I love looking through old cook books – it provides a combination of nostalgia over forgotten foods, a good giggle from gleaming over past food fashions as well an insight into the way we used to eat. Look through an old baking recipe book and you will find a difference, not only in the ingredients used but differences in the amount of each ingredient used in the recipe.
A chocolate cake recipe in The Colour Book of Chocolate Cooking (published 1981) lists 100g butter, 100g sugar and 100g flour as the core ingredients. The batter is divided between two cake tins, the two are cooked and then sandwiched together to make a two tier cake. The recipe states that the cake serves 12. In the accompanying sketch showing its two tiers, it is portrayed as a celebratory cake, however, is a modest looking chocolate cake by today’s standards.
On the internet, I came across ‘The Most Amazing Chocolate Cake’ recipe which lists ½ cup vegetable oil, 3 cups of sugar (this equates to 600g sugar) and 3 cups of flour (this equates to about 500g of flour) as its core ingredients. The batter is divided into three cake tins, the three are cooked and the cake is sandwiched together to make a three tier cake. The recipe states this cake also serves 12. The accompanying image is of a decadent, heavily frosted, enticing chocolate cake, which would tempt anyone to make it … and eat it!
It is not my intention to disparage either cake, but simply compare cooking and eating habits … then and now.
The ingredients are the same with the exception of the older recipe containing butter and the modern version containing oil. Substituting butter with oil in baking is a trend which has emerged in the last 5 or so years. The oil has the advantage of providing moisture and improved shelf life.
What about the amounts of the various ingredients? The 1981 version has 100g butter, whilst the 2017 cake has 125 ml (1/2 cup) oil. That’s a 25% increase in the added fat. That equates to an extra 25g of fat in the whole cake or an extra 2g fat for a slice of cake. No big deal. However, the sugar content of the modern version is 6 times higher than in the older recipe. And the flour content of the modern version is 5 times higher than in the older recipe.
We may feel like in both situations we are eating the same thing: chocolate cake. True. We may also say we are “just having a slice of cake” and feel like in both situations we are eating the same amount, because both cakes are portioned the same way – into 12 slices. True. However, the modern version is made with a lot more sugar and flour, therefore making a larger cake. And larger portions.
Ok, I have deliberately chosen these two cakes to contrast the difference. Guilty as charged. But generally speaking, there is a difference. Food is getting richer. Portions are getting bigger. More than ever, mindful eating is important to strike a balance between food choices and respecting our body, as well as between nourishment and enjoyment.