Mrs Beeton rides again! Shearing Cake, a.k.a; Cacen Gneifio, or Lemon and Caraway Cake

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You may have heard of Mrs Beeton. Your Grandmother or mother may have had a copy of her guide to household management. Her book is one of those wonderfully comforting bookshelf staples, popping up fairly regularly in charity shops – no doubt cleared out to make way for another TV celebrity chef offering. And so my OH came to acquire a couple of interesting reprints, one of which was The Best of Mrs Beeton’s Cakes and Baking.

Mrs Beeton was a pretty interesting old duck, in her way. Well, I say ‘old’ – she was in fact only 28 when she died. Before finding out more about her I had always imagined a rather matronly old woman, a housekeeper of many years in a stately home, used to dealing with untrained maids and clumsy cooks.  It’s quite interesting to think that she started her magnus opus Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management when she was only 20, and it was published when she was 24. It’s an extraordinary achievement! I’ll admit that a woman’s life back then was pretty different, and there was a decided emphasis on being a good housewife – for which most girls would have been train for from as soon as they could stand. And she would write from experience. But it is still a very tender age at which to produce such a comprehensive guide, especially one which was to stand the test of time. She lived in a time where it would have been quite unusual for a woman to be published, especially under her own name, but this is an area in which ‘the public’ might acknowledge that she might have a degree of authority.

If she were alive today, I wonder where she would fit into our modern society? Would she be a cross between ‘Kim & Aggie’ (household cleaning TV ‘agony aunts’, for the non-Brits) and Nigella Lawson (who probably needs no further introduction on the baking pages of WordPress). Would she have been a best selling author by the same age?

In browsing through OH’s recent purchase, I found an interesting sounding recipe: Shearing Cake.A slightly mysterious title, and one which grabbed my attention. The blurb goes thus:

“In Welsh this simple cake is known as “Cacen Gneifio” and traditionally it was prepared to serve with tea for all the farm workers who gathered to help on the days when sheep were sheared and dipped.”

Basically it can be translated as: Lemon and Caraway Seed Cake

  • Butter for greasing
  • 400g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 200g butter
  • 225g soft light brown sugar
  • grated rind of 1/2 lemon (I think this could work pretty well for orange zest)
  • 4 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml milk
  1. Line a grease a 20cm round cake tin. Set the oven to 180 degrees/ GM 4.
  2. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir int he sugar, lemon rind and spices.
  3. In a second bowl beat the eggs lightly with the milk, then stir into the dry ingredients.
  4. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for an hour (checking after 40 mins) (the original recipe says 1 and a half hour, but the cake was done at one hour when I checked it!) Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then invert on a wire rack to cool completely.

The outcome was very pleasant indeed, but rather dry for me. After the photo I did a simple lemon icing just to give it a little extra moisture. The other way to do it would be to add a lemon drizzle. But on the whole it worked very well – Mrs Beeton would be proud!

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