To Make a Rich Cake

This is the cake of cakes, served at weddings, balls, and birthdays. The ingredients are expensive and the recipe time-consuming. Typically, a large cake like this was baked several months in advance of the actual date and then doused in brandy to prevent mold from growing. The result was spectacular!

18th Century

Take four pounds of flour dried and sifted, seven pounds of currants washed and rubbed, six pounds of the best fresh butter, two pounds of Jordan almonds blanched, and beaten with orange flower water and sack till fine; then take four pounds of eggs, put half the whites away, three pounds of double-refined sugar beaten and sifted, a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same of cloves and cinnamon, three large nutmegs, all beaten fine, a little ginger, half a pint of sack, half a pint of right French brandy, sweet-meats to your liking, they must be orange, lemon, and citron; work your butter to a cream with your hands before any of your ingredients are in; then put in your sugar, and mix all well together; let your eggs be well beat and strained through a sieve, work in your almonds first, then put in your eggs, beat them together till they look white and thick; then put in your sack, brandy and spices, shake your flour in be degrees, and when your oven is ready, put in your currants and sweet-meats as you put it in your hoop: it will take four hours baking in a quick oven: you must keep it beating with your hand all the while you are mixing of it, and when your currants are well washed and cleaned, let them be kept before the fire, so that they may go warm into your cake. This quantity will bake best in two hoops.

Glasse, Hannah “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy”

21st Century

  • 1 lb. cake flour
  • 1 lb. eggs
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • 1 lb. butter
  • ½ cup candied orange peel
  • ½ cup candied lemon peel
  • ½ cup candied citron
  • ½ cup currants
  • ½ cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. mace
  • 1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ginger
  • ¼ tsp. cloves
  • ¼ cup Sherry (sack)
  • ¼ cup Brandy
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Evenly grease a 10-inch Bundt pan and set aside.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about one minute. Add the sugar and beat at high speed until light and fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. At a medium-high speed, add the eggs in gradually until the eggs are thoroughly combined with the butter and sugar. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. Sift the cake flour in a separate bowl, then add the spices and almond flour. Set the mixer at a low speed, and add the flour-spice mixture gradually until thoroughly combined with the butter, sugar and eggs. Continue to mix at low speed while adding the candied ingredients and currants until thoroughly mixed into the batter. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides.
  4. Add the brandy and sherry to the batter. Mix on a medium speed until the batter is light and fluffy.
  5. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Place pan on middle rack in oven. Bake at 350° until a toothpick comes out clean, about 50 minutes to one hour. Allow cake to cool in the pan on a cooling rack for 30 minutes.
  6. Invert the cake onto a large plate and then invert again back onto a cooling rack. Allow cake to cool completely before slicing.

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28 Responses to “To Make a Rich Cake”

  1. March 8th, 2012

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Food History crew,

    This sounds good. Might be a fruit cake I’d eat.

    How many eggs and what size eggs equal 1 pound?

    Can this cake be baked in regular cake or loaf pans? And what would the baking times be?

    Thanks for another great recipe. Have a great Spring,
    Chris

    • March 8th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Thanks, Chris! I will start with your first question, and the answer lies within it.

      1. The weight of the eggs depends on their size, so the simple answer is to weigh your eggs with the shell on. Using the large eggs we get today, it may be as few as eight but I hesitate to try to describe eggs’ sizes and weights. Modern eggs are the creation of man, not just chickens. We have bred them to produce larger and larger eggs. We have a historic breed of chickens called Bantam that lay very small eggs and it may take 18 of them to equal a pound.

      2. The Turk’s-head mold that we used in the 18th century is very similar to modern Bundt pan, so no problem there. Once again, it is hard to be exact on baking times! The cake is done when it is done, which is to say, when it pulls away from the edge of the pan, when it has a nice colored crust, and when you can stick into the middle a straw or tooth pick and have it pull out clean.

      The exact timing of that will vary every time you bake it depending on the size of the cake, the amount you filled the pan, and the qualities of your oven. It should be in the neighborhood of 45 minutes at 350, but we never bake with thermometers so it is hard to say. I hope that helps even if it may not be as exact as you wanted. I have to say today was a beautiful day here in Colonial Williamsburg and I hope it is a preview of a great spring for all of us!

      Thanks,
      Frank

  2. March 8th, 2012

    Barbara Crankshaw says:

    I’ve run across several ‘spice’ cake recipes similar to this one, using raisins, figs, dates, etc. Some known as scripture cakes, all baking for around 1 hour. Any idea how far back these recipes date?

  3. March 8th, 2012

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the quick response. Your answer was good. It gives me a “guesstimate” of what I need to watch for. My, Irish Grandmother used to make a German Fruit cake that my German Grandfather would translate for her every Christmas. Sometimes we ate it and sometimes we could use for a doorstop. This Foodways recipe sounds like it is lighter in texture. Maybe more like a pound cake, instead of a fruit cake.

    Thanks again,
    Chris

  4. March 9th, 2012

    Kathleen says:

    Hi Frank,
    This cake recipe looks yummy and so vintage. However, doesn’t it seem like a lot of ingredients? Is this similar to a fruitcake or a plum pudding cake? I didn’t see any leavening ingredients, so this cake must be very rich, dense, and heavy.
    Thanks,
    kathleen

    • March 12th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Kathleen, yes, this is a very dense cake. The leavening is actually eggs in this case. However, the cake will not be light and fluffy, but rather thick and dense. It is similar to plum cakes or our modern fruitcake, but with a much better flavor from natural candied fruits.

      You can also soak these cakes in rum or brandy in a tin and they keep pretty much forever.

      -Frank Clark

  5. March 12th, 2012

    Don says:

    This looks my wife’s grandmother’s “Poorman’s Fruitcake” recipe, we use just rasins and nuts. Made generally at Christmas time, sure is a family favorite. And, yes it is very dense and usually takes an hour to bake. But it is worth the effort and the wait.

  6. March 20th, 2012

    Karen says:

    Hi Frank – Is there a good substitute for the alcohol?

    • March 21st, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      I think that there are a number of modern artificial alcohol flavorings like rum and brandy available, but check the labels because I am not entirely sure they are all alcohol-free.

      -Frank

  7. April 12th, 2012

    Heather says:

    When I read this recipe I concluded that it is a pound cake with the added bonus of all the candied fruits and the spices. Not good for one’s diet regimen but a fond memory to cherish whilst pounding the treadmill.

  8. November 7th, 2012

    Sandy says:

    I cannot wait to try it!! Having been somewhat immersed in the 1790’s-1820’s for the past year as I researched a character for a play, this recipe comes as a pleasant surprise. I am eager to get into the swing of holiday baking!! Thank you!!

  9. November 7th, 2012

    Emily says:

    YUM…looks great. Where can I find candied fruit? This is the only thing that makes me pause in attempting this.

    • November 7th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Candied fruit is generally sold in grocery stores around this time of year, especially as we move toward Thanksgiving and Christmas baking. In the 18th century candying fruit was done when the fruit was in season so as to use it during the winter months when these types of cakes and other similar recipes were made. The Rich Cake is a bit of work, but OHHH the rewards!!! Thanks for the question. Others, I’m sure, may be looking for these ingredients.
      -Dennis Cotner

  10. November 7th, 2012

    Eryn Utz says:

    Two questions: Why did you change the ratio of butter to flour/sugar/etc from the original to the modern (3:2 in original, 1:1 modern)? I’m sure the modern one works, just wondering what the rational was.
    For long term storage, how much brandy is needed to “soak” it and how do you wrap it and where (i.e. at what temp) do you store it?

    • November 7th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      A very valid question. The original recipe ends up giving you around 18 pounds of cake batter, so that you could have made several cakes and kept them ‘brandied’ for later use. Because of flour and sugar retaining moisture content, we decided to make the “cake” part of this recipe the same as a classic pound cake. The end result comes out the same.

      As for ‘soaking’ the cake in brandy, it isn’t literal. Take the cake and put it on a plate, drizzle about a jigger or two of brandy over the top of the cake and wrap it in cheesecloth or a piece of old sheet material. Then place it in a large cake tin or a large plastic bag sealed up and store it in the refrigerator. It will keep a number of weeks this way since the brandy inhibits mold growth. When you wish to eat some, cut what you want, eat at room temp not cold, then re-wrap the left over part and keep it stored till the next time. Wait a minute, left over Rich Cake, never heard of such a thing!

      Dennis Cotner

  11. November 8th, 2012

    During my visit to Colonial Williamsburg in October, cook Barbara Scherer had just made one of these cakes. Here’s my blog post about it, including more photos:

    http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2012/11/time-to-bake-your-rich-cake-for-twelfth.html

    Many thanks to all the CW cooks for sharing their knowledge and expertise, both in the kitchens and on this site!

    • November 9th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      We’re so glad you stopped by our kitchens and saw this remarkable cake as it was being made. Yours looks like it turned out beautifully!

  12. December 16th, 2012

    Sandy says:

    I’m sorry to be so dense, but how many eggs make 1 pound? I cannot find it in any of my home cook books, or college cook books. If I had to guess, I’d say 5-6. But my (possibly mistaken)guess just is not good enough to ruin a good cake over.

    Thank you!

    • December 18th, 2012

      Historic Foodways says:

      Some recipes of that day gave egg amounts in terms of weight measure. Most, however, would give you a number of eggs. The 18th century did not see egg grading and sizing as we know it. The “average,” if there is such a thing, would be just short of a medium egg of today. We usually go by that thought when adjusting for eggs from these original recipes. My recommendation is to weigh the eggs (it will depend on what size you use) and you will range from around 5 to 7 eggs (the shells are negligible). Good luck, it is a fantastic cake.
      Dennis Cotner

  13. December 24th, 2012

    Deborah says:

    The cake was a big hit at Christmas Eve dinner. I forgot the almond flour but it is still delicious!

  14. January 3rd, 2013

    Helen FitzGerald says:

    Hello,
    I am curious as to the character of eggs of the period as mentioned in some of the cake receipts. We tried scrambling quail eggs recently and noted, not only are they very small but they seemed to have a much larger ratio of yolk to white. Further the taste seemed rather “irony”.
    It seems worth asking about as quails have not been hybridized (I assume) as much a chickens. With your Bantam eggs, how would you characterize their content ratio and flavor? I would think this would be important for understanding old baking recipes.
    Many thanks, as always. Helen – Jan. 2013

    • January 7th, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      Hello Helen. The eggs that we have used are a mix of store bought and our own chicken eggs at Colonial Williamsburg. Of course the flavor of the egg is primarily what they eat along with the area they roam in search of food. Chickens are much limited to the fact they don’t fly like other game birds or water fowl do, therefore their diet is different. Although there are a few recipes of the period that call for “other” eggs, chicken eggs are predominant in food usage ever since their domestication a few thousand years ago. We’ve found that scrambling or hard boiling game bird or water fowl eggs makes for an unappealing result. However we have used goose eggs a number of times for cake making and they are the best. We understand they used them when available and the flavor of the cakes are measurably improved mainly for what you stated, larger yolks. Thanks for the observation.
      Dennis Cotner

  15. February 4th, 2013

    Pam says:

    Thanks to all our Historic Foodways friends, and especially to Dennis, for providing inspiration, encouragement and recipes! What fun to bake the simple and delicious pound cake and then boldly venture on to the Rich Cake. My family & friends agreed that both cakes were absolutely delightful! I’ll definitely make them again.

  16. September 3rd, 2013

    Shirley says:

    Hi Historic Foodways, I am so glad and happy that you shared the recipe for this mouth-watering Rich Cake. I am looking forward in making this kind of cake for my menu on http://www.foodcateringhouson.com/catering-company/. This cake would be so perfect. I loved it !

  17. October 19th, 2013

    Jen says:

    Do you think egg substitute would work with this recipe? I am actually trying a vegan version of this with a butter sub and just wondered if you ever tried this for vegans. I have made some incredible cakes that are vegan but just didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if you already have done something similar.

    • October 23rd, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      That is a very good question. Discussing with my colleagues from Historic Foodways, we have come to the conclusion that you can use an modern egg substitute, but it would change the cake. The batter will likely not be as smooth, and the cake itself will be drier and crumbly. You could try adding some baking soda to compensate, but we are unsure how it would come out.

      There is a great reference to using egg substitutes on the following website: http://chasingdelicious.com/kitchen-101-eggs-in-baking/ My suggestion: go ahead and try it a few different ways and let us know what worked best for you!

      Good luck, and happy baking!

      Melissa Blank
      Historic Foodways

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