When Lauren suggested a series of blogs based around historical recipes I went straight for this recipe for cinnamon biscuits from a book belonging to a Mrs Goacher of Jessops Farm, Ashurst, and dating from 1867 (Add Mss 14940). I love anything cinnamon flavoured and with only five ingredients this sounded like my kind of baking. Little did I know…
The opening part of the recipe presented the first hurdle. Whilst the measurements in the rest of it were familiar (1lb, 1oz) the quantity of flour was a complete mystery – I’d never come across that particular notation before and still don’t know what it is. I assume it’s a measurement or abbreviation which has fallen out of use but if anyone can shed light on it please do let me know! Looking at ratios of sugar, flour and butter in similar biscuit recipes I decided that it must be roughly equivalent to the total weight of the sugar and butter i.e. 2 pounds.
Realising that if I followed these measurements my colleagues and I would be eating cinnamon biscuits for weeks to come I took the early decision to quarter the recipe. The rest of the recipe required further decisions as it was somewhat light on details. What size glass should I use for the brandy or rum? How thin is very thin? What on earth is a ‘quick oven’? How long should the biscuits be baked for? How many biscuits should the recipe make?
Having made a few educated guesses I got to work. The end result was a pleasantly flavoured – you could really taste the cinnamon – crisp, sweet biscuit which was slightly layered inside. Despite quartering the recipe, and allowing for some wastage and ‘quality control’ testing, I still ended up with around 60 biscuits – as Lauren found in her previous blog post (https://westsussexrecordoffice.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/historic-baking-18th-century-sponge-biscuits/) these recipes seem to be designed for a substantial household! After making the decisions about quantities and timings they were also very easy to make.
There was definitely a level of assumed knowledge in this recipe – presumably most of this would have been perfectly obvious to a 19th century cook. It became evident that many of these older recipe books acted more as aide memoires than the precise set of instructions as we would expect from a recipe today. I was also intrigued to find that the biscuit recipe sat alongside a method for removing stains and a treatment for coughs – maybe a challenge for one of my more adventurous colleagues!
Here’s the recipe I ended up using – let us know if you try this at home or about any historic baking you’ve done!
Yield: approximately 60 small biscuits.
125g caster sugar
125g butter (either slightly salted or unsalted should be fine)
1.5tsp ground cinnamon
30-45ml dark rum or brandy
- Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
- Mix together the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon – I ended up with a mix that resembled crumble topping.
- Pour in the rum and mix well until you have a dough – I found I needed around 45ml but would suggest pouring in gradually until you reach the desired consistency – you may not need this amount.
- Roll out on a well-floured surface to desired thickness (no more than the thickness of a pound coin).
- Cut out using desired shape and size of cutter and carefully place onto baking trays.
- Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 9 minutes until golden brown – depending on your oven you may want to check after 7 minutes. Allow to cool – they will crisp up as they cool.