Tea & Cakes: A Salute to Jane Austen

Are you thinking about enjoying a Jane Austen (1775-1817) classic this weekend or watching an adapted version on screen? Tomorrow, July 18th, marks the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and provides an opportunity to consider the contributions this young author made to literature.

Why not make some Shrewsbury Cakes to go with your hot or iced tea? Similar to English shortbread, the small delicious cakes are named for the medieval market town, Shrewsbury, located in Shropshire, England. The recipe calls for basic ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, and butter but were often made with rosewater or nutmeg and cinnamon.

In Chapter 6 of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, her character Mary shares, “I hate sending the children to the Great House, though their grandmamma is always wanting to see them, for she humours and indulges them to such a degree, and gives them so much trash and sweet things, that they are sure to come back sick and cross for the rest of the day.”

Louisa Macculloch (1785-1863), a grandmother of nine, was the first of a long-line of loving and perhaps indulgent Macculloch-Miller grandmothers with over fifty cake recipes, including two recipes for Shrewsbury Cakes in the 19th-century family cookbook. Typically, Shrewsbury Cakes were rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter but the recipe below does not provide that instruction. However, Mrs. Macculloch does recommend adding some grated coconut.

Shrewsbury Cake (original recipe)
Mix together ¾ lb. sugar, ½ lb. Butter. When light add 5 eggs, well beaten. Add vanilla, peach or rosewater to flavor it. A grated coconut is a great improvement. 1 lb. four. Drop them with a large spoon on buttered paper. Sift a little sugar over them.

Modern Adaptation of Shrewsbury Cake
1 ½ cups of sugar
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
3 eggs
1 tsp of vanilla
3 ½ cups of flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs until incorporated and vanilla. Sift 3 ½ cups of flour and add slowly to the mixture.

Steps for cookie cutter cakes: Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Roll out on floured board till ¼ inch to ½ inch thick and use cookie cutter. Bake on greased cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. (This is a crispier, thinner cake.)

Following Mrs. Macculloch’s instructions: Drop a 1 ½ inch spoonful of dough for each cake on greased cookie sheet. Spread a little sugar over each one before baking. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. (This is a thicker, cakier cookie.)


Resources:

  • The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England has multiple online resources including a recipe for Shrewsbury Cakes.
  • Nancy I. Sanders, author of Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World, shares photographs from her visit to Jane Austen’s home while researching and writing her book.

Topic: Munchie Monday
Age / Level: High School, Life Long Learner

Tea & Cakes: A Salute to Jane Austen Photo Gallery