I have a slight historical baking addiction - I like to track down, modernize and execute historical recipes... Sometimes it's difficult to fit all of the information about a specific dish, style of preparation and evolution of method on a single recipe card, so I'm making a list here so that anyone who would like to try their hand at them has the recipe... and so that I can refer back to them here myself.
If you also have historical recipes that you'd like to share, PLEASE do!!!!
The first mention of the Shrewsbury cake is from 1602 - contained in a description written by Lord Herbert of Cherbury wrote to his guardian, Sir George More of the singular 'bread’ or ‘cake’ particular to Shrewsbury:
“Lest you think this country ruder than it is, I have sent you some bread, which I am sure will be dainty, howsoever it be not pleasinge; it is a kind of cake which our country people use and made in no place in England but in Shrewsbury; if you vouchsafe to taste them, you will enworthy the country and sender. Measure not my love in substance of it, which is brittle, but the form of it, which is circular”.
The description of it being "brittle" is rather contrary to the modern interpretation of the word "cake"; these were the precursor to what would be later known as shortbread. This recipe appears myriad times throughout England and the American colonies. It was a truly functional sort of provision to have one hand, as it is described as having an indefinite shelf life, so it could be made in advance and pulled out at short notice to be served to unexpected guests, or broken up and included in other recipes (such as trifles, which were all the rage from the mid 1700's onward).
The above recipe for Shrewsbury Cakes comes from University of Penn's MS Codex 625, which is a collection of recipes for pastry and cookery compiled by a chef in the early half of the 18th century.
Take a pound of fresh butter a pound of double
refind sugar sifted fine a little beaten
mace & 4 eggs beat them all together with.
your hands till tis very leight & looks
curdling you put thereto a pound & 1/2 of
flower roul them out into little cakes
Another 18th century recipe from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, insists that use of a rolling pin will destroy the cakes: Bake them on papers well flower’d & butter’d. Mark them with cross barrs with a clean comb. Let yr butter be bare weight. Dont tuch them with a rolling pin.
Because of the Shrewbury Cake being something of a household staple, the variations of spice and flavorings are endless. Some rely on citrus and other dried fruit, which others call for stronger, aromatic spices like mace, cinnamon, ginger and caraway... When I first prepared these I made them in a style that would have been trendy in the late 1700's, when the dough was more "perfumed" than spiced or flavored... giving it a sublimely gentle taste, allowing the richness of the ingredients to shine through. My chosen ingredients were rose extract (stronger in flavor than rose water) and fennel.
I used a recipe from the Maryland Historical Society by Ann Maria Morris, c. 1824:
half a pound of butter beaten to a cream,¾ lb. of flour, ½ lb. of sifted sugar, 1 egg, ½ oz. caraway seed rolled into a thin paste, cut in rounds and baked in a slow oven.
In modern terms, the recipe is as follows:
2 Sticks of Salted Butter, Softened
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Large Egg
2 1/2 Cups of Flour (plus more for the board)
2 Tablespoons (or to taste) Fennel Seeds (these taste like a mild anise flavor)
3 Teaspoons (or to taste) Rose Extract
*Cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the egg and beat.
*Add the fennel seeds to the flour.
*Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until everything comes together in a ball.
*Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. *This step is key for retaining a clean cut shape when baking!) Remove from the refrigerator and begin working a small portion of the dough until you are able to roll it with a rolling pin. *Preheat the oven to 350° F.
*Roll out the dough to about ¼” thickness; add enough flour to the board that you can work some into the dough if it is not firm enough to roll out. Cut the dough out in 2.5 inch circular cookie cutter or the top of a drinking glass and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. The traditional ornamentation for this cake is made with a fork or knife - a very basic patter of your choosing - in the past this was a practical measure, to help break the cake up into genteel sized pieces for eating. *Bake until they just start to turn very slightly golden around the edges, about 11-12 minutes. The purpose of this bake is primarily to dry the cake out - not to bake it until it is golden... try to keep the finished bake very pale, allowing only the slightest suggestion of color around the edges. *Remove from oven and slide the parchment with the cookies onto a counter to cool.
Yield: About 5 dozen 2.5” rounds
I used this recipe to put out at a recreation of Eliza Powell's Sinful Feast in 1774 - both in cake form and crushed and use in a blood orange and grapefruit trifle.
Because of it's excellent shelf life and dense texture, the Shrewbury cake recipe is also good for use as a decorated cookie... (Jane Austen novels for a friend's bridal shower favors).
Recipe for Pennsylvania German Fastnachts or Donuts.
4 cups potato water*
2 cups sugar
2 cups butter
4 eggs (beaten)
2 tablespoons of salt
3 packages of yeast dissolved in 1 cup lukewarm water
Approximately 18 cups of flour
Place potato water in a pan over medium heat and add butter to melt. Once the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat.
Add sugar, salt and eggs.
When cooled to lukewarm, add 9 cups of flour and yeast mixture.
Mix batter thoroughly.
Cover the dough and rest in a warm, humid place - allow it to rise until it is doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and then add enough flour until the dough can be handled.
Allow for a second rise, again allowing the dough to double in size.
Punch down. On a floured board, roll 3/4" thick and then cut with a doughnut cutter (or into uniform squares).
Place the fastnachts on a floured towel and allow them to rise again to double their size.
Fry in fat (350 degrees) - turn over when they are golden brown.
Once they are cooked, remove and place on brown paper to absorb excess fat.
When cool, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy.
This recipe yields 6 dozen large fastnachts.
*Potato water is left over water used to boil potatoes, so it is laden with potato starch.
This recipe is from the Goschenhoppen Historians in Pennsylvania.
Fastnachts are a traditional PA Dutch food for Shrove Tuesday, as people tried to use up their lard, butter and sugar prior to Lent. Fastnacht basically means "Fasting Night". Some variations of the fastnacht recipe contain mashed potato for an extra starchy quality - this recipe only uses water used to boil potatoes.