I have just made some Suffolk cakes. In many years of hanging around the fringes of Suffolk I have never actually been served such cakes by anybody living in Suffolk, or seen them on a tea shop menu, but according to Julie Duff's Cakes Regional and Traditional there is such a thing. They might date back to a famous nineteenth century Suffolk cook called Mrs Anstey, but there again they might not be from her private cookery notes at all. Whatever. My faith in Julie Duff is quite high by now, lemon drizzle biscuit fiasco notwithstanding as I blame myself for misjudging the oven temperature and buying a pair of inadequate sandwich tins.
The Suffolk cakes had a cooking time of twelve to fifteen minutes, which sounded good after yesterday's bread which was started off straight after breakfast and finally came out of the oven at a quarter to eleven in the evening. And they are flavoured with lemon, always an admirable quality in cake. And I needed to use up some eggs, and the Suffolk cakes would use four. And they were supposed to sink in the middle as they cooled, providing me with a ready made excuse. And I was curious to know what they would be like.
Comparative cake studies are interesting, and not just as an excuse to eat cake. As a child learning to cook I discovered the basic divide in cake methodology, creamed versus rubbed in, and the subsidiary method with melted fat, applying mainly to gingerbread. Creamed cakes, I was taught, generally kept better, hence rock buns (one of my staples) were best eaten the day they were made. They are, and this is why now that I don't have a staff room of hungry colleagues to fall back on I don't make rock cakes, since the Systems Administrator and I would be hard pressed to finish an entire batch in a day, or even two. Nowadays I think of cake recipes more in terms off the variations in the ratio between flour, fat, sugar and eggs, and the difference this makes to the texture as well as the keeping qualities of the finished article.
The Suffolk cakes are unusual, incorporating melted fat despite not being any kind of gingerbread, and whipped egg whites. The quantities are butter 115 grammes, eggs four, caster sugar 225 grammes, self-raising flour 115 grammes and the grated zest of a lemon. Or an orange but I'm not keen on oranges in cooking. Biting into a chocolate and discovering that it's orange flavoured is one of life's small disappointments. Getting back to the cake, that's a lot of sugar and not very much flour at all. It is in fact a sort of lemon meringue, transmuted into cake by the addition of the egg yolks, fat, and a small amount of flour. You beat the sugar into the yolks with the lemon, whisk the egg whites and fold them into the yolk mixture, stir in the melted butter and flour and cook it in muffin cases, where it will make a neat dozen to fit a standard tray. It needs quite a hot oven, 200 Celsius which I guessed meant the rack on the floor of the top oven, and only ten to fifteen minutes cooking time.
The texture is very soft but the opposite of crumbly. The nearest thing it reminded me of was the rhubarb sponge pudding I made several times last winter. In fact, I'm not sure it doesn't work better as a pudding than a cake. If you think of those packs of very soft sponges you can buy to clean tiles and kitchen surfaces, it was very slightly like I imagine eating one of those might be like, only lemon flavoured. Not horrid, and I'm sure we'll eat them. I know I will, after spending a hard couple of days rose pruning, hedge cutting, bramble bashing, and crawling around the gravel (if it thaws out). But not honestly as nice as Theodora FitzGibbon's Cumbrian lemon cake.