Quaking pudding

This classic Elizabethan dessert was so called because ‘if it be rite it will shake like jelly’ and was a little like a panna cotta or a bread pudding. The original cooking method sounds quite tricky, as the ingredients were tied in a cloth and then boiled, which could be a recipe for disaster if not done carefully.

The simplest recipe I’ve found is from the eighteenth century (Wellcome Library, MS8001):


Take 8 eggs & 3 or 4 spoonfulls of flower a quart of cream & a little nutmegg & salt sweeten it to your taste butter your cloth & flower it boil it half an hour or more

A slightly more complicated earlier version is Mrs Carr’s from 1682, which gives an idea of how the pudding was served; other recipes specify that the almonds are to make it resemble a hedgehog.


Take a quart of creame 8 eggs a little sack & a litle rose water less then a handfull of flower a little nuttmegg & salt butter the cloath & sprinkle flower on it tye it up & putt it into the pot when it boyleth when you take it out stick it with blanched almonds powre [pour] butter beaten thick with sack in for sauce put some into the pudding before you put it into the pott

One way of dealing with the problem of getting the ingredients into the cloth was to use a dish as well, as in Martha Hodges’ recipe, probably from the late seventeenth century (MS2844):


(Put a little rose water in) Take a pinte of creame and boyle itt and as soone as itt comes of the fire putt in your bread which is in quantity a little above halfe an toppeney loafe sliced very thinne and when the bread is tender putt in your eggs and straine itt all together you must put in foure 5 or 6 egges yolkes and whites and all putt in salt suger and spices according to your tast then take a wooden dish well seasoned you must bee sure yor dish have no crease noe crack in itt butter yor dish a little and tiy itt up in a very thicke cloath and very close that itt may take no water in the boyling lett yor water boyle when you putt in yror pudding keepe the pudding downe ward all the while itt is aboyling if you can you must putt in no suett into this pudding putt in a little butter and suger into yor dish


The cloth itself was coated with a flour and water paste so that it didn’t leak, as explained in this example:


Take a pint of cream or more and 8 egges putting away 2 whites then beat them very well with a little cold cream and take 2 spoonfulls of flower and mix with the cream and put your effs & cream twogether: and season it with a little sugar and rosewater a little grated nutmeg and a litle slat [salt] then put it into your cloth being well wetted and flowerd that it may not run out tye it close and let your water furst boyle then put in your pudding and let it boyle halfe an hour

The recipe stayed broadly similar for at least a century, as indicated in this clipping from the Dundee Courier & Argus of August 3, 1897:


And today Heston Blumenthal serves his own version at the Hinds Head in Bray, the recipe for which can be found here.


Images of manuscript recipes © Wellcome Collection.


A piece of cake

Most early modern recipe books contain one or more ways of making cake, but they are quite different from the modern Victoria sponge. Take this recipe for ‘Common Cakes’ from ‘Mrs Raikes’s Cook’:

a pound of currants 3 lb of flour ½ a lb of butter & half a pound of sugar season it with a nutmeg rub them well together mix them into a light paste with warm milk & 3 spoonfulls of yest roll them thin as a common cake lay them on paper well dridged with flour & bake them in a slow oven (British Library, Add MS 69509)

Here the raising agent is yeast and there are no eggs, as well as what seems like a large quantity of flour, so they would have been quite dense, more like an Eccles cake.

Miss Crosfield’s recipe for ‘An ordinary plumb cake’ appears to be less heavy and makes one cake rather than several, and although there is little information on what to bake it in, at least some indication is given of the length of time:

a pd of flour well dried a pd of currans 2 penny worth of mace the same quantity of cinnamon four spoonfuls of yest a gill of cream and half a pound of butter melt the butter in the cream then mix all together into a light paste an hour will bake it (British Library, Add MS 69509)

More useful in this regard is Mary Bent’s late seventeenth-century recipe ‘To Make a Cake without Easte [yeast]’, with its vast quantities of ingredients:

Recipe for cake without yeast

Image © Wellcome Collection

Take 4 pound of fresh butter bake it to Cream then take two pound of white suger dry it well and beate it small mix the suger and butter well together then take four pounds of flower dryed mixt it with the butter and suger put in one point [pint] of sack then take eight eggs to each one pound of flower the youlkes and whites beat severaly whip the whites to a curd which will take half an hour att least mix the whites first with other things then the youlkes take four pound of currant well washed and dryed before the fire and mix them hot have ready one pound of almonds blanhed and cut long ways as thin as you can and mix them with haff an ounce of mace and as much nuttmeggs pounded smale then you may put in whatt sweet meates you please this is to be done in the same order as it is written and take care that every think be exactly weighed before any be mixed beating them up then the are to put in to the hoope and put two or three sheets of brown paper in the bottom to keep it from runing out after it is risen and colloured cover it with a sheete of brown paper before you stop your oven let it ly two or three hours (Wellcome Collection, MS 1127)

Recipe for cake without yeast

Image © Wellcome Collection

This indicates the use of a metal hoop and brown paper, the precursor to the modern lined cake tin. The recipe uses the air in the whipped egg whites to make the cake rise, although at this period eggs were probably smaller than they are today, so the 32 eggs used here are not to be translated literally for modern use. A better idea may be provided by this recipe for fatless lemon cakes, which helpfully uses the weight of the eggs as a guide:

4 new laid eggs, their weight in sugar pounded, & sifted, half their weight in flour, the peel of one Lemon chop’d very small, mix the peel among the Flour, set the Flour & sugar before the fire to warm, whisk the whites of the eggs to a very stiff froth with a knife, put in the sugar, & whisk it well together, then put in the yolks, & whisk them to mix them altogether. put in the Flour, stir it together gently with a spoon; put them in tin pans butter’d, & flour’d, shake a little sugar over them before they are put into the oven, a quarter of an hour bakes them, it must be a quick oven. (British Library Add MS 69409)

Notice again the buttered and floured cake tins. These delights appear to be much smaller then the previous recipe would produce, and may be an eighteenth-century equivalent of fairy cakes!