Gervase Markham’s "Biscuit Bread" (1615)
This old-fashioned bread cake serves a lot of people and gives you a taste of "way back."
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time1 hr 45 mins
Servings: 20 servings
- 1 pound all-purpose flour
- 1 pound granulated sugar
- 8 large eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 ounce aniseeds
- 1/2 ounce coriander seeds roughly ground
Generously grease your pan(s). I used a 4"-deep, 9" round cake pan, but two smaller tins would work. (Just don’t fill the tin(s) more than 3/4 of the way full – this beast of a cake/bread needs ample room to rise!)
Add the flour and sugar to a large mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined.
In a larger bowl, whisk eggs and yolks until smooth.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the eggs, stirring all the while. The resulting batter will be fairly stiff.
Beat the batter until smooth and visibly increased in size.
(Full disclosure: Markham states that this "will take very near an hour's beating." My 21st-century desk-job arms definitely weren’t up to the task, so I enlisted the service of a stand mixer. I like to think that this adds to the authenticity of the baking experience, for Markham’s "English hus-wife" – wealthy enough to be literate and to expend an entire pound of sugar in a single recipe – would surely have foisted this job off on a servant. I used the "stir" setting for a full hour so that I could watch how the batter changed, but 15 to 20 minutes on your mixer’s medium setting should do the trick.)
While the batter is mixing, preheat your oven to 350 F. (Baking temperatures were necessarily rougher and more relative back in the days of beehive ovens heated by fire, and the original recipe says only to bake the cake "in an oven." Super helpful, Gervase. I found that the 350 F worked well for the long, slow bake needed to cook the batter all the way through without burning the top.)
Mix in aniseeds and ground coriander.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin(s) and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean and the loaf has roughly doubled in size. When a single large tin is used, the bake time is about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove from oven and allow pan to cool for about 30 minutes before turning out your cake.
When cake is completely cool, slice into slim wedges and serve with tart fruit or jam.
Calories: 211kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 104mg | Sodium: 27mg | Potassium: 71mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 145IU | Vitamin C: 0.3mg | Calcium: 28mg | Iron: 1.9mg