Historical Food Fortnightly: Challange #1: Literature

Challange #1: Literature

“As I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it . . . ‘I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.’ ‘It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’” 
- Miss Havisham, Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

I love Dickens, and Miss Havisham's wedding feast seemed hideously perfect for the Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #1: Literature. No spiders and fungus here, but I did make a Bride Cake.

Even though Dickens' books are set in the early Victorian era, Bride Cakes were around long before that.

My recipe is from Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769.  I find a lot of my historic recipes on a fabulous blog called The Old Foodie, and this one was no exception. 

To make a Bride Cake.
Take four Pounds of fine Flour well dried, four Pounds of fresh Butter, two Pounds of Loaf Sugar, pound and sift fine a quarter of an Ounce of Mace, the same of  Nutmegs, to every Pound of Flour put eight Eggs, wash four Pounds of Currants, pick them well and dry them before the Fire, blanch a Pound of Sweet Almonds (and cut them length-way very thin) a Pound of Citron, one Pound of candied Orange, the same of candied Lemon, half a Pint of Brandy; first work the Butter with your Hand to a Cream, then beat in your Sugar a quarter of an Hour, beat the Whites of your Eggs to a very strong Froth, mix them with your Sugar and Butter, beat your Yolks half an Hour at least, and mix them With your Cake, then put in your Flour, Mace, and Nutmeg, keep beating it well 'till your Oven is ready, put in your Brandy, and beat your Currants and Almonds lightly in, tie three Sheets of Paper round the Bottom of your Hoop to keep it from running out, rub it well with Butter, put in your Cake, and lay your Sweetmeats in three Lays, with Cake betwixt every Lay, after it is risen and coloured, cover it with Paper before your Oven is stopped up; it will take three Hours baking.

I am horrible at making the traditional sugar icing or meringue type icings, so mine is just a simple buttercream frosting.  I did find a great Victorian period candied orange peel recipe, which I used for the orange and lemon peels in this cake.

It's by Marion Harland, in“Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery”, 1873–USA
Organic oranges
Weigh the oranges whole, and take an equal weight of sugar.
Wash and scrub the oranges. Squeeze the juice through a strainer into a large pan. Mix the sugar with the orange juice.
Cut the peel in narrow strips.
Boil the peels in water, changing the water twice and replenishing it with boiling hot water kept ready for this purpose. Cook the peels until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Bring the orange juice and sugar mixture to a boil, add to it the drained orange peel strips and boil 20 minutes.
Drain on racks, and when dry but still slightly tacky roll in sugar or leave as they are.


The Challenge: Literature - Bride Cake

The Recipe: website - The Old Foodie , recipe by - Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper 

The Date/Year and Region: 1769, English

How Did You Make It: Process pics are posted below.  Oven was set at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooked for 2 hours. Oven was turned off, and cake set in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Time to Complete: Preparation and assembly time - Approximately 3 hours. Total cooking time - 3 1/2 hours, including orange and lemon peels.

Total Cost: ???  It was a pretty pricey cake, considering how MUCH of each item was used.  Some of the ingredients I had in my pantry, others, I had to purchase specifically for this recipe.  I guess this is why it would have been saved for a wedding.

How Successful Was It?: I think it was fairly successful.  It is a very tasty cake, however, it is nothing like a modern wedding/bride cake.  The consistency. or crumb, of the cake is very firm, sort of like an American scone.  It has the sweet, buttery taste of a shortbread cookie, but the citrus and brandy give it a bit of a kick.  I love the texture contrast between the crumby cake and chewy sweetmeats, that's wonderful.  It didn't turn out like I thought it would, although I guess I should have know it would be nothing like a modern cake, but that doesn't mean I didn't like it.  It's a splendid dessert!

How Accurate Is It?: Pretty accurate...  A few slight changes: I cut the recipe in half and boy am I glad I did, the thing is huge!!!  I'll never eat it all.  A modern oven was used, of course, instead of what would probably have been a hearth or bread/cake oven.  I didn't cook it as long as the recipe said too.  I changed the almond/sugar icing to a buttercream.  I couldn't find any citron, so I substituted chopped dates for that...because I like dates.  Also, instead of currents, I used dried cherries since I had them available, they pair fabulously with the other flavors in the cake.


Process Photos:
My "action shot" photos are pretty terrible.  They look more like the moldy, spider covered cake images than the finished shots.  My kitchen has horrible lighting, and I'm a messy cook.  So sorry.  No need for me to comment on each picture, everything is pretty is pretty self explanatory.


lahbluebonnet said…
I love this since we read this book in our homeschool! My kids will want to try this! The cake looks so yummy too! Thanks for choosing this one and all the research!
OHMYGAWD what a cake!!! And the ingredients list, pounds and pounds of everything!
I suppose one slice already feels like eating a complete modern cake?

Very impressive indeed!

Hana - Marmota said…
Okay, that's a rather scary introduction!

And wow, what a cake, what a cake, there's nothing else that can be said but "what a cake"!

All these old recipes with various preserved fruits also make me wonder about all the things I could do with fruit... our cherries are juicy sour cherries, so I'm not sure they'd dry well, but candied orange peel? YES!
Thank you! I think I'll make just a quarter recipe! The texture, I'm thinking, is that of a modern English wedding cake (fruitcake) rather than an American wedding cake. This is such fun!

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