Historic baking – Little almond cakes

Like most people I like baking and cooking, so when Lauren (our Searchroom Archivist) set the challenge to try some historic recipes from the archives, I jumped at the chance to have a go.

One thing I noticed when going through the recipe books held at the Record Office was that over the centuries, there appeared to be a few of the same recipes in all of them, some passed down through the generations or some recipes that have become classics – like the Victoria Sponge or Lemon posset.

20th Century Cookery; How to Cook by Electricity (AM1156/1)

For my attempt I chose a recipe from the 20th Century Cookery Book: How to Cook by Electricity (AM 1156/1), as I liked the familiarity of the recipes (which features items such as Gingerbread and Fruit Scones), and how easy it was to read and interpret. The book dates from the late 1930s, and was an instruction booklet for cooking with electric ovens produced by the Borough of Worthing Electricity Department. Various sources have suggested that most households would have been wired for electricity by then, and indeed the business address for the Borough Electrical Engineer shown on the first page of the volume is listed in the 1938 Worthing directory.

The recipe I decided to bake was for Little Almond Cakes, which were compared to macaroons when the staff at the Record Office tried them.  Indeed when looking up a recipe for macaroons it’s amazing how similar the two were. My initial view of the recipe was that they could be a version of the more colourful macaron and therefore likely to be easy to adapt, especially with adding colour or substituting ingredients such as coconut.Recipie

Interpreting a recipe can be one of the hardest things to do, so what do you do when is says ‘whisk egg whites slightly’? Modern technology intervened here and assuming it was to whisk them like meringue or colourful macarons, I whisked them using an electric mixer to a point when they were not quite white and silky, but light and airy. I then added the sugar (113g) and Almonds (200g), which immediately turned the mixture into a thick paste. I was then asked to place in a forcing (piping) bag and pipe into fancy shapes, which I was unable to do as my mixture was too thick, so placed them on the baking sheet using a teaspoon.

A lot of the recipes in this book asked us to bake at a high heat and then a low heat using Fahrenheit. Which when baking in Celsius all my life seemed a bit odd. Until you realise that as a country we haven’t been using Celsius for that long. The UK met office started to officially report the weather in Celsius from 1962.

The final ‘Little Almond Cakes’

Because the method of baking was using Fahrenheit temperatures; I worked out that to bake these in a modern electric oven it’s about 175°c for the higher temperature and 150°c for the lower temperature. I did two batches with slightly different methods. For the first batch I baked at the higher temperature for 15 minutes and as my oven is very efficient I halved the second baking time (approx. 7-8 minutes). The second batch I baked once at 160°c until golden brown not really noticing the time it took, but rather watched the oven much like the do on ‘Bake Off’. While both methods seemed to go down well it appears that the first batch was the favourite. And even one member of staff asked for the recipe!

A successful bake in all.

Imogen Russell

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