Banbury Cakes (sort of)

I’ve always wanted to try out a Regency recipe. I rather rashly promised to do a book signing (at an old-fashioned bookshop in a historic town) with the theme of a Regency Tea, so this seemed like a good opportunity to experiment. In LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, I had a housewifely 9-year-old make something called Banbury cakes, so I decided to try making them myself.

Here’s the original recipe, from THE COMPLETE SERVANT, by Samuel and Sarah Adams, first published in 1825. (A neat reference, with guidance on the duties of every servant imaginable, and some interesting recipes. I found a nice 1989 reprint from Southover Press.)

Take a pound of dough made for white bread, roll it out, and put bits of butter upon the same as for puff paste, till a pound of the same has been worked in; roll it out very thin, then cut it into bits of an oval size, according as the cakes are wanted. Mix some good moist sugar with a little brandy, sufficient to wet it, then mix some clean washed currants with the former, put a little upon each bit of paste, close them up, and put the side that is closed next the tin they are to be baked upon. Lay them separate, and bake them moderately, and afterwards, when taken out, sift sugar over them. Some candied peel may be added, or a few drops of the essence of lemon.

Here’s my very loose interpretation. Puff pastry dough would be more accurate but I opted to make something more like a filled cookie, as I thought it would transport better.

3 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
12 oz jar blackcurrant preserves
1 tsp brandy

1. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy.
3. Add egg, milk and vanilla and beat well.
4. Add dry ingredients, mix thoroughly.
5. Cover and chill for about half an hour or until dough is easily rolled.
6. Mix blackcurrant preserves and brandy for filling.
7. Flour surface and rolling pin well (dough is very sticky) and roll out fairly thin (a little thicker than 1/8 inch). Cut out 3 or 4 inch rounds, as desired. Put a little filling (not too much so you can close it) in the center and gently crimp the edges together. (Don’t worry if a few break or some filling oozes out. Just be careful to, um, destroy the evidence!)
8. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until golden in center and lightly browned on the edges.
9. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

This makes about 24 large (using 4 inch rounds) or 36 small (3 inch rounds).

As I said, not quite accurate, but rich and buttery, the currants adding a nice tartness. My kids even liked them, so I hope visitors to my booksigning will, too.
And I do solemnly promise Mr. St. James that there will be no iced or fruit-flavored beverages served!

Elena 🙂
LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, an RT Top Pick!
www.elenagreene.com

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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13 Responses to Banbury Cakes (sort of)

  1. Cara King says:

    I’ve done various recipes from the period, Elena, and a lot of them seem to call for a lot of butter! I was also surprised at first by the number that wanted orange and/or lemon, which would have been luxury items — until I realized that the rich must have deliberately had things like that frequently because they were luxury items.

    Actually, I’m all admiration for the way they could bake at all with their primitive ovens! That’s just amazing.

    Cara

  2. Elena:

    Thanks for the recipe! I might just have to try them. They look delicious.

    Cara and Elena, do you have period cookbooks? And if so, which do you recommend? I’m game to try some recreation, too. And my oven is kind of primitive, too.

    Elena, how did the tea attendees like your cakes?

  3. Elena Greene says:

    Hi again.
    I haven’t done the book signing yet, that’s next week. I just wanted to try the recipe out first, using my family as guinea pigs as it were!

    I haven’t done much period cookery, but I got THE JANE AUSTEN COOKBOOK as a present. It has both the original recipes and modernized versions, two of which I’m going to try for this upcoming tea/booksigning–“Martha’s Gingerbread Cakes” (more what we would call a cookie) and “Ratafia Cakes” (sort of an almond macaroon). Both sound scrumptious!

    Elena 🙂

  4. Tess says:

    Mmmm – they sound yummy. I think I might try the recipe out the next time I want to bake something different 🙂

  5. Todd says:

    Two cookbooks that I’ve tried with modern versions of period recipes are:

    Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas–recipes for dishes that appear in the Patrick O’Brian novels.

    The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black, from the recipes of Austen’s cousin Martha Lloyd.

    There’s also a book called “Recipes from the Great Houses” (or something like that), put out by the National Trust in Britain; some of the recipes are from the Regency period.

    Todd-who-eats

  6. Okay, Todd, so are the cookbooks clearer than the O’Brian novels?!? I tried, I really did, and I’m not dumb, really, but I could not figure that book out at all. Paragraphs of unintelligible stuff and it made my brain hurt worse than the Pythagorean theorem.
    I’ll check out the cookbooks,though.

  7. Gee, Elena, thanks for ruining my post-Halloween diet here. 🙂 I get rid of tiny Almond Joys and Reese’s PB Cups only to come here and find cakes and cookies!!!

    I’ve never tried Regency-period recipes (though I’ve often wondered exactly what “seed cakes” are like), but once some theater friends and I tried to make Tudor-period cake/tarts called “Maids Of Honor” before a show of Romeo and Juliet. it, er, wasn’t a great success. I’m glad to hear your Banbury cakes fared better. 🙂

  8. Todd says:

    Megan,

    I love the O’Brian books! But I do admit, when he starts getting into the nautical language, it can be a trifle difficult for the layperson to follow. I decided it was better to just let it wash over you, like a Latin mass, incomprehensible but vaguely good for your soul. So my experience of reading O’Brian was occasionally a little like this:

    Jack peered through his telescope at the bobbing sails of the distant French frigate, then slapped the telescope closed with a decisive gesture.

    “All right, men!” he cried. “Just blah blah blah the mainsails and blah blah blah blah blah! Handsomely, now!”

    “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog,” by contrast, is an easy read, and quite charmingly written. I recommend it highly!

    And I’m a big fan of the Pythagorean Theorem, too. Great stuff!

    Todd-who-blah-blah-blah

  9. Cara King says:

    Seedcakes are great, Amanda! There are a great variety, of course, with different seeds, but caraway seeds are very common. I often make a caraway seedcake, and I just love them — usually, when we eat caraway seeds, it’s with a savory (they’re commonly in rye bread, for example), and I love having them in a sweet. At first, it seemed strange and yummy to me — now I’m so used to it it’s just yummy. 🙂

    Cara

  10. Cara King says:

    Megan,

    As to period cookbooks…. I’m not a real cook, so I need a modern recipe — which means most of my cookbooks feature traditional recipes rewritten by modern people.

    For research purposes (not cooking purposes), my favorite cookbook is THE COOK AND HOUSEWIFE’S MANUAL: A PRACTICAL SYSTEM OF MODERN DOMESTIC COOKERY AND FAMILY MANAGEMENT by Mistress Margaret Dods, which was first published in 1829. It’s huge, and tells one how to pickle bitter oranges, how to dress macaroni in the best way, how to make negus ice (and many other ices), how to make several ratafias, how to make coffee, and of course, how to make “Dr Hunter’s dinner for a delicate person.” It also has recipes for lip salve, eau de cologne, and “a cheap perfume,” plus tips on scouring grates. 🙂

    As to the modernised ones…the Jane Austen cookbook is fun to read and has some good recipes…but a lot of the recipes that I make came from little cookbooks I bought in England, not easily duplicated…

    Perhaps next week I should share some recipes too? (The modern ones, I presume…)

    Cara

  11. Frankly anything that uses large amounts of butter is just fine with me. These sound great. Thanks for posting them. I have some recipes on my website, including a recipe I invented/adapted for some biscuits (cookies to you guys) that Fabienne cooks in “Dedication.” They’re almond cookies flavored with rosewater.

  12. Elena Greene says:

    Janet,
    That recipe sounds scrumptious. OK if I add it to my “Regency Tea” menu, with appropriate credits, of course?
    Elena

  13. Elena, I should be honored. When I did booksignings I handed out copies of the recipe (and chocolate kisses) but wasn’t brave enough to inflict my cooking on anyone!
    Janet

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