These 18th century heart cakes are a variation on queen cakes, which were also often baked in heart-shaped tins. This recipe, from Charlotte Mason’s 1777 book The Lady’s Assistant, spruces up a basic queen cake recipe with the addition of candied orange peel and citron. You could certainly bake them in regular muffin tins, too – but as hearts, they are perfect for Valentine’s Day!
Heart cakes could be made any time of year, and the cookbook doesn’t specifically state that they would be served for Valentine’s Day. However, hearts were already in use as a common symbol on Valentine’s Day, as can be seen in the selection of four 18th century Valentine’s cards below. It seems likely that heart-shaped treats could have been served at Valentine’s Day parties, or given as gifts to loved ones.
In the first half of the 18th century, Valentine’s Day was typically celebrated with Valentine lotteries. On the evening of February 13th, participants would write their names on a slip of paper and place them inside a hat or apron. Each person would draw a name to find out who would be their Valentine for the next day (or longer – sometimes the celebrations went on until Easter). The Valentine couples would often write each other poems, or give small gifts such as gloves or handkerchiefs to each other.
By the second half of the 18th century, when this recipe was published, Valentine’s Day had come to resemble the modern holiday. The lottery system fell out of favor as people began to prefer to choose their own Valentines. The day became a more private holiday, typically celebrated by exchanging Valentine’s Day cards and gifts with the person of one’s choice.
Heart Cakes (1/4 of original recipe, makes about 7 cakes):
- 1/4 pound butter
- 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 pound sifted sugar
- 1/4 pound flour
- 1 tbsp brandy
- 1/4 pound currants
- 1/2 oz candied orange peel and citron, chopped
- Cream together the butter and sugar.
- Beat the eggs and yolk in a separate bowl until they are smooth and thick.
- Add the eggs and flour alternately to the creamed butter and sugar.
- Add the brandy, and beat the mixture thoroughly for another minute. Stir in the currants.
- Spoon the batter into greased heart-shaped tins. Fill each about halfway full, sprinkle in the chopped citron and orange peel, then top up with an extra spoonful of batter. Don’t fill them any more than about 2/3 full – they will rise. I had enough for six cakes, with a little bit left over.
- Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 – 35 minutes, until the edges turn golden brown and start to shrink away from the sides of the pan. The spaces in my heart-shaped pan were a little larger than regular muffin cups; if you use a differently-sized pan, you might need to adjust the cooking time.
- You can serve them plain as is, or top them with icing; either would be appropriate for the 18th century. I chose just to sprinkle powdered sugar on top.
These are really delightful little cakes. I liked them a lot more than the previous queen cake recipe I made, mostly because these ones actually have a decent amount of currants. The orange peel and citron add a nice touch of flavor as well. When asked for comment, my boyfriend described these as “cake-ier fruit cakes.” I’m pretty sure he means that they have some of the flavors of a fruit cake, but with a much lighter texture.
While chocolate is normally my go-to Valentine’s Day food, I think these cakes will be a pretty close second!
Holloway, S. (2019, Aug. 14). Love, custom & consumption: Valentine’s Day in England c. 1660–1830. Cultural and Social History, 17(3), 295-314. doi: 10.1080/14780038.2019.1646075
Mason, C. (1777). The lady’s assistant for regulating and supplying her table. London: J. Walter. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Lady_s_Assistant_for_Regulating_and/14IEAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0