In Chapter I of A Perfect Plan, Kitty Nelson makes Shrewsbury cakes from her own recipe to serve their guests: her cousin Edmund Howman and his friend, George Matcham. Years later, Matcham brings her some spices from India and suggests cardamom as an additional flavor for her Shrewsbury cakes.
I was curious about these cookies, so experimented with several recipes and ended up with one of my own, which baked up well.
Mine is a refrigerator cookie, which of course was not an option for Kitty in 1780. If you want to be more authentic, increase the amount of flour to make a rolled cookie. These are lightly spiced and have an interesting, subtle, slightly fruity flavor and a light, rather crisp texture. If you use standard sugar to top them, it will make a very light glaze. Coarse sanding sugar gives you a more pebbly surface and a shinier, crisper glaze, which I think is more interesting.
Kitty’s Shrewsbury Cakes
2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 cup of butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 small eggs (or 1 large, plus 1 tablespoon water), 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (George Matcham’s suggestion – a very nice addition!), a dash of rosewater (if you have it; it is traditional in these) or a tiny amount of fresh grated orange or lemon zest, sanding sugar or regular crystal sugar, small pieces of candied orange or lemon peel (or mixed).
Cream the butter and beat in the 3/4 cup sugar, then beat in the eggs (or egg and water), the rosewater or grated zest. When well beaten and light, add the flour, cinnamon and cardamom and stir well. You will have a very soft dough. Chill it for about 1/2 hour to firm it up.
Line cookie sheets.
Put a few tablespoons of the sanding sugar or plain sugar in a shallow dish.
For refrigerator cookies… Roll the dough into a cylinder in waxed paper, and put back in the fridge to chill thoroughly (may an hour or two, or overnight if you want). Unwrap and slice the still-cold dough in about 1/4″ slices, dip one surface in the sugar and place (2″ apart) on a baking sheet.
For rolled cookies… I suggest you use your favorite rolled cookie recipe to get the proportions of flour to butter to eggs that suits you, leaning toward the buttery side, and chill the dough thoroughly (1-2 hours) before rolling out about 1/4″ thick and cutting it. Dust the tops with sugar and place (2″ apart) on a baking sheet.
Press a small piece of candied fruit rind into the center of each cookie.
Bake at 350 for 10-14 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Let sit in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool. Store in a tightly covered tin. This makes about 40 cookies.
I am not a professional chef, and am not fussy about my recipes, so use your discretion about quantities and cooking time and temperature to suit your tastes and your oven. We like these Shrewsbury cakes though, and hope you will, too!