James has always been interested in food history, so he was delighted a couple of years ago when the East Riding of Yorkshire Council unearthed a handwritten recipe for sugar cakes and asked him to recreate it.
It dates from 1812, when Britain was bang in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. “These ‘cakes’ are more what we would call biscuits these days, and reflect the food trends of the time,” says James. “In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this country was consuming huge amounts of sugar and spices, imported from the Caribbean – the economy of entire islands was based on the production of sugar. “I began by recreating the cakes as accurately as I could, but they were pretty hardcore for modern tastes – a whole ounce of cloves!
So I adapted the recipe, and by trial and error came up with my own version, which features regularly on the menu at The Pipe and Glass, often with puddings such as ginger burnt cream with stewed rhubarb, or our lemon verbena posset. They’re a perfect complement, and have become one of our signature dishes.”
This set us thinking here at The Pantry – we reckon there must be loads of traditional recipes out there lurking in old recipe books. We’d love to see them, and maybe even try some of them – so our competition this issue is a recipe search.
East Yorkshire sugar cakes –the 19th century version
To make sugar cakes
Take 3 pounds of finest flower, A pound of fine sugar, clowes & mace each an ounc finely searced, 2 pound of butter, a little rose water, knead & mould this well together, melt your butter as you put it in then mould it with your hand forth upon A bord cut them round, lay them on papers & put them in an oven, be sure it be not too hot so let them stand til they be colourd.
East Yorkshire sugar cakes –the 21st century version
250g melted butter
125g caster sugar
375g plain flour
2tsp nutmeg grated
Ground cloves to taste
Mix all the ingredients together into a dough, then roll into a thick sausage shape. Rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Take from the fridge and cut into rounds 1cm thick. Bake like biscuits on a non-stick oven tray for 10 minutes at 170°C. Cool on a wire rack.
The original sugar cakes recipe is preserved by the East Riding Archives & Local Studies Service at the Treasure House, Beverley: www.eastriding.gov.uk/leisure/archives-family-and-local-history/
Our thanks to them, especially Collections Officer Sam Bartle, for their help.