Excellent Small Cakes

cakesNOTE: This was my one of my very first A&S entries. I entered them in the cooking category at Northern Lights circa 2004 or ’05.

What: Small currant cookies, iced with sugar.

Where: Taken from an English-language cookbook

When: Late period (16th – early 17th centuries)

From the Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Opened. This book is just out of period (1669) but is commonly used in SCA cooking. Furthermore, many recipes were passed on and cribbed between books, so some of the recipes in this book may have originated much earlier.

 Take three pound of very fine flower well dried by the fire, and put to it a pound and a half of loaf sugar sifted in a very fine sieve and dried; 3 pounds of currants well washed, and dried in a cloth and set by the fire; when your flour is well mixed with the sugar and currants, you must put in it a pound and a half of unmelted butter, ten spoonfuls of cream, with the yolks of three newlaid eggs beat with it, one nutmeg; and if you please, three spoonfuls of sack. When you have wrought your paste well, you must put it in a cloth, and set it in a dish before the fire, till it be through warm. Then make them up in little cakes, and prick them full of holes; you must bake them in a quick oven unclosed. Afterwards ice them over with sugar. The cakes should be about the bigness of a hand breadth and thin; of the size of the sugar cakes sold at Barnet.

(Cited in Cariadoc’s Miscellany1)

 Cariadoc’s Redaction:

The first redaction I tried was that of Duke Cariadoc, which he lists thus:

Scaled down version:

3 c flour
¾ c sugar
¾ lb currants = about 2 ½ c
3/8 lb butter = 1 ½ sticks
2 ½ T cream
1 egg yolk
¼ t nutmeg
2 t sack (we used sherry)

(All of this assumes that “spoonful” = T)

Cut butter into the flour as one would for piecrust. Bake cakes about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Icing: about 1/3 c sugar and enough water so you can spread it.


Personally, I found that His Grace’s recipe yielded a very dry dough, which didn’t stick together enough to form balls larger than pocket change.

My Redaction:

After a little trial and error, the recipe I ended up using was this:

3 cups flour
¾ cups sugar
2 cups currants
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
5 tablespoons cream
1 egg yolk
½ nutmeg, grated
2 tablespoons sherry

Cut butter into the flour as one would for piecrust. I baked them a little less than 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Icing: about 1/3 c sugar and enough water so you can spread it.

The flour is standard, white, and finely-ground. I am aware that flour in period would not be as perfectly fine, but I am unable to get coarser stuff in the local market. The sugar, likewise, is granulated and from the market, not loaf. (While I do know sutlers who sell loaf sugar, I don’t have the money to buy it or the time to grate it down if I did… EDIT: I have since learned to make loaf sugar myself, but the complaint about available time still stands.) The currants posed a challenge – the recipe does not state whether they are to be fresh or dried. I have made the recipe using dried raisins before (before I found a supermarket that stocked currants) with no obvious drawbacks. With that in mind, and also the fact that fresh currants are not available where I live, I used dried currants. The butter is unsalted, although butter was salted in period for preservative purposes. As to the nutmeg, I purchased some from a tiny local farmers’ cooperative on the West Indian island of Bequia, where they had been grown on-island. (I had been working in the area.) This I then hand-grated on a cheese grater. The sherry (which I used instead of sack, due to its price) is Taylor cream sherry. I don’t know much about sherry, so I was not certain whether to use dry or cream sherry, but ultimately went with the latter as it sounded sweeter and thus probably wouldn’t hurt a dessert (also, I prefer sweet drinks, and therefore the bottle wouldn’t simply collect dust in my cupboard later). Although I have always shaped my cakes by hand, Tirloch of Tallaght suggests rolling the dough flat and using a glass as a cookie cutter.2 Due to a lack of counter space in my kitchen, though, I chose to continue molding my cakes in the palm of my hand. The sugar mixture was spread with a spoon while still warm. I could not find a suggestion as to the “size of the sugar cakes sold at Barnet,” so I simply made them a little smaller than my palm and relatively thin.

  1. Cariadoc. Cariadoc’s Miscellany. http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/miscellany_pdf/Miscellany.htm
  2. Digby, Sir Kenelm. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened (1669).
  3. li Rous, Lord Stefan. Stefan’s Florilegium. http://www.florilegium.org/
    1. Butter in period: http://www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD/butter-msg.html
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2 Responses to Excellent Small Cakes

  1. Mr. Karl says:

    Just came across your post while searching for nutmeg redactions, and I noticed your comment “assume that spoonful = T.” When reading your recipe, you replaced all T, whether upper or lower case, with tablespoons. Well, an uppercase T stands for tablespoon, but a lowercase t in a recipe stands for teaspoon. FYI

    • True, I’m aware of that. The post appears to have dropped my blockquote formatting, but the line “assume that spoonful = T” is in Cariadoc’s redaction and was apparently his assumption regarding the size of the spoon. His recipe does differentiate between T/tablespoon and t/teaspoon. I’ll see if I can fix the formatting.

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