Thursday, 10 November 2016

October History Bakers: Shrewsbury Cakes

October was my turn to make something for History Bakers, and I decided to make Shrewsbury Cakes. I found the recipe in our collection of Sykes family papers. Not being much of a baker myself, my choice was based solely on the apparent simplicity of the recipe:

Recipe taken from 18th century recipe book [U DDSY/104/54]
Transcription: Take a pound of fresh butter, a pound of double refin’d Sugar sifted, a little beaten mace and 4 Eggs, beat them all together with your hands till it is very light, then put thereto a pound and 1/2 of Flower and roul them out into little Cakes.

How hard could that be? I decided to halve the quantities in the recipe, as I didn’t feel I needed a kilo and a half of biscuits, and gathered my ingredients (I didn’t have any mace so I used nutmeg instead). I also gathered my bat-shaped biscuit cutter in homage to Halloween.

Ingredients required

I creamed together the butter and sugar, mixed in the eggs and nutmeg, and added the flour. I wasn’t sure how much nutmeg to use so went for “until I got fed up of grating it”, as I was concerned that the biscuits would be a bit flavourless. As it turned out, “until just before I got fed up of grating it” might have been better, as they did come out rather over-represented in the nutmeg department.

At this point I surveyed the mixture and realised that my lack of experience in biscuit-making was about to trip me up. I can’t recall making any biscuits since my school days, which are some time ago now, and I had no idea what the mixture was supposed to be like. What I had was akin to a thick cake batter, and there was no way I was going to be able to 'roul' it out into little cakes, let alone cut it into little bats.

I should probably have asked the internet what to do next (can one live chat with Mary and Paul?) but instead I ploughed on, adding more flour to try and produce a rollable dough. Eventually I was successful, and used my bat to cut out 26 biscuits. I baked them on gas mark 4 for about 20 minutes per batch. They were then left to cool on a wire rack.

Hot out of the oven!

Inspired by my regular watching of The Great British Bake Off, but entirely unencumbered with skill, I had decided to ice the bats with suitably spooky Halloween patterns. I shall gloss over what happened next as it is all too painful, but suffice to say the sorry episode ended with me squeezing orange icing from the piping bag straight into my mouth in a bid to hide the evidence.

The final biscuits taste strongly of nutmeg (my fault) and have a dense and rather chewy texture (probably my fault, although may have been the recipe). They do make quite an acceptable snack though.

Ready to be eaten in the staff tea-room!

If you’ve been inspired by this post to make your own Shrewsbury cakes, may I suggest making a nice Victoria sponge instead? But if you insist, here is my updated recipe:

225g sugar
225g butter
450g (ish) flour
2 eggs
some nutmeg

Cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the beaten eggs and nutmeg. Add the flour, and keep adding more until you get a dough you can roll out to about 0.5cm thick. Cut into shapes of your choosing. Bake the things at 180C/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes or until they look cooked. (I think maybe they should be turning golden at the edges? Not really sure.) Cool on a wire rack, then eat. Icing optional, based on inclination and skill.

Verity: Subtle flavour, lovely biscuit :)
Laura: Crisp and crunchy, perfect with a cup of tea
Claire: Perfect biscuit texture, delicately spiced
Elaine: Lovely spicy biscuit
Elspeth: Good biscuity texture and crunch but not a great deal of taste
Paul: Right crunchy with subtle undernotes!
Pete: Very nice with a hint of nutmeg

Sarah Pymer, Assistant Archivist (HUA)

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