It's Oscar season again, when we all get ready to celebrate the amazing creativity of the American movie industry.
But Oscar Night is about more than just golden statues. It is also about the lifestyle of Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. From designer gowns to million-dollar jewelry, few of us will ever equal the glamour of the rich and famous on the red carpet.
But thanks to an insurance salesman named Harry Baker, there is a way that we can enjoy the true flavor of Hollywood right at home.
Yes, I said an insurance salesman. But to understand the whole story we have to go back to Hollywood in the 1920s.
A baker at heart
As one star competed with another to host that singularly memorable Oscar party, each celebrity was looking for something special to serve. In stepped Harry, who might have been an insurance salesman by profession, but at heart, he was a passionate baker.
His goal was to create a totally new cake. To do this he converted his small apartment into a test kitchen with 12 ovens. He experimented, trying cake after cake, looking for something different, something unique.
As he worked through traditional butter-cake recipes, he had an idea. What if you replaced the heavier butter or shortening that all the recipes used with a lighter liquid vegetable oil?
Today, it seems like common sense, but at that time not a single chef or baker had thought to make the switch. Harry mixed the cake up and slid it into the oven in an available angel-food pan.
Forty-five minutes later, he took it out and found a cake so light it seemed to float like the then-fashionable chiffon gowns of the stars.
And that was how the Chiffon Cake was invented and named the first original cake recipe in more than 100 years.
From elite to mainstream
Harry sent samples to Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and Kate Hepburn, just to name a few of the top stars. And you could only eat his cake at the most elite of Hollywood parties.
Wisely, Harry made every cake himself, never allowing anyone to see his secret recipe. Price: $100 per cake (and that was a lot of dough in the 1930s!).
Eventually, Harry yielded to pressure from the restaurant to the stars, The Brown Derby, and allowed it to place his pre-baked cake on its menu.
By the late 1930s, Harry was so famous as a baker (no pun on his last name intended) he was shipping cakes to Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House.
In 1947, a tiring Harry sold his secret recipe to General Mills. The company was amazed to find that it had paid a very large amount for a recipe that was simplicity itself.
To recover its costs, General Mills started one of the largest culinary ad campaigns ever staged, complete with star endorsements. The result: a 20-percent increase in the amount of flour and cooking oil sold that year!
So enjoy the taste of Hollywood while you watch the Oscars this year or play a classic movie DVD from such great stores as Top Video on Aurora Avenue North.
And don't forget Harry Baker and his wonderful recipe. Serve it to your friends and family and share your talents, because we can all have star quality in the kitchen!
Ana Kinkaid, a Green Lake resident and culinary historian, can be reached at email@example.com.
Orange Chiffon Cake
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil (such canola oil)
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
Add egg yolks, orange juice, oil and orange peel. Beat for about 5 minutes until smooth.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until stiff but not dry.
Fold beaten egg whites into the flour mixture.
Spoon into an ungreased tube pan.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until done.
Cool cake upside-down, and top with orange glaze when cool.
Orange Glaze Topping
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powered sugar
2-4 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
Melt butter in a saucepan, and add remaining ingredients.
Drizzle over cooled cake.[[In-content Ad]]