Hannah Woolley’s Bisket Pudding

A few weeks ago I prepared a dish of “Portugal Eggs,” a complicated banqueting dish with  many elements, from MS Codex 785. Like the recipe for “Lemmon Cakes” I posted a while ago, this recipe was copied into the manuscript from Hannah Woolley‘s The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to all Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex (1670). Woolley was an all-around lifestyle guru who not only wrote cookbooks, but also provided guidance on etiquette, homemaking, and interior design. (More on all this coming soon.)

In any case, this complex recipe required many components and one was biskets, neutral, lady-finger-like cookies. These bland, sweet, and slightly floral biscuits compliment the flavors around them.  Alyssa wrote about fixing a similar recipe, Hannah Glasse’s Naples biscuits, when she prepared “Artificial Potatoes.” I made a big batch of “the best bisket Cakes” from MS Codex 785 and I decided I would use them for a second recipe, Hannah Woolley’s “Bisket Pudding,” rather than let them go to waste.

Essentially, this is a bread pudding that starts with a rose-water scented cookie instead of stale bread. You can either make both recipes or use any bland cookie, old cake, or stale bread as the base of Woolley’s pudding.

The Recipe(s)

bisket Cakes

To make the best bisket Cakes

Take four new laid Eggs, leave out two of the
whites, beat them very well, then put in two
Spoonfulls of Rosewater, and beat them very
well together, then put in a pound of double
refin’d sugar beaten and search’d and beat
them together one hour, then put to them
one pound of fine flour, and beat them
together a good while, then put them upon
plates rubb’d over with butter, and set
them into the Oven as fast as you can
but have a care you do not bake them
too much.

 

Bisket Pudding

CCLXXII. To make Bisket Pudding.

Take Naples Biskets and cut them into Milk, and boil it, then put in Egg, Spice, Sugar, Marrow, and a little Salt, and so boil it and bake it.

Our Recipes

Cakes

This recipe was relatively straightforward to update. It makes about 24 cookies.

4 eggs (2 whole, 2 whites only)
2 t rosewater
1 lb sugar (2 2/3 c)
1 lb flour (3 2/3 c)
butter or baking spray to coat the baking sheets

Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease two baking sheets with butter or your preferred baking spray,

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. I used a hand mixer for this, but a standing mixer would also work well. Add the rosewater to the eggs and continue beating. Add the sugar and beat on a high setting until the mixture starts to look fluffy (about 1 minute). Add the flour in three batches, allowing each to mix in fully.

Shape the dough into rough ovals. I did this by picking up about 2T of the dough and rolling it roughly in my hand. Make sure that you leave about a half an inch between the cookies as they expand a lot as they cook.

Bake 15 minutes. The bottom of the biscuits should be nicely browned and the top still a little spongy.

Cool on a rack before storing.

Pudding

Boil then bake this “bread” pudding. Instead of adding bone marrow to the mix, I substituted some butter in its place.

2 c. milk
6-10 biskets, broken into small pieces
2 eggs
2 T sugar
2T butter
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a baking dish. I used an 8-inch oval ceramic dish, but a glass dish or a baking tin will work as well.

Pour the milk into a medium sauce pan. Add the broken biskets to the milk until you can no longer submerge the biskets in the liquid. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the pan and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Pour pudding mixture into your buttered baking dish. Bake for 45 min.

The Results

This pudding is delicious. It’s sweet, dense, and sticky like a good bread pudding should be. The rosewater that overpowered the biskets themselves is far mellower with the addition of dairy and cinnamon. The crispy edges are my favorite.

The photos don’t look like much, but I promise that this packs an impressive flavor.

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To make Lemmon Cakes

Not all recipes are original. Flipping through MS Codex 785 I was intrigued by this recipe for “Lemmon Cakes.” These lemony sweets are candies, not cakes! But with a little research into the recipe’s ingredients and methods (fair water? candy height? sleek’d paper?) I located its origin: This recipe is a verbatim transcription from Hannah Woolley’s cookery book The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to all Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex (1670).

Woolley was already known for her earlier cookery books and this one was reprinted a few times in the last decades of the seventeenth-century. (The full text of the second edition is available here.) It also seems to have been a common book in early American kitchens (more on this here). Woolley’s recipes were certainly a touchstone for cooks in the early decades of the eighteenth-century when this manuscript was most likely compiled. Moreover, our manuscript compiler not only copied the recipe for Lemmon Cakes, but also for a range of other recipes for preserves, biscuits, and other dishes. In the early sections of the manuscript the order matches Woolley’s exactly.

It is not uncommon for manuscripts materials in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to include substantial extracts from printed works. Recipe books are no exception. MS Codex 785 is an intriguing patchwork of recipes from an array of sources, some that I plan to track down soon.

The Recipe

lemmon cakes

To make Lemmon Cakes

Take half a pound of refin’d sugar, put to it –
two spoonfulls of Rose water, as much Orange
flower water and as much fair water, boil to a –
Candy height, then put in the Rine of a Lemmon
grated, and a little Juice, Stirr it well on the
ffire, and drop it on plates or sleek’d paper.

 Our Recipe

Our recipe is very similar. As I mentioned above, with some basic searching it became clear that “fair water” is a  synonym for “clean water”; “candy height” is the moment when the sugar is dissolved but begins to re-form crystals on the sides of your pan; and “sleek’ed paper” is made “slick” in preparation for the hot candy. Woolley also includes a recipe for “plates” or wafer-like bases for candies.

1/2 lb sugar
2T rosewater
2T orange blossom water
2T water
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
baking parchment (or other appropriate surface)

(I made a half batch.)

Put the sugar, scented waters, and water into a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar is melted and crystals begin to form on the side of the pot. Add the lemon zest and juice. Heat through and stir.* Pour candy mix onto baking parchment to set. Cut, break, or use another method to shape bite-size candies.

The Results

I am not a skilled candy-maker: I messed up on this one. My “lemon cakes” were more of a caramelized, sweet, lemony brittle. They were relatively tasty to suck on like a lozenge, if in a tangy (partially burned) sort of way. If you know how a thing or two about working with hot sugar, or a least own a candy thermometer, you may fare better with this recipe. I’d be curious to see how other citrus or floral waters and zests would flavor these candies.

Regardless, I’ll be coming back to more recipes from MS Codex 785 and Hannah Woolley’s cookbooks.

*This is the point in the recipe where I think a candy thermometer (or skill) might help.