Wednesday, 28 December 2011

My 2012 Historic Food Courses

Where else in the world can you learn to make a beautiful nineteenth century water ice like this?

Or bake a Strasbourg Pie like this?
Or an amazing Victorian shortbread like this?
Or fire a Yorkshire Pudding under the spit roast like this?
Or meet such a lovely group of people as this?

Due to a lot of work in the museum sector and writing commitments, I am only running a small number of courses in 2012. However, there is a nice range of subjects to chose from and I have published  a course schedule and a booking form on my websiteIf you are interested, please get in touch as soon as possible, as they tend to fill up very quickly.

To all of you who have supported me and attended my courses over the years, I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

William Verral's Red Currant Tea Bags

Will Verrall's Currant Fritters en surprize 1759

In my last posting I lamented the decline of the standard of food at the White Hart Inn (now Hotel) in Lewes. So I thought it would be fun to make a dish for you from the 1759 cookery book written by William Verral, the master of the inn at the apogée of its gastronomic fame. I have chosen an unusual, but easily made fritter. Here is Verral's original recipe. He almost certainly learnt it from Clouet, the Duke of Newcastle's cook. It is hardly a great set piece baroque dish, just a simple fritter made in rather an eccentric way, but Newcastle loved Clouet''s tasty little treats like this.

From William Verrall, A Complete System of Cookery. (London: 1759).

Fritters of all kinds were popular in the Georgian period and there were many unusual varieties on offer. I have already introduced you to skirret fritters. Here is a clever way of deep frying currant jelly in batter to produce an incredibly rich and buttery parcel of crisp batter with a soft fruit centre. Most fritters were fried in hog's lard at this period, but clarified butter (oiled butter) is used here to give these little devils their decadent buttery character.

The little wafer paper packages of red currant jelly look like tea bags.

Modern wafer paper (rice paper) is too thin to withstand the heat of the boiling butter and will split open and release its jammy contents, but if you use a double layer of rice paper, the recipe works very well. Wet the edges lightly and pinch them close together to make a good seal. Dip them in an eggless beer batter and drop them into the hot butter immediately. They need a turn, which must be done carefully with a perforated spoon. Then drain on some paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat them while still hot. As you savour their delicious texture and flavour, you will also feel the indescribable sensation of your arteries rapidly furring up! Enjoy!

One of Will's heart attack fritters cut in two

Wafer paper must have been made commercially at this period. It crops up from time to time as an ingredient. However, after  a lifetime of searching I have only found one recipe, which I have posted below. The more adventurous of you may like to experiment with it. 

A rare recipe for wafer paper from John Thacker, The Art of Cookery. Newcastle upon  Tyne: 1758

Verral, in his recipe for currant fritters en surprize, refers to a previous recipe, so I have reproduced it below. If you do not have any wafer paper, you might like to try this one instead. If you have ever prepared hand-made ravioli, you will be familiar with the technique. It works very well when made with very thinly rolled puff pastry. 

On early recipes using deep fried puff pastry (and wafer paper) - more anon!

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

How are the Mighty Fallen

I recently had lunch in the White Hart Inn in the delightful Sussex town of Lewes. In the middle of the eighteenth century the master of this establishment was William Verral, whose lovely book A Complete System of Cookery was published in 1759. Verrall trained under the celebrated chef de cuisine Pierre de St. Clouet, who for a while cooked for Thomas Pelham Holles, the First Duke of Newcastle. Holles, who was a lover of high class French cuisine, owned the White Hart and with Verrall as cook the inn became famous for the quality of its hospitality. Sadly it is no longer a centre for fine gastronomy - in fact my lunch was so poor that I left most of it on the plate. Afterwards I checked out the hotel on Trip Advisor and discovered that I was far from being alone in my criticisms of this once celebrated inn. Here is what I found - 

What a sad state of affairs that such an important place in our culinary history should have fallen on hard times. In fact none of the staff at the hotel to whom I spoke, had ever heard of William Verrall, despite the fact that his book has recently been reissued by Penguin under the title Recipes from the White Hart Inn! An enterprising hotel manager would have exploited this link and had copies of the book for sale at reception and perhaps a few of Verrall's dishes on offer in the restaurant.

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle entertaining Henry Clinton,  7th Earl of Lincoln at Claremont Palace. The Belvedere, the Duke's banqueting house can be seen through the window on the right.
Verrall's landlord Thomas Pelham Holles held lavish entertainments both at his London home Newcastle House and at his vast country palace at Claremont just outside Esher. Claremont was designed by Vanbrugh as his own home, but Holles bought it from the architect and commissioned him to enlarge it considerably. Nothing remains of this huge baroque palace, as Clive of India bought it and demolished it after Holles' death.  Ironically, Clive spared Vanbrugh's romantic banqueting house, the castellated Belvedere, which still survives on a mount in the gardens. It was here that the elderly Holles entertained his choice guests in the summer months with dessert foods and sweet wines. In the engraving above, the Belvedere can be seen through the window on the right. 

The Duke of Newcastle's banqueting house the Belvedere at Claremont
About fifteen years ago I recreated an early eighteenth century style banquet of sweetmeats in memory of Holles at Claremont. The other day I found a photograph of the table setting, which I have posted below.

My colleague Peter Brears made the sugar paste model of the Belvedere and I made the Duke  of Newcastle's arms from almond paste and all the other dessert dishes from eighteenth century recipes. Just a week after setting this event up, I was lucky enough to buy a very nice copy of the wonderful etching below of Holles in his kitchen with his cook Clouet, who of course was also William Verrall's mentor. Aha - the wonders of synchronicity!

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Roasting the Christmas Goose and Turkey

A spit roast turkey garnished with silver hatelets
It is Christmas Day. I have already had more than my fair share of roast geese, plumb puddings etc. on my recent Taste of Christmas Past courses and had every intention today of preparing a simple, non-traditional lunch. But a farmer neighbour turned up on the doorstep yesterday evening with a gift in the form of a small, but fine quality bronze turkey. The bird was too good to freeze for another day. So what choice did I have, but to roast it? And in this house, all roasting takes place in front of a roaring fire, not in the oven. 

Now a nice, easy way to roast a large bird like a goose or turkey is with a clockwork bottle jack in conjunction with an unusual item called a broche spit. Many of the implements that we have inherited from the cooks of the past have not come down to us with an instruction manual and the broche spit is no exception. But with a bit of common sense and a little knowledge gained from experience, it does not take much of an effort to figure out that this device was designed for suspending large birds under a bottle jack. There is a line drawing of such an arrangement in Seymour Lindsay's classic Iron and Brass Implements of the English Home (London: 1927), which I have reproduced below.

I am fortunate enough to own a broche spit very similar to the one above, so it was with this that I decided to roast my Christmas Eve gift.

The bottle jack and broche spit in my kitchen. 
After stuffing the turkey, I trussed it and stringed it as in the images below. A large flat skewer was pushed through the pinions, (the terminal section of the turkey's wings). Then the skewer on the broche spit is inserted between the bones of both legs, at the same time pushing it through the abdomen.

A nineteenth century print showing how to string a turkey for a bottle jack. When you use a broche spit, you do not need the top skewer which goes through the scaly part of the legs.
The photo below shows a goose which was roasted on one of my courses - trussed, strung and ready for putting down to the fire. A turkey is prepared in exactly the same way. The string will hold the bird on the broche spit even when the flesh softens and there is a likelihood of it falling off the skewers.

Basting a goose with some melted butter before putting it down to the fire. Photo: Michal Finlay
As the bottle jack rotates, my Christmas Day turkey starts to brown in front of a very fierce fire.
Both goose and turkey cook rapidly in front of a good fire. Believe it or not, this one took just over an hour, much quicker than oven roasting. My favourite recipes for roasting turkey are from the anonymous The Whole Duty of a Woman (London: 1737). This marvellous manual of eighteenth century culinary art offers a variety of methods for roasting turkeys and turkey poults (juvenile turkeys), including instructions for cooking them with mangoes, shallots, cardoons, stuffed with either oyster or crawfish and for roasting them the Polish way with a saffron flavoured cullis. There is even one for roasting them with a farce of chestnuts and small sausages, the origin of the most popular stuffing recipe used today. Those people who say that eighteenth century English cookery was dull compared to French have no idea what they are talking about.

The finished bird.
This Christmas the British supermarket chain Waitrose have been marketing a rather expensive stuffing designed by the popular television cook Delia Smith under the brand name of Delia's Eighteenth Century Chestnut Stuffing. She has adapted it from a recipe in Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy. (London; 1747), although Hannah is not credited on the package. Delia's ready-made stuffing retails at £9.99 - and you have to add an onion, which will bring it over the £10 mark. I made mine from the original Glasse recipe for £2.50, using fresh parsley, onion and herbs from my garden. I have reproduced Hannah's recipe, which was originally for fowl (chicken) at the end of this posting. By the way, one of Hannah's main sources for recipes was The Whole Duty of a Woman.

Mandrake-like parsnips, purple potatoes and golden beets dug out of the kitchen garden at first light.

So what did I serve with my unexpected Christmas gift? Some freshly gathered vegetables from the garden of course, including the 'mandrakes' above. I have recently added some rather stony ground to my vegetable plot and as a result my parsnips have all turned into mandrakes and monsters from Mars.

 I am pretty sure that my turkey was one of the finest of the many millions roasted in England today. It was a great bird to start with, but open fire roasting produces a succulent, fine flavoured roast, so much better than one suffocated in an oven. Here is Delia's Hannah's Eighteenth Century Chestnut Stuffing recipe -

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Shaped Minc'd Pies Again

A salver with an arrangentment of minc'd pies from T. Hall. The Queen's Royal Cookery. (London: 1710).

It is often said that mince pies were originally made in the shape of the infant Christ's manger. This is a great story, but can any readers of this blog enlighten me as to the actual historical sources for this claim?

I have come across only three seventeenth century references to minc'd or Christmas pies being made in an oblong shape, but they are not entirely reliable ones. John Selden (1584-1654) in Table Talk (London: 1689) tells us that "the coffin of our Christmas-Pies, in shape long, is in Imitation of the Cratch". In the seventeenth century 'cratch' was an alternative word for 'manger' This is the only reference I have ever found which states directly that these pies were made in the form of Christ's cradle. Table Talk was published posthumously and was heavily edited by Selden's friend Richard Milward, so it may not be entirely reliable. 

Another reference to oblong shaped mince pies can be found in a marvellous satire on puritanism entitled The Exaltation of Christmas Pye, which was penned by a certain P.C. in 1659. He proclaims himself on the title page as a 'Dr. in Divinity and Midwifery', so I don't suppose he can be taken too seriously either. Anyway, he tells us that these pies were made in the shape of a narrow boat in order that they could easily be swallowed whole! In P.C.'s own words, 'my Advice, my Beloved, to you is, that you eat them cold. For I have heard of a Bridegroom that was killed before he could lie with his Bride, for adventuring to shovel hot minc’d Pye down his Throat for a Wager…..But Dr. Mariot, a notable Causuist in these disputes, and a Man of a sharp Stomach, is of Opinion, that a Man ought to swallow them whole. And therefore he was the first in the World that caused them to be made after the Fashion of Boats, that they might swim down the Gullet the easier: And indeed, he was a mighty enemy to four corner’d Pyes, for he said they were used to stick in his Throat.’

The third piece of evidence is a tiny drawing of an oblong shaped mince pie with pointed ends in the wonderful 1692 manuscript cookery book of Hannah Bisaker in the Wellcome Collection in London. However, this shape is just one of 35 others she illustrates on a page of designs for minced pies. 

The truth is that mince pies were made in an incredible variety of shapes. Dozens of designs were published  between 1654 and 1751. The first shaped pie designs to appear in print were in Joseph Cooper's The Art of Cookery Refin'd and Augmented (London: 1654). Here is Cooper's recipe and woodcut.

A number of other cookery book authors, such as Robert May and Edward Kidder published similar designs, the aim always being to arrange the shaped mince pies on a plate rather like a contemporary knot or topiary garden. In the OED, Mrs Delany (1756) is cited as using a similar analogy when describing a country house garden, 'The gardens laid out in the old-fashioned way of mince-pies, arbours and sugarloaf yews." Others compared the pie arrangements to military architecture, probably having in mind the kind of forts that were designed by Marshall Vauban. The extract below is from an article written by a Mr Bavius and entitled On Christmas Pye. It appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine of December 1733.

Fort de Bellegarde designed by Marshall Vauban in Languedoc- Roussillon, France. 

This arrangement of mince pies is rather like a seventeenth century fortress. It is from a set of playing cards depicting carving techniques published in London in 1676.

The changing face of the Christmas pie from 1615 to 1861

I am writing this on Christmas Eve, when according to the poet Robert Herrick it was once the tradition to sit up and guard the Christmas Pie. Whatever shape you have made your mince pies in, will you be sitting up with them tonight?


COME guard this night the Christmas-Pie,
That the thief, though ne'er so sly,
With his flesh-hooks, don't come nigh
                          To catch it
From him, who all alone sits there,
Having his eyes still in his ear,
And a deal of nightly fear
                          To watch it. 

Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II. 
Alfred Pollard, ed.London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 80.

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Drop the Shaped Minc'd Pies

A panoply of eighteenth century minc'd pies based on designs in Edward Kidder,
Receipts in Pastry and Cookery (London: nd. c.1720).
Yesterday I made a very brief appearance on the BBC's popular early evening magazine programme The One Show. The aim was to talk a little bit about the history of minc'd pies with the presenter Chris Evans and the comedian Lee Evans. For the programme I made a number of minc'd pies from early recipes, including some attractive shaped ones based on wonderful eighteenth century designs. However, the director did n't really think viewers would find these interesting enough and wanted to run with the theme of unusual ingredients, which he felt had more comedic possibilities.

Most of us probably know that minc'd pies originally contained meat as well as sweet ingredients like dried fruit, candied peel and spices. However, what is not often discussed is the nature of that meat. In the early modern period tongue, lamb's stones (testicles), udder and tripe frequently turn up in the recipes, as well as the more usual veal and beef. Some even contained fish. One recipe, published by Gervase Markham a year before Shakespeare's death in The English Housewife (London: 1615) contained pickled herring. In 1660, Robert May gave recipes for minc'd pies made with salmon, eel and sturgeon!

Of course these flavours seem bizarre and even repulsive today, but back in the seventeenth century pie eaters were less squemish. In fact the sense of revulsion felt by many towards offal and the idea of eating an ingredient like fish in a sweet dish like a minc'd pie, seems to be a fairly modern and exclusively Western development. Our forefathers were less concerned about such matters.

So a good laugh was had by all on the programme at our ancestor's decadent and bizarre taste and my lovely shaped mince pies were dropped from the schedule in favour of the comedic possibilities of ones made with tripe and pickled herring! So just for readers of this blog, here above is a photograph of them.  By the way, I filled them with a lovely mince meat from a 1699 Cumbrian recipe from the receipt book of Elizabeth Brown of Townend Farm, Troutbeck. As you can see from her recipe, Elizabeth called them Shred Pies - they contained minced veal. They are really delicious.

The whole subject of minc'd pies is a fascinating one and will be dealt with in a later, much more detailed posting which I hope to publish before Christmas wanes and you all lose interest in such seasonal matters. Our Food History Jottings researcher Plumcake has undertaken a lot of work over the years on the mythology surrounding mince pies and we will incorporate some of her findings into the posting.

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Lady Rachel Fane's Syllabub

Glass collector Tim Udall holding an eighteenth century spouted syllabub glass.
Earlier this year I contributed an essay to an exhibition catalogue of English dessert glass published by Delomosne and Sons, Britain's leading dealer in antique glass. The wonderful assemblage of glass described in the catalogue was put together over a lifetime of avid collecting and outstanding research by Mr Tim Udall. All items were for sale at the exhibition and most found buyers very quickly. I was delighted to offer a new home to an eighteenth century spouted syllabub glass and a spectacular dessert tree or glass epergne. An online version of the fully illustrated catalogue is available at Delomosne's website and I have inserted a link to it at the end of this posting. You can also order a copy of the catalogue from the site. Please take a look at it - the quality of this collection is outstanding. Mr Udall's own excellent essays on dessert glass, written for the Journal of the Glass Circle in the early 1980s, set the standard for scholarship in this fascinating area of material culture and I am indebted to him for many insights and leads in my own research on syllabub and jelly glasses.

The photograph above shows Mr Udall holding a glass spout pot very similar to the one I bought from his collection. These glasses have a superficial resemblance to a teapot, but the spout was used for sucking, not pouring - rather like a kind of proto-drinking straw. Early modern period syllabubs had two layers - a stratum of foam or curd on top and a pool of strong alcoholic liquid nestling below. The froth was eaten with a spoon and the pungent liquor sucked through that delicate spout. Surviving examples of these fragile vessels are rare and references to them in early recipes books even rarer. However, they do get a brief mention by the seventeenth century gallant and alchemist Sir Kenelm Digby in a recipe in his collection The Closet etc. (London: 1670). The recipe  is attributed by Digby to Rachel Fane, Countess of Middlesex, who “makes syllabubs for little glasses with spouts.” Lady Middlesex instructs us “to put into each glass a sprig of Rosemary a little bruised.” During the course of the eighteenth century syllabub glasses started to lose their spouts and the dish was more usually served in pan top glasses like that illustrated below. The function of the pan top was to support the foam, which was spooned over the wine or whey in the lower part of the glass. 

Left.  An eighteenth century pan top whipt syllabub glass containing a whip syllabub. The pan top supports the frothy syllabub very effectively above the sweet wine below. Right. An earlier spouted glass containing a syllabub made from the recipe by Lady Middlesex. 

Lady Rachel Fane, Dowager Countess of Bath and Countess of Middlesex (1603-1680).
Engraving by Pierre Lombart (after Van Dyck) c.1660.
Lady Middlesex was an attractive, highly educated woman, who wrote some remarkably sophisticated masques while still in her teens. She was also the author of a manuscript collection of recipes, including one for a dish called 'pets', an early form of meringue. Rachel's first husband, Sir Henry Bourchier, the Earl of Bath, died in 1654 and she married Lionel Cranfield, the third Earl of Middlesex six months later in 1655. This second marriage was a disaster, as Cranfield turned out to be a monster. According to Lady Rachel Newport he sold all of Rachel's books as well as her silver and household stuff and spent the money on 'rioting and play'.  Not surprisingly the couple separated shortly after the wedding. Below is Rachel's syllabub recipe as quoted by Digby. I always enjoy putting a face to a recipe. 

There is a particularly fine miniature of Rachel by David des Granges in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge - see it at this link.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Roasting the Christmas Beef

A 22 lb sirloin roasts in a cradle spit in front of my kitchen fire
By the end of this week I will have given five lectures on the history of Christmas food, run two practical courses on the same and written an article on the subject for the current edition of BBC Countryfile Magazine. As a result, I have cooked my way through a lot of ancient Christmas dishes and it isn't even Christmas yet! I am not exactly jaded with Yorkshire Christmas Pie, hack pudding, plum pottage and spit roast goose, but they are beginning to lose their appeal. On the big day a simple Christmas lunch of a digestive biscuit and a cup of cocoa would suit me just fine!

My roasting range has been particularly active over the last month with joints of beef, mainly large sirloin and rib joints rotating slowly in front of incredibly hot fires. On my last Taste of Christmas Past Course, we roasted a 22lb sirloin. This was a bone-in joint with the full fillet tucked away inside, a cut quite rightly once considered the beef joint of choice for roasting in front of the fire. It took four and a half hours to cook to perfection. All who tasted it said how moist and delicious it was. It was so tender that it was like carving a slab of marshmallow! Of all our Christmas dishes, roast beef served with plum pudding is the most evocative of past traditions of hospitality. It was once Britain's prime celebration dish and a potent symbol of the nation's character and cohesiveness.

A 15lb rib joint spit roasted to perfection
A rib joint is a great alternative to a sirloin and a few weeks ago I roasted one for for the BBC magazine photographs. This weighed in at just fifteen pounds and was perfectly cooked in just three hours. These cooking times might surprise those who have only had experience of 'roasting' meat in an oven, but they make sense of the ones suggested in early cookery texts, which often seem rather on the short side to contemporary readers. This is because very few people living today have experienced just how hot and efficient a generously fuelled roasting range is when roaring at full capacity. However, my little farmhouse range would be dwarfed by the roasting facilities once employed in the great houses and royal palace kitchens, like those below at Windsor.
Roasting the baron of beef at Windsor - Christmas 1856
Every year a full baron of beef was roasted in the Windsor Castle kitchen. According to Dr. Johnson, 'a Baron of Beef is when the two sirloins are not cut asunder, but joined together by the end of the backbone'. In other words, the whole bum of an ox! Once roastedthis gigantic Royal cut was displayed on the dining room sideboard, together with a very large game pie, a boar's head, a shield of brawn and a woodcock pie. In fact surviving royal menus for the Christmas season indicate that all these dishes were displayed on the sideboard for the whole twelve day holiday, at least at dinner time. I expect they were all moved to a cold larder between meals. Queen Victoria kept up this tradition when she moved to Osborne on the Isle of Wight, but there was not a large enough range in the kitchen there to roast the baron, so it was roasted at Windsor and sent to Osborne by train and ferry! It was always served as a cold cut. 

Some very large Christmas pies were also prepared for the Royal sideboard. I have made four of these so far this season. Here is one I baked for the BBC magazine article. If not opened, these could be kept for months, as the meat inside was embedded in clarified butter. I once stored one for three months in a cold larder before cutting into the pastry. The meat was still perfectly sweet. But to get this to work successfully is incredibly difficult, as there must not be a single hairline crack in the pastry and all the gravy has to be drained out from the pie before it is filled with clarified butter. 

A Christmas Pie with a filling of boned turkey, goose, fowl., duck, partridge and pigeon
This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Battenburg Cake Revisited, or Neapolitan Roll Rediscovered

Robert Wells
I recently tried to sort out some of the nonsense that is commonly written about the Battenburg Cake (see posting for August 2011). I described how the earliest recipe for a multi-coloured Battenburg Cake was published by Frederick Vine in 1898. Vine's cake had nine panes rather than the four that make up the modern cake.

Cover of Wells's Cakes and Buns.
However, the story of Battenburg Cake's origins is more complicated than I thought. I recently discovered a recipe for a cake called Neapolitaine Roll in a small book - Cakes and Buns written by a contemporary of Vine called Robert Wells. Wells was a prolific author on bakery and confectionery matters, who like Vine wrote mainly for the trade. A preface in my copy of the second edition (undated) of Cakes and Buns is dated 1897, so the book was probably first published, or at least written in that year. The British Library catalogue lists an edition published in 1898. What is curious about Neapolitaine Roll is that it is identical to a modern four pane Battenburg Cake, except for  a coating of pink coconut which encases the almond paste. Here is Wells's recipe.

Neapolitaine Roll (sic.)

Cut from your Genoese cake two strips of plain
 cake about one inch square, and the length being the
 width of your tin upon which it is baked. Likewise 
two similar strips from the " Raspberry Genoese." 
Place these together with apricot jam. If made hot
 you can apply it much better with the aid of a small, clean grease brush. Place the coloured strips alternately, so that the pink strip rests upon the white
 strip, and the other white upon the red, making a
 square with the four strips. Take and roll a sheet 
of almond paste, making the width to cover the four 
sides, and the length the same as the cake. When
 you have rolled your almond paste out you must cut 
to the size required with a knife. See that it does not
 stick to the slab, dust with a little icing sugar. Take 
your brush and slightly moisten, just sufficiently to
 make it adhere to the cake, then lay the cake upon it, commencing by carefully laying at the edge and gently 
pressing. It will turn over with the paste adhering to
 the cake. Having got the almond paste right round, see that it thoroughly holds to the cake by gently
 pressing with the palm of the hand all over. Again I brush on apricot jam, and roll on pink cocoanut. Sell at 1/- and 1/4 per lb.
 This is a very simple yet a very pretty and
 attractive cake.

From Robert Wells, Cakes and Buns. Manchester: 2nd edition nd.c.1900. pp.42-43.

Neapolitan Roll - an 1898 sponge and marzipan cake by Robert Wells. Don't mistake this for Battenburg cake, which had nine panes - not four at this period. Unlike Battenburg Cake, Neapolitan Roll was dusted with pink desiccated coconut. 
So during the closing years of the nineteenth century, there was a four-pane cake with alternate pink and white genoise square sections wrapped in almond paste, just like a modern Battenburg Cake, but it was known as Neapolitan Roll. This cake co-existed in late Victorian England with a similar, but nine-pane cake, which was called the Battenburg Cake, at least by Vine and a few other professionals. This new evidence makes me believe even more strongly that the story about each pane of the Battenburg Cake representing one of the four Battenburg princes is a later twentieth century fabrication. Neither Vine or Wells mention this story and Wells does not associate his cake with the Battenburg family at all, even though its morphology is much closer to the four pane version we consider to be the 'traditional' Battenburg cake today. 

Wells may have called his cake a Neapolitan Roll because of its similarity to the striped Neapolitan ice cream, which was very popular at this period. Striped jellies known as ribbon or ribband jelly had been popular since the seventeenth century. Neapolitan Roll was very much in this decorative tradition of English food. Interestingly, in twenty first century US, Neapolitan Roll Cake or Neapolitan Jelly Roll, is what we in Britain call Swiss Roll. Why did Wells call his cake a roll, when it is actually square? Probably because the almond paste is rolled round the four strips of genoese to create the marzipan jacket.

A Neapolitan brick of ice cream - also known in the nineteenth century as hokey pokey
There were other cakes in the late Victorian period which were also called Neapolitan Cakes. These were usually made by building up layers of almond cake with different coloured jams spread in between. So Neapolitan meant stripes. However, some Neapolitan cakes only revealed their stripes when they were sliced, as they were often elaborately decorated on the surface with cut-out shapes made from puff pastry, as in the illustration below. Many types of Neapolitan cake with coloured stripes or checkered patterns are still made today. Well's recipe indicates that the Battenburg cake was a variation on this theme that emerged at the end of the nineteenth century.

Neapolitan Cake from T. Garrett. The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery. London: 1890.
A menu for refreshments for a Bicycle Gymkhana I recently came across in a Victorian scrap book. 
Original source and date unknown.
Our Victorian ancestors loved colourful novelty cakes like the Neapolitan Roll and the Battenburg. Perhaps the most fun member of the genus was the Domino Cake, which was a Genoese fancy decorated to resemble a domino. These were made in sets, but I wonder if they actually played dominoes with them?

Above is an extraordinary bill of fare for refreshments for a Victorian 'Bicycle Gymkhana' in which Domino Cakes feature. You will notice that there is also a recipe for them. They are coated in maraschino icing. What a wonderful and sophisticated selection of picnic dishes this is. The spiced beef and cucumber sandwiches sound delicious, as do the three flavours of ices and iced drinks. And as for the very molecular sounding fruit "foam"at this early period, eat your hearts out Feran and Heston - there is nothing new under the sun. It would seem that "foams" were being served at Victorian bicycle gymkhanas well over a hundred years before they arrived at either elBulli or the Fat Duck!

A domino cake from T. Percy Lewis and A. G. Bromley's The Book of Cakes (London: 1903)
Since this was published, we have discovered more about Battenburg Cake - Click here to find out more

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.