What I often notice about old recipes is the lack of detail – rarely are methods given nor is a cake tin size mentioned. Florence gives us some useful tips in the book’s introduction such as “see that your fire is in good condition” or “inferior or tainted butter should never be used for cakes”. I’m mildly repulsed by her claim that for “plainer cakes good beef dripping may be used instead of butter” but who knows? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it (FYI, I have zero intention of trying it)
This book was, seemingly, written before ovens came with any way of setting a temperature. Florence recommends scattering flour in a cake tin and if it turns brown within 5 minutes there is likely to be enough heat to bake a cake. She also suggests putting white paper in the oven and if it has turned yellow after 5 minutes the heat is “suitable for most cakes”. I like the caveat of “most”. She does however suggest ideal temperatures for baking should one be lucky enough to own an oven thermometer although she warns that “these are somewhat fragile articles” thus not always satisfactory.
The recipe I have chosen, Richmond Cakes, caught my eye because it seems to be baked in small tins that could be viewed as forerunners of our modern day cupcake tins. Richmond is a rather leafy, well to do part of London right on the Thames and I assume the cakes are named after it. Florence doesn’t give any chat about her recipes so I’m guessing.
When these cakes were cooking the smell was amazing; think of the heady spices in a Christmas cake but with treacly/syrupy notesinstead of the sweetness of dried fruit. They were delicious to eat – a soft, crumbly sponge packed with flavour and given an extra layer of texture thanks to the coconut.
The quantities are pre-metric and therefore in pounds and ounces. I include these but also offer modern measurements. I have set out her original quantities below but they look rather mean so I trebled the quantities and got 24 plump little cakes! According to Florence the probable cost of making these cakes is 9d (according to the CCM this is approximate to 4p in today’s money!)
Richmond Cakes Ingredients
3oz/85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2oz/57g brown sugar
2oz/57g treacle (I used golden syrup)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon mixed spice
4oz/113g plain flour
A little grated lemon rind (I omitted this)
1oz/28g rice flour
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon baking powder
– Preheat the oven to a moderate temperature. This is given as approximately 300˚F which converts to 150˚c/fan oven 130˚c/gas mark 2. This seemed rather too low so I used the more common definition of moderate oven of 180˚c/fan oven 160˚c/350˚F /gas mark 4.
– Grease a cupcake baking tray with butter. You could use paper cases if you wish but I have tried to stick to the spirit of the recipe as far as possible. NB. This recipe makes 8 generously sized cupcakes. I trebled the mix without any problem.
– Beat the butter and sugar together until soft and creamy.
– Add the treacle, spices and – if using – the lemon rind and mix well.
– Sieve the flours together and add them to the batter alternating with the eggs.
– Beat the mixture until air bubbles start to appear, then stir in the coconut and baking powder.
– Fill the cupcake tins between half and three quarters full.
– Bake in the oven for between 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. Mine took 20 minutes.
– Place the tins to cool on a wire rack and remove the cakes when the tin is cool enough to handle comfortably.
– Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.