Sunday, 28 February 2010

History Corner – Richmond Cakes

This is the start of a new, regular(ish) feature – History Corner. I have a tremendous fondness for original, old cookbooks. There are two very clear stances on such books – if, like me, you are seduced by the history and beauty of old recipes and view them as a window on the world in which they were written, you will think of them as “vintage” or “antique” books. If you don’t share that view you are likely to term them “smelly old second hand books”.

The recipe today is taken from “Cakes” part of the domestic arts series and written by Florence B. Jack, who also authored the thrillingly titled “The Art of Laundry Work” and was principal of the school of the domestic arts, Edinburgh. A quick googling suggests this school no longer exists.

The book, costing 1 shilling (about 5p in today’s money) was published in 1907 but my copy contains a wonderful handwritten inscription of “With the author’s love, xmas 1906” which makes me wonder if this was an early or preview edition. The handwriting is beautiful and I’ve tried to photograph it but it’s rather faded.

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 (NB. 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 notes instead 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!)


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 eggs

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.

- Eat


C said...

They sound lovely. I'm having a phase of simple cakes I think, and these really appeal. Lots of icing is great sometimes, but sometimes a plainer, yet still delicious cake appeals more.

I have to admit that I haven't got any old cookery books, but I'm going to keep a look out now!

Choclette said...

What a fabulous book and the cakes sound great. Unless you're a vegetarian (which I am now) do give dripping a go in cakes. I used to make quite a few cakes with it and remember it as giving a fantastic texture - they don't end up tasting of beef, honest!

Margaret said...

You have some wonderful old cookery books. I too am very interested in the history of food and always find it a fascinating subject.

Cakelaw said...

I love old cookbooks too, and I am amazed at the lovely copperplate script that everyone seemed to use to have. Thank God for regulating ovens!

Joy said...

What an enjoyable post and lovely recipe! Thankyou very much!

Carolyn said...

What a lovely book. I don't think I'd be too keen on giving the beef dripping a try either ;)

Sometimes, simple is good, and those cakes look scrumptious.

glamah16 said...

Im back . THanks for checking in. I do love old historical recipes. I llok forward to this section.

Katie said...

Wow what a wonderful old book. I expect its worth something now, especially as its signed. Love the history of how to tell when your fire is right for baking. I'm amazed they had good access to coconut back then. The cakes sound delicious. I'll be looking forward to these monthly instalments.

Anonymous said...

Hello CC, I have only recently discovered your blog and have been oooo-ing and ahhhhh-ing and making yummy noises over it ever since, lol :-)

I also love old cookery books and buy them when I see them. In a strange twist of fate, I have a copy of 'The Art of Laundrywork' that you mentioned!

JaneR said...

oooh - lovely - would love to make them but may need to leave it until I have worked off the previous cakes...
Richmond is also a small and very lovely market town in North Yorkshire so could be named after there instead (as I always associate Richmond in Surrey with the Maids of honour).

I have also made a cake (and icing!) with vegetable shortening (which may have a similar effect to dripping) and it worked really well.

Emily said...

I love coconut in cakes. I think I would like this one. And it has rice flour! That's cool.

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