Last year, I made an 18th-century recipe for a hedgehog, a popular dessert in which an almond paste was formed into the shape of a hedgehog and stuck with almond slices to resemble spines. The idea of the hedgehog-shaped dessert survived into the 19th century, but later recipes started using a cake as the base of the hedgehog instead. This recipe, from Addison Ashburn’s 1807 cookbook The Family Director, calls for either a sponge cake or a French roll as the hedgehog base. The base is then soaked in wine and brandy and surrounded by custard, making this version just as decadent as its 18th-century predecessors.
I chose to use the author’s recipe for Savoy cakes, a type of sponge cake, printed in another part of the cookbook. Just about any plain sponge cake or even white bread could work for this recipe, though, as long as it’s sturdy enough to keep its shape after being soaked with wine.
I was a bit confused by the mixing instructions for the Savoy cake; most modern Savoy recipes I’ve seen instruct you to beat the egg yolks and sugar together first, then fold in the flour, then fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites last. Although the 1807 recipe is a bit light on details, it does specifically say to add the flour last – presumably after the egg whites have been added, in contrast to the modern method. I found a similar recipe from 1824 with the same proportions that goes into even more detail, instructing the cook to beat the egg yolks and whites separately, then mix them back together, mix in the sugar, and finally add the flour last. I tried both this and the modern mixing methods and honestly couldn’t spot much of a difference in the finished cake; I ended up using the cake made with the original instructions as the base for my hedgehog, but either one would’ve worked.
Since the amounts of flour and sugar are proportional to the weight of the eggs, it is very easy to adjust this recipe to different sizes. I used 5 eggs for a cake baked in a 9×5 loaf pan, but trimmed off a significant portion of the cake when shaping it into a hedgehog. If you happen to have a cake pan shaped more like a hedgehog to begin with, such as a melon or oval mold, by all means use that instead and adjust the amount of cake batter to fit. The batter should fill about 2/3 of the cake pan.
- 5 room temperature eggs, separated
- the weight of the eggs in baking sugar
- half the weight of the eggs in flour, sifted
- white wine (this is going to be the main flavor of the dish, so use a wine you like; I used a Riesling)
- blanched almonds, sliced
- currants for eyes (optional)
- Beat the egg yolks for a few minutes until they are thick and foamy.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Stir about a third of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolks. Then, gently fold in the rest.
- Gradually sift the sugar over the egg mixture and fold it in.
- Gradually sift and fold in the flour until it is completely incorporated, with no streaks or lumps of flour remaining.
- Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 9×5 loaf pan (I would also recommend lining the pan with a strip of parchment paper to make it easier to remove the cake). Bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes, until a knife tip stuck into the cake comes out clean.
- When the cake is cool, trim off the outside of the cake and cut it into the shape of a hedgehog.
- Pour white wine over the cake until it is soaked through. Pour over an additional splash of brandy.
- Stick the almond slices into the cake to form spines. If you have difficulty sticking them in, use the tip of a sharp knife to poke holes for them first. Use currants to make eyes and a nose for the hedgehog.
Custard (same recipe as my previous hedgehog):
- 1 cup cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- To make the custard, heat the cream, egg yolks, and sugar in a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan full of water. Keep stirring until it thickens slightly, about 15-20 minutes.
- Pour the custard around the hedgehog; you may have more custard than you need depending on the size and depth of your dish.
- Place the hedgehog in the fridge until the custard is set, then serve.
Much like its 18th century cousin, this hedgehog is just so, so decadent. The cake base is literally just a sponge for soaking up alcohol, so it tastes very boozy. It was difficult to eat more than a little bit at a time because everything from the cake to the custard was so rich. Although I did enjoy the taste, I think that this dish is more about the presentation. It’s the sort of show-off dessert that tells your guests that you not only have enough money to buy expensive ingredients such as eggs, cream, sugar, and alcohol, you can also afford to pay your cook to spend a massive amount of time whisking eggs, carefully folding in flour, and artfully arranging almond spikes. Even while doing only part of it by hand and using an electric mixer for the egg whites, my whisking and folding arm was pretty tired the next day – I definitely feel for the 18th and 19th century cooks who had to do everything by hand!
I wouldn’t eat this every day, but if I ever throw a Regency-themed party I think I will have to make another hedgehog or two to liven up the table.
Ashburn, A. (1807). The family director; or, housekeeper’s assistant. Coventry: printed for the author, by N. Merridew. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_family_director_or_Housekeeper_s_ass/djcCAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
Ayto, J. (2012). Hedgehog. In The diner’s dictionary: Word origins of food & drink. (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.