Culinary Corner Recipe for a Historic Valentine's Day February 2023
I have been working in Historic museums (in kitchens) for 20 years, mostly at Fort York National Historic Site, plus at present, at Campbell House Museum in Toronto; interpreting and preparing historic recipes (down hearth cooking) in period costume for public demos at my fun job. In the early 1800s, particularly the Victorian Era in England, Valentine’s Day became popular with couples to express their love with flowers, cards, and sweet confectionaries. Small size cakes were called “Tea Cakes” to be served with a special Afternoon Tea.
Source: “THE LADY’S ASSISTANT” by Charlotte Mason – 1787
Work one pound of butter to a cream with the hand, put to it twelve yolks of eggs and six whites, well beaten, one pound of sifted sugar, one pound of flour dried, four spoonfuls of the best Brandy, one pound of currants washed and dried before the fire; as the pans are filled, put in two ounces of candied orange and citron; beat the cakes till they go into the oven: this quantity will fill three dozen of middling pans.”
Most Historic recipes were made in large quantities. Butter was creamed by hand and eggs were separated and beaten to fluffy peaks both whites and yolks for the cakes to rise and quickly put into a wood-fired bake oven or (bake kettle over hot coals).
Modern Version: half recipe.
half recipe. Makes 12 – 18 small tins or 1 large cake, 1 cup (250ml) butter, 6 egg yolks, 3 egg whites, 1 cup (250ml) sugar, 1 1/4 cup (435 ml) of white flour, 3 oz. (45 ml) Brandy, 1 1/2 cup of dried currants and 2 oz. each of chopped finely candied orange and lemon peel (if citron is not available replaced with lemon peel).
Method: Grease or spray tins or cake pan and soak currants in hot water—drain and dry—set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter for five minutes, slowly add sugar and beat for five minutes. Add egg yolks and beat 10 minutes. Next, with a large spoon, slowly add flour alternately with a little Brandy until all is well blended. Beat all five minutes. Put currants and candied peel and add to the mixture. Fold in batter. Next, beat egg whites to stiff peaks and fold in mixture in 3 parts. Keep folding in egg whites till well mixed by hand. Fill pans or one cake pan and bake in preheated oven at 350°F or 180°C for small tins or muffin tin 20 minutes. For a large cake, bake 35 to 45 minutes. Proof with a toothpick. Historic Icing was done by beating egg whites to a froth, adding sugar, icing the cake, and then baking the egg whites In a low oven: 225°F for an hour. Since it is optional to ice the cakes, I used a simple icing of confectionary sugar and little milk or a twice boiled egg white and sugar frosting, then placed a tiny raspberry on top of each little cake. Enjoy, and Happy Valentines to all!
Sherry Murphy is a Volunteer Historic Cook and Board member of Culinary Historians of Canada