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A Recipe For Easter From The Victorian Kitchen

A Recipe for Easter from the Victorian Kitchen

Easter Cakes (or if you prefer) Easter Biscuits!

Question – When is a cake not a cake?

Answer – When it’s a biscuit!

Intrigued? . . .  Read on . . .

Visitors to the museum over the Easter period were able to sample this delicately spiced Easter fare which, even though they look and feel like biscuits, are called Easter Cakes!

This is yet again a recipe whose origins are obscure. They, or similar items, are thought to originate in the West Country and use as a flavouring Cassia oil (similar in taste to cinnamon). Bristol was the main importing centre for this product. But all the counties of the West Country claim ownership of this dish.

Historically, these Easter Cakes were only served on one day of the year. Like Hot Cross Buns, which were only eaten on Good Friday, these were only eaten on Easter Sunday. Given as presents to family and friends after the church service, tied up in threes with a ribbon, they were a reminder of the Holy Trinity.

To try to explain why these are called cakes is tricky. I can only guess it is to do with their size. They are supposedly to be cut out into 5” (150 mm) rounds; a size akin more to a cake than a biscuit. This is only my idea, you may have other thoughts.

The recipe given below is not from either Eliza Acton’s nor Isabella Beeton‘s book. Neither of these weighty Victorian tomes mention anything like this, associated with Easter or not. Could it be that this custom was mainly a rural one, or had died out with the middle classes? Yet another mystery to investigate.

Ingredients

  • 4½ oz (125g) butter
  • 3oz (85g) caster sugar
  • 2 medium egg yolks
  • 1oz (25g) currants
  • 6oz (170g) plain flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 2 egg whites – lightly beaten
  • Caster sugar

Method

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time
  3. Stir in the currants
  4. Sieve in the flour and spices and mix gently to form a soft dough. This is a very soft dough so take care not to over-mix. Also do not be tempted to add more flour. Bring the dough together by hand in a mixing bowl and if it is rather sticky leave for 15 minutes. It should then be able to be rolled out.
  5. Roll out the dough to 1/8” (5mm) thickness and cut into rounds with a fluted cutter (When rolling out use approximately 1/3rd of the dough at a time. It is much easier than trying to cope with the whole amount in one go. Use the rolling pin with short light strokes and a light dusting of flour to stop sticking.)
  6. Transfer the rounds to a greased or silicon sheet lined baking tray using a palette knife or similar as the biscuits are very fragile
  7. Brush the tops with the beaten egg white and sprinkle over the extra caster sugar
  8. Bake at 180C, 170C fan, Gas Mark 4 for between 12 and 15 minutes. The biscuits should be pale golden and crisp. Check if the biscuits are cooked by pushing one gently with the thumb – if it moves on the baking tray, it’s cooked. If there is resistance there, cook for a couple more minutes and test again.
  9. Transfer to a cooling tray and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight tin

A note about making these biscuits:

Remember this is an old recipe – soft margarine did not exist! Use either block margarine or butter.

The “cakes” I made for the museum were smaller than the traditional ones so the number made and cooking times in the main body of the recipe refer to my variation. Traditional large-sized cakes will need 20 – 25 minutes as a rough guide.

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