Caraway Cookies from Sift: a recipe from the 1790s

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In honor of King Arthur’s 225th birthday, we went in search of a recipe that would have been baked in America at the same time our company was founded.

That’s when we discovered Cooking in the Archives, a blog written by Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia. Part archaeology, part history, part mad science, their site explores period manuscripts and recipes from the collection housed at the University of Pennsylvania, cooking and translating many of our current menu staples’ ancestors: “Maccarony Cheese,” “Desart Cakes,” and “Pease Pods of Puff Paste,” which actually turn out to be tiny little fruit pies. You can do some exploring yourself at rarecooking.com.

Connell tells this story about the “Desart Cake” recipe: “I’m especially interested in the many recipes for baked goods scattered throughout the archive of books we’ve been exploring. These ‘Desart Cakes’ caught my eye — what characterizes a dessert cake? Is it not a cake, but, like the snickerdoodle-esque Shrewsbury cakes, what we think of as a cookie?”

The recipe comes from UPenn Ms. Codex 1038, a fairly general compilation of recipes put together through the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This particular recipe was probably written down before 1793.

The results

Connell says: “I thought these might be bland—inoffensive, sure, but not particularly tasty—and so was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Plus, they smell incredible while baking! I ate the first few with a cup of tea… and then a few more later on with a glass of wine… and then a few more for breakfast the next morning in a pinch. If you like caraway seeds, you’ll like these. And if you don’t like caraway seeds, you can still enjoy these cookies by swapping them out for poppy seeds or another variation, such as using some almond or orange extract. I might experiment with adding in some ground almonds or pistachios.”

If you’d like a taste of a treat from days gone by, please read, bake, and rate our recipe for Caraway Cookies.

Susan Reid
About

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.

comments

  1. Nicole

    Hello! These look tasty and I’m looking forward to trying them. There might be a mistake in the written instructions though – when do you add the second half of the cream and the vanilla? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Start with the first half of the cream and incorporate it completely before adding the rest. Once the remainder is added, work the dough to the shaggy mass stage, letting it rest 10 minutes before you roll out, cut and bake. You might mix the vanilla with the cream so it’s not forgotten. Happy baking! Irene@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Mmmm….Licorice! Once you bake your variation with anise seed we’d love to hear about your results! Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  2. Elena Beges

    I love King Arthur and often have success with the recipes!! However, this cookie was just not very good :(. I would advise fellow bakers to skip this recipe..

    Reply
  3. Susan T. Wakefield

    This put me in mind of a recipe for “Funeral Biscuits”, which I cut from a magazine (and baked) in 1990. The recipe states that “Leftover Funeral Biscuits were saved from one funeral to serve at the next in 18th-century America, which helped to keep alive memories of a community’s deceased”. Like the recipe for Caraway Cookies, this one includes caraway seeds. But there end the similarity; Funeral Biscuits contain butter (not cream), eggs, milk, ground ginger and molasses in addition to flour and granulated white sugar. But – maybe they are in some way descended from or related to Caraway Cookies? They’re from the same century. (BTW, the Funeral Biscuits are very good.)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Recipe genealogy–who knew there was such a thing! Perhaps we can start building a family tree for this wonderful “Desart Cake” recipe and find all the delicious relatives! Kye@KAF

    2. Susan T. Wakefield

      That’d be fun, not just for this recipe, but also for others. One source would be the foodtimeline.org website. Take a look at the entry for 1849, “Eliza Cookies”: they contain caraway seeds!

  4. Lorna

    I disagree with Elena. I have made two batches of these cookies and everyone who have tried them liked them. Next batch I am thinking of putting a little sanding sugar on them for just a touch of added sweetness.

    Reply
  5. Aunti Lola

    I’m allergic to nuts and cannot have seeds due to dietary issues, but the cookie base sounds lovely. Any suggestions on flavor changes I could make?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Aunti Lola, the “tips from our bakers” section on the recipe page gives you some alternative flavors to try: Not a caraway fan? Make a simple vanilla cookie with the addition of a teaspoon of vanilla extract with the first amount of cream. Almond extract, orange or lemon zest, or even some poppy seeds will also work just fine. Barb@KAF

  6. Amanda

    I was surprised by how much I liked these!

    I had to add way more flour to get my dough to be roll-able, but once it came together it was great. (I added 1/2 tsp of salt, as well, because I thought it called for it! Oops.)

    Very good, and I will be baking these again!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      I can’t wait to make these for my dad, I think he’s going to love them. Thanks for sharing. ~ MJ

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