Continuity and Change in Sheet Cake

A few years ago, I first came across this recipe from the 1570 Low German print Koekerye for a flat buttered cake called Propheten Koke.

9 A prophets’ cake
Take eggs and white flour, make a dough of this, roll it out thinly, spread saffron and May butter on it and bake it in an oven till it is done.

I found this fascinating because it uses a very basic dough and applies the butter in the cooking process, almost a blend of baking and deep frying (both of which would be called by the same word – backen – in medieval German). This was also what got me to grasp the idea behind the pastries described in the Kuchenmaistrey that I hope to talk about some more later this year. I never found a parallel to the recipe and filed it away as ‘weird, but okay’.

This spring, I bought an antique cookbook at a flea market. It is titled Westfalenkost und Norddeutsche Küche. Ein Buch für Küche und Haus herausgegeben von Frau Agnes Brirup-Lindemann and published by the J. Schnellsche Buchandlung in Warendorf (Westfalia) in 1925. It is a fairly typical regional cookbook for its time, paying homage to rural traditionalism and the self-sufficient household, but imagine my surprise when I found this on page 315:

Prophets’ Cake

1/2 pound butter is stirred with 4 egg yolks and 1/4 pound sugar for 1/4 hour, then worked into a firm dough with 1 pound of flour and 1/4 litre of thick cream, rolled out with a wooden rolling pin, and strewn on the baking sheet with plenty of chopped, unblanched almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. Baking time: 1/2 hour

This illustrates both the long-lived tenacity of food traditions and the way a recipe can change almost beyond recognition while preserving what is perceived as its essential character. This is still a flat sheet cake with a topping, but I am fairly sure eating the two would be very different experiences. Interestingly, the 1925 recipe is grouped with baking powder doughs (Backpulverkuchen), but contains no baking powder.

The Koekerye (Cookery) printed in Lübeck in 1570 is one of two surviving printed Low German recipe sources. It is expressly not intended to reflect local tradition, but meant to teach local housewives and maids Saxon cooking. The format, however, is quite unusual. At a time when most printed cookbooks in High German were large, comprehensive works, this is a short pamphlet assembling a number of recipes united by little more than their novelty value. We find such works in England, but not usually in Germany, and we cannot exclude that despite the claim of imparting the Meissner tradition, it may be influenced by English recipe literature. Some of its recipes have obvious parallels in High German texts, but not all of them.

This entry was posted in Uncategorised and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Continuity and Change in Sheet Cake

  1. Very interesting. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *