The Great Cake

A Receipt to make a Cake

Take Seven pound of the best fflower, one pound of white sugar, two Pound and half of sweet butter, half an ounce of Cinamon, a large Nutmeg, three or four cloves, a blade of mace, a few Coliander Seeds, 12 Eggs beat with half the whites, Half a Pint of Sack, One Quart of the top of Ale Yeast, a Quart of Cream, Seven Pound of Currance, Let your fflower be dryed the Day before you use it, Let your Sugar be beaten and Sifted in your flower, Let your Cinamon Cloves & Mace be beaten and Sifted in your flowr, Let your Sack, yeast, Eggs, be beaten together, Add a Quart of Cream, beat it up well with your hand, then mix your Currants If your Oven be well heat:d, Three hours will bake it, Take 3 or four whites of Eggs, some Sack, half a Pound of Sugar Refined, Beat it whils’t your Cake is a baking,

This Receipt is Approved of.

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This recipe comes from a manuscript titled “A Collection of choise Receipts: Containing : 390 : The First Part:,” which is in the collection of the New York Academy of Medicine. The manuscript was compiled in England towards the end of the seventeenth century. The second part of the manuscript, contained in a separate notebook, is given over to medical receipts.


My adapted recipe is half the size of the original recipe. Since seventeenth-century eggs seem to have been about one third smaller than today’s “large” eggs, I have reduced the eggs in my adaptation by one third. Sherry, the closest equivalent to seventeenth-century sack, makes little impact in cakes, so I prefer rose water, which was commonly used in cakes at the time. This recipe was evidently the “approved,” or final, version of two very similar recipes that appear earlier the manuscript. These earlier recipes call for rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients and for beating the batter until it comes away from the side of the bowl, and I have incorporated these instructions into my adaptation.

If you don’t have a stand mixer with a 5-quart (or larger) bowl, just work the batter with a spoon until your strength gives out and then work in the currants. Helpers are approved of here!

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In a very large bowl (or a large stock pot), combine 3 1/2 pounds all-purpose flour, 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons salt, about 1 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves, mace, and coriander. Drop in 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter, well softened, and rub with your hands until the butter disappears into the dry ingredients.

In a large bowl, sprinkle 4 1/2 teaspoons (two 7-g packets) active dry yeast over 2 cups tepid water and set aside until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 2 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks, 2 cups heavy cream, and 1/2 cup Sherry or Middle Eastern rose water. Pour this over the flour mixture and stir with a large wooden spoon until the flour mixture is moistened. Transfer the batter to the bowl of a 5-quart (or larger) stand mixer and fit the machine with the dough hook. Mix at medium speed until the batter looks stringy and comes away from the side of the bowl, about 15 minutes. Scrape the batter back into the mixing bowl, add 3 1/2 pounds of currants, and mix with the spoon and/or your hands until the currants are blended in.

Scrape the side of the bowl clean, cover the bowl with overlapping sheets of plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Generously butter a 14- X 3-inch round cake pan and line the bottom and side with parchment paper, extending the side parchment 1 inch beyond the rim of the pan. Butter the parchment, stick a second layer of parchment to the side of the pan, and butter this too. Slide the batter into the prepared pan and firmly press to fill the pan contours with your palm. Drape the pan with parchment and let the cake rise until it comes within about 3/4 inch of the rim of the pan, which will probably take about 1 hour.

Bake the cake in a 300 degree oven until the center registers 206 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 1/2 hours. If your oven heat is uneven, it is a good idea to gently rotate the cake after 1 hour of baking and perhaps one more time later. Let the baked cake rest in the pan for 20 minutes, and then turn it upside down onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and let it cool to tepid, 2 to 3 hours. (The cake will probably dip in the center and cooling it upside down will serve to flatten the top.)

Turn the cake top side up onto a second parchment-lined cookie sheet. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, 2 egg whites, and 1 tablespoon Sherry or rose water in a small metal bowl and whisk gently over simmering water until the mixture is very warm and the sugar has dissolved. Keep brushing this mixture over the top and side of the cake until you use it all up. The glaze will dry in an hour or two and will “show like ice or frost.” If it is large enough, the washed mixing bowl makes a convenient cake cover.