This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
As far as the giving an inviting appearance to the tables is concerned the baskets or stands of cut cake have quite as good an effect as elaborately ornamented cakes, provided the cut cakes are made suitable for the purpose. Ordinary slices of cakes baked in deep moulds cannot be made much of, they are slices of cakes and nothing more. Bake cakes of different sorts in thin sheets, differently flavored and of different tints and textures. Place some of the sheets two together with jam and jelly between, and leave some as they are. Take a bowl of fine powdered sugar and wet it either with wine, with bright-colored fruit syrups, with yolk of eggs for yellow, with chocolate syrup or with plain water; for each sheet of cake make this plain sugar coating a different flavor, make the wet sugar so thick that it will just barely settle down smooth and glossy when poured on the sheets of cake, and ice over the top of every sheet so prepared, except one for plain cake for those who prefer it Besides the plain white, chocolate and yellow, the fruit syrup will have made a red or pink sheet, if not, color one bowl of wet sugar. It needs no beating, this kind of icing, and will dry on the sheets of cake in an hour.
To further increase the variety, chop some of the greenest citron and sprinkle it over a white sheet while still wet, do the same for a pink sheet. Take some grated fresh cocoanut, clean and free from specks and strew it over one or two other sheets while still fresh-iced and wet, and scatter split almonds or walnuts over another. To make another kind mix grated or scraped almond paste with the sugar and spread that upon a sheet or between two sheets. Let the flavors be various; almond, pineapple, orange, vanilla, banana, lemon, anise, peppermint, peach.
These broad sheets of cake having been prepared, the next thing ornamental is to cut them carefully and the special recommendation of this, plain sugar-and-water icing is that it will not break, but can be cut into any fancy shape that the cake will bear. Cut some of the sheets into crescents with a biscuit cutter, cut some in diamonds, some in squares. Now bring alongside an assorted lot of macaroons, egg kisses, solid kisses, hollow kisses, or meringues a la creme baked on boards; chocolate meringues, rose meringues, and stars and fingers, and covering the basket with a handsomely folded napkin you can stack up a pyramid of assorted cakes that will be more immediately attractive and give more satisfaction than an elaborately ornamented cake on which two to three days' work has been put could do, and these assortments, fortunately, are not particularly tedious to make, if we except the meringues in large quantities. In addition, or for a change from these, there are the jelly rolls, variously iced and colored and coated with almonds or fresh cocoanut before slicing; there are the various sponge drops and fingers, wafers and curled snaps and small cakes iced with chocolate and piped with white.
But in the more elaborately set table the one basket of this sort will be matched on the other side by a whole cake with some light and fragile kind of ornamentation raised upon it, but this cake under present fashions must be cut, if only one section taken out, to invite immediate use. It must be of little weight, shallow in the mould, regularly iced with white-of-egg icing and beautifully bordered and flowered, besides the raised ornamentation, and forms the pastry cook's offset and competitor to the meat cooks' decorated galantine.