How to make rout cakes for your rout
You just want a cake Jane Austen could have eaten. And a bit of history.
But you don’t have time to look at dozens of online articles. All you really need is a quick guide without all the detail.
Here it is.
My guide to rout cakes and some simple rout history.
You can read in 3 minutes.
Discover below what a rout party is. Gasp at examples of especially bawdy and disorderly routs and discover the cakes that used to be served at them.
Small, fruity ROUT cakes flavoured with rose water are also THE thing to eat on a picnic in the open air.
After all, you don’t need a rout to have a rout cake.
Routs – demure or debauched?
The Oxford English Dictionary’s description makes routs sound positively demure: An 18th and 19th-century fashionable gathering or large evening party.
But these other meanings of rout suggest they were more debauched:
“a disorderly retreat of defeated troops”
“to poke, sear or rummage”
“a tumultuous or disorderly crowd of persons“
Quantity over quality
From their early beginnings, a rout meant the more people the better.
In 1792 hundreds of invitations to a rout were sent by a hostess to people she didn’t even know.
“The more people the more éclat to the thing” reported the Waterford Herald in 1792.
Another report talks of guests “received at the door by the mistress of the house, who smiles at every newcomer with a look of acquaintance.”
Five hundred people were invited by the Duchess of Wellington in 1820 for her rout at Apsley House where she threw open the library, saloon, picture and even the china room.
But the poor Marchioness of Landsdowne only managed to get three hundred fashionable to her house in Landsdowne Square in the same year.
A Georgian satirical recipe for a rout though questions how many of these guests were true “fashionables”.
Take all the ladies and gentlemen you can get, place them in a room with low fire, stir them well..the more you put the better, and the more substantial your rout will be
It even gave guidance to what to do if undesirables turned up: “Fill your room quite full and let scum rise of itself.”
Sometimes the rooms became so hot and overcrowded and there was no room for guests to sit for conversation or a game of cards, or even space to move about.
Indeed so cramped and disorderly that some people felt it necessary to remove their furniture.
In 1810 an American visitor to London described how: “the house…is frequently stripped from top to bottom…all but the ornamental furniture is carried out of sight to make room.”
How long did they last?
Some were short.
After 15 minutes of crushing boredom, the American visitor tells us how the guests all rushed out to wait for their coaches and then, after half an hour of waiting outside, moved on to the next rout.
But routs could last longer.
A satirical recipe for a rout, found in the Receipt Book of Mary Whiting Sewell, talks of routs that lasted two or three hours.
Whether long or short contemporary reports tell us that many people hated attending the rout, some said they only went because one evening’s rout provided enough gossip for the rest of the year.
How did they entertain?
Music, conversation about books and art, occasionally cards and certainly eating food happened at the rout.
The recipe for a successful rout included sliced beef or ham, seed cakes, sweetmeats and wine. But at the rout, more importantly for us, rout cakes were also eaten.
They are tiny rich sweet cakes made for routs and are mentioned in contemporary sources but also in the literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.
In Jane Austen’s Emma she was: a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout-cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. Mrs. Bates, Mrs. Perry, Mrs. Goddard and others, were a good deal behind hand in knowledge of the world, but she would soon shew them how every thing ought to be arranged.
And in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair Joseph Sedley: managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.
To make rout drop-cakes, mix two pounds of flour with 1 pound of butter, one pound of sugar, and one pound of currants, cleaned and dried. Moisten it into a stiff paste with two eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, as much rose water, sweet wine and brandy. Drop the paste on a tin plate floured, and a short time will bake them.– from the Cook and Housekeeper’s Dictionary, Mary Eaton, 1822.
A recipe for rout cakes
Makes 12-14 individual small cakes
- 150g (5oz) plain flour
- Pinch salt
- 50g (1¾oz) butter at room temperature
- 50g (1¾oz) caster sugar
- 1 small egg
- 40g (1½oz) currants
- 1 teaspoon orange flower water
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1 teaspoon sweet wine
- 1 teaspoon brandy
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan (350F/320F fan/gas mark 4).
Grease and line a baking tray.
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.
Rub in the butter using the tips of your fingers to make a crumbly mixture. Then stir in the sugar.
Beat the whole egg in a small bowl and stir in the orange flower water, the rose water, the sweet wine and the brandy.
Gradually mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients to make a smooth dough.
Finally, stir in the currants.
Spoon small heaps of the mixture onto the baking tray and bake for 16-18 minutes until golden brown.
When cool dust with sieved icing sugar.
If you prefer, you can bake the sponge as one piece by spreading the mixture evenly to fill the baking tray. When the sponge has cooled down, you can then cut out, and perhaps decorate, individual cakes with a shaped cutter of your choice. Decorating with hundreds and thousands would be apt. Sugar sprinkles date back to at least the late 18th-century, if not earlier when they were called nonpareils.