Final Week: Shell Bread

Above: Detail from Josefa de Ayala's  Still life with cakes , c. 1660-1670. From the collection of the Museu de Évora. 

Above: Detail from Josefa de Ayala's Still life with cakes, c. 1660-1670. From the collection of the Museu de Évora. 

It’s the last week of this year’s Great Colonial Cookoff (where did the summer go?) and we’re ending the season with a recipe, I think, will be a real winner ... Shell Bread. 

Shell bread isn’t actually bread, but little shell-shaped cakes. The original recipe comes from John Murrell’s A Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, first published in 1617, and goes like this:

To make shell bread.
Beate a quarter of a pound of double refined Sugar, cearse it with two or three spoonefulls of the finest, the youlkes of three new laid egs, and the white of one, beate all this together in with two or three spoonefulls of sweete creame, a graine of muske, a thimble full of the powder of a dried Lemond, and a little Annise-seede beaten and cearsed, and a little Rose-water, then baste Muskle-shells with sweete butter, as thinne as you can lay it on with a feather, fill your shells with the batter and lay them on a gridiron or a lattise of wickers into the ouen, and bake them, and take them out of the shells, and ise them with Rose-water & Sugar. It is a delicate bread, some call it the Italian Mushle, if you keepe them any long time, then alwaies in wet weather put them in your ouen.

And here’s our first kick at a modern version, adapted from Terry Breverton’s The Tudor Kitchen: What the Tudors Ate and Drank (2015)


125 grams (1/2 cup)  sugar
2 tablespoons flour (plus extra for dusting shells)
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons whipping cream
grated rind of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon rose water
pinch of aniseed
3 tablespoons butter


1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon rosewater
1 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream

  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan. If you’re feeling brave, try to toast the butter slightly by letting it bubble away until it smells toasty and just begins to change colour. Watch it like a hawk. Theres a fine line between toasted butter and burnt butter! Set the melted butter aside. 
  • Prepare the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour and aniseed. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, egg yolks, whipping cream and rose water until the eggs are frothy.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture. Stir until just combined. Try not to overmix. Cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge while you prepare the mussel shells.
  • Prepare the mussel shells. Add 1 tablespoon of flour to the melted butter and stir to combine. With a pastry brush, brush the interiors of the shells with the butter-flour mixture so that they are well coated. Place the shells in the freezer for at least an hour (Note: you can cool the shells and batter anywhere from an hour to overnight).
  • Bake the cakes. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Place the mussel shells on a baking tray (for easy handling). Spoon the cool batter into the mussel shells. Depending on the size of your shells, bake for between 10 - 20 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes are beginning to turn light golden.
  • Cool the cakes. Remove the shell cakes from the oven and let cool for a couple minutes. Then, with a fork, gently loosen the cakes from their shells and tip them out onto a cooling rack or tea towel. 
  • Make the Glaze. Mix powdered sugar, rosewater and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cream until smooth. Spread glaze over cooled cakes.

Here in Newfoundland, Mussel shells are pretty easy to come by, but we’re thinking a madeleine pan would be an excellent alternative. 

Remember, post a photo of your shell cakes on the Colony’s Facebook page and you’ll be automatically entered into this week’s prize draw. Deadline for posting is Midnight, Thursday, September 8, 2016

Jane SeversComment