Updated: Aug 14, 2022
In honor of National Cooking Day, we’re sharing 3 Elizabethan recipes for desserts mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays!
Recipe Format: Old VS New
Hannah Wooley’s Recipe Book
The below recipes are taken from Hannah Wooley’s recipe book: The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts for Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very pleasant and beneficial to all ingenious persons of the female sex. To which is added, a supplement, presented to all ingenious ladies and gentlewomen. It was first published in London in 1670. Although this was after Queen Elizabeth I’s 1603 death, the recipes remained essentially unchanged from her era.
Fun Fact: This book includes the first known recipe for Sussex pond pudding!
From Romeo and Juliet
Act I Scene V - Servants clean up after the Capulet's feast.
First Servant says,
“Away with the joint-stools, remove the
court-cupboard, look to the plate. Good thou, save
me a piece of marchpane; and, as thou lovest me, let
the porter let in Susan Grindstone and Nell.”
It’s basically stiffened marzipan.
Fun Fact #1: Buildings were often modeled with marchpane. In fact, a model of Old St Paul’s Cathedral was constructed from marchpane & shown to Queen Elizabeth I. She was very impressed.
Fun Fact #2: Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615) says that marchpane should have “the first place, the middle place, and the last place” of a banquet. Apparently, it was a real crowd favourite.
To make Marchpane
Take two Pounds of Jordan Almonds, blanch and beat them in a Mortar with Rosewater, then take one Pound and half of Sugar finely searced, when the Almonds are beaten to a fine Paste with the Sugar, then, take it out of the Mortar, and mould it with searced Sugar, and let it stand one hour to cool, then roll it as thin as you would do for a Tart, and cut it round by the Plate, then set an edge about it, and pinch it, then set it on a bottom of Wafers, and bake it a little, then Ice it with Rosewater and Sugar, and the White of an Egg beaten together, and put it into the Oven again,
When you see the Ice rise white and high, take it out, and set up a long piece of Marchpane first baked in the middle of the Marchpane, stick it with several sorts of Comfits, then lay on Leaf-gold with a Feather and the White of an Egg beaten.
Marchpane from a 1580s mould
From Merry Wives of Windsor
Act V Scene V - Climax of the Play! Mistress Quickly, Sir Hugh, and others disguise as fairies to scare Falstaff. They then make fun of him for falling for their trick, and Page invites him over to cheer him up.
“Yet be cheerful, knight: thou shalt eat a posset
to-night at my house; where I will desire thee to
laugh at my wife, that now laughs at thee: tell her
Master Slender hath married her daughter.”
It was initially a dessert or drink made from milk curdled with wine or ale.
Fun Fact: Besides being a fun drink, it was often used to cure colds and fevers. Shakespeare mentions its medicinal properties in Hamlet, Act I Scene V:
“And with sudden vigour it doth posset,
And curd, like aigre [sour] droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood.”
To make a Posset
Take a Quart of White-wine and a quart of Water, boil whole Spice in them, then take twelve Eggs and put away half the Whites, beat them very well, and take the Wine from the fire, then put in your Eggs and stir them very well, then set it on a slow fire, and stir it till it be thick, sweeten it with Sugar, and strew beaten Spice thereon, then serve it in
You may put in Ambergreece if you like it, or one perfumed Lozenge
To make a Sack Posset
Take two quarts of Cream and boil it with Whole Spice, then take twelve Eggs well beaten and drained, take the Cream from the fire, and stir in the Eggs, and as much Sugar as will sweeten it, then put in so much Sack as will make it taste well, and set it on the fire again, and let it stand a while, then take a Ladle and raise it up gently from the bottom of the Skillet you make it in, and break it as little as you can, and so do till you see it be thick enough; then put it into a Bason with the Ladle gently; if you do it too much it will whey, and that is not good
1600s Sack Possett
From Twelfth Night
Act II Scene III- Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew drink late at Olivia's house. Malvolio warns Sir Toby to pipe down.
Sir Toby Belch responds,
“Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous,
there shall be no more cakes and ale?”
Historians believe Sir Toby was referring to Shrewsbury Cakes. Today in America, we claim they’re cookies. Back then, people called them cakes or biscuits.
Fun Fact: The earliest known reference to Shrewsbury Cakes dates back to 1602. However, over a century later in 1760, Thomas Plimmer (the most famous Shrewsbury Cakemaker) tried to claim ownership of the recipe. He supposedly received the recipe from James Palin, who owned a shop in Castle Street, Shrewsbury. Historians don’t believe he’s the cake’s true inventor, despite what some ignorant cookbooks may think.
To make Shrewsbury Cakes
Take four pounds of Flour, two pounds of Butter, one pound and an half of fine Sugar, four Eggs, a little beaten Cinamon, a little Rosewater, make a hole in the Flour, and put the Eggs into it when they are beaten, then mix the Butter, Sugar, Cinamon, and Rosewater together, and then mix them with the Eggs and Flour, then make them into thin round Cakes, and put them into an Oven after the Household Bread is drawn; this quantity will make three dozen of Cakes
Try out the recipes & let us know what you think!
Written by Mariela Rivero
Edited by Laura Yumi Snell