Cakes With Literary Associations

“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” Sir Toby Belch asks the question in Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, suggesting that he, and Shakespeare himself, could not conceive of a life that didn’t include cake!

Though Sir Toby isn’t too specific about what type of cake, there are plenty of writers who make very clear their passion for a particular cake.


Probably the most famed cake with literary associations is the delicate French Madeleine so beloved of the author, Proust. He wrote this description: “But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake-crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening in me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause.”

There’s no alternative: you have to have a specialist Madeleine tin for these if they are to be anything like authentic! Tins are available from cookery shops and via the internet.

  • 110g (4oz) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 110g (4oz) + 1 tablespoon butter
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Sieve together the flour and baking powder.

Melt all the butter and use 1 tablespoon to brush the cake moulds. Let the remaining butter stay over the heat over a little until it just begins to brown then set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar together until smooth. Whisk in the sifted flour a bit at a time and beat until very smooth. Stir in the melted butter. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Flour the buttered Madeleine moulds and nearly fill with the mixture. Place in the fridge for another 30 minutes. Then bake in the oven for about 8 minutes or until puffy and springy. Remove from the oven, dust with sifted icing sugar and, ideally, serve as soon as possible.

Banbury Cakes

In 1614 Ben Johnson’s Bartholomew Fair was first published in this two of the characters discuss the baker and his Banbury cakes. (The Original Banbury Cake Shop can still be found in that town today.) Walter de la Mare was another fan. He wrote:

“And when I’m very good my dear, As good as good can be, There’s Banbury Cakes and Lollypops, For me, me, me.”

You can use home-made or shop-bought Puff Pastry.

  • 1 lb puff pastry
  • 2 oz butter
  • 4 oz raisins
  • 4 oz currants
  • 2 oz mixed peel
  • 4 oz Demerara sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 egg
  • Caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 220°C, gas mark 7. Grease 2 baking trays.

Melt the butter and mix with the raisins, currants, peel, sugar and spice. Set aside while you roll out the pastry. Cut out saucer-sized circles. Place some filling on each circle of pastry, leaving a good gap around the edge. Dampen the pastry edge with beaten egg and bring up and press together to seal. Turn the bun over and gently mould it into a flattish oval shape. Place, sealed side down on the baking tray. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until risen and golden.

Sally Lunns

Charles Dickens, in one of his short stories, describes a dark and miserable evening as one “that’s meant for muffins. … Also Sally Lunns.” Gilbert and Sullivan agree, when in their operetta, The Sorcerer, they write a rousing chorus: “Now for the tea of our host, Now for the rollicking bun, Now for the muffin and toast, Now for the gay Sally Lunn!”

The original recipe is still kept secret by the owners of the Sally Lunn teashop in Bath but our recipe will give you a fair imitation!

  • 2 oz butter
  • 7 fl oz milk, heated to hand-hot
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1lb strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 230°C, gas mark 8. Grease two 5″/6” tins.

In a saucepan melt the butter. Add the milk and sugar and stir. Sprinkle over the yeast. Leave in a warm place to stand for about 20 minutes.

Beat the eggs. Sieve together the flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and the yeast mixture. Mix well and knead to a soft dough. Divide into two and place each piece in a tin. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until it doubles in size.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden and firm. You can make a simple glaze for the buns with Icing Sugar and water.

Leave a comment

Cake Baker