To make Little Cakes, Cooking in the Scripps Archives Part 1

I may have written about Southern California citrus and orange pudding few months ago, but so far all of the recipes Alyssa and I have posted here are from manuscripts held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts. There are a few good reasons for this! When we launched Cooking in the Archives last June, we were both PhD candidates and our start-up funding came from an interdisciplinary innovation grant at Penn. The Penn Libraries also have a wonderful collection of manuscript recipe books, comprehensive digital collections, and a number of open-access projects, like the recently launched OPenn site.

This academic year I’ve been teaching and conducting research at Scripps College in Claremont, CA amidst bountiful culinary and archival resources. This post is the first of a series on recipes I’ve prepared from the Earl of Roden Commonplace Book held at Scripps’s exquisite Ella Strong Denison Library. In one of my upper-level literature and book history courses called “What is a book?” my students and I used this commonplace book for paleography practice. (More on that course here.) As we were reading poems and recipes from the manuscript, I found a lot of things I wanted to cook.

The Earl of Roden Commonplace Book is one of two manuscript commonplace books in the Perkins Collection at Denison. John I. Perkins, a Los Angeles bookseller, donated this collection to Scripps in 1941 with the intention that the books would establish a teaching collection and be primarily used by students. The manuscript’s provenance is relatively easy to trace as a bookplate with the Earl of Roden‘s arms is pasted inside the front cover. The earldom was created in 1771 for Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Viscount Jocelyn (1731-1779) and was part of the Peerage of Ireland, or the English aristocracy in Ireland. The earls of Roden likely lived on estates in County Tipperary. Perkins may have acquired this manuscript because of its provenance, its mix of poems and recipes, or its distinctive green binding, built-in vellum-lined pockets, and partial clasps.

I think it’s most likely that this book began its life as a bound and ruled blank book, was initially used as a commonplace book for poetry, and was eventually repurposed as a household recipe book. The manuscript includes about eighty pages (40 folios) of poems followed by about ninety pages (45 folios) of recipes. Like many other commonplace books, the poems are listed for in an alphabetical index laid out at the beginning of the book. Although I haven’t checked to see if all the poems are accounted for, the compiler was very precise about noting the date and source of poems and songs. These dates helped Perkins date the manuscript’s compilation to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Some poems from the early eighteenth century establish the start date (perhaps even before the Earl of Roden’s earldom was created) and a wine-making recipe that refers to wine produced in 1824 dates later use to the nineteenth century.

I’ve prepared a few recipes from this book so far. Today I’d like to talk about “little cakes,” or tasty shortbread cookies similar to “Jumballs.”

 The Recipe

little cakes

To make Little Cakes.

Half a pound of Flour, half a pound of Sugar, two Eggs, one
ounce and a half of Butter melted two ounces of Coriander
Seeds bruised. Cut it thin and bake it.

Since these instructions and measurements are relatively straightforward, our recipe is basically the same.

1/2 pound flour
1/2 pound sugar
Two eggs
1 1/2 oz. butter, melted
2 oz. coriander seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare a baking sheet with butter, spray, or baking parchment.

Bruise the coriander seeds by gently crushing them in a mortar and pestle. To release more of their flavor, you can also lightly toast the seeds in a dry, hot pan beforehand.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until a thick dough forms. Form it into a ball and transfer it onto a clean surface or cutting board. Shape the dough into a log. (I didn’t need to add flour in the rolling process, but you may find that you need some.) Slice thin cookies off the log. Mine ranged from 1/3-1/2 inch thick.

Bake 15-18 min until the edges brown.  Attempt to let cool before eating.

I halved this recipe because I was running low on coriander seeds and made 13 cookies, a full batch would yield around 24.

The Results

The little cakes are really shortbread cookies. The coriander sings through the sweet and buttery base. Hot from the oven, the herbal flavor dominated. When I ate another with my coffee the next day the flavor had pleasantly mellowed. If coriander isn’t your favorite spice or you don’t have any on hand, substitute caraway or fennel seeds.

I think this base recipe would work with a range of spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, chopped fresh thyme or rosemary, dried lavender, or even citrus zest. I also think a whole-grain flour like whole wheat, spelt, or buckwheat in some combination would add nuttiness and depth.

“Little Cakes” are a quick and easy dessert that require only five ingredients and minimal prep time. Stay tuned for more recipes from the Scripps archives.

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6 thoughts on “To make Little Cakes, Cooking in the Scripps Archives Part 1

  1. This looks like a nice recipe. I like the idea that we can substitute other seasonings. There is a similar recipe in the manuscript of Polly Burling written in 1770 in Burlington, NJ that calls for cake seeds–which are caraway seeds. She calls for 2 pounds of flour, 1 1/2 pounds of butter, 1 1/2 pounds of sugar, 3 eggs, a little rosewater, and “some cake seeds.”

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