Tea and cakes

teacupA popular theme in Austen, Austenesque, and meetings of Janeites is tea, usually served with bread and butter or cakes, or both. In the time period, cakes usually referred to what we call soft cookies. (The word cookie did not enter the lexicon until some decades later.)

Recall that ovens were outdoor affairs, and had no temperature controls. The baker had to essentially wing it as far as baking temperatures, altho’ experienced bakers could fairly well control the proper heat and baking time.

When we still lived up North we often visited Colonial Williamsburg, ate at the restaurants, and picked up some cookbooks while we were there. This is my favourite recipe — very easy and very tasty, and very versatile: you can ice them, serve with jam or cream similar to scones, mix in chopped nuts, currants, or even chocolate mini chips. Or make a pyramid for a lovely presentation. Enjoy with your favourite cuppa, perhaps a Jane Austen-inspired tea.

18th Century recipe

Take a pound and a half of fine flour, one pound of cold butter, half a pound of sugar, work all these well together into a paste, then roll it with the palms of your hands into round balls, and cut them with a thin knife into thin cakes, sprinkle a little flour on a sheet of paper, and put them on; prick them with a fork and bake them.

21st Century version

  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 cups butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add flour in thirds to the mixture. Remove the mixture by scraping with a spatula or knife and place on hard surface and knead until well mixed and smooth. Dough will be stiff.
  2. Form into four balls, one the size of a tennis ball and reducing in size as you go until the smallest ball is about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
  3. Slice dough 1/4” thick with a sharp, smooth knife. Place on parchment paper or lightly greased cookie sheets.
  4. Bake at 350, 12-18 minutes until the centers of the large cakes are set when lightly pressed with your finger.
  5. After cooling, remove from cookie sheet. To form into a pyramid shape, use the larger cakes on the base, and stack the next smaller ones on top. Sift confectioner’s sugar on top (optional).


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