Britain has a rich baking history and there are some surprising tastes to be re-discovered in old recipe books, writes historian Sue Davies. Over the next few weeks, we will be delving into the archives and seeking out recipes up to 200 years old, found in books held by the British Library, the Museum of English Rural Life and Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies. Caraway seed cakes, for instance, were once very common, but have since fallen from favour.
We are lucky that these recipes have survived and are being looked after. This week’s comes from a hand-written notebook, rather than a printed recipe book, and feels particularly special.
The recipe below has been translated from the original as faithfully as possible. But it is more than just a historical curiosity – it tastes good as it is, but we don’t need to be too tied to the past. We reprint the recipe to inspire rather than to be followed slavishly.
This week’s recipe uses dried fruit and a yeast dough. It was tested by Mansbridge Bakers of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.
WASP NEST CAKES
The name is fantastic, but the original recipe is rather vague about the method and shape of these buns. It comes from Cakes and Confectionery à la Mode by Mrs Harriet De Salis, 1889. It is worth experimenting with the filling; walnuts and marmalade work well.
Steve Mansbridge of Mansbridge Bakers used coconut instead of pistachios. He said it made the cakes smell good but was too dry and suggests using more fat.
Makes 160 buns
10 whole eggs
100g/4oz dried active yeast plus warm water
1.5 litres/2 ½ pints milk
4.2kg/9½lb strong flour
500g/1½lb flaked almonds
100g/4oz shredded candied orange peel
1. Mix the yeast with two tablespoons of warm water and leave it to froth up.
2. Warm the milk to blood heat.
3. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the middle.
4. Add the eggs and yolks, milk and yeast to the flour. Work it into soft dough.
5. For the first rise, leave it to double in size for 90 minutes.
6. Next, knock the dough back and let it rise again for 60–90 minutes.
7. Divide the dough into two. Roll out the dough into a rectangle. Scatter the currants and nuts over the dough. Slice it up into strips 5cm/2“ wide and roll it up. Put the rolls face up on a greased baking sheet.
8. Let the buns relax or prove for 30 minutes.
9. Bake for 15–20 minutes at a temperature of 180oC/350oF.