Carraway Bunns

When I was conducting research at the Folger Shakespeare library in June, I saw this recipe for “Carraway Bunns” in Mary Hookes’s manuscript recipe book V.b.342. I love caraway. I love buns, rolls, scones, biscuits, popovers, and trying out yeasted bread recipes (like these “Oven Cakes“). As I prepared to cook “Almond Jumballs” with paleography students at the Folger, I added this recipe to my running list along with the “Snow Cream” I tried in July.

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Last week I wanted to bake something warm, buttery, and doughy. (I felt a little bit like the woman in this Onion article.) As I transcribed this recipe, I realized that it was rather similar to my mother’s recipe for Herb Biscuits. Her rich rolls appeared on our Thanksgiving table smelling of sage, onion, and speckled with celery leaves. Seasoned with caraway instead, these buns were just the thing. Like a rich, yeasted biscuit (or scone), these buns are an excellent accompaniment to hearty fall dinner or a luscious snack with afternoon tea.

The Recipe

carraway-bunns

To make Carraway Bunns         32
Take two pound of fine flower, & three quarters of a pound
of fresh butter crumble the butter very small in the flower went
It with milke bloud warme, & Good Ale yeast halfe a pinte
Att least, Two Eggs well beaten when it is Made into a paste
lett it stand halfe an hower to rise before the fier, then take it
& spread it abroade worke halfe a pound of Carraway comfits
in it & cast in a little white sugar Make them up into Bunns
Lay them vpon paper, & Bake them quick when they are hard
Att Bottome then they are Enough.

The recipe calls for caraway comfits, or sugar coated caraway seeds. I’ve made fennel comfits before (see below), but coating these small seeds in sugar syrup is tricky, fiddly work that I wasn’t up for last week. I used regular caraway seeds instead and increased the sugar.

Our Recipe

While Alyssa wrapped up things at work and walked over to my place for our cooking date, I put together this rich dough and left it near the warm oven to rise. (I was roasting some broccoli for dinner.) Halved, the recipe made 5 small buns and 6 large buns.

3 1/3 c flour (1lb)
12 T butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 c warm milk
1 envelope yeast
1/2 t salt (possibly increase to 1t)
1 egg, beaten
1t caraway seeds (possibly increase to 2t) OR caraway comfits
1T sugar

Heat milk. Sprinkle in yeast and let stand for two minutes.

Combine the flour and butter. You can do this in a mixer with a dough hook or in a sturdy bowl. Add the yeasty milk, then the egg, then the salt and dough should form. *Next time I will incorporate the sugar and caraway seeds in this initial mix.* Either keep running the mixer or turn the dough and any unincorporated bits out onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes. When the dough is smooth, cover with a towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Punch down the dough and sprinkle in sugar and caraway seeds. *This is what I did with the test batch, but next time I’ll add these earlier.* Form buns and put on a greased baking sheet. I left these to sit for a few minutes before baking, next time I might give them a second rise of an hour or so.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bottom and top are both golden brown. Make a pot of tea while they’re baking. Devour.

The Results

Delicious, dense, buttery “buns.” They have the crumb of a good biscuit or scone from the butter and a hint of fluffiness from the yeast. But some bites were full of caraway and others were sharply sweet. Next time I’ll incorporate the seeds and sugar from the start.

I think there are a lot of ways to adapt this recipe as well. If you don’t like caraway, use fennel or sage or celery salt or orange zest. If you want to make these sweeter, increase the sugar and consider adding an egg wash and sprinkling sugar and seeds on the top to make a tasty and stunning crust. I’ll be keeping this one on my list.

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To make a seed cake

So, I chose to make this particular recipe because 1) I had all the ingredients on hand, and 2) it looked easy. I admit it – no loftier goals than that. But isn’t ease and convenience how we often choose recipes? And perhaps the same applied for this cake’s original cooks. After all, we don’t always have the inclination (or eggs) to make a “rich cake” that requires 24 eggs. But a simple cake that requires only four ingredients? No wonder Catherine Cotton included this recipe in her book.

This “seed cake” comes from one of our favorite volumes, Catherine Cotton’s UPenn Ms. Codex 214. We’ve seen seed cakes come up in other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century recipe books, so it seems safe to say that seed cake was probably fairly common at the time. Interestingly, this recipe would have yielded quite a large cake: halved, it more than filled an 8″ round, so this would have been cake for a crowd.

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The Recipe

seed cakes

To make a seed cake

Take the whites of 8 eggs beat them very well then
put the yolks to them & beat them very well together then
put to it a pound of sugar beat & sifted very fine & beat
it for half an hour then make it a little warm over the
fire & after that put in 3 quarters of a pound of flower
very well dryed a quarter of an ounce of carraway seeds
stirr it well together & put it into the pan it will take 3
quarters of a hour to bake it /

Our Recipe
(halved from the original)

4 eggs, separated
1 heaping c. (1/2 lb.) sugar
1 1/4 c. (6 oz. or 3/8 lb.) flour
1.5 tsp. (1/8 oz.) caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″ round pan or other baking dish.*

In a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer, beat eggs whites until stiff but not dry. Then add egg yolks and beat until mixture is uniformly yellow and still fluffy. Add sugar and beat at medium speed for about 10 mins., or until light and shiny.* Scrape down bowl and stir in flour and caraway seeds with a spatula.

Bake for 45-50 mins., until top is dry and firm to the touch. Cool in pan 10 mins., then run a knife around the edges to loosen it and turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

*Note: I used an 8″ round pan and, as you can see, barely escaped a cake batter overflow disaster. 9″ would be safer.

**Note: I actually forgot the next step, to “make it a little warm over the fire”! This didn’t seem to detract from the final outcome, but you might set the mixing bowl briefly over a double boiler if you’d like to be thorough!

The Results

I’m always curious to try a recipe that we see come up, with minor variations, across multiple recipe books. But I didn’t have extraordinarily high hopes for this cake – eggs + sugar + flour + caraway seeds? I expected something blandly palatable, mildly sweet, perhaps dense and a little dry.

Instead, I ended up with something between a pound cake and an angel food cake: sweet without being cloying, moist, nicely chewy, with a sweet crackly crust. Hello, seed cake! Welcome to the rotation – I’ll be making this one again. And while the simplicity of the recipe is part of its charm, it also means that there’s plenty of room for experimentation with extracts, zest, different seeds in different amounts, perhaps even finely chopped dried fruit or miniature chocolate chips. Wrapped well, it stayed moist for several days. And it’s a lovely cake to have with tea or coffee.

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Desart Cakes

King Arthur Flour’s Magazine Sift featured a version of our recipe here.

I’m a baker. I enjoy cooking – even more so now that we’re back in soup season – but to me there’s something special about the precise measurements that produce a perfect chocolate cake, the fiddly steps of making italian meringue frosting, the flexibility of quick bread recipes, the scooping and rolling of cookies. So I’m especially interested in the many recipes for baked goods scattered throughout the archive of recipe books we’ve been exploring. These “Desart Cakes” caught my eye – what characterizes a dessert cake? Is it not a cake but, like the snickerdoodle-esque Shrewsbury cakes, what we think of as a cookie? Could they even make the cut for my holiday cookie gift bags?

The recipe comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 1038, a fairly general compilation of recipes put together through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This particular recipe was probably written down before 1793. Marissa also whipped up and enjoyed a batch of lemonade from the same volume here. (In fact, these recipes occupy facing pages. Lemonade and cookies, anyone?)

The Recipe

desart cakes

To make Desart Cakes.

Take a pound of flower, half a pound of Sugar, One Ounce of

Caraway Seeds, make it into a Stiff paste with Cream, and Roll’d

out as thin as the finest paper and pricked full of holes or they will

Blister, then put them on tins, which you must Butter & observe

when they are Baking to take them out of the Oven as they Brown //

as they will not all Brown together — a Moderate Oven is best.

Our Recipe

[If I’m not sure how a recipe is going to turn out, I like to avoid making an enormous quantity of it. Cookies make that easy: here, I halved the recipe. which yielded 44 2″ cookies. Plenty!]

1/2 lb. flour

1/4 lb. sugar

1/2 oz. caraway seeds (about 3 tsp.)

1 1/4 c. heavy cream*

optional: 1/2 tsp. vanilla**

In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Stir in the vanilla and the cream about 1/2 c. at a time, incorporating it thoroughly before adding the next pour. (A wooden spoon works nicely here.) The dough should start to hold together in a shaggy mass damp enough to be squeezed gently into an elastic, cohesive ball. (It shouldn’t be so damp that it sticks to your fingers at all – this isn’t a particularly messy dough. If this does happen, just add a touch more flour.) ]

Preheat oven to 350F.***

Divide the dough into halves or thirds for rolling out easily. Lightly flour your surface and rolling pin; you won’t need too much flour, but repeat the step often to avoid sticking. Roll to about 1/8″ thickness – thinner if you can since the dough shrinks back slightly once on the cookie sheets. Cut out dough with any cookie cutter**** and place on a baking sheet. (I lined mine with parchment paper.) Bake for 10-12 minutes, removing cookies as they brown around the edges. Cool on a rack – and try not to eat one as soon as it’s semi-cool!

NOTES:

*How much cream to add: I added 1/2 c. to start with and then more in 1/4-c. increments until the dough held together and felt slightly elastic when squeezed in a handful. My dough was wetter than biscuit dough or pie crust, for example. It should be wet enough to hold together easily without bits crumbling off but not so sticky that it adheres to your hands.

**Adding vanilla: I thought vanilla might add some nice depth of flavor with the caraway seeds, and I think I was right. In fact, next time I might add the full teaspoon. You could also try almond extract, orange extract, or skip the extract altogether. Or even switch out the caraway seeds for poppy seeds and toss in some lemon zest. It’s a flexible recipe.

***Baking temperature: I baked one sheet at 325F for 14-16 minutes and another at 350F for 10-12 minutes. I didn’t notice any difference in browning or in crispness produced by the different temperatures, so less time at 350F should be fine. You’ll start to smell the cookies when they’re nearly done; I removed them from the oven when golden-brown on the bottom and slightly browned around the edges. I also forgot to prick holes in the first tray (oops). I did add them to the second but didn’t note any difference (or “blistering”); feel free to stab them a few times with a fork if yours seem to be puffing up.

****Cookie cutter: I chose and liked a 2.5″ biscuit cutter with fluted edge, but most shapes would work, as would the top of a drinking glass. As mentioned, the dough does shrink a bit on the cookie sheet and then in the oven – none of my circles baked up to be perfectly even, and the caraway seeds make for somewhat ragged edges, so avoid any intricate shapes.

The Results

I thought these might be bland – inoffensive, sure, but not particularly tasty – and so was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them. They’re nicely crisp (rolling them “as thin as the finest paper” really does produce the best result), sweet without being cloying, and flavorful from the caraway seeds. Plus, they smell incredible while baking! I ate the first few with a cup of tea … and then a few more later on with a glass of wine … and then a few more for breakfast the next morning in a pinch. If you like caraway seeds, you’ll like these. And if you don’t like caraway seeds, you can still like these cookies by swapping them out for poppy seeds or another variation. I might experiment with adding in some ground almonds or pistachios. (If you do some experimenting, please report back!) And indeed, some of these might even make their way into my holiday cookie rotation.