Saturday 16 March 2019

A Yorkshire Cook and her Portugal Cakes

Portugal cakes 
Elizabeth Moxon is believed to have been the first Yorkshire woman to write and publish a cookery book. Entitled ‘English Housewifry’ and dating back to 1741, the book received a well deserved blue plaque in Pontefract in March 2019 as part of the ‘ 'Forgotten Women of Wakefield' project, following the hard work of Dream Time Creative team and the support of the Pontefract Civic Society. Featuring several hundred recipes, it proved very popular and ran to several editions over the next hundred years. Elizabeth has been described as trailblazer in English culinary writing and her book is thought to have paved the way for contemporary cookery authors such as Hannah Glasse in 1747. 
Intrigued by this Georgian cookery writer, I couldn’t wait to try out her recipes for my talk on Popular Georgian baking in Wakefield Library earlier in the month. I chose Portugal cakes. They are quite like French madeleines and Queen cakes. I used half the ingredients she states and this made around 3 dozen small cakes. I've suggested temperatures and timings for a modern oven.
Portugal cakes
½ lb/225g butter
4 eggs (use 4 yolks and 2 whites)
½ lb/225g plain flour
½ lb/225g caster sugar
½ lb/225g currants
2 tsps nutmeg
Caraway seed (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C degrees and line trays with bun cases. Melt the butter gently over a low heat. Remove from the heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs. Beat until frothy. Add the flour, sugar and currants and mix to form a batter. Spoon the batter into the bun cakes, filling them to two thirds. If you wish, sprinkle a few carraway seeds on top of each bun. Bake for around 14 to 16 minutes, until firm and golden brown. Let them cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Here’s Elizabeth’s original recipe from her book which has been on display in Pontefract Library :
Extract from English Housewifery by Elizabeth Moxon

246. _To make_ PORTUGAL CAKES.
Take a pound of flour, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of currans well cleaned, and a nutmeg grated; take half of the flour and mix it with sugar and nutmeg, melt the butter and put it into the yolks
of eight eggs very well beat, and only four of the whites, and as the froth rises put it into the flour, and do so till all is in; then beat it together, still strowing some of the other half of the flour, and then beat it till all the flour be in, then butter the pans and fill them, but do not bake them too much; you may ice them if you please, or you may strow carraway comfits of all sorts on them when they go into the oven. The currans must be plump'd in warm water, and dried before the fire, then put them into your cakes.
Guests at the unveiling of the Blue Plaque ceremony, tasted the delights of other Georgian baking from Elizabeth Moxon's book: Gingerbread, Cracknell biscuits and Seed cake. It was a great privilege to attend the commemorations for this enigmatic cookery writer.