Baking Experiment – Cinnamon Blueberry Cakes

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.

Blueberry Cakes


Dyeing and Baking

I finally finished my first experiment in natural dyeing. Shepard’s wool dyed with dandelions and alum. I’m pretty happy for a first try, though I didn’t get quite as deep or bright a color as I wanted. To start with, I don’t think I had near enough dandelions, and plan to try again with a gallon freezer bag full. Secondly, I’d been collecting a few at a time and keeping them in the freezer, but the bag was starting to smell funky and they had turned brown even in the freezer. So I don’t think they were as fresh as they needed to be. (The white paper is just for color balancing and comparison.)  I’m already collecting more to try again.Dandelion Yarn

I’m also working on another attempt at the Anglo-Saxon spiced beer bread.  This version uses the standard bread recipe I’m working with, subbing 1 bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale for the water and adding in 1/4 tsp each of cloves, pepper, and cumin, as well as a teaspoon of coriander.

Bread! Part 2 – The first few attempts

Because beer is a likely source for baking yeast, but because modern beer doesn’t contain enough active yeast to bake with, I’ve started my experiments by taking my friend Alex’s standard, tried-and-true bread recipe and substituting beer for the water. On the first attempt, I didn’t have the first clue what Anglo-Saxon beer was like, so I bought a six pack of Sam Adams Cold Snap for no other reason than that it looked yummy.

First Attempt

My first attempt was straight-up beer bread, using the basic, modern bread recipe and subbing beer for the water the recipe calls for.  It was perfectly respectable sandwich bread, but didn’t actually taste like beer.

Second Attempt

For the second attempt, I upped the beer quantity to “the whole bottle.” Now, I had beer bread that tasted beery.  And it was pretty good.

Third Attempt

This is where I decided to start playing with spices.  I picked three I like and had on hand from Bede’s collection: cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.  For a four-cup loaf, I used the following recipe:

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • One bottle of Sam Adams Cold Snap
  • 1 tablespoon of softened butter
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1/2 a tablespoon each of cinnamon and cardamom and a heaping 1/4 teaspoon (because I didn’t have a 1/2 teaspoon handy) of cloves

It baked at 350 for 25 minutes, then an additional 15 at 300 to finish.

It smelled absolutely amazing, but didn’t have as much of a spice flavor as you’d expect from the aroma.

Fourth Attempt

The fourth attempt is currently rising in the bread machine. (Why yes, I am cheating with the bread machine dough cycle.  Eventually, I’ll make a loaf by hand, but my general thought is that it’s primarily a labor-saving thing rather than something that dramatically changes the finished product.)

This uses a recipe much like the third, but with Newcastle English Ale instead of Sam Adams and doubled spices. Oh, and slightly less butter.

  • 2 cups bread flour, 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • One bottle of Newcastle English Ale
  • 2 teaspoons of softened butter
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (because I was out of honey)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon and cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cloves

I switched to a 50/50 ratio of bread and AP flour because I had the impression that bread flour was a modern cultivar. But at this point, I’m not entirely sure.  I would be willing to bet money that modern bread flour is higher-gluten than Anglo-Saxon wheat flour, whether it’s the same species or not, just because of the amount of time there’s been to select for that trait in bread wheat.

For an Anglo-Saxon bread, sugar probably shouldn’t go in it.  (According to Hagen, it was known, but very rare, and used more as a spice than a sweetener.)  But, since it’s not there for sweetening so much as feeding the yeast, I’m not terribly concerned.

The Newcastle Ale was the only “ale” I could find at the local liquor store, although it turns out that modern ale and medieval ale are not remotely the same critter.  Medieval ale doesn’t use hops, and doesn’t keep very long at all (Regia Anglorum).  It’s also pretty weak so it might actually not add tons of flavor to the bread.  I do have grand future plans of conning my home-brewer brother into helping me whip up a batch and making bread with it.

Update on the results of the last attempt to come. So far, I can say that it rose nicely and smells fantastic.

Bread! Part 1, Basic Research

My latest thing (because I needed more hobbies) is baking. Specifically, I’m trying to make a plausibly Anglo-Saxon bread. I’m starting with Ann Hagen’s A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and A second Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food and Drink and will use her bibliography to find additional sources.

So far, what I have is this:


Yeast-risen wheat bread was certainly known at the time. Yeast sources would’ve been either barm from ale-brewing, a sourdough starter (either captured wild yeast or saved from the last time you made bread), or dried yeast. Yeast could be dried by spreading the liquid yeast source on a platter or tub, letting that layer dry, and repeating until you had a cake of it. Birch sticks could be dipped in a yeast mixture and allowed to dry. (Hagen, 15-16)


Lots of grains were eaten in Anglo-Saxon England, including barley, wheat, rye, and oats. Wheat was best for bread-making, particularly if you could afford to sieve it finely enough to get white flour. (Hagen mentions that “germ and bran dilute the bread-making qualities of flour” (16) and I would hazard a guess that that’s based primarily on getting a higher proportion of gluten. Gluten is found in the endosperm of the grain, rather than the germ or the bran. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

I want to find out a little more about the different varieties of wheat, since that makes a difference too. I’m not sure what kind would’ve been grown at the time.

Loaf Shape and Size

Hagen mentions illustrations showing round loaves that look similar in size to a modern medium loaf. There seem to have been two vaguely standard sizes, since she notes a lot of sources referring to set quantities of small and large loaves (in rents, wills, etc.).


This is an area I need to dig into much more. Leechdoms (which I need to get my hands on) mentions a cake with cumin and march seed, and there are mentions in wills of “well-seasoned” loaves that appear to be for religious feast days (Hagen 19-20).

Flavorings would of course be limited by what was available at the time and place. In 735, when he died, Bede left his spices to the other monks. This was “said to include lavender, aniseed, buckwheat, cinnamon, cloves, cubebs, cumin, coriander, cardamom…cypress roots (galangale), ginger (raw and preserved), gromic, licorice, and sugar” (Second Handbook, Hagen, 182-183). So I think I can reasonably use a combination of spices from that list for a “well-seasoned” bread.

KASF Knitted Pouch, with pictures

Atlantia’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival was last weekend. I entered the Inter-baronial competition as Dun Carraig’s A&S champion, with the knitted cross bottony bag I had been working on since December. I still need to line it before I present it to the baronage.

IMG_20150227_213649Here it is on the needles, right after I’d finished knitting.

IMG_20150228_191647 Here’s the three-needle bind-off, which creates a nice straight bottom for the bag. (The link goes to a video tutorial at com, which I learned this bind-off from.)

IMG_20150305_170557The method I used for the tassels, which comes from Phyllis Anne DesMoines’ Knitting Pouches Reliquary Style, was to wrap the yarn a bunch of times around a DVD box.  (I did 15 for each color.) Of course, it was The Princess Bride.

IMG_20150305_170909This is a single one of my finished tassels.  I’d have liked to get the ends more even, but I didn’t want to make it too short by cutting them all to match.  Next time, I think I’ll cut the yarn longer than I need so I can get a more even final product.

IMG_20150314_110732And here’s the finished bag.

KASF Bottony Pouch – Gauge Woes and Finished Pattern

So, I made a pretty impressive mistake when selecting yarn. I misread the expected gauge, and it’s actually 8 stitches per inch (which about matches what I did with my sample). I’m going to drop down a needle size or two, but I will not be getting anything like period gauge with this yarn.  I could put it away for something else and buy finer for this project, but I like the color and feel of this particular yarn a lot. Besides that, the idea of a heavier gauge has its advantages–like finishing faster.

I’ve completed my pattern, and I can still make it work.  I’m going for 152 stitches, which should give me a finished width of eight or nine inches. That’s in the range of the Sion pouches, and generally seems like a good size.

Color chart for a cross bottony pouch. Has a border of red and white diagonal stripes at the top and bottom, and a large red bottony cross on a white ground.
Color Chart for Cross Bottony Pouch

This is my pattern. I had originally planned to include a bunch of little crosses in the background, to make the colorwork easier. But I think that will make the pattern too busy, and I really like this as-is.  It does mean that I’ll have to switch colors frequently to avoid having giant floats. I’ll probably use stranding for the top and bottom of the cross, and a more intarsia-like method for the middle.

KASF Bottony Pouch – Measurement Notes

Based on this article, the original Sion pouches ranged from 6″ x 8″ to 10″ x 13″. If I achieve the same gauge I did on my last knit pouch, 17 stitches to the inch, that gives me roughly 102 to 170 stitches to play with in width and 137 to 221 in height (for each side).  The pattern I have for a large cross bottony is 51 by 51 stitches.  So, I should be able to use about 200 total stitches and center the cross bottony on each side, with a semy of little crosses around it.