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Shrewsbury-Ck-art - 9/25/17


"Shrewsbury Cakes – A Comparison of Recipes" by Dame Alys Katharine (of Ashthorne Glen) O.L., O.P.


NOTE: See also the files: Chastlete-art, flour-msg, fd-n-Shkspear-msg, Great-Cake-art, Mad-Hony-Cake-art, Prince-Bisket-art, Shortbread-art, panforte-msg.





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Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Shrewsbury Cakes – A Comparison of Recipes

by  Dame Alys Katharine (of Ashthorne Glen) O.l., O.P.

1989 (mild editing in 2012)


(Originally for Midrealm A&S Competition; printed in "The Rolling Scone", Vol. 3, No. 3, July 1990, Calontir Cooks' Guild)


To date I have located only two recipes, both past 1600.  However, Shrewsbury cakes were famous "in period" and, according to the Shrewsbury Council, the recipe was a secret.  Madge Lorwin, in Dining with William Shakespeare, quotes a circular put out by the Council: "Shrewsbury cakes…are more like a particularly delicious shortbread with a flavor all their own, the secret of which is jealously preserved."  She also notes that "In 1561 the town council of Shrewsbury presented Lord Stafford with 'a dossen of fyen kakys.'  These, the bailiff's accounts noted, cost the town two shilling."


In Dining with William Shakespeare, Lorwin has given a recipe from John Murrell's book A Delightfull Daily Exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen (1621).  She includes her version of his recipe.  I followed Lorwin's version the first time I ever made Shrewsbury cakes, but her line, "If John Murrell had worked the dough less he would have avoided the 'rising up' of the cakes and hence the need to 'clap them down'", caught my eye.  I went back to the original recipe and found that the proportion of ingredients were just about correct in Lorwin's version, but the direction to "work all these together with your hands as hard as you can for the space of halfe an houre…" was a major omission.  What effect would a half-hour's furious kneading have on the resulting cake?  What was the big bother about clapping down the cakes that Lorwin didn't like?


I halved Murrell's recipe (Lorwin uses a one-fourth version) and estimated a "spoonful" at a large-sized table spoon (as opposed to a tablespoon).  The additional kneading does indeed cause the cake to rise up.  It also makes the cake a different texture, somewhat more solid and less breakable.  (To our modern palate, we might call it "chewier" or "tougher", but it isn't really tough. Lorwin's version is delicate, more melt-in-the-mouth, and more likely to please a modern palate.


The other Shrewsbury recipe is from "W. M." in his Compleat Cook (1655).  He too includes the kneading in the line "knead all these together until you may roule the paste", but no time limit is given. I found that there appears to be no modern reason to soak the butter in rosewater.  Period butter was often stored in salt water and soaking it (or rinsing it) would have removed some of the excessive saltiness.  But, although we do not have that problem today, I soaked the butter per directions.  W.M. instructs the cook to cut the shapes after the rolled dough is baked.  I have tried it both ways and do not see that it makes a difference.  Cutting the cake after baking leaves some waste, since the dough can't be re-rolled and re-cut. Perhaps this was an advantage to the kitchen help who "disposed" of the waste???!


Ruth Anne Beebe, in Sallats, Humbles & Shrewsbury Cakes, makes use of Murrell's recipe but ignores his directions for "very fine flour" and includes whole wheat flour.  She uses twice the sugar plus additional butter and decreases greatly the amount of rosewater called for. She also instructs the cook to handle the dough as little as possible.  This same recipe is reprinted in the Middle Kingdom cookbook, In Service to Our Middles".  To me, therefore, it bears little resemblance to the "period" recipes.


Based on the proportions given and since long kneading produces a cake that may not be as texturally pleasing to modern palates, I came up with a hybrid recipe, incorporating W.M.'s ginger and egg, and Murrell's nutmeg, with a a modicum of kneading.  In each recipe I have used fresh ginger root and freshly ground nutmeg, but I have also indicated an amount for store spices.


If any reader comes across any other Shrewsbury cake recipes, I would appreciate either a copy of the recipe or the source.


Recipes for Shrewsbury Cakes


John Murrell, A Delightfull daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1621


Take a quart of very fine flower, eight ounces of fine sugar beaten and searced, twelve ounces of sweete butter, a Nutmegge grated, two or three spoonefuls of damaske rose-water, worke all these together with your hands as hard as you can for the space of halfe an houre, then roule it in little round Cakes, about the thicknesse of three shillings one upon another, then take a silver Cup or glasse some foure or three inches over, and cut the cakes in them, then strowe some flower upon white papers & lay them upon them, and bake them in an Oven as hot as for Manchet, set up your lid till you may tell a hundredth, then you shall see them white, if any of them rise up clap them downe with some cleane thing, and if your Oven be not too hot set up your lid again, and in a quarter of an houre they will be baked enough, but in any case take heede your Oven be not too hot, for they must not looke browne but white, and so draw them foorth & lay them one upon another till they be could, and you may keep them halfe a yeare, the new baked are best.


Murrell Recipe


Original amounts                                                                        Half recipe


1 quart flour          = 4 cups                                                    2 cups flour

8 ounces sugar      = 1 1/8 cups                                            1/2 cup sugar, rounded

12 ounces butter   = 3/4 lb (3 sticks, unsalted)                1 1/2 sticks butter

1 nutmeg, grated                                                                        1/2 nutmeg, grated

2-3 spoonfuls damask rose water                                        1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons rose water


Mix the sugar and the butter together thoroughly.  Mix in the rosewater.  Add the flour and the nutmeg. Knead (in the mixing bowl) for half an hour.  Dough will still be somewhat buttery.  If needed, add in tiny amounts of flour, just to keep the dough from sticking greatly to the bottom of the bowl.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/4" thick and 3-4" around.  Using a 350º F oven, I didn't find it necessary to use baking paper on the cookie sheets.  I used them the first time and found no difference in the result.  Bake for about 13-15 minutes until set and white, but not brown.  When you first put the cakes into the oven, you may wish to check them in 1-3 minutes to see if they have puffed up.  If so, flatten them with a spatula or pancake turner.


It is important not to knead the dough on a wooden board.  I did so the first time and found that the dough stuck in great gobs until I added quite a bit more flour.  The added flour changed the consistency of the cake.  The second time I kneaded in the bowl, and after 10 minutes of kneading, and the addition of perhaps a quarter cup more of flour, the dough ceased to stick.  It became lighter in consistency and somewhat paler in color as I kneaded.


Madge Lorwin's Interpretation, Dining with William Shakespeare


1/4 cup sugar                                                                               1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 cup butter                                                                              1/2 tablespoon rose water

1 cup sifted unbleached flour


Cream the sugar and the butter together until fluffy.  Sift the flour with the nutmeg.  Add the rose water to the sugar-butter mixture and stir in the dry ingredients only until blended; then chill the dough for ten minutes.  Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it.  Pat the dough into a ball, then roll it out gently to 1/4 inch thick.


Cut out the cakes with a two- or three-inch round cookie cutter.  Place them on an unbuttered cookie sheet about an inch apart and bake at 350 degrees until slightly brown around the edges – from twelve to fifteen minutes. Cool on a wire grille and store in an airtight tin.


(Note that Lorwin has to chill the dough until it can be rolled, does not knead or mix them for a long time, and that she bakes them until slightly brown.)


W. M., The Compleat Cook, 1655


Take two pound of flour dryed in the Oven, and weighed after it is dryed, then put it to one pound of Butter, that must be laid an hour or two in Rosewater, so done, pour the water from the butter, and put the Butter to the flour with the yolks and whites of five Eggs, two races of Ginger, and three quarters of a pound of sugar, a little salt, grate your spice, and it will be the better, knead all these together till you may roul the pate, then roul it forth with the top of a Bowle, then prick them with a pin made of wood, or if you have a Comb that hath not been used, that will do them quickly, & is best to that purpose, so bake them upon Pie-plates, but not too much in the Oven, for the heate of the Plates will dry them very much, after they come forth of the Oven you may cut them without the bowles of what bigness or what fashion you please.


Original amounts                                                    One-fourth recipe


8 cups flour                                                                   2 cups flour

1 lb. butter                                                                     1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)

5 eggs                                                                             1 large egg

2 races (roots) fresh ginger                                     1/2 root ginger (scant 1/2 cup loosely filled)

1 7/8 cups sugar                                                          1/2 cup sugar

a little salt                                                                      a little salt

rose water for soaking                                              rose water for soaking


Follow W. M.'s instructions for mixing and rolling.  Prick the tops with a toothpick or fork.  Bake at about 350ºF until set and beginning to turn golden at the edges (or still white, as Murrell specifies).  Remove from the pie-plate (or cookie sheet) and cut into shapes.  (Or, cut them into shapes prior to baking as per Murrell.)


My Hybrid Recipe: Combining Murrell and W. M.


2 cups unbleached flour                                            3/4 cup sugar

1/4 lb. butter (1 stick)                                                1 tablespoon fresh ginger (1/2 root, grated)

1 1/2 teaspoons rose water                                     1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg (1/2 nutmeg, grated)

1 large egg                                                                    pinch of salt (optional if using salted butter)


Cream the butter and the sugar. Beat in the egg and rosewater.  Add the flour and the spices and mix well, kneading the dough with your hands at the end to incorporate all the flour. Roll out to 1/4" thick and cut out whatever shapes you please.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 13 minutes on an ungreased baking sheet.  Cookie/cake should be white with perhaps a touch of golden brown.  Makes 2 1/2 dozen 2" circles.  Consider stamping a design on the circle or shape before baking.




Beebe, Ruth Anne, Sallats, Humbles & Shrewsbury Cakes, David R. Godine, 1976

Lorwin, Madge, Dining with William Shakespeare, Atheneum, 1976

Murrell, John, A Delightful daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1621

"W. M.", Compleat Cook, 1655, Prospect Books, 1984


Copyright 1989, 2012 by Elise Fleming, 3950 Walter Road, North Olmsted, OH 44070-2111. <alysk at ix.netcom.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org