Potingall/Portugal Cakes

This recipe has also been featured in the Washington Post, in Sarah Kaplan’s wonderful article on our project.

Check it out here.

Like the fantastic Desart Cakes, these Potingall Cakes caught my eye because of their intriguing name and relatively simple ingredient list. Unlike the Desart Cakes, which are what we would call cookies, these are little cakes. And pretty tasty ones at that.

This recipe comes from the first volume of UPenn Ms. Codex 631, dated 1730. (This two-volume collection has become one of our favorites.) “Potingall” is probably a stand-in for “Portugal,” since the recipe closely resembles the fairly common recipe for “Portugal cakes” found in many seventeenth- through nineteenth-century cookbooks. Getting “Potingall” from “Portugal” doesn’t seem unreasonable: the two words are visually similar, and the writer copying the recipe into Ms. Codex 631 could have been working from another recipe that was difficult to read or itself mistaken. (Like an eighteenth-century game of telephone!) “Portugal” named a type of orange in the period and might refer to the recipe’s use of orange flower water. However, Portugal cakes’ name more probably relates to one of their ingredients: sack, a sweet, fortified white wine originally produced in Portugal.

The Recipe

potingall cakes

To Make the Potingall Cakes

Take a pound of flower well dryed & a pound of Loafe sugar beat fine searce them
both & mingle them together, then take a pound of Butter & wash it well in rose water
or orange flower water, then work it well in your hand till it be all very soft & then strew
in your sugar & flower by degrees tell (i.e. till) it be half in, still working it with your hand, then put
in 6 yolks of eggs & 5 whites & beat them up with two spoonfulls of sack, then by degrees
worke in the half of the sugar & flower & when your oven is hott, then pick wash & dry a
pound of Currants over the fire, your pans must be ready Buttered, then fill them half full
& scrape double refine sugar on them, Let your oven be pritty hot & set up the Lead

Our Recipe

[Note: I halved the recipe because these cakes taste best within one to two days.]

1/2 lb. all-purpose flour

1/2 lb. granulated sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 lb. [2 sticks] unsalted butter

1 tsp. rosewater or orange flower water*

2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk

1 tbsp. sherry**

scant 1/2 lb. currants

optional: sugar for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter, coat with cooking spray, or line your pans.***

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt; set aside.

In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer****, cream the butter and flower water until light and fluffy.

With the mixer running at low speed, blend half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture; scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs and sherry, then mix at low-medium speed until combined; scrape down the bowl again. With the mixer at low speed, add the rest of the flour mixture; mix until the batter looks uniform. Add the currants and mix at low speed until they are distributed evenly.

Spoon batter into your pans (a cookie scoop works nicely here) and even out slightly with a buttered spatula. The cakes won’t rise much during baking but bake best as smaller cakes, so fill madeleine pans to the top, mini-cupcake pans nearly full, and cupcake pans 1/2 to 3/4 full. Optional: lightly sprinkle granulated sugar on top. (This adds a slight sparkle to the cupcakes but isn’t essential to their taste.)

Bake until cakes are firm to the touch at the center and golden brown around the edges. (A toothpick inserted into a cake should come out clean.) This will take around 12-14 mins. for mini-cupcakes, 14-16 mins. for madeleines, and 18 mins. for cupcakes. Let cool in pans for 3-5 mins., then remove onto cooling racks.

NOTES:

*Note on flower water: I tried these with both rosewater and orange flower water; I preferred the rosewater version because the flavor was subtler, but both flavorings played nicely with the currants.

**Note on sherry: I replaced sack (a sweet, fortified white wine) with the similar and more readily-available sherry. If you prefer a non-alcoholic cake, orange juice or white grape juice (or water) would most likely be a fine substitute. Raisins could also substitute for currants in a pinch.

***Note on pans: This recipe works best as small cakes: cupcakes, mini-cupcakes, or madeleines, for example. Use whatever combination of pans you’d like. The recipe yields approx. 18-32 cakes: 12 large madeleines (filled with 3 tbsp. batter each) + 6 cupcakes / 12 small madeleines (filled with 2 tbsp. batter each) + 10 cupcakes / 24 mini-cupcakes + 8 cupcakes.

****Note on mixing: In the spirit of updating this recipe to modern kitchens, I used a stand mixer rather than blending the dough by hand. However, the original method would also work – and be satisfyingly messy.

The Results

These are not light and fluffy cakes. They’re moist and dense, like a weightier muffin, with a rich flavor from the flower water, sherry, and currants. I liked them best as madeleines because that shape provides the highest edge-per-bite ratio – the crisply browned edges are particularly tasty. They also made an excellent snack alongside our old favorite, carrot pudding.

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