19th century cake and icing recipes highlight historical approaches to baking

An historical recipe for a 19th century version of Great British Bake Off classic Shrowsbury Cake has been made available by the University's Special Collections.

A contemporary guide for icing a cake has also been uncovered, providing a list of ingredients and the gruelling advice to beat the mixture for two hours – all without the assistance of modern machinery. 

The recipes are part of Rebecca Dixon’s recipe book from the early 19th century and offer a glimpse into historical methods for baking cakes, some of which have not changed much over the centuries.

Caroline Sampson, Archivist at the University of Leicester Special Collections, said: “I personally love browsing old recipes. I find it fascinating to stumble across weird and wonderful ingredients that I’ve never heard of and to imagine the challenges of adapting recipes from the past to the high-tech kitchen gadgetry of today.

“Take, for example, Rebecca Dixon’s recipe book from the early 19th century (MS 27). Her recipe for ‘Shrowsbury Cake’ feels horribly reminiscent of one of Paul Hollywood’s technical challenges with its minimalist approach and seeming lack of crucial detail like oven temperature, thickness of the paste, or how long to bake for.”

As part of the University's Sue Townsend Archive, the Special Collections has also highlighted a recipe for Baked Sheep’s Heads mentioned within Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, told with Townsend’s characteristic humour.

The Sue Townsend Archive contains the literary, personal and business papers of the bestselling author and playwright, Sue Townsend (1946-2014), the creator of Adrian Mole.

While Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry may not be too eager to sample Adrian Mole’s Baked Sheep’s Heads, Rebecca Dixon’s 19th century cake and icing recipes sound much more appetising and show that while methods may have changed, the pursuit of the perfect cake has stayed the same.