Shrewsbury Cakes - A history and the recipe

Maria rundellShrewsbury Cakes - The history 

Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell is famed for her New System of Domestic Cookery. As the forward to her work claims, her purported goal was to offer assistance to the middle class housekeeper and wife, as many of Jane Austen's heroines would wind up being: "As the following directions were intended for the conduct of the families of the authoress’s own daughters, and for the arrangement of their table, so as to unite a good figure with proper economy, she has avoided all excessive luxury, such as essence of ham, and that wasteful expenditure of large quantities of meat for gravy, which so greatly contributes to keep up the price, and is no less injurious to those who eat than to those whose penury obliges them to abstain. Many receipts are given for things, which being in daily toe, the mode of preparing them may be supposed too well known to require a place in a cookery-book; yet how rarefy .do we meet with fine melted butter, good toast and water, or well-made coffee! She makes no apology for minuteness in some articles, or for leaving others unnoticed, because she does not write for professed cooks. This little work would have been a treasure to herself when she first set out in life, and she therefore hopes it may prove useful to others. In that expectation it is given to the Public; and as she will receive from it no emolument, so she trusts it will escape without censure." A Shrewsbury cake or Shrewsbury biscuit is a classic English dessert, named for Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire. They are made from dough that contains sugar, flour, egg, butter, and lemon zest. Shrewsbury cakes can be small in size for serving several at a time, or large for serving as a dessert in themselves. The playwright William Congreve mentioned Shrewsbury cakes in his play The Way of the World in 1700 as a simile  (Witwoud - "Why, brother Wilfull of Salop, you may be as short as a Shrewsbury cake, if you please. But I tell you 'tis not modish to know relations in town"). The recipe is also included in several early cookbooks including The Compleat Cook of 1658. First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams brought this recipe to The White House, when her husband, John Quincy Adams, son of American President, John Adams, became President of the United States in 1825.

Shrewsbury Cakes - The recipe

The following recipes translates well to modern roll and cut cookie methods. Use the Jane Austen cookie cutter for a sweet Austenesque touch. 1557682_830901786936039_418047413_n
  Shrewsbury Cakes. —Sift one pound of sugar, some pounded cinnamon, and a nutmeg grated, into three pounds of flour, the finest sort; add a little rose-water to three eggs, well beaten, and mix these with the flour, &c, then pour into it as much melted butter as will make it a good thickness to roll out. Mould it well, and roll thin, and cut it into such shapes as you like. -A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1808
This makes quite a large batch, but it can easily be cut into thirds. Modern recipes generally add more sugar (or less flour) and often bake for up to an hour or more. Eliza did not offer baking instructions, so I compared several recipes and offer 325* for 15-20 minutes (to start with!) Mrs. Rundell's Shrewsbury Cakes
  • 11 cups Flour
  • 3 1/2 cups white Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Rosewater
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups soft/melted Butter (approx)
Mix dry ingredients, and then add eggs and rosewater until incorporated. Pour in butter and mix until incorporated. Roll out on a floured surface, cut and bake according to directions.

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family.

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