Excellent Small Cakes are not really ‘cakes’, they are more like large biscuits. When made these excellent small cakes should be covered with a sugar icing glaze, as recommended. The recipe cannot be faulted, the added cream lifts the ‘cake’, while the chewy fruit currants are a satisfying addition. They are simple to prepare and can be cooked in an oven or on a bakestone or heavy griddle pan. The recipe comes from the wonderfully titled book, “The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight” by Sir Kenelm Digby and was written from the notes he took in the early 1600’s. The cook book was published from his notes several years after his death in 1669, but we can be certain that many of the dishes he quoted have an older origin, many dating from the middle of the Tudor period
Sir Kenelm Digby – Original Recipe From 1669
EXCELLENT SMALL CAKES
Take three pound of very fine flower well dryed by the fire, and put to it a pound and half of loaf Sugar sifted in a very fine sieve and dryed; Three pounds of Currants well washed and dryed in a cloth and set by the fire; When your flower is well mixed with the Sugar and Currants, you must put in it a pound and half of unmelted butter, ten spoonfuls of Cream, with the yolks of three new-laid Eggs beat with it, one Nutmeg; and if you please, three spoonfuls of Sack. When you have wrought your paste well, you must put it in a cloth, and set it in a dish before the fire, till it be through warm. Then make them up in little Cakes, and prick them full of holes; you must bake them in a quick oven unclosed. Afterwards Ice them over with Sugar. The Cakes should be about the bigness of a hand-breadth and thin: of the cise of the Sugar Cakes sold at Barnet.
Note: ‘Sack’ was a popular Spanish wine in this period, they replaced the French Bordeaux wines when they were no longer available to Britain because of the conflicts with the French. Red and White, these are the wines of the Andalucia region.
Excellent Small Cakes Recipe
Makes 16 large biscuits
- 500g Plain Flour
- 150g Sugar
- 200g Currants
- 200g Butter, softened
- 5 tbsp Double cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 5 tbsp (sweet) Spanish White Wine
For the sugar glaze
- 200g icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
- 1 egg white
- 1 tsp water
Prep: Preheat the oven to 190C. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
Separate the egg yolks (for the cake) and egg whites (for the sugar glaze). Combine the sifted flour, sugar and currants in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Chop the soft butter into small pieces, with a knife, and add to the flour mixture. Use the back of the knife to combine. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the cream, egg yolk, nutmeg and Spanish wine. Stir into the flour mixture to make a pliable dough.
Roll out the dough to around an 8mm thickness on a lightly floured work surface. Then cut the dough into circles with a large round cookie cutter (the size Digby recommends is the width of your hand) and place on the baking sheet. Prick several times with a fork.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Leave to cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.
When cool, the cakes may be iced with a sugar icing glaze
Note: To make the Icing: it is important when working with this icing to keep it covered as much as possible as it dries out very quickly. If the icing is too runny it will run over the sides of the cakes; too stiff and it won’t spread nicely – although it is better to be too stiff than runny, thicken the mixture with extra sugar if needed.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the water until combined. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat until smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as this ‘royal icing’ hardens when exposed to air.