Biscuit basics

Savoy biscuits are known to many of us as ladyfingers, the kind of spongy biscuits still used today to create the base of English fruit trifle.

But for our unknown ladies, they were too good for sousing with sherry. Here, we find out how to make delicate, orange-flower-scented savoy biscuits that are   ‘proper with tea in an afternoon’:

An eighteenth-century recipe for Savoy biscuits or ladyfingers from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An eighteenth-century recipe for Savoy biscuits or ladyfingers from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Savoy Biscuitts

Beat up 12 eggs, half the whites. Strow in a pd of loaf sugar, sifted. When the eggs & sugar are beat white as cream, put in 4 spoonfulls of orange flower water, a pd of the finest flower, dryed & sifted. Mix all well together. Make them into what shapes you please. Bake them on tin plates, first flowerd, in a slack oven. These are proper with tea in an afternoon.

By contrast, our ladies never suggest serving Naples biscuits with their tea. These rusk-like biscuits are closely related to the Savoy biscuit, but in our Cookbook they are always destined for the cooking pot rather than the tea tray.

Our ladies would have probably bought Naples biscuits from a local baker or confectioner. Naples biscuits were rarely prepared in the 18th century home, and there are no recipes for them in the Cookbook.  But in the hands of an able cook, this simple confection becomes a versatile ingredient.

In The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies Naples biscuits are grated and crumbled into cooking mixtures as a thickening agent. They are used in a wide range of dishes, from cheesecakes to meat pies. In this recipe for Apple Pudding, crushed Naples biscuits give body and texture to a creamy, fruity and boozy dessert:

18th century recipe for apple pudding, using Naples biscuits

18th century recipe for apple pudding, using Naples biscuits

To Make an Apple Pudding

Take twelve pipins, roast them, take out all the pulp and put 6 spoon fulls of sack, caraway seeds and sugar to your last, as much Naple biskets as the pulp. Then, take a little thick cream and then beat it up with the rest and put it into a dish, putting in severall places a good of any red or white jellys of sweet meats.

There was another use for Naples biscuits: with their long shelf life, they were perfect stock for ships stores. Travelogues, naval memoirs and correspondence from this period record the Naples biscuit as an essential component of a seafarer’s diet.

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2 thoughts on “Biscuit basics

  1. Pingback: Georgian puddings, recreated… | The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

  2. Pingback: The Cooking Up History sessions – 3: summer tea party | The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

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