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Compromise Cake with Strawberry Icing

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Slice of cake on a plate with strawberry icing on top and a strawberry next to it.

Strawberry season is in full swing here in New England. This past Saturday I picked a whole bunch of berries (and probably ate just about as many as I put into the bucket!)

I wanted to make something fun with all of those delicious berries. I was in the mood for cake, so I thought I might try making one using the strawberries for the frosting.

For the cake, I used a recipe I found in a Godey’s Lady’s Book from June of 1868. The recipe, or “receipt” as they used to be called) is for a basic yellow cake.

I decided to call this cake a “compromise cake” because I feel like it is a compromise between a real food recipe and what could be termed by some as an unhealthy recipe. It is cake after all, so it’s obviously not going to be quite as healthy as some other foods would be.

Like most old-fashioned recipes, this one uses refined flour and sugar. While refined white flour and sugar are ingredients I usually try not to use too much of, I decided to make this cake close to the original recipe with a just a couple of changes.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I should even post this recipe, since it’s not exactly a perfect example of a real food recipe. I decided, though, that sometimes compromise and balance can be even more important than trying to stick to a super healthy diet. I definitely want to eat foods that are healthy and nutritious, but I also don’t want to stress about my food to the point that I feel like eating a bite of a dessert with refined flour and sugar will ruin my health forever.

This cake obviously isn’t something I would make a regular habit of eating, but I don’t feel that it is on the same level of unhealthiness as something like a store-bought cake or a cake-mix cake. Even though there’s some refined grains and sugar, every ingredient in this cake is still a real food: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk. No artificial colors or flavors. No preservatives. No scary ingredients that you can’t even pronounce.

In a sense, it’s even still a traditional food, depending on how you define the word “traditional.” I’ve seen recipes very similar to this one in cookbooks from the 1800s and even from the 1700s. Recipes from 200 and 300 years ago may not be quite as traditional as the way people ate 1,000 years ago, but they definitely still go way past even Grandma’s traditional cooking from just a couple of generations ago.

This is the original cake recipe as printed in Godey’s Lady’s Book:

“One pound of sugar, one of flour, and half a pound of butter; four eggs, beaten separately, until very light; half a pint of milk, one teaspoonful of soda, and two of cream of tartar.”

This is the version of the recipe that I used to make my cake.


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups raw turbinado sugar
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking soda (find good quality baking soda here)
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar (find cream of tartar in bulk here)


  1. Take eggs, milk, and butter out of the fridge and let them sit out on the counter until they are close to room temperature. (Most old-fashioned cook books say this step is essential for a good cake.)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour your pan. (I used a 13 x 9 pan, but you could also use two round pans).
  3.  Combine flour, sugar, and baking soda in a mixing bowl.
  4. Separate egg yolks and whites into separate bowls. Beat each of them. (I beat the yolks for just a few minutes by hand and I used a cake mixer to beat the whites until they had soft peaks.)
  5. Add butter, half of the milk, and the beaten egg yolks to the egg whites. Blend the ingredients together and then add the mixture of dry ingredients. Dissolve the cream of tartar into the remaining half of the milk and add to the batter.
  6. Mix all ingredients together until they are fully incorporated and pour into your cake pan.
  7. Put the cake into the oven as soon as possible after mixing the ingredients together. The cream of tarter begins reacting with the baking soda right away, and if you wait to long to get the cake into the oven, it won’t rise as much.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Now, for the icing. With all of those wonderful strawberries, I just had to use some of them for my cake.

I had dreams of making some sort of healthy, real-food strawberry frosting using only raw honey as the sweetener.

Well. Sometimes dreams just don’t quite make it into reality. After attempting to mix butter, strawberries, and raw honey together, I realized that my “frosting” was really a gloppy mess. I knew I needed some type of thickener to try to save my frosting disaster, so I decided to throw in some of the arrowroot powder I had bought recently. I ended up adding close to a cup of the arrowroot powder, but my frosting still wasn’t thickening properly. It didn’t have the consistency of frosting at all. It was more like a runny un-gelled gelatin that was starting to melt.

At this point, I didn’t want to waste any more ingredients, so I decided to compromise and try again with a little bit of powdered sugar. Since it takes about a truckload of powdered sugar to make regular thick frosting, I decided to go with an icing instead. I think icings are a good compromise because they still give you the same taste and feeling of having a frosting, but you use a lot less and you don’t need to use as much powdered sugar to make them. Since I made my cake as a sheet cake rather than a layer cake, I was able to use less, too, since I didn’t have to spread any between layers.

This is the recipe I ended up using:

Strawberry Icing

  • 3 medium sized strawberries
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Directions: Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and spread or drizzle on top of cake.

Even though this cake isn’t a perfect real food recipe, I think it’s ok to enjoy in moderation. Desserts like this one were meant to be a once-in-a-while special indulgence. A couple hundred years ago, desserts like cakes weren’t something people had every night after supper. They were special treats reserved for special occasions.

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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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Thursday 30th of May 2013

Hi Lori, today I'm collecting cake recipes. Please drop me a line on [email protected] if you are ok with me linking to your post in my blog (Carole's Chatter). Cheers

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