Suffrage Angel Cake à la Kennedy

Eliza Kennedy Smith (1889-1964) was a suffragette, a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to The Suffrage Cook Book, published by the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania in 1915.

Here, her recipe for Suffrage Angel Cake is followed by a modern explanation of the vintage cooking terms and methods, so you can recreate this popular light-textured cake in your own kitchen.

What is particularly interesting about this turn-of-the-century recipe is that it uses whole eggs, where modern “angel food cakes” usually call for using the egg whites only. However, it seems likely that by the 1920s, Miss Kennedy (by then married to Mr. R. Templeton Smith, also of Pittsburgh) was separating her eggs along with fellow members of the Alleghany County League of Women Voters, baking cakes and making noodles to raise funds for their cause…

But on to the recipe —

Suffrage Angel Cake

(à la Kennedy)
11 eggs
1 full cup Swansdown Flour (after sifting)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 heaping teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch of salt

Beat the eggs until light–not stiff; sift sugar 7 times, add to eggs, beating as little as possible. Sift flour 9 times, using only the cupful, discarding the extra flour; then put in the flour the cream of tartar; add this to the eggs and sugar; now the vanilla. Put in angel cake pan with feet. Put in oven with very little heat. Great care must be used in baking this cake to insure success. Light the oven when you commence preparing material. After the first 10 minutes in oven, increase heat and continue to do so every five minutes until the last 4 or 5 minutes, when strong heat must be used. At thirty minutes remove cake and invert pan allowing to stand thus until cold.

Kitchen Notes

Angel cakes are notorious for using a great many eggs and not much flour — this is what gives the low-fat cake its light-as-a-cloud texture, and hence the name.

  • Eggs that are brought to room temperature before beating will have more volume, making a larger and lighter cake.
  • The flour and sugar must be well sifted, as instructed, to remove lumps and mix in air. Sifting will also greatly affect the measurement of dry ingredients.
  • Do not over-work this cake: beat only as much as necessary to combine the ingredients smoothly.

What oven temperature should you use?

“Light the oven when you commence preparing material” means to preheat the oven. For oven temperatures, Miss Kennedy said to “Put in the oven with very little heat” and then “increase heat and continue to do so every five minutes until the last 4 or 5 minutes, when strong heat must be used.”

Most modern recipes for angel cake call for baking at 350°F oven temperature throughout the cooking time, and that method will work just fine here. If you want to replicate Miss Kennedy’s baking method, however, “very little heat” can be interpreted as somewhere in the range of 250°F, and 400°F or so would be the “strong heat” called for in the final few minutes of baking.

What cake pan should you use?

Note that Miss Kennedy specified to bake the batter in an angel cake pan with feet. Basically, this is a large tube pan with metal pieces sticking up from the top rim. When you turn the cake pan over to let it cool, so the cake will release from the pan, it rests on these “feet” instead of flattening the top of the cake. While it is hot, an angel cake is very delicate and can “fall” easily if touched with too much pressure. The cake is likely to take two hours to cool, so plan your serving time accordingly.

Historical Notes

Eliza Kennedy married R. Templeton Smith, also of Pittsburgh, shortly after The Suffrage Cook Book was published. Their son, Templeton Smith, Jr. (1919-2007) was one of the first environmental lawyers. He wrote a biography of his mother entitled One who made a difference: Mrs. R. Templeton Smith, a.k.a. Eliza Kennedy Smith, 1889-1964, now unfortunately out of print.