Sweet treats from the Georgian kitchen

Today we take a look at two sugary treats.

The first is for ‘clear cakes’, little jellies with a sugar crust which were generally made of fruit juice finely powdered sugar. They could be cut into any number of decorative shapes – lozenges, rounds, squares – and incorporate any number of flavourings.

Our recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is a twist on these traditional clear cakes. Instead of fruit juice, pounded almonds provide the main substance of these sweets. Rosewater is added for flavour:

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for almond clear cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Almond Clear Caks

Boyle the sugar to a candy height as you do for Clear Caks. Blansh some Jordon almonds & pound them [with] rose water. Mix them in yr candy as you do jelly. Put it in pans or cards in yr stove to dry, or in a very cool oven.

Our second recipe is derived from Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle and presents something a familiar to us today: caramel.

Without sugar thermometers, cooks needed to gauge the temperature of the sugar by sight . A quick way to check it was to drop a little of the melted sugar in cold water. It it went hard and solid, it was said to be at ‘the degree called crack’.

This caramel was intended for use as a kind of ‘spun sugar’. Cast in thin threads over an oiled mould to form a decorative sugar cage, it could be placed over ‘small pastry of any description’ to give it a stylish finish.

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner's Cook's Oracle

This caramel is used to form spun sugar decorations. The original recipe was published in Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle

To Boil Sugar to Caramel

Break into a small copper or brass pan one pound of refined sugar. Put in a gill of spring water. Set it on a fire and when it boils skim it quite clear and let it boil quick till it comes to the degree called crack which may be known by dipping a teaspoon or skewer into the sugar and let it drop to the bottom of a pan of cold water. If it remains hard, it has attained that degree. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and let it remain one minute longer on the fire, then set the pan in another of cold water. Have ready moulds of any shape. Rub them over with sweet oil. Dip a spoon or fork into the sugar and throw it over the mould, in fine threads, till it is quite covered. Make a small handle of caramel or stick on two or three small gum paste rings by way of ornament and place it over small pastry of any description.

If you do have a go at either of today’s recipe, do be careful when you boil the sugar as it will become extremely hot. To avoid burns, make sure you follow the caramel recipe’s advice: cool the sugar for a few moments before you handle it by placing it another pan of cold water.

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Cheese-less cheesecake

Almond cheesecakes such as these may well have drawn in the punters at the popular Hyde Park ‘Cheesecake House’. The recipes yield quite different results from the American-style baked cheesecakes we are familiar with today – the first produces a fragrant kind of  frangipane, and the second a pastry tart with a dense and buttery sweet almond filling.

Neither of today’s recipes have complete instructions (both miss out the baking stage), but if you fancy a go at Georgian cheesecake, you can find an adapted recipe in our Cooking Up History section.

A recipe for almond chese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A recipe for almond chese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Almond Chese Cakes

Take half a pd of Jordon almonds. Pound them with rose water, but not to mash. The yolks of 5 eggs well beat with half a pd of loaf sugar pounded, a qr of a pd of butter drawn thick, prity cool. When in, 3 spoonfulls of orange flower water. Take care the almonds bent the least oyled in pounding. Mix all the ingredients well together. Ye allmond cheese cakes.

The bitter almonds and ratifia in our second recipe should be avoided if you value your health, as they can lead to cyanide poisoning. Ground almonds from the supermarket and almond essence are perfectly fine and much safer substitutes!

Another recipe for cheese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Another recipe for cheese cakes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make Cheese Cakes

Take half a pound of sugr well dried, pounded & sifted, half a pound of Jordon almonds, with a few bitter almonds among them, pounded but not to fine, the yolks of eight eggs. Beat your eggs & sugr well to gather before you put in the almonds. When near going into the oven, put in a little brandy and a cup of sweet cream. Drudge them well with sugar as you fill them. Wet your almonds when pounding with with a little ratifie or rose water. Keep out part of the sugar for drudging them or they will be too sweet. The paste for cheese cakes must be made with half a pound of butter and half a pound of flower.

Check out our adapted recipe for Georgian almond cheesecakes, and let us know how you get on with making them up in your own kitchen! Leave comments here on the blog or send your photos and findings into us at archives@westminster.gov.uk!

The perils of pewter: to make almond cake

This simple recipe for little almond cakes highlights some of the challenges that faced the 18th century home baker.

An 18th century recipe for little almond cakes, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An 18th century recipe for little almond cakes, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make an Almond Cake

Take two eggs, with one of the yolks & beat them up thick with sugar & a little orange flower water, 2 spoon fulls of flower. Half a pound of blanchd almonds & slice them very thin. Mix them with the other ingredients. Then take pewter plates & butter them & drop a cuple of small cakes on every plate. Let yr oven be indifferent hot & as the cake begins to bake, prick up your almonds at one end with a pin or a knife from one plate to another.   

Issue number one: cooking equipment.

Pewter is an alloy of tin and other metals and, in the 18th century, England was the world centre for pewter production. A soft alloy, it could be easily beaten into shapes or cast in moulds to form dishes and utensils. Widely available and easy to craft, it is little wonder that English households started using pewter cookware in their kitchens.

However, pewter was not without problems. The alloy has a low melting temperature – around 232ºC. Without any accurate means of judging or controlling oven temperatures, the cook would need to draw on their experience to tell when the oven was cool enough.

There were also long-term health risks attached to baking with pewter. In the early 18th century, lead was included in the alloy as a hardener.

Then there was the challenge of achieving an ‘even bake’. To ensure they’re all equally browned in the oven, we’re instructed to move the almonds from cake to cake with a pin or knife. Fiddly, and frankly a bit dangerous!

Luckily, with modern cookware and effective oven controls, this almond cake recipe is now far easier to follow! Pop spoonfuls of your cake mixture onto a greased baking tray, and pop it in an oven at 180ºC until the cakes are golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Almond pudding, another two ways…

If you felt inspired by the almond puddings baked by our Cooking up History team last month, here are another couple of recipes to try…

To make an almond pudding, 18th century style

To make an almond pudding, 18th century style

To Make an Almond Pudding (modernised spelling)

Take half a pound of almonds, pound them with half a pound of white sugar till the come to a paste. Then take 3 ounces of fine flour of rice, a pint of good cream boiled & cold, a quarter of a pound of butter melted, 4 spoonfuls of rose water. Half an hour bakes it. You must put in the yolks of 4 eggs well beat.

An 18th century almond pudding "ye best way"

An 18th century almond pudding “ye best way”

An Almond Pudding the Best Way  (modernised spelling)

Take the yolks of 12 eggs. Beat them well with 3 quarters of a pound of loaf sugar, 3 quarters of a pound of almond[s] pounded with rose water as small as possible, 3 quarters of butter drawn & pretty cool, 3 spoonfuls of orange-flower water or rose water. 3 quarters of an hour bakes it. If you think the butter too much & you don’t like it so rich, leave out a quarter of a pound.

The ‘Cooking Up History’ sessions – 1: puddings

On Friday 1 March, ‘Cooking up History’ volunteers David and Angela joined us to whip up some dishes from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies. Our Archives Centre kitchen was transformed with the sights and smells of the Georgian kitchen as we rolled up our sleeves, put on our pinnies, and got busy baking!

Our librarian Judith with Angela and David, the Cooking up History team!

Our librarian Judith with Angela and David, the Cooking up History team!

We began the first in our series of historic cookery adventures with a selection of sweet recipes from the Cookbook: two 18th century recipes for almond puddings, and three buttery, boozy pudding sauces from the early 19th century. Perfect warming food to cheer us through the recent cold spell.

Our first challenge was to ‘translate’ the original recipes for use in our modern kitchen. Easier said than done. While the 19th century sauce recipes were pretty thorough, the earlier pudding methods were riddled with omissions! Filling in the gaps reinforced how these 18th century would have been been compiled by an experienced domestic cook, who was well versed in basic cooking methods, and judged most quantities and cooking temperatures by their own experience of what ‘felt right’.

One of the original recipes we adapted for the cookery session

One of the original recipes we adapted for the cookery session

There were plenty of potential pitfalls to avoid. Both of the pudding recipes called for huge quantities of eggs, but as those used in the Georgian kitchen would have been much smaller, we needed to adjust the quantities accordingly. We had to decide on which ‘weight’ of cream to use (we plumped for double rather than single) and even what spirit to substitute for ‘sack’.

And inevitably, there were some pitfalls that we failed to dodge. Without any instructions about how mix our ingredients, our first pudding batter turned out extremely lumpy and rather grey. But some good old-fashioned elbow grease with a wooden spoon got it looking more the part, and disaster was narrowly avoided.

Cross-barring our first almond pudding - almost ready to go in the oven!

Cross-barring our first almond pudding – almost ready to go in the oven!

Once our puddings were snugly in the oven, we sat back with a cup of tea to reflect on how things had gone so far. We’d taken plenty of short cuts in recreating these recipes – such as using ground almonds rather than pounding them by hand – and Angela remarked how time-consuming these puddings would have been without all the kitchen aids we have today. This got us thinking about all the other difficulties that a Georgian cook would have faced.

Even getting hold of ingredients seemed to be easier today. We found nearly everything we needed at the supermarket, and the more exotic ingredients (mace, rosewater) we got hold of from our local Indian grocery. Whereas other recipes in the Cookbook indicate that our 18th century ladies would have sourced some of the ingredients from their smallholdings – eggs from their own hens, and milk and cream from a domestic cow.

The timer interrupted our chat and it was time to try the puddings…

Almond pudding in a pastry case: the first pudding we tasted

Almond pudding in a pastry case: the first pudding we tried and tasted

As we cut into our first almond pudding, we realised that something had gone a little awry, as the mixture was still fairly sloppy, and wasn’t keeping its shape as we’d expected. On taste, though, it didn’t disappoint. David was the first to comment: “ This is delicious!”. Rosewater was the predominant taste, and the nutmeg came through well too. Angela was the first to remark that it ‘tasted of Christmas’, and funnily enough, we all agreed.

David gives almond pudding no. 1 the thumbs up!

David gives almond pudding no. 1 the thumbs up!

The second pudding turned out like something between a bakewell pudding and a baked custard, and was literally oozing with butter. We’d used sherry in place of sack, which came through fairly delicately.

The second almond pudding - a cross between baked custard and bakewell pudding

The second almond pudding – a cross between baked custard and bakewell pudding

Angela serves up our second almond pudding

Angela serves up our second almond pudding

The 19th century sauces were less subtle. ‘Pudding catsup’ was rather heavily laced with sherry and brandy. The alcohol-free ‘Justin’s Orange Sauce’ was a bit more refined, and complemented rather than overpowered the puddings.

We were all surprised at how different these puddings tasted from the ones we are used to today. None of were used to using rosewater or mace in our day-to-day cooking, and the large quantities of butter in the recipes made the puddings seem incredibly rich to our modern palates. Nevertheless, we all felt we’d come one step closer to discovering the tastes of the Georgian kitchen, and to the lives our ‘unknown ladies’ would have lived.

To try out these recipes in your own home, take a look at our Cooking up History page, where we’ve published all of the recipes for your enjoyment!