Saturday, March 1, 2014

Shrewsbury Eastertide "Cakes"

Sometimes judging a book by its cover turns out to be a worthwhile decision.  That's what happened when I came across The English Biscuit and Cookie Book by Sonia Allison.

Published by St. Martin's Press in 1983
I was perusing the cookbook collection in a used bookstore that was new to me.  It was almost time to leave when I saw this little, tan book tucked into the side of a crowded shelf.  On a whim, I grabbed it.  A few days later, I read it.  What fun!

In the introduction Ms. Allison writes,
The biscuit tin is to the English what the cookie jar is to Americans, and no British household would be complete without a store of assorted biscuits on hand for nibbling, as the mood takes one, with midmorning coffee, afternoon tea, and a light night drink of milk or chocolate to soothe away the cares of the day and induce sweet dreams laced with sugar and spice and maybe a sprinkling of nuts for good measure!
She categorizes the recipes as Rolled Biscuits, Unrolled Biscuits, Shortbread Selection (quite a selection!), Savory Biscuits, Petit Fours, and Specialty Biscuits.

The Shrewsbury Eastertide "Cakes" are on page 64, under Specialty Biscuits.  She points out they were mentioned in a publication from the mid-nineteenth century.

2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar (I packed it)
1 level teaspoon caraway seeds
1 medium egg (I used large)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp sweet sherry 
Gosh, I had to buy sherry.  What a pity!  : )

1.  Sift the flour, salt, and allspice into a bowl.  Rub in the butter until finely blended.  Add the sugar and caraway seeds.

2.  Beat the egg thoroughly with the vanilla extract and sherry.  Add to the ingredients in the bowl.

3.  Using a fork, mix to a soft dough.  Wrap in foil or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

4.  Form into 24 small balls.  Arrange on 3 cookies sheets lined with wax paper or foil, first lightly greased.

5.  Press flat with the base of a tumbler dipped in flour, then prick with a fork.

6.  Bake until light brown, allowing 15 to 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

7.  Cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight tin when cold.

My Notes

I used the wire whisk of my mixer to rub the butter into the flour mixture.  When ready, it looked like cornmeal.

The flavor combination of sherry and vanilla smells delicious!

I was concerned at first that I was using a large egg instead of medium.  I thought the dough might be too moist.  However I was surprised at how crumbly soft it was and then I worried it wasn't moist enough.  It did form a ball when squeezed, so I left it as it was before wrapping it.

The dough was still pretty delicate after chilling but held together well as I was rolling the balls and pressing it with the tumbler. 
Rolled, pressed, and pricked.
The Verdict
Success!  I liked them.  They are very much like a shortbread with a dominant flavor of caraway and the sherry, vanilla, and allspice in subtle support roles.  They are not very sweet, which was appreciated.  I preferred the thicker ones as they were a little bit more moist inside.

One batch was slightly overcooked, which means the edges were browner and the whole cookie drier.  That batch went to 17 minutes so I would recommend trying 15 minutes first.  Also the flavor was better when the cookies were completely cooled.

I'm not sure why these are recommended as Eastertide treats and I would offer them year-round.  They are "something different" from the regular cookies we have here in the U.S.

No comments:

Post a Comment