = 2 cups
  • 1 pound sugar = 2 cups
  • 1 pound 3 ounces flour = 4 cups plus 3 teaspoons
  • 1/3 pound almonds = 5.33 ounces =
  • 1/3 pint brandy = 2/3 cup
  • 1/3 pint molasses =2/3 cup


This is the first time I’ve used one of Mrs. W. H. Erbach’s recipes but once again the combination of the Canadian census information available at Automated Genealogy website and the Waterloo Region Generations website helps me fill in a picture the woman  contributing this recipe. Charlotte Flauhaus married William H. Erbach on March 28, 1882 in New Hamburg. Charlotte was born in April 1859 while William was born in January 1860. Both William and Charlotte have one parent born in Canada and one born in Germany. In 1901, the 41-year-old couple live in Baden Ontario with their four children Charlottie 18, Phillip 15, Augusta 13, and Herbert 10, along with a 26-year-old female domestic servant named Ellen Thompson. William works as a book-keeper for the Livingston Flax Seed company in Baden. The Erbach family are Lutheran while Ellen is U. Breth. It also looks like Charlotte’s 66-year-old widowed mother Caroline Flauhaus lives with them although she’s listed as a lodger. Her husband died way back in 1872 which must have been a challenge for her with six children. Sadly history is repeated in this case as William dies in 1903 and therefore Charlotte has only been widowed three years when the cookbook is published. It explains why I couldn’t find him in the 1911 census.

In fact I can’t find any of the family in Ontario in the 1911 census. Where did they go? Based on a quick internet search it looks like daughter Charlotte’s middle name began with a C and that she married Abraham Hunsberger and had a child. She died in 1928. I was also surprised to discover that William and Charlotte had another child Ida Edith born in 1894 who died in 1904 if is to be believed!!

According to the same source Charlotte (the recipe contributor) died in 1944 in Toronto.  Phillip died in the US. Augusta Agnes married Elmore E. Ahrens and had a child and then had a second marriage to James F. Burke and had four more children. She didn’t die until 1975 in St. Jacobs. Herbert E. died in 1917 at Vimy in France — another casualty of The Great War (World War I). The Baden Outlook of January 2008 tells more about Herbert since a street in Baden is named for him! It states:

Erbach Crescent was named after Private Herb Erbach, who was killed in battle at Vimy Ridge in France on April 9, 1917. Erbach was born and raised in Baden but had moved around the province working at various places of employment. He was the son of William and Charlotte Erbach. Herbert was the youngest of four children and was born on April 12, 1890. At age 26, in the early part of 1916, he enlisted with the 111th Battalion. He went in the fall of 1916 with the 75th Canadian Battalion. He was laid to rest at Canadian Cemetery number two in Neuville-St. Vaast, Pas de Calais, France.

I found a bit more about Augusta’s first marriage in another internet source  where it states:

019364-08 (Waterloo Co) Edward Elmore AHRENS, 25, druggist, Hawkesville, Toronto, s/o August AHRENS & Louise KINHARDT (?) married Augusta ERBACH, 20, Baden, Baden, d/o William H. ERBACH & Charlotte HANANS (?), witn: Philip ERBACH of Baden & Mary ELSASSER of Toronto, 24 June 1908 in Baden

You can find out more about the man  for whom William Erbach worked by visiting Castle Kilbride in Baden.


Mrs. W.H. Erbach's Christmas Cake fresh from the oven.

Mrs. Erbach’s Christmas Cake fresh from the oven.

The smaller cakes baked for an hour before I felt they were ready. I left the larger loaf to bake for another 15 minutes and left it in the oven after I turned off the heat. The cakes looked great and smelled good too. I took a sample from one of the smaller loaves and it tasted fine. The cake was most and there were hints of the brandy flavour. This would be densely packed with fruit and peel if I’d added the entire amount of peel. I like almonds so they are a nice addition. The spices dominated when I tasted the batter but they’ve mellowed in the finished cake. I consider this a medium fruit cake. It isn’t a light colour and it isn’t the dark style either.

Mrs. W. H. Erbach, Baden
3 pounds sugar, 3 pounds currants, 3 pounds raisins, 3 1/2 pounds flour, 3 pounds lemon, citron, and orange peel, 2 dozen eggs, 3 pounds butter, 1 pound almonds, 1 pint of best brandy, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of cloves, 2 teaspoons of nutmeg, 1 pint molasses. Beat eggs, sugar and butter to a cream then add molasses and brandy and other ingredients. Bake in as many tins as desired.

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