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Baked History: The Courting Cake

So today’s going to be a quickie! We’re going to talk about the history of the oh-so-delicious “Courting Cake.” The Courting Cake originated in Lancshire, England as a gift from women to the men they fancied. During this time in British history, men and women were usually segregated as the men did hard manual labor and women worked in cotton mills and lighter industry. This meant there wasn’t a lot of cross over between when men and women COULD meet, so a specific “promenade” area was set up when men and women could interact. Usually, this was done by walking up and down the street with your friends until a member of the opposite sex caught your eye. Some places like Preston segregated the prospective lovers even more with office clerks and similar ranks were on one street, and factory workers and those equivalent ranks were on another street. Either ways, at the end of the day, if someone caught your fancy, they would eventually be presented with a Courting Cake!

The ingredients themselves represent important aspects of the woman as well, all the more to win over the heart of her lover! The recipe uses shortbread as a base, which is like a thicker version of a sponge cake. A shortbread is slightly more difficult to make, so this would expect the wife-to-be’s baking skills! The recipe also uses strawberries, though in the days of yore, they used over-ripe or slightly bruised strawberries to represent “many a woman’s heart, slightly bruised, battered, and oft’ times a little past their best by the time they become betrothed” [1].

However, this adorable tradition eventually spread, all through England and even to the states! The most famous incident of the is the Lincoln couple. Apparently, in an effort to win Abraham Lincoln’s heart, Mary Todd went out and bought a recipe for Courting Cake. Upon tasting it, Lincoln proclaimed it was the best cake he had ever had [2]. Eventually, this recipe became a regular baking tradition at the Lincoln household. Even Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton were presented with a courting cake on their wedding day [1].

Now I’m sure you all are craving this cake now and wondering just exactly how to make it! Well, my loyal readers, below I have listed the recipe for your hearts to consume with joy. The recipe, as a side note, comes from one of my favorite shows, “The Great British Bake-Off”! So, I hope you all enjoy and enjoyed this delicious historical tid-bit.

Makes about 16 slices

225g/8 oz Butter or sunflower margarine

225g/8 oz Caster or granulated sugar

4 Free-range eggs, lightly beaten

350g/12 oz Self-raising flour

30-45ml/2-3 tbsp Full-fat milk

300ml/10 fl oz Double cream

225g/8 oz Strawberries, sliced

Icing sugar, to decorate

1. Grease and line the bases of three 18 cm (7 inch) round cake tins.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour, then add enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared tins and bake at 180c, gas mark 4, for 25 – 30 minutes, until well risen and firm to the touch, swapping the position of the top and bottom cakes halfway through cooking. Turn out and leave to cool on a wire rack.

4. Whip the cream until it just holds its shape. Sandwich the cakes together with the cream and the strawberries, reserving a few for decoration. Dredge the top with icing sugar and decorate with the reserved strawberries.

If you only have two tins, divide between the two, and decrease the cooking temperature slightly, around 170c, gas mark 3, and cook for a little longer.

The texture of the cake is firmer than a standard Victoria sponge, and slightly closer to a shortbread texture.

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.lancashirelife.co.uk/food-drink/the_history_of_the_courting_cake_a_lancashire_tradition_1_1645135
  2. http://mentalfloss.com/article/48915/way-lincoln’s-heart-mary-todd’s-courting-cake
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