Shrewsbury Cakes

{Today’s post is also published on Unique at Penn, a blog maintained by Penn libraries to highlight their collections. Since we’ve been exploring the library’s manuscript recipe books, we’re thrilled to share one of our finished recipe with Unique at Penn’s readers.}

One of the things we’ve been struck by along the way in this stroll through the culinary archives has been the similarity of certain recipes to many we follow today.  This holds true particularly for baked goods. (Except the notorious fish custard.) We weren’t quite sure what to expect from these “Shrewsbury cakes” – small cakes? Pancakes? Drop cookies? It turns out that Shrewsbury cakes are basically early modern snickerdoodles.

This recipe comes from MS Codex 625, a manuscript recipe book that belonged to a student in a London cooking school in the early eighteenth century. The pastry school was owned by Edward Kidder, who taught at a few locations in London between around 1720 and 1734. Blank books with printed title pages seem to have been used by students to write down recipes they learned. Kidder also published his recipes in the printed volume, Receipts for Pastry and Cookery, in 1720.

The Recipe

shrewsbury cakes

Shrewsbury Cakes.

Take a pound of fresh butter a pound of double
refind sugar sifted fine a little beaten
mace & 4 eggs beat them all together with.
your hands till tis very leight & looks
curdling you put thereto a pound & 1/2 of
flower roul them out into little cakes

Our recipe (halved from the original)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 lb. sugar
1/4 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 lb. flour

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and mix at medium speed until the mixture looks curdled. Sift together dry ingredients and add at low speed until just combined. Scoop and roll the dough by hand into 1-tbsp. balls, then pat flat. [You could also refrigerate the dough until it’s firm enough to roll out on a flat surface and cut out into rounds.]

Bake  at 350F for 15-18 minutes (ours were about 1/3″ thick, so you could roll them thinner and have a slightly shorter cooking time) They’re done once they turn the slightest bit brown around the edges. This halved recipe yielded about two dozen cookies.

The Results

If you like snickerdoodles (and who doesn’t?), you’d like these. We added the cinnamon because we like it and couldn’t resist, and we thought it rounded out the mace nicely. These are mild, fairly soft cookies that are great with tea. We rolled and patted the dough into individual cookies because it was too soft and stick to roll out, but a little bit more flour and a stint in the fridge might make the dough easier to work with a rolling pin.


16 thoughts on “Shrewsbury Cakes

    • We tasted the cookie dough with the mace alone but found it somewhat bland, which is why we added the cinnamon, just as we adjust modern recipes to personal taste.

    • They’re not recreationists or reconstructionists. They’re trying to demonstrate that these recipes can have a place in a 21st C kitchen, which means, yes, sometimes updating or modifying them. It isn’t as if the people who wrote and used the recipe at the time never, ever modified it even the teensiest bit. I’m sure they sometimes threw other spices in, as they had them handy and as the mood took them. Why? Because that’s what cooks do.

      I made mace cake for a culinary school project once. It was delicious . . . but the amount of ground mace I had to use to get enough flavor was staggering. Mace has a delicate flavor (like nutmeg, only lighter, since it’s the aril, or membrane, from around the nutmeg itself, inside the fruit), much too much so for modern tastes accustomed to cassia (hey, did you know that the “cinnamon” you have on your breakfast toast isn’t true cinnamon at all, but cassia, and that most people find Ceylon cinnamon too delicate, too?) without using a ton of it. And it’s quite pricy. I spent far too much making that mace cake for my student budget.

  1. This sounds great! Love your site which I cam thru by way of Huffingotn Post (and its deceptive headline. Well, it IS Huffington) Cooking at what temperature for how long? What’s the yield? How many, please?

    • Thanks very much! We’ve been having a great time with the project. And thanks for pointing out the missing baking info above: we baked them at 350F for 15-18 minutes (ours were about 1/3″ thick, so you could roll them thinner and have a slightly shorter cooking time) – basically, they’re done once they turn the slightest bit brown around the edges. This halved recipe yielded about two dozen cookies.

    • Thanks for pointing this out! I’ve emended the transcription. In the process of cross-posting here and on unique at penn I accidentally included a preliminary transcription.

    • They definitely didn’t have electric mixers back then! And the sugar we so easily scoop into a bowl and cream with butter was transported around the world in logs that needed to be shaved or broken down before it could be combined with other ingredients. Since we’re updating these recipes for a modern kitchen we’re making use of all the gadgets we have at our disposal. We’re curious to hear if you (or any of our other readers) try out any of these recipes using true historical methods.

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  7. I ended up with a totally different cake than what you’re describing, starting from Hannah Wolley.
    Shrewsbury Cakes (C)M.Bartlett 2015 – Source: Queen-like Closet #77 – Makes a dozen cakes
    • 5 1/3 cups flour
    • 2/3 pound butter
    • 1 egg plus 1 yolk or a large duck egg
    • 1 cups granulated sugar
    • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
    • ¼ cup rose sugar
    • Up to ½ cup water

    1. Preheat oven to 350F.
    2. Melt butter
    3. Beat together butter, sugar, cinnamon and rose sugar in mixer on medium.
    4. Add egg
    5. Turn to low and slowly add the flour, going to hand mixing when the mixer lags down.
    6. Add up to ½ cup of water, a tablespoon at a time as needed to keep from crumbling. The dough should be about the consistency of pie dough.
    7. Put in fridge for up to a week.
    8. Shape into “thin round cakes”. (I rolled to 1/8 inch and cut with the edge of a cereal bowl.)
    9. Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, then turn off the oven. .Look for browning on the edges)
    Makes a not-too-sweet, not-too-breakable, stiff cookie.
    Original – Take four pounds of Flower (16 cups), two pounds of Butter, one pound and an half (3 5/8 cups) of fine Sugar, four Eggs, a little beaten Cinamon, a little Rosewater, make a hole in the Flower, and put the Eggs into it when they are beaten, then mix the Butter, Sugar, Cinnamon, and Rosewater together, and then mix them with the Eggs and Flower, then make them into thin round Cakes, and put them into an Oven after the Houshold Bread is drawn; this quantity will make three dozen of Cakes.

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