three stacked biscuits on a linen surface with a plate of more biscuits in the background

The third recipe I made to celebrate the publication of my article on Margaret Baker and her 17th century manuscript recipe books (after making Lombard Pie and Puff Paste Loaves) was Shrewsbury Cakes.

Recipes for Shrewsbury cakes pop up in nearly every manuscript and published cookbook from this time, and keep appearing well into the nineteenth century. That doesn’t mean there was a standard recipe though. There are many different variations in flavour based on the types of spices called for. In MS2485 alone Margaret Baker has four different recipes for Shrewsbury cakes, some of which are spiced and others which are not.

To make Shrusbery Cakes;
Take one lb: of flower; as much butter; & as much fine suger 4: eggs, put ye eggs in ye middle of ye flower & put the suger a bout ye flower yn put in ye butter & so mingel it yn rowle it very thinn & pricke it wht a combe flower your paper & paye them one; the ouen must be as hott as for manchett halfe an houer will bake them;

To make shrusbery Cakes
Take a pound of fine flower and three quarterns of a pound of butter wash it in rose-water & worke in three quarters of a pound of suger serced and putt in :4: egges & one white worke these togather & lett them stand & coole then make them into littell cakes pretty thinn & lay them one paper to bake sett them into an ouen so coule as not to coller them;

Ton to make shrosbry cakes
Take sum fine wheat flower and put as much whit suger in it as will make it pretty sweet you may putt cloues and mace and rose water what you think sett in to it and egges acording to the quantety you make let not your butter and creame be to hot to knead them and take heed of baking them to much I neuer had this ceat from the bakers them selues an therefore cannot giue an exact direcion about them what I had about them is but [bia ame ame?] I neuer had other for the qauntie of the things which are put in

Christaine Purifoy – To make shrewsbure Cakes;
Take halfe a pound of flower; as much sugar; 1 quarter of an ounce; of nutt-megs; as much sinamon; as much mace; as much carraway; & as much coriander seedes 2: grans of musk; 2 yolks of eggs; 3 spone-fulls of rose water; halfe a pound of butter; beat & sift your spice & beat your seeds make some milke hott & putt in ye butter when it is melted putt it into all your things wth out ye milke yn putt in as much more flower as will make it into a lith past squesh it bettween yor hand yn make it into a long rowle yn cutt it into cakes wth a glass round cross it wth a knife & in euery crose pricke it wth ye great teeth of a combe flower your paper & bake them; to make the egges smoth putt it up rownd with your finger;

The one I made is the recipe provided by Christaine Purifoy who unfortunately I haven’t been able to idenify yet although a number of recipes in the manuscripts are attributed to either Christaine Purifoy or Mistress Purifoy.

Having this range of recipes is helpful, not only for seeing the variation that was possible, but also to fill in details where the instructions are a bit thin. The other three recipes, for example, give more detail about the temperature and amount of time it takes to bake the biscuits.

I was worried that the amount of spice would be overwhelming, but they turned out beautifully with a flavour somewhere between gingerbread and snickerdoodles. I haven’t tried experimenting with synthetic musk (even though musk sticks are a common children’s candy in Australia). Has anyone had a go at adding musk to recreated recipes?


Shrewsbury Cakes

7g nutmeg (freshly ground is best)
7g cinna
7g mace (or less, it’s expensive!)
7g caraway seeds
7g coriander seeds
113g flour, plus a bit extra
113g sugar
1 egg yolk
1.5 tbsp rosewater
113g butter, melted

1. Heat the oven to 190°C. Use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind and mix the spices.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour and sugar. Stir in the ground spices, then add the egg yolk, rosewater and melted butter. Stir to mix, adding enough extra flour to bring the dough together (I used about 4 heaped teaspoons). The dough is oily and very soft, but keep adding a bit more flour at a time until it will come together in a ball.
3. On a floured surface, shape the dough into a roll about two inches thick. Use a sharp knife to slice the dough into rounds, 1/3 of an inch thick.
4. Place each slice on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Use your hands or an upturned drinking glass to make the biscuit more circular. Then taking the back of the blade of a knife, impress a cross on each biscuit so that there are four quarters visible. Use a fork to prick inside each quarter.
5. Place biscuits on a lined baking tray and bake for about 15 mins or until they are slightly puffed up and have lightened in colour. Allow to firm up slightly before moving to a cooling rack.

blue and white plate stacked with biscuits on a crumpled linen background