This recipe originally comes from Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook, or, the Art and Mystery of Cookery, published in 1660. I used a modernized version from A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Food in Britain, which reduces the size of the original from a twenty-pound monstrosity to a cake capable of being baked in a 9-inch tin.
By far the best part of Robert May’s book is actually the beginning, where two lengthy poems heap praise on Robert May and his recipes while dissing all other cookbooks. The first poem claims that another cookbook looks like “old hang’d Tapistry, the wrong side outwards” compared to May’s; the second poem compares May favorably to Cato, the famous Roman writer. After doing their best to convince readers that Robert May is a veritable god of cooking, the poems finally conclude with the line:
“Reader, read on, for I have done; farewell,
The Book’s so good, it cannot chuse but sell.”
With advertising like that, how could it not sell? The full poems are available here from Project Gutenberg, if you want to read more about how Robert May is god’s gift to mankind.
Anyway…on to the cake!
Like many cakes made before the invention of baking powder, this cake is raised with yeast and is basically made like bread.
The cake is finished by brushing it with a rose water glaze as it comes out of the oven.
The process of making this cake initially reminded me a bit of making scones. The final product, however, reminds me more of panettone. It’s crusty on the outside, but sweet and fluffy on the inside. Although the recipe contains cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, I don’t taste the spices that much – mostly it tastes like currants and rose water. This is excellent for breakfast; it’s much more like a sweet bread than a modern cake.
Brears, P. (2003). Seventeenth-Century Britain. In Brears, P., et al, A taste of history: 10,000 years of food in Britain (pp. 180-215). London: English Heritage, in association with the British Museum Press.
May, R. (1660). The accomplisht cook. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/22790