I’m hoping to enter the Atlantian Royal Baker competition in February, so in addition to working on the Anglo-Saxon spice bread, I also want to make a plausibly Anglo-Saxon sweet. I’d like to do a yeast-risen cake with fruit, probably strawberries, and honey. My first experiment is based on this Elizabethan lemon cake recipe, which is based on A.W.’s Book of Cookrye (1591) and The English Huswife by Gervase Markham, 1615. Definitely later time period than I want. I substituted honey in for the sugar, since the amounts of sugar available in Anglo-Saxon England were *tiny.* (Bede apparently had some in his spice collection.) I doubt lemon was available, but I need to actually check into that.
I used blueberries, not because they’re time and place appropriate, but because I had fresh ones right off the blueberry bushes at my house. If I can get my hands on bilberries or lingonberries, I may make another version with a more appropriate berry. Strawberries are also a contender.
My recipe for this go-round is:
- 3 Tbs. warm beer (I used a honey lager)
- 2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 Tbs.)
- 3/4 cup honey
- 2 eggs
- ~2 cups unbleached flour
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- Cinnamon (a stick about one and a half inches long)
Mix the yeast and the beer and make sure it bubbles. Since it’s only three tablespoons, you need to drink the rest of the bottle. (I can’t have booze in any quantity, but my husband was kind enough to drink it for me. Such a team player!)
In a stand mixer, combine the honey and butter until it’s well mixed. Then, mix in the yeast, gently. Beat the eggs separately and add those in. Once the wet ingredients are mixed, add the salt and slowly add the flour. Inn at the Crossroads’ original recipe calls for *about* two cups of flour, and they note that you should use just enough to get a smooth, thick batter. For me, two cups did the trick.
Then I added the blueberries. I didn’t actually measure, but I’d say two or three cups. The batter isn’t all that sweet, so it needs lots of berry goodness. I also added freshly ground cinnamon. Pro tip: trying to grind cinnamon with a wine bottle or a wooden spoon is a fool’s errand. *But* a blender can easily substitute for a spice grinder.
The original recipe calls for 15-20 minutes at 350. As you’d expect, the blueberries added to the bake time, and it took 25 minutes. I served them warm from the oven, drizzled with honey. They had a nice texture, somewhere between a muffin and a cupcake, and having the blueberries cooked definitely added to the sweetness. (Drizzling honey over top didn’t hurt either.) I may play a bit with spices and/or nuts, but I think this worked pretty well. The tiny hint of beer is kind of nice, especially since I used a pretty mild-tasting beer.