Albany Cake

Albany Cake.JPG

You'll find this recipe in:
The Frugal Housewife's Manual
By “A.B. of Grimsby”
Toronto, 1840

Historic Recipe:

12. Albany Cake.
Take one pound and a half of flour, one of sugar, half a pound of butter, a tablespoon-ful of lard, two-tablespoonsful of rose water, a little cinnamon, one egg; a teaspoonful of saleratus, put in a tea cup of cream. Cut them out, and bake them on tin.

My Recipe:

½ lb (1 cup) softened butter
2 cups white sugar - 450 g
4 1/3 cups white flour - 450 g
2 tbsp rose water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup cream

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream softened butter and sugar together, then stir in the flour.

2) Add rose water, cinnamon and egg. Stir the baking soda into the cream to dissolve before adding the cream to the dough and stirring well until all the flour is incorporated.

3) This is a wet dough, so flour your rolling pin and rolling surface well. Roll out to your desired thickness and cut out into rounds. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until slightly golden on the bottom.

This recipe makes about 7 dozen 2-inch thin Albany Cakes.

If a sweet scone and a cookie got married and had a baby, that baby would be Albany Cakes. However you classify Albany Cakes, this sweet bit of bakery with cinnamon and rose water flavours is deelish! This was another recipe that we made at the cooking classes that I taught this autumn at Nelles Manor Museum in Grimsby. Our Albany Cakes recipe comes from The Frugal Housewife's Manual, published in Toronto in 1840, but written by “A.B.” a mysterious resident of Grimsby who likely would have known the Nelles family.

The historic recipe doesn't stipulate how thickly to roll the Albany Cakes, or even that you need to roll out the dough. It does tell you to “Cut them out”, so I read between the lines that the dough should be rolled out first.

I rolled the Albany Cakes that I baked in my oven at home quite thinly, and these Albany Cakes were more cookie-like. At the cooking classes, the attendees rolled them out thicker (about 1 cm), so those Albany Cakes ended up being more like a scone. This worked out great for everyone because we made fresh butter together at the class, so everyone was able to enjoy using the Albany Cakes as vessels to get butter into their mouths!

I was often asked at the classes where to get Rose Water and in Canada at least, I'm able to just go to my regular grocery store to buy it. You'll find it either in the baking aisle, or sometimes in the International section with the Middle Eastern food.

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Our Albany Cake recipe was found in The Frugal Housewife's Manual, which became the first English-language cookbook to be both published & compiled in Canada in 1840. The author was credited as “A. B. of Grimsby”, and as far as I've heard, the identity of A. B. hasn't been sorted out yet. Maybe this is a future blog post?

Canadians slowly eased themselves into the cookbook game. In 1825, the first cookbook published in the colony was La cuisinière bourgeoise, but it wasn't actually printed in Quebec. This cookbook was printed in France, but bore the nameplate of Quebec City bookseller Augustin Germain. This Quebec version captured the third edition of La cuisinière bourgeoise. The first edition of the cookbook was printed in 1746 in France and was written by Menon, the pseudonym of a very popular, but anonymous, eighteenth-century French cookbook author.

In English Canada, The Frugal Housewife's Manual was preceded by The Cook Not Mad; or Rational Cookery, being published in Kingston, Ontario in 1831. It was almost an exact replica of the cookbook of the same name that was printed the year before in Watertown, New York, with the word “American” changed to “Canadian”.

The first French-language cookbook to be written and published in Canada was La cuisinière canadienne, which was printed in Montreal in 1840 (the same year as The Frugal Housewife's Manual). The author of La cuisinière canadienne still remains anonymous today, but this cookbook became a Quebeçois classic, with eleven editions produced well into the twentieth-century.

Unfortunately for “A. B. of Grimsby”, The Frugal Housewife's Manual didn't enjoy the same wildfire popularity. This slim volume is comprised of 66 pages and roughly the first half of the book contains 72 food recipes. Then the book morphs into a gardening manual, filled with “Practical Directions for Cultivation of Vegetables”.

Despite the fact that only one edition was ever produced, I recommend both the recipes I've made from this cookbook so far: Albany Cake (recipe #12) and Shrewsbury Cake (recipe #10). I hear there's a rare original copy of The Frugal Housewife's Manual at the McMaster University Archives here in Hamilton, and the two of us may have a date sometime in the future.

Read the Cookbook: