We have been living in our ‘new’ house (which is still a 1888 Victorian house) for five months now. It is starting to feel very much like home. Last week, I was – finally – able to unpack my recipe books. This had not been possible previously, as we simply did not have enough furniture. However, thanks to a generous Christmas gift from my parents, we were able to purchase a vintage Welsh dresser (not quite the antique eighteenth-century dresser I had in mind, but that can perhaps wait). It now stands proudly in our kitchen and carries our cherished books.
What a joy to rediscover these after so many months! And of course, I could not resist buying a few more while my old friends were in their boxes. Among these is a facsimile of The Welsh Cookbook, a recipe book written by the Honourable Lady Llanover, following an encounter with the ‘Welsh hermit of the Cell of St Gover’ in 1867. That book contains one of the funniest footnotes I have ever read: a criticism of a useless kitchen gadget, the bain-marie. That footnote deserves a post in itself – watch this space. It also contains some very clear and mouth-watering recipes, which is not always the case in historical recipe books.
I was tempted to make some mushroom ketchup, but it is not quite the season, and it takes a long time. Instead, we opted for something simpler: the Hermit’s rock cakes. I made these with Big Boy T, who was very worried about quantities given in ounces (and anyway, how many ounces to a pound?). This is a perfect recipe to make with children, as it is not too messy. The recipe includes a helpful N.B.: ‘two persons are required to beat these cakes by turns for an hour.’ Thankfully, with a modern gadget, the electric whisker, our beating time was reduced to 10 minutes. Here is our adapted recipe. Be warned: these are really moreish.
Hermit’s Rock Cakes with Caraway Seeds
Makes approximately 20 rocks
- Four ounces of fresh better (120 g)
- Six ounces of caster sugar (150 g)
- Six egg yolks
- One pound of plain flour (450 g)
- Two tablespoons of caraway seeds (roughly – we didn’t measure)
- Four egg whites
- Add the caraway seeds to the flour and keep aside.
- Cream the butter in a large bowl.
- Add the sugar and beat with the electric whisker (if you want to do this by hand – be my guest).
- While continuously beating with the electric whisker, add the egg yolks little by little to the sugar and butter mixture.
- Still beating with the electric whisker, add the flour little by little to the mixture. The mixture will now look a little like bread crumbs.
- Continue beating with the electric whisker and add the egg whites little by little.
- When the egg whites are well incorporated to the mixture, continue beating with the electric mixer for ten minutes.
- When the mixture is firm and elastic, divide it into small balls, which you will place on baking sheets covered with baking parchment.
- Cook in a hot over (gas mark 8) for 20 minutes. The rocks will be risen, golden and firm.
Keep in an airtight container.