“I cannot praise tonight highly enough. It was absolutely fantastic. We had an amazing time. Simply glorious food and met some fabulous people too. In fact we decided we should say it was all terrible as we really don’t want to make it more popular […]
As a volunteer I often get asked the question how the Town House’s basement managed to stay untouched for so long. An Elderly Lady Living in Squalor I tell people who asked the true story of an elderly lady living in squalor. It’s also a […]
Devoted to Hannah
I have been devoted to Hannah Glasse. She’s helped me through all the fundraising events Dine Like A Servant and Lunch with the Curator at the Regency Town House. I owe her a great deal. But this week I decided I had enough of Hanna. I wanted to try out Elizabeth. That’s Elizabeth Raffald’s the writer of “The Experienced House-Keeper” of 1769. I wanted to start simply. What could be more simple that a rich seed cake? Loved by strapping farm labourers and delicate London ladies alike.
The flavour of Caraway
Seed Cake is even older than the Town House where I cook. The particular recipe I have chosen is flavoured with caraway seed. The first record of a cake being made of caraway seed was from A.W.’s Book of Cookrye (1591) and it is mentioned in The English Huswife by Gervase Markham, 1615. Although these sources are not medieval, this type of sweet, almost bread-like cake was common during the Middle Ages. There are recipes for both “cheap seed-cake” and “a rich seed-cake, called the nun’s cake. Caraway seeds were a popular flavouring. I have discovered them in many cake or biscuit recipes. Caraway seeds also appear in other items, including soap, a treatment for “hysterics,” and as a bait for rat traps! Seed cake has been very popular for hundreds of years. It was traditionally made for social gatherings, agricultural harvests and feast days. A seed cake can truly be said to be a cake of the people.
The Old Recipe
To make a rich Seed Cake (from Elizabeth Raffald 1769)
“Take a Pound of Flour, well dried, a Pound of Butter, a Pound of Loaf Sugar beat and sifted, eight Eggs, two Ounces of Carriway Seeds, one Nutmeg grated, and its Weight of Cinnamon; first beat your Butter into a Cream, then put in your Sugar, beat the Whites of your Eggs half an Hour, mix them with your Flour, put it into the Whites, beat in your Flour, Spices and Seeds, a little before it goes to the Oven, put it in the Hoop and bake it two Hours in a quick Oven, and let it stand two Hours – it will take two Hours beating.”
It’s not easy cooking in a kitchen with a large hole in it. The Regency drain had blocked. My kitchen sink was no longer operational. This meant lots of going up and down a Regency servants’ staircase with buckets, it felt very authentic. Cooking this seed cake should be easier for you.
If you want to convert a recipe, like this one above, I suggest first making it as it is. See how it goes, find out how it tastes. Doing historical cookery is fascinating because sometimes tastes have changed and what might have been lovely then is barely palatable now, but very often I have found that old recipes produce wonderfully tasty results. It’s worth trying the recipe out first as written. I have, however, halved the quantities in this recipe. Even I couldn’t eat that much cake! Here’s my ingredient list:
The Recipe Converted
250g plain flour
250g butter (unsalted)
250g caster sugar
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 a nutmeg grated
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Pre-warm the oven to 160oc
First weigh out the ingredients.
Elizabeth, speaking from the eighteenth century has some advice, after reading this I kept hearing her voice:
“When you make any Kind of Cakes, be sure that you get your Things ready before you begin, then beat your Eggs well, and don’t leave them ’till you have finished the Cakes, or else they will not go back again, and your Cakes will not be light.”
Separate the eggs. Put the egg whites into a bowl of a stand mixer, whisk until forming soft peaks, set aside. In the same bowl whisk the egg yolks until light and frothy. Set aside. Then add the butter to bowl, beat the butter until light of colour, then add the caster sugar and beat until almost white. Mixing slowly add the flour and the egg yolks. Beat until well mixed. Add a tablespoon or so of beaten egg white into the mix to loosen it. Now fold the rest of the egg white into the mixture until no white streaks are visible. Butter a loaf or cake tin and transfer the mixture into it. Don’t worry about flattening the mixture, doing so will remove the air that you have beaten in to it. The mixture will settle down.
Put the cake tin into the oven. I do always line the tin with baking paper, especially when testing a new recipe, it was lucky I did with this one. Leave it to bake for at least two hours.
Of course Elizabeth has something to say about that too:
“Bake all Kinds of Cake in a good oven, follow the Directions of your Receipt, (although) the Management and the Oven must be left to the maker’s care.”
So do make sure your oven is on the right setting, or Elisabeth won’t like it!
Check that the cake is done by using a metal skewer inserted into the middle of it, it should come out clean with no sticky residue. Leave the cake to cool before taking it from the tin.
When it was cooled down I tried the cake with a cup of tea. Maybe less caraway next time. That’s purely personal though.
Cooking with caraway seeds was an education. It’s an acquired taste but a slice of this seed cake does go really well with a good cup of tea. Please do let me know how you get on with the recipe.
I will test the cake on the volunteers. Every volunteer day they get to taste my latest creation. Lucky them. They are very honest too, if I’ve used too much caraway they will tell me.
Working in a mini-building site was an experience. Outside the kitchen window holes were being dug and lots of plumber like activity was taking place. I wondered what sort of activities were happening around Mrs Raffald when she was cooking. My mind turned, as it often does, to the cook that would have stood in my place, here at the Regency Town House, in this very kitchen. And who might have made this very seed cake here in the 1830s. It’s such a wonderful feeling, I sometimes have to pinch myself.
There is a restoration project in Hove, UK where guests are invited to a fundraising dinner where they will Dine Like Servants. In February 2018 we were even featured in the local newspaper, the Argus. It’s at the Regency Town House in Brunswick Square, Hove. […]
Imagine a pastry case filled with almond and lemon custard, topped with meringue. That’s what these delicious tarts are. They were made famous by the first celebrity chef Antonin Carême, who, cooked for the royalty of Europe in the early nineteenth century. He even cooked an incredible feast for Brighton and Hove’s own Prince Regent at the Brighton Pavilion. Carême didn’t stay long in the Prince Regent’s kitchen. It was said he found him vulgar and left Brighton to seek out better employers!
The name of these tarts could come from a small lace fichu worn as a head covering by women in the traditional costumes of some areas of France. Or it could be a cute form of the name Francoise. It may well be both!
These tarts were a real surprise for me. They are similar to lemon meringue pie, of course. I’ve tried a simple almond flavoured one but there are also fanchonettes flavoured with pistachio, coffee, vanilla and apricot jam. The lucky volunteers and staff at the Town House will soon be very tired of eating fanchonettes as my plan is to create all of those flavours next week.
For the pastry:
- 115g plain flour
- 60g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg
For the filling:
- 25g butter
- 50g plain flour
- 80g sugar
- 50g ground almonds
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 egg
- pinch of salt
- 250ml milk
For the meringue topping:
- 2 egg whites
- 115g caster sugar
- pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 220c, 200 degrees fan, gas 7.
Make the pastry by adding the butter pieces to the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. Lightly with your finger tips rub the butter into the flour mix until it starts to resemble bread crumbs. Add the egg with a fork and start to bring the mixture into a ball, finish this with your fingers, gently rolling the mixture against the side of the bowl. Wrap the pastry in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Take the pastry from the fridge. Sprinkle your worktop with flour and roll out the pastry until thin. Using a pastry cutter, cut out discs that will fit your tart tin. I used a 12 hole tin but feel free to make larger tarts if you will. Fill each tart with a small piece of baking paper and beans, rice or ceramic beans. Put into your pre-warmed oven and bake them for 9 minutes. Take them out the oven, remove the paper and beans, and put back for another 5 minutes. Take them out the oven. Leave to rest.
For the custard add butter, flour, sugar, ground almonds, lemon zest, egg yolks, egg and milk into a small pan. Put the pan onto the heat and very gently, on a low heat, whisk until the mixture thickens. This does take a while, keep watching and whisking. The mixture will need to become quite thick. Don’t stop too soon.
This custard can be poured into the pastry cases and then they are returned to the oven. They will set in about 15-20 minutes.
Now you can make the meringue. Put the egg whites, sugar, salt and lemon juice into a bowl and whisk slowly to start. Gradually increase the speed of the whisking. The meringue needs to be light and fluffy. You should be able to make stiff peaks in it. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with a small hole.
Remove the tarts from the oven when they are ready. Pipe meringue over the custard, if you are in the mood pretty ‘pearls’ look amazing, otherwise simply cover the custard, right to the edges.
The tarts can now be returned to the oven for about 10 minutes, I like to leave the tops ever so slightly brown but this is really up to you.
The tarts can be eaten hot or cold but I prefer them cold.
There are many variations listed by Carême in his book French cookery: comprising L’art de la cuisine francaise, Le patissier royal, Le cuisinier parisien / by Antonin Carême, 1836. Translated by W. Hall
I am busy planning a course in Regency Fancies for later this year (2018) and it seems almost certain that I will include Fanchonettes. They will also appear on the menu for the Regency Dancing Event which will take place on April 28th, 2018. A booking link is here. If you would like to join me on a course please drop me an email or comment below.
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This is the place you will come to as either a food guest or on one of my food courses.
To give you an idea of who I am. I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Richard Vobes, aka The Bald Explorer, for his YouTube channel. In the future we hope to produce food demonstrations from the kitchen here.