Tag Archives: rose water

Cakes: Cooking and the recipe


For this recipe I’m going back a little further than usual – the majority of the recipes I cook tend to be mid-17th century, but this one if from the late 16th century. I’m using Thomas Dawson’s The good huswifes jewell (1587) which I don’t think I’ve used before for this blog. This is odd as I am quite familiar with it from my work, and there are some fascinating recipes in there. It’s an interesting book, containing not just recipes but also some information about animal husbandry and some home remedies for various ailments. I think I’ll have to make more of an effort to try out some of Mr Dawson’s recipes in the future – though possibly not his medicines. He also provides the following tip “For to make one slender”:

TAke Fennell, and seeth it in water, a very good quantitie, and wring out the iuyce therof when it is sod, and drinke it first and laste, and it shall swage either him or her.

It seems fad diets and those “weird old diet tips” so beloved of annoying internet ads have a long and proud tradition stretching back hundred of years!

Anyway, here’s the recipe I’ll be cooking today:

To make fine Cakes.

TAke fine flowre and good damaske water you must haue no other liquor but that, then take sweete butter, two or thrée yolkes of egges, and a good quantitie of suger, and afewe cloues, and mace, as your Cookes mouth shall serue him, and a litle saffron, and a litle Gods good about a sponful if you put in too much they shall arise, cut them in squares like vnto trenchers, and pricke them well, and let your ouen be well swept and lay them vpon papers and so set them into the ouen, do not burn them if they be three or foure dayes olde they be the better.

As is often the case, there are few indications of quantities in this recipe, so there is a lot of guesswork involves. As I said in the last post, early modern cakes were more of a “fancy bread” than the sponge cakes we eat today. There is also a clue in the fact that the bread is cut into squares before being baked – clearly this is a kind of dough and not the thick batter that a modern recipe would produce. With this in mind, although this recipe contains all the ingredients of a modern cake (flour, eggs, butter and sugar), I didn’t want to be basing my quantity estimates on a traditional cake mix, but rather I approached this as a bread enriched with sugar, butter and eggs, like brioche or challah. It didn’t turn out much like either though.

Although this cake can’t really be described as a bread, there is some yeast in this recipe – that’s what the “God’s good” is. The etymology is quite interesting. According to the OED, “God’s good” was also used to refer to “property or possessions belonging to God (applied esp. to Church property); also, worldly possessions, food, etc., viewed as the good gift of God”. I would assume that perhaps yeast came to be associated particularly with this as it is a naturally occurring substance, it comes not from man’s intervention but from the “good gift of God”. Whatever the reason, there is yeast in this recipe, but curiously the recipe does not seem to want the cakes to “arise”.

I started by activating some yeast in a small cup. I took 200g flour to which I added 3 tablespoons of water and a few drops of rose water. As I have discussed before, the rose water you can buy today is very strong, and you shouldn’t really use large quantities of it, so it needs to be diluted into normal water. I added 2 egg yolks and 50g each caster sugar and softened butter to the mixture and beat it until it was combined.

I then added a pinch of ground cloves and mace, and then a tablespoon of the foam from the top of the yeast. Sadly I couldn’t get hold of saffron, if you are using it I’d advise steeping it in the tablespoonful of water and then adding it with the rosewater at the beginning.

This makes a stiff dough so you’ll have to get in there and kneed it with your hands. If it won’t quite combine, add a little more water.

At this point, I rolled out the cake and cut it into squares. I then baked it in a medium-hot oven (about 200c) for about 20 minutes.

After letting the cakes cool for a while, I tried one (as did my resident early modern food guinea pig aka husband). They were rather tasty, though not all that much like cakes or even bread for that matter. They are probably best described as a cross between a scone and a biscuit. They were quite sweet, the texture soft crumbly, flaky and a little bit risen. Very tasty, if a little dry. You could, however, ice them which would probably help with this, or spread some jam or other preserve on them to eat.

Fancy making your own early modern cakes? Here’s a recipe:


Fine cakes

Makes about 8 small cakes

200g flour

3 tbsp water with a few drops rose water dissolved in it, plus additional water

50g sugar

50g butter, softened

2 egg yolks

Pinch each ground cloves and mace

Saffron, if desired

Dried active yeast


If you are using saffron steep it in the water for half an hour (warm the water first), then add the rosewater. Make up the yeast according to packet instructions. This will usually involve dissolving it with sugar in warm water and waiting for some foam to form on top. While the yeast is activating, put the flour in a large bowl with the sugar. Make a well in the centre and add the butter, water with rosewater and egg yolks. Stir to combine. Add the spices with a tablespoonful of the yeasty water, then kneed until the bread comes together. You might have to add more water.

Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out. I rolled mine out to around the thickness of 2 pound coins. Once it it rolled, cut into squares, put onto a greased baking sheet, prick all over with a skewer, and bake in the oven on a medium-hot heat, about 200g. Check after 20 minutes, remove if they seem cooked, leave them in a bit more if not.


Enjoy your early modern cakes! They are best when they are warm. If anyone tries this recipe please let me know how you got on in the comments.


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Comfits and custards revisited – recipes

I’ve finally had a second attempt at the custards, and a third attempt at the comfits. Happily, this time both worked very well indeed.

I’ll start with the custard first. You can find the early modern recipe and my initial attempt here. For some background on custards, see this post.

Custard tart

400g plain flour

4 eggs, plus 2 more yolks

75g butter, room temperature

2 tbsp sugar

Few drops rosewater

300ml double cream

4tbsp sugar

Generous pinch each ground mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves

Small pinch salt

Caraway comfits

A few dates

Preheat the oven to 150c. Mix the flour with two beaten eggs until a dough is formed. If it’s too dry you can add a little water. Take some of the dough, about a fifth, and roll it out as thinly as you can. If you end up with holes, it’s not too much of a problem as you’ll be layering it up. Spread some of the butter on the pastry, then roll out another piece, put it on top and spread more butter. Continue until all of the pastry is layered up, don’t butter the last piece. Roll out the layered pastry again, then use to line the greased tin. Mix the sugar and rosewater with 1tbsp water, then sprinkle over the pastry case. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

While the pastry case is baking, whisk the remaining eggs and yolks with the cream, spices and 2 tbsp of sugar. Remove the pastry from the oven and scatter the remaining sugar and the currents over the base of the pastry case. Pour the egg and cream mixture into the case. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, until the custard is set. When the custard is cool, scatter over caraway comfits (see recipe below) and stick in some dates.

Caraway comfits

For the background on comfits, see this post. You will find the recipe and first attempt here.

38g caraway seeds (this is the usual amount you get in a small jar)

300g caster sugar

Heat the sugar with 100ml water over a low heat until the sugar is melted and the syrup is bubbling. Let it bubble for a few minutes, stirring all the time, then turn the heat right down as low as you can get it. You need to keep the mixture warm so it stays liquid, but if it’s overheating ad starting to boil you can take it off the heat for a few minutes. Once you have your warm sugar syrup ready, warm a frying pan over a very low heat and add the caraway seeds. Add a very small amount of the syrup – DO NOT add too much the comfits won’t work – see the first attempt post for an example of it going wrong! You probably want only about a tablespoon of liquid, it’s important to make sure that you only add enough to dampen the seeds slightly.

Stir them round with a metal spatula until the liquid is absorbed and the seeds are dry. They look a little bit white, getting more so with each coating. When the seeds are dry, add another small amount of liquid. Repeat this process until all the liquid is done – you will need to apply many coats. Don’t be tempted to rush by adding too much liquid or by turning up the heat, or you’ll ruin them. Once they are done, cool, then store in an airtight jar.

I would recommend trying both of these recipes, they both came out rather tasty. The comfits were particularly nice, you can keep them in a cupboard for a while and use them in biscuits and the like, they would also be nice sprinkled on cereal. They are quite easy to make, as long as you are careful not to use too much heat or liquid.

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Custards: Part 2 – Cooking, no recipe….yet

As I explained in part 1,  an early modern custard is a baked pastry case filled with custard. The recipe I used from Gervase Markham’s Countrey Contentments, or The English Huswife (1623) specifies a pastry recipe from elsewhere in the text – it’s a puff pastry recipe that looks a little more complicated than the last one I tried. Here’s the pastry recipe:

Now for the making of puffe-past of the best kind, you shall take the finest wheat flowre after it hath been a little bak’t in a pot in the ouen, and blend it well with egges whites and yelkes altogether, then after the past is well kneaded, roule out a part thereof as thin as you please, and then spread cold sweet butter ouer the same, then vpon the same butter role another leafe of the paste as before; and spread it with butter also; and thus role leafe vpon leafe with butter betweene till it be as thick as you thinke good: and with it either couer any bak’t meate, or make pastie for Venison, Florentine, Tart or what dish else you please and so bake it: there be some that to this past vse sugar, but it is certaine it will hinder the rising thereof; and therefore when your puft past is bak’t, you shall dissolue sugar into Rose-water, and drop it into the paste as much as it will by any meanes receiue, and then set it a little while in the ouen after and it will be sweet enough.

I have made puff pastry before, and this recipe is quite similar to a modern one with the rolling and buttering of the pastry. Modern recipes don’t use egg though, as far as I recall. The warming of the flour seems odd – I looked this up on trusty old Google and found a few references to it in bread making but I’m not sure what it’s for. I did it anyway, who knows, it might make for delicious pastry.

I started with one beaten egg and then added flour until it came together as a dough. It was about 200g flour.

I then kneeded the dough and split it into 5 pieces. I rolled out the first piece as thin as I could get it and then spread butter on it. Obviously the butter would not have been fridge cold, what with fridges still being a good few hundred years away at the time of printing, so I took it out of the fridge about an hour before I needed it and let it come to room temperature.

Butter would have likely been kept with other perishables in a cool part of the kitchen, or in an earthenware pot kept in water. You can find out more about the history of butter, if you are so inclined, at this page: Butter Through the Ages. By the late17th century some kitchens had ice-houses – underground structures packed with snow and ice during the winter. Being underground meant they were cool enough to keep the ice frozen, and foods cold, throughout the year. Petworth House, where my PhD research is based, has an ice-house, although I believe it dates from a later period.

Anyway, back to the cooking. I used room temperature butter and spread it on the pastry. I then added another later on top and rolled it out again. I repeated this until all of the pastry was used.

Once the pastry was made I cut a diamond shape, then cut a long piece for the sides and stuck it down to the flat piece with an egg yolk, as recommended in the custard recipe. I baked the pastry case, or coffin, in the oven until it started to crisp up. I then mixed 1 tbsp sugar with a few drops of rosewater and a little water, then drizzled this over the pastry, base, returning it to the oven once again.

To bake an excellent Custard or Dowset; you shall take good store of Single illegible lettergges, and putting away one quarter of the whites, beate them exceeding well in a bason, and then mixe with them the sweetest and thickest creame you can get, for if it be any thing thinne, the Custard will be wheyish; then season it with salt, sugar, cinamon, cloues, mace, and a little Nutmegge; which done raise your coffins of good tough wheate paste, being the second sort before spoke of, and if you please raise it in pretty workes, or angular formes, which you may doe by fixing the vp|per part of the crust to the nether with the yelks of egges: then when the coffins are ready, strow the bottomes a good thicknesse ouer with Currants and Sugar; then Single illegible letteret them into the Ouen, and fill them vp with the confecti|on before blended, and so drawing them, adorne all the toppes with Carraway Cumfets, and the slices of Dates prickt right vp, and so serue them vp to the table.

For my custard, I took 4 eggs yolks and 3 egg whites and beat them together. I then added about 250ml double cream. You might have noticed that cream and butter are often referred to as sweet – this does not mean they are sugared but that they are fresh. I added a tiny pinch of salt and ground cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg. I covered the bottom with currants and sugar, then poured the custard over the top and baked it in the oven until the custard was set. I took it out and stuck in some dates.

The custard did leak out quite a bit through the sides, and as the tarts were fairly shallow the currants were still visible as the custard set around them. The taste, particularly of the pastry, was very tasty indeed, but the custard didn’t really set properly, instead it was quite puffed up and fluffy, not set and creamy as I had hoped. I had to guess the measurements for the cream as one wasn’t given in the recipe – I think I might have to look up modern day custard tart recipes for some guidance on getting the quantities right. I won’t post a recipe yet as I don’t feel I’ve perfected it – but this is one I’ll definitely be having another   go at to get it right.

Also, I did have a go at caraway comfits, but that didn’t go very well either! I think I know where I went wrong though so next time I should be able to get them right.

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Marchpane Part 2: Cooking and the recipe

Having looked at the history of marchpane in the last post, now comes the time to try making it. I’ve come across quite a few marchpane recipes in my search, but I’ve decided to try this one as it seems straightforward. Also, one rather popular one I found included both “rose water” and “damask water”, I have no idea what the latter is and I imagine you could just substitute more of the first for both (since damask is a kind of rose), but I’d rather have a recipe I can get all the ingredients for. Here is one from A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, first published in 1608:

To make a Marchpane, to yce* it, and garnish it after the Art of Comfit making.

Take two pound of small Almonds blanched, and beaten into perfect Past, with a pound of suger finely searsed, putting in now and then a spoonfull or two of Rose water, to keepe it from oyling, and when it is beaten to perfect Past, rowle it thin, and cut it round by a charger, then set an edge on it, as you doe on a tart, then drie it in an Ouen, or a backing pan, then yce it with Rose water and suger, made as thicke as batter for fritters, when it is iced garnish it with conceits, and sticke long comfits** in it, and so guild it, and serve it.

*In the original printed text, it looks like it says “to yee it”, in fact in the EEBO full text version it is written as “to yee”. On closer inspection, however, I’m fairly sure it is “to yce it” (as in “ice”). Which makes more sense.

** Comfits themselves will have to wait for another day, the recipe in A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen involves not only “gum-tragacant”, which I have found on the internet but hasn’t yet made its way to me, but also “graines of  Muske”, and I haven’t managed to work out what that is yet.

Usually, Early Modern recipes are not particularly accurate with their quantities. But that works for me, as I don’t usually do quantities myself (unless “some” counts as a quantity). I am of the school of thought whereby you just chuck it in until it “looks right” (I do not understand people who weigh ingredients for Yorkshire pudding batter). However, for the purposes of this blog I will fight my instincts and measure what I’m using to give you a better idea of what I’m up to. This recipe, however, does have quantities, though it doesn’t have an oven temperature. I assume it will probably be a low oven, as this is usual for drying things out.

Starting from the recipe above, my plan is to follow it as closely as I can, though I halved the quantities.

Grinding the almonds. I decided to go for whole almonds and grind them myself, it seemed like it would be a fairly easy job. How wrong I was. I put some almonds in a jelly bag and proceeded to bash away at them with a rolling pin.

This was not as easy as I had anticipated, and 15 minutes later I still had only a little bit of what resembled finely ground almonds. After bashing them, I passed the almonds through a sieve to weed out any large lumps. There were a lot of large lumps.

Eventually, running out of time, I decided to use the food processor. “But they didn’t have food processors”, said my fiancé, inexplicably choosing this moment to start being concerned about historical accuracy. He needn’t have worried, the food processor was nearly as inept as I was in grinding the almonds, and still left them in fairly large lumps. What you are looking for is something resembling flour, not just very finely chopped nuts.

The almonds on the right are how the food processor almonds turned out, and how my hand crushed almonds looked before I sifted out the finely ground stuff. The almonds on left is how finely ground almonds should look. I managed to produce about a cupful or so of the finely ground sort, but ultimately the 500g was made up mainly of the coarser sort.

I returned to my bash and sieve method. Time-consuming as it was, I did find it rather satisfying. Eventually I ended up with a bowl that was at least in part almond “flour”, with some larger almond lumps that had avoided my rolling pin attack.

Mixing the marchpane. I put the almonds in a bowl with the sugar and about 1tbsp rose water, then set about making my “perfect past”. I quickly realised that the rose water would not be enough, but I was reluctant to add more as it smelled very strong, and the bottle advised adding “a few drops” to cakes rather than the tablespoon I had already used. I’d recommend only using about 1 tsp as my marchpane did end up quite strongly flavoured. I can only guess that Early Modern rose water was more diluted, so I added plain tap water to try and bring the dough together. This worked well, and soon I had a ball of dough that seemed firm enough to roll.

Rolling out. Rolling out was a little trickier than I had anticipated, the dough was crumbly, probably on account the not-quite-ground almonds that had made their way into the mix. They did give the finished product a nice texture though, different to normal marzipan. But I’m skipping ahead there. I turned the dough out onto a wooded board and kneaded it into a ball. I found the best way to roll the dough out was sprinkle more icing sugar on whenever I rotated the dough. Eventually, I had something that held together.

Baking. The recipe calls for the marchpane to be rolled thin, and then have “an edge” set on it “as you do a tarte”. I took this literally and pushed it into a tart dish, so it looked like a pastry case. I then baked it for about 20 minutes on 180, then left it to cool completely.


Icing. I iced the marchpane like you would ice a cake. I mixed icing sugar with rosewater (only a few drops this time) and hot water to make a pourable icing glaze, then I covered the marchpane with it.

This is not as sweet as any modern marzipan I have ever eaten, and obviously it did taste strongly of the rosewater. The texture was pleasantly different though, it was quite crumbly and not as stodgy as “normal” shop-brought marzipan. Overall, I’d call it a success, a fun start to what I hope will be an interesting ongoing project.

Want to try it out? Here’s my recommended recipe:

Yced Marchpane

Things you’ll need:


500g almonds. Buy pre-ground for a smoother marchpane, or grind your own for a crumblier texture

375g icing sugar (plus more to dust)

1tsp rosewater, plus another couple of drops for the icing



Rolling pin

Wooden spoon

Wooden board


If you’re grinding your own almonds, you’ll also need a muslin bag of some kind, and maybe a food processor in case you get fed up of bashing almonds.

1. Combine the almonds, 250g icing sugar and 1tsp rosewater.

2. Add cold water until the mixture clumps together as a dough.

3. Turn it out onto a board dusted with plenty of icing sugar and kneed.

4. Roll out the dough, turning often until you have a round flat slab.

5. Put onto an oiled baking sheet or shallow tart dish, then raise the edges slightly with your fingertips.

6. Bake at 180c for 20-25 minutes until it has turned golden. Leave to cool.

7. Put the remaining icing sugar in a bowl with a few drops of rose water, and add hot water until you have a pouring consistency.

8. Pour and spread the icing onto the marchpane. When it has set, cut into pieces and enjoy.

Well, that was the first adventure, uncovering the mysteries of marchpane.

Next time… I will be cooking “posset”.


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