Wednesday, 16 December 2015

History Bakers: Bible Cake

As an alternative to Christmas Cake, which can be a little rich for me, I decided to try this recipe for Bible Cake (also known as Scripture Cake). It was a very popular cake, in both Britain and America, during the nineteenth century. It was often used as a way of teaching young girls in Sunday Schools both baking and bible verses. In the Amish tradition, when making this cake, you would read a verse from the Bible after adding each item. The idea behind the recipe was to find ingredients by looking up Bible passages. For instance, 2 tablespoons I Samuel 14:15 [2nd part].

This particular version of the recipe came from one of our library books Traditional Food in Yorkshire compiled by Peter Brears. Brears tells the story of life and food in working-class Yorkshire c.1800-1920. He points out that 'Since the Bible was studied at Sunday and council schools, in churches, chapels and nearly every home, it is hardly surprising that someone eventually managed to assemble biblical references for everything which could be made into a cake. The results therefore became a regular contribution to church garden parties and chapel teas.'

There are many versions of the recipe but Brears uses the following one:


4 oz/ 100g butter - Judges V 25
4 oz/ 100g sugar - Jeremiah vi 20
3 eggs, beaten - Jeremiah xvii
8 oz/ 225g flour - I Kings iv 22
½ tsp mixed spice - II Chronicles ix 9
Pinch salt - Leviticus ii 13
1 tbs honey - I Samuel xiv 25
4 oz/ 100g raisins - I Samuel xxx 12
4 oz/ 100g figs, chopped - Nahum iii 12
4 oz/ 100g almonds, blanched and chopped - Numbers xvii 8
½ tsp baking powder - Amos iv 5
2 tbs milk - Judges iv 19


Cream the butter with the sugar [I used Caster], then beat in the eggs, little by little, and mix in the flour [Self raising flour in my case], mixed spice, salt and honey.  Follow Solomon’s instructions for making a good boy, Proverbs xxiii 14 [‘Thou shalt beat him with a rod’], stir in the raisins, figs and almonds, and finally the baking powder dissolved in the milk.

Put into a greased and lined 8 in/20 cm diameter cake tin, or a loaf tin, and bake at 180oC/350oF, gas mark 4 for about one hour.

The recipe was very easy to follow. I saved time by softening the butter in the microwave [not a traditional piece of equipment, I know!]. I put nearly a teaspoon of mixed spices in as I love the smell. Due to personal preference, I substituted raisins with sultanas.  With regard to the beating of the mixture, I did follow the instructions of Solomon’s – Thou shalt beat him with a rod - although this was never mentioned in any parenting classes I attended!

Once it was in the oven I did notice that the top of the cake browned very quickly so, after about 40 minutes, I put some greaseproof paper over the top to stop it burning. Also, it needed about 1 hour 10 mins to ensure it was cooked all the way through.

Comments from the food critics at the History Centre...

Verity - “Lovely Mix of Fruit and Nuts!”
Carol - “Very Nice! Fruity & Nutty and Moist!”
Dave - “Fantastic – Very flavourful & Fruity”
Neil - “Forget Mr. Kipling, I prefer Mrs. West! – Loads of Fruit & Nut, loved it”
Christine - “Nice light texture with a lovely fruity and nutty flavour.  Quite Moorish!”
Laura - “Liked the mixture of fruits and nuts.  Tasty and great for a winter treat”
Elaine - “Very Scrummy - Lots of flavour”
Claire - “Fruity and delicious – like a light Christmas cake!”
Martin - “Nuttier than I was expecting.  Very flavoursome.”

Caoimhe West, Archives Assistant

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