Ready, set, bake: Using Archival Recipes

I’m a Great British Bake Off fan and when I saw the Cambridgeshire Archive were doing a #GreatArchiveBakeOff on social media I thought I’d join in, as I like to have a go baking myself now and then.

I chose a 19th century recipe from a book of culinary recipes and medical prescriptions in the Nostell Priory collection (ref: WYW1352/3/4/7/3). Nostell Priory is a beautiful heritage house in Wakefield that is now run by the National Trust, their archive collection is held at Wakefield and you can view the full catalogue here.

I thought I would try and keep it easy with an orange pudding as it only had a few steps to it.

To Make an Orange Pudding Recipe

Here’s a transcript of the recipe below:

Take 6 oranges grate the outside of 3 & take the juice of them all

put 3 quarters of a pound of sugar to it, then take 12 eggs put away the

white beat them well & strain them for the orange juice then put in the grated

peel, & melt 3 quarter of a pound of butter & pour in the clear of it

mix it well together & bake it in puff paste at the bottom in a dish

serve it in with sugar

So straight away I knew I was going to need a measurement converter as modern day recipes are usually in grams or ounces. Another issue that came up was that it said “bake in puff paste” but with no instructions of how to make this. So I cheated ever so slightly and bought some ready rolled puff pastry… (Shh! let’s pretend it’s a 19th century pastry recipe!)

It didn’t say what kind of dish to use, so having made some Portuguese custard tarts before I thought I would give these orange puddings a go in a muffin tray like I did then. In theory I could then take them into work as individual puddings and share them with my co-workers.

Having prepared my muffin tin with the pastry, I set about grating and juicing my oranges. So far so good. I strained it to take out any lumps and added in the sugar. It said to “put away the white” from the eggs, which I took to mean remove the egg white and just use the egg yolks.

I didn’t strain the eggs like the recipe said as it didn’t seem particularly necessary as there was no shell left in. I then added my orange zest or “grated peel” and melted some butter in the microwave and added that in too.

Preparing the puddings for the oven

The mixture was insanely watery which I probably should have expected, and I really wasn’t sure how long to put it in the oven for to bake. This was probably the most difficult aspect of baking from an old recipe. Checking a similar modern day recipe for inspiration (thank you Google) I did one batch for 170 fan for 30 minutes, then kept the second batch in for another 15 minutes to see which worked better. Relying on the crisping of the pastry as a guide. There was an overflow crisis early on, as it rose much higher than I expected so I had to quickly bring them out and add another pan underneath to catch any overflowing mixture.

Channelling my inner Bake Off star and staring at the oven!

Well folks…it wasn’t what you’d call a success!

I tried a pudding from batch 1, and although the taste was fine (can you go wrong with orange, sugar and pastry?) the texture left a lot to be desired and just felt a bit like scrambled egg.

Braving another try, I went for a pudding from batch 2 which had been cooked for a bit longer but had the same exact issues.

Needless to say I did not bring these puddings into work, probably to the eternal gratitude of my co-workers!

The final product!

So what has this experience taught me? Well one that I shouldn’t be applying for Bake Off anytime soon, but also that if I were to do it again I’d make an orange pudding following a modern day recipe first and then use that experience to help me make a vaguer archival recipe.

By Dominique Triggs, Archive Assistant

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