Old Fashion Sponge (The Jane Austen Challenge)

“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge- cake is to me.”

Jane Austen writes to her sister Cassandra in the letter from Godmersham on June 15th 1808.

Sponge cake itself is a very boring cake and especially at Jane Austin’ s time when there was no raising powder and the servants has to beat the batter until their arm was aching.

Here it is Lady Charlotte’s recipe for sponge:

Take seven eggs, leaving out three whites; beat them well with a whisk; then take three quarters of a pound of lump-sugar beat fine: put to it a quarter of a pint of boiling water, and pour it to the eggs; then beat it half an hour or more; when you are just going to put it in the oven, add half a pint of flour well dried. You must not beat it after the flour is in. Put a paper in the tin. A quick oven will bake this quantity in an hour. It must not be beaten with a spoon, as it will make it heavy.”


It is not very different from the sponge I usually do, except for the fact that I don’t use boiling water and I use the same amount of sugar and flour (90 gr. flour, 90 sugar and 3 eggs).

Doing the appropriate math, Lady Carlotte’s sponge recipe is:

4 full eggs and 3 yolks,

1 dl. of boiling water,

1 cup of flour,

1 ½  of sugar,


For my taste 1 ½ cup of sugar was too much so I used only 1 cup.

My key points for the sponge cake is to add the flour stiffing it in the batter in 3 times and I use a spatula to mix it to the batter, otherwise the sponge will sink.

Instead of preparing a single sponge, I used muffin molds to make many of them so that the kids could fill it as they prefer.


So I shared with you Lady Charlotte’s secrets as mine for a fluffy sponge.

What about you?

Do you like sponge? Do you often prepare it? Which are your secrets?

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Here the sponge dressed as mini Victoria sandwiches.


And my kids’ favorite: Her Majesty The Nutella



English Muffin 2 (The Jane Austen Challenge)

As I anticipated in my previous post, I wasn’t very happy with the results of my muffins. So I tried to prepare following the instructions of Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury:

Mix flour in a pan, with warm new milk and water, yeast and salt, according to your judgment. Beat it up well with a wooden spoon till it is a stiff batter; then set it near the fire to rise, which will be in about an hour. It must then be well beaten down, and put to rise again, and, when very light, made into muffins, and baked in flat round irons made for the purpose. The iron must be made hot, and kept so with coals under it. Take out the batter with a spoon, and drop it on a little flour sprinkled lightly on a table. Then lay them on a trencher with a little flour; turn the trencher round to shape them, assisting with your hand if they need it. Then bake them; when one side is done, turn them with a muffin knife, and bake the other.”

Not an easy recipe to follow! She gave no hint of how much should be the proportions and “to your judgement” doesn’t seems quite a straightforward indication to me. Some clues were given by the fact that the batter should be soft enough to be worked with a wooden spoon. So this time I prepared a very wet batter, using 350 gr. of strong flour, 140 gr. of water and 140 gr. of milk and a table spoon of yeast. The procedure was nearly the same as suggested by Lady Carlotte:

1. I mixed the batter, I let it rise for a couple of hours than I mixed again and I dropped in 8 different cans, lightly sprayed with oil. To make an experiment I dropped some batter on a floured surface and I let it rise for another hour.

2.  I heated the oven at 200 C. only on the bottom and I put the cans directly in the           bottom of the oven for ten minutes, then I turn them upside for another ten minutes.

For the other experiment I sprinkled a lot of flour and rolled oat on an electric griddle and I gently put the raised batter. I let them cook 5-6 minutes each side.

I got two very different results:

The muffins I cooked in the oven were very light and fluffy:


Don’t forget to split it up with a fork:


Then I grilled it and this is the final result:


And this the result for the ones cooked on the griddle. A bit rustic maybe, but the taste was even better than those cooked in the oven.

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English Muffin 1 (The Jane Austen Challenge)

I have decided to challenge myself until the summer, I will prepare food from Jane Austen’s table. I got ready, I have good companions, I found London Art of Cookery by John Farley in an edition of 1811 and the Lady’s own cookery book, by Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury published in 1844, but Lady Charlotte was born in 1775, the same year of Jane Austen so I think that the recipes she describes are similar to the food Jane was eating every day (yes because Lady Charlotte specify that her book is “adapted to the use of persons living in the highest style, as well as those of moderate fortune”.

I decided that first of all I need to learn how to make good muffins for a nice cup of tea.

Muffins were served in Lizzy’s Untie Phillips’s home:

With such rivals for the notice of the fair, as Mr. Wickham and the officers, Mr. Collins seemed likely to sink into insignificance; to the young ladies he certainly was nothing; but he had still at intervals a kind listener in Mrs. Philips, and was, by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin.”

And in Hartfield, with too much generously, according Emma’s father:

No, my dear,” said her father instantly; “that I am sure you are not. There is nobody half so attentive and civil as you are. If any thing, you are too attentive. The muffin last night—if it had been handed round once, I think it would have been enough.”

First I tried the recipe I found in Farley’s book, the original was saying “a pint and half of good ale yeast… Two gallons of water just milk-warm but not so hot as to scald the yeast, and two ounces of salt… and with a bushel of Hertfordshire white flour mix”.

The first challenge is that I don’t have ale yeast, and to tell the true, I am not so passionate on the idea of preparing it myself, so I went for dried yeast (1 tablespoon) and I sparkled it in about 50 ml of warm sugared water. I left it to rest until bubbling. I did the math, two gallons of water and a bushel of flour is enough muffins for an army, not for a family of four. Proportions are 1 to 5 so I prepared a dough with 5 cups of flour and 1 cup of milk-warm water (35 C.) and the yeast. A tablespoon of salt was added in the flour. The dough was very dry and hard so I let the mixer go at low speed until it was softened, it takes a very long time. I let the dough sit in a warm place until doubled in size, I knocked back and rolled it about ½ cm thin on a floured surface, then with a round biscuit cutter I cut the muffins and I let them  sit in a warm place until doubled. Instead of a griddle I used an oven pan, I put it in the lower place in the oven, heat it and the I placed my muffins.  I turned the muffins after about 7 minutes to grill the other surface.

I didn’t like the result. They are eatable, like bread, but they are not fluffy at all. The dough was too dry. Maybe with a griddle I would have get a better result.


Tomorrow I am going to try Lady Charlotte recipe… I think I would get a “lady-like” result.

So don’t pop in my place for tea today, I invite you tomorrow, hoping for a better result, but in any case I have plenty of butter and homemade jam and jelly.