History Cookbook: Shrewsberry (Shrewsbury) Cakes
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Shrewsberry/Shrewsbury cakes are a kind of biscuit. They are less crumbly than a shortbread but have a buttery flavour. Sweet foods like biscuits were popular with the Georgians and were easier to make because of the the increased importing of sugar from the sugar plantations in the Caribbean.
They were made to accompany many dishes but were popular with syllabub, which is a sugared, whipped cream, flavoured with cider or sherry. Sugar was an important trade item and refined (white) sugar was very fashionable.
This recipe uses white sugar, which would have been pinched off a sugarloaf and then ground (beaten) until fine enough to use in the recipe.
Traditionally they are baked as thick, large biscuits and were able to be kept for long periods of time.
This recipe comes from ' A delightful Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen'
"Take a quart of very fine flouwer, eight onces of fine sugar beaten and cersed, twelve ounces sweet butter, nutmeg grated, damaske rosewater- work together with your hands for halfe an houre, then roule in little round cakes about the thickness of three shillings, then take a glasse and cut the cakes, then strow some flower on white papers and bake them in an oven as hotte as for manchet. If the oven be not hotte sett your lid downe ( there is a long explanantion for testing/changing the heat in the period oven which i have omitted) until they be baked enough, for they must lokke browne not white. you may keep them halfe a yeare but new baked are best."
For images of the cooking process see our Shrewsbury Cakes Pictures.
- 4oz plain white flour
- 4oz white, caster sugar
- 4oz salted butter (very soft, works best)
- 1/4 teaspoon of grated (or ground) nutmeg
- 2-3 teaspoon rosewater
- 3-5 tablespoons tapwater (at room temperature)
- optional: a little caster sugar to sprinkle on the top
( Note: You may need more water to make a stiff dough, it will depend on the flour you use.)
- Weighing scales
- Grater (optional)
- Mixing bowl
- Wooden spoon
- Rolling pin
- Large cutter
- Baking sheet
- Cooling rack
- Heat the oven with a good fire
- Put the flour, sugar and butter into a bowl and mix well with a fork. You should end up with fine breadcrumbs. If the butter is hard, you will need to rub it in with your fingertips, like making pastry
- Add the rosewater and enough water to make a soft dough
- Gather the dough together with your fingers in the bowl
- Kneed lightly
- Flour a surface and roll the dough out to 3 shillings depth
- Use a glass to cut the cakes out
- Prick the surface of the cakes with a fork
- Space the cakes out on paper and bake until the cakes are golden brown
- Serve cold with syllabub
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