Last week our family grew by three.
On Thursday, we welcomed three little chicks into the fold: two Buff Orpingtons and an Easter Egger. When I brought them home they were only a day old and looked just like Easter decorations. Just little downy orbs with tiny feet and beaks.
Already they seem to have doubled in size, with discernible wings, longer legs and necks and more adventuresome personalities.
I’ve wanted to raise chickens for a long time, partly as pets and partly as a source of eggs. I like the idea that E. will grow up knowing something about where his food comes from and I hope that he will have fun with the chickens too. He loves animals and is very gentle with our cats but after almost two years they have yet to really warm up to him.
It’s also important to me to know that any eggs that are part of our diet come from animals that are well cared for. Ours are in a brooder box for the time being, but will soon move out into a spacious and well-protected backyard run and will also be allowed to free-range (with supervision) in the yard.
Of course, from an animal-welfare perspective, backyard chicken keeping is not without its flaws. We purchased our chicks from a local store that orders them by the dozens from a large hatchery. At the hatchery they are packed into boxes soon after emerging from their shells and dispatched via the postal service. Our chicks seem to be perfectly healthy, but this is obviously not the nicest start to life and it’s not unusual for some chicks to die during or shortly after shipping.
Plus, most people only want hens for their backyard flocks and I am uneasy thinking about what happens to the male chicks. Still, the fact of the matter is that as long as we continue to eat eggs, keeping our own chickens is a comparatively humane way to get them.
Our chicks are several months away from laying their first eggs but, in the meantime, my sister-in-law surprised me with a carton of duck eggs from her brother’s flock.
I had never used duck eggs before, so this was naturally cause for excitement. (Much to Paul’s amusement — apparently duck eggs are much more commonplace in the UK)
Compared to chicken eggs, the duck eggs were bigger with thick, alabaster shells that required a real whack on the counter to open.
They are supposedly very good for baking thanks to extra fat and protein that causes cakes and other baked goods to stay moist longer and rise up extra high and fluffy.
I used mine in a hot-milk cake, an old-fashioned type of yellow cake made tender by the heated milk in the batter.
I don’t know how much can be attributed to the duck eggs, but the recipe did indeed turn out two exceptionally lofty layers. This is a simple, moist cake with a tight crumb. Imagine something that is a little more sturdy than a standard yellow butter cake but lighter than a pound cake.
I stacked the cake layers with first-of-the-season strawberries and big drifts of sweetened whipped cream to which I added a little sour cream for stability and tang. I imagine it would also be nice with chocolate frosting (isn’t everything?) or maybe a citrusy glaze.
Don’t worry if you don’t have duck eggs. This recipe was originally written to use chicken eggs, so they’re a perfectly fine substitute. Even though the duck eggs are larger, you can swap them out with chicken eggs one for one, which is exactly what I’ll be doing when our little brood begins to lay.
Several recipes for hot milk cake call for up to 10 tablespoons of butter, significantly more than the 2 tablespoons used here. I stuck with the smaller amount because this is supposed to be a depression-era recipe and I figured no one was putting 10 tablespoons of butter in their cakes back then.
I did use cake flour for a more finely-textured crumb even though I'm guessing most home cooks at the time weren't bothering with that either. If you try it with all-purpose flour, reduce the amount by about 4 1/2 tablespoons — and let me know how it turns out.
Also, as mentioned above, you can absolutely use chicken eggs instead of duck eggs. Even though chicken eggs are smaller, you should still use only four.
- 2 1/4 cups (275 g) cake flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 large duck eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (240 ml) milk
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml) pure almond extract
- 1 pound strawberries
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 pint (457 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup (32 to 65 g) powdered sugar, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (115 g) sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9" round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs together on medium speed. This is a good time to use the whisk attachment, if you have one. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the eggs look foamy. Then gradually pour in the sugar, continuing to beat the mixture at medium-high speed until it becomes pale, lemony yellow and thick, about five minutes. At this point the egg-sugar mixture should have at least doubled in volume. If it hasn't, keep beating.
While the eggs are beating, put the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and the milk is not quite boiling. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and almond extracts.
Reduce the mixer speed to its lowest setting and add the dry ingredients to the egg-sugar mixture, mixing just to combine. Then pour in the milk mixture, again mixing just to combine. Be careful not to over beat.
Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cakes are golden brown and spring back when touched lightly. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and cool completely before frosting.
Wash the strawberries and set aside 10-12 of your best specimens. Finely dice the rest of the strawberries, sprinkle with the granulated sugar and refrigerate.
Remove the stems from the remaining berries and slice in half lengthwise. Set aside.
Pour the cream into a large bowl and, using an electric mixer (again, with the whisk attachment if you have one), beat the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until medium peaks form. I like the whipped cream to be pretty well beaten for this cake, so that it doesn't flop over the sides, but be careful not to overheat or it will become grainy and eventually turn to butter. Fold in the sour cream.
When the cake layers are completely cool, spread about 1/3 of the whipped cream on top of one layer, stopping just short of the edge. Top with the macerated strawberries and then the second cake layer. Spread the rest of the whipped cream over the top of the cake and use the remaining strawberry halves to decorate.