From American Cookery (1796), by Amelia Simmons:
Half pound butter, three quarters
of a pound sugar, a little mace,
four eggs mixed and beat with
your hand, till very light, put
the composition to one pound
flour, roll into small cakes—bake
with a light oven.
N.B. In all cases where spices are
named, it is supposed that they
be pounded fine and sifted; sugar
must be dried and rolled fine; flour,
dried in an oven; eggs well beat
or whipped into a raging foam.
I just love that last line: “…eggs…whipped into a raging foam.”
What language! Such imagery! HUZZAH!
In any case, this is the receipt (recipe) that I followed when
making Shrewsbury Cakes for use at the Israel Crane House
this past December. Of course, as you know by now, there
are literally dozens of these out there, and I could’ve used
any one of them. So then, why did I choose Amelia’s?
Well, there were several reasons. Although, I must say, none
were earth shattering! So, let’s see, there were minor things,
such as the fact that American Cookery was published in 1796,
which is the same year that the Crane House was built. That
means, too, her version is appropriate for the early 1800s,
the time period we interpret. The receipt also contains all
the basic Shrewsbury components, without too many extras
thrown in. At the top of the list, however, was that Amelia’s
receipt has very manageable proportions. Yep, it was simple
as that. For instance, her receipt called for just one pound
of flour, as opposed to, say, Eliza Smith’s or Hannah Wolley’s,
which specify three and four, respectively. Thus, there are less
of the other ingredients, as well. So, I could do that. I could
figure it all out. No halving or third-i-fying or whatever all the
quantities. Besides, I knew any receipt, even Amelia’s, would
most likely result in a boat-load of little cakes (and it did), so
why make thousands when you just need hundreds?!
At the same time, I was influenced by all those other receipts.
As you see (above), on the spice front, Amelia’s receipt calls
for mace ONLY. No nutmeg or cinnamon. Not even rosewater.
So I mixed up the batter as written and baked about half of it.
Then I added those other two spices and finished the baking.
I also heeded several of the receipts that instruct the cook
to “prick them before they go into the oven.”
Overall, it was a bit of work, but great fun to do. They were a big
hit with all the visitors to the Crane House that December weekend,
Incidentally, during the course of my Shrewsbury research, I noticed
that, although these delectable little cakes have a centuries-old history,
they seem to have dropped out of favor by the mid-1800s. I think that’s
a shame. They’re not only delicious, but easy to make, as well. Thus,
I say, let’s join together and start a campaign to bring them back to
the American table. HUZZAH for Shrewsbury Cake!
UP NEXT: Ginger-Bread Cakes.