Week 4 - Shrewsbury Cakes

Above: Baking Flat Cakes by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). From the collection of the Hermitage Museum. 

Above: Baking Flat Cakes by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). From the collection of the Hermitage Museum. 

Break out the rolling pin and crank up the oven! After a couple of weeks of savory dishes, we’ve decided it’s time for something sweet. 

Shrewsbury (sometimes spelled Shrosebury) Cakes are not actually cakes at all, but round, thin, crisp biscuits. References to Shrewsbury Cakes date back to the 16th century, but the earliest printed recipe dates to 1621 which, coincidentally, is the founding date for the Colony of Avalon. It appeared in John Murrell’s Delightfull Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen and went like this:

Take a quart of very fine flower, eight ounces of fine sugar beaten and cersed, twelve ounces of sweete butter, a Nutmegge grated, two or three spoonefulls of damaske rose-water, worke all these together with your hands as hard as you can for the space of halfe an houre, then roule it in little round Cakes, about the thickness of three shillings one upon the other, then take a silver cup or glasse some foure or three inches over, and cut the cakes in them, then strowe some flower upon white papers & lay them upon them, and bake them in an Oven as hot as for Manchet, set up your lid till you shall see them white, if any of them rise up clap them downe with some clean thing, and if your Oven be not too hot, for they must not looke browne but white, and so draw them foorth & lay them one upon another till they be could, and you may keep them halfe a year, then new baked are best.

Here’s one modern translation:

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sifted unbleached flour
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 Tbsp. rosewater

  • Cream the sugar and butter together until fluffy. 
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour and add the nutmeg.
  • Add the rosewater to the sugar-butter mixture and stir in the dry ingredients only until blended
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 10 minutes. 
  • Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Pat the dough into a ball, then roll it out gently to 1/4 inch thick. 
  • Cut out the cakes with a 3-4" glass or cookie cutter. 
  • Place them on an unbuttered cookie sheet an inch apart and bake at 350º until slightly brown around the edges (approx. 12-15 minutes)
  • Cool on a wire grill and store in an airtight container.

And here’s another, quite different version which adds an egg and speeds the whole process up through the use of a food processor:

150g plain flour
150g caster sugar
150g cold butter
¼ tsp caraway seed
pinch of grated nutmeg
1 egg
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp Madeira or sherry

  • Add the flour and the cubed butter to the bowl of your food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until it starts to come together as a dough.  
  • Shape into a flattened disc and wrap in cling film or a food bag and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Dust the work surface with flour (the dough is quite sticky) and roll until about 5mm thick. 
  • Stamp out rounds or any shape you like and place onto lightly greased baking sheets.
  • Place in the centre of a preheated oven at 350F/160C for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden.  
  • Leave on the tray to cool for five minutes and then remove carefully onto wire racks. These biscuits are delicate so take care.

Rosewater and nutmeg are traditional flavorings for these biscuits, but feel free to experiment. Can't find rosewater in your local grocery store? Try vanilla and cinnamon ... or lemon zest and caraway.

Have fun and remember, post a photo of your colonial culinary creation on the Colony’s Facebook page and you’ll be automatically entered into our weekly prize draw. For local cookoff participants, we’re giving away a $50 grocery gift card courtesy of the generous folks at Pearlgate Dominion. From out of town? No worries. We’ll happily pop something of equal value from the Colony’s giftshop into the mail. What are you waiting for? Entries for this week’s cookoff challenge must be posted no later than midnight, Wednesday, August 10. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!