Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Felicity's Shrewsbury Cakes

Unusual flavor and super simple to make.

Next on our list of holiday recipes to cover are Shewsbury cakes! Back when each doll had very similarly organized collections (i.e., everyone had a school desk, writing set, lunch box, school dress, etc.), the holiday sets often featured a sweet treat they got to enjoy during December. Felicity had a kit including cookie cutters and a real cone of sugar to make your own Shrewsbury cakes, so picking what to feature with her was incredibly easy.

I've made a couple different colonial and colonial inspired cookie recipes before (and I've featured one on A Peek Into the Pantry before), so I was definitely interested to try this one out. Not only is it a pretty traditional cookie, but it's got unusual flavor, and I was very excited to get started.

Even though Kirsten was my first doll, and is definitely the character I have the most complete collection for, I have a surprising amount of stuff that features Felicity in her holiday gown. Between her doll, the 25th anniversary mini doll and a Christmas ornament I got probably around the same time I got Felicity, it's probably the most extensive collection of one character's outfit I have.

(I also do have the white slippers that are supposed to go with the dress, but I seem to have misplaced one of the blue ribbons to go on it. Someday, I will probably have to eBay it.)

Shrewsbury cakes are featured in the plot of Felicity's Surprise. After Miss Manderly - Felicity and her best friend Elizabeth's teacher - gets the girls invitations to a dance lesson at the governor's palace, they make Shrewsbury cakes to thank her. The cookies are an English recipe that is still fairly popular today, and the first references to the dish go back to the mid 17th century. The book mentions that rosewater is an important ingredient, and that making the cookies is a fun, messy time for the two girls. They cut the cakes into the same shapes that the doll sized set came with, and are featured as tiny illustrations inset into the chapter.

Felicity's Surprise is one of my favorite installments of Felicity's books mostly because the dynamic between Felicity and her mother reminds me of me and my mother. I was never the most cooperative shopper for clothing when I was younger, and I still have my moments of really dragging my feet about trying on new things and moving away from my usual comfort zone of jeans and t-shirts. When I'd show interest in buying something fancy or at least a little dressier than usual, she'd get really excited and pretty much get one hundred percent behind purchasing whatever it was. That's pretty much what happens when Felicity sees the doll modeling her dress, and her mother is so excited that her tomboyish daughter is showing interest in something different for her that she pretty much agrees to drop everything to make it happen.

Felicity's mom is another of the great AG moms. While she can be frustrated by her daughter's behavior, she's very patient and supportive of her. Another parent might have told her that she had to change her behavior, but she seems to appreciate her daughter's spirit and genuinely loves her for who she is. She just also doesn't mind her getting excited about a dress every once and a while.

Because the Shrewsbury cakes set wasn't one of the Felicity sets I had a chance to purchase before it was retired, I didn't have her official recipe for it. The American Girls Party Book had a "recipe" for it, but it literally said just make your favorite sugar cookie dough and call it a day. I figured that really wasn't worth documenting with a blog post when there were countless other authentic recipes out there to try.

I eventually settled on using this one from It's an authentic recipe from an 1808 cookbook, so a little after Felicity's time, but I figured it was close enough to work, and was eager to get started.

So eager (and distracted, it has been a weird week between work and pretty much everything else) that I accidentally cut the three sticks of butter into the flour, and not the sugar.

Honestly, I was pretty sure this was not going to be a mistake I could recover from, but my mom encouraged me just to make them and see what happened, especially because we didn't have enough flour to try again that night and I wanted to make sure I got this done on schedule so we didn't get held up making our next posts. I quickly threw in the sugar and spices and tried to combine them without running the cut up butter.

This recipe really didn't ask for a lot of spices, and while this is supposed to be more like a sugar cookie than a spice cookie, it didn't ask for much sugar, too. I totally understand this - people in 1808 would have less access to sugar and spices for reasonable than we do so they'd need to be more conservative with both - but I was still a little disappointed to discover that they really didn't add too much to the final cookie. It would have been nice to have a good middle ground between a spice cookie and a sugar cookie, and instead there just wasn't really enough of either.

Now comes the part that really sets the recipe apart from other cookies:

Rosewater! I have never used this before in a recipe, or anything, and was interested to see what it would create. The recipe called for a "dash" mixed in with the eggs, and honestly? I hate when people give measurements like that. A dash can mean anything! Just tell me to put in a teaspoon or something!

I also had my first ever double yolked egg. My mom said her grandmother would have called it a lucky egg, and I feel sort of bad I wasted it on what turned out to be such a crummy recipe.

I used my hands to knead it into a ball because my spatula just wasn't cutting it. I put it in the fridge for thirty minutes as instructed.

I'm going to be perfectly honest here and admit that I snitched some of the dough and it tasted a lot like this scented Play Dough I had when I was little. It was a set with little molds in the shape of flowers, plastic stems and little pots of fake gravel and water to stick them in. So, A+ for nostalgia value, D for what I want my cookies to taste like. I think the texture also played a factor in it, because the flavor was a lot less intense and off putting once the cookies were baked. I very easily could have used too much rosewater, which again, is why I would prefer a more exact measurement than "a dash".

It was pretty easy dough to work with and roll out though, which is always nice. Although I didn't have cookie cutters like Felicity's, we did have some that made nice little shapes - the same ones I used with my shortbread cookies - and I also made some with a biscuit cutter my grandmother gave me to get some that would be easy to stack into a pyramid.

The recipe said to keep them in the oven for about fifteen or twenty minutes, but my first batch was pretty toasty looking at fifteen minutes, so I just kept putting further trays in for only ten minutes and they seemed cooked through. However, they were definitely not light and crispy like the recipe said they were: even the thing ones are pretty cakey. So, basically, I'm pretty sure I screwed up by switching out the flour and the sugar by accident.

That said, they weren't bad cookies, and I feel like even if they turned out the way they were supposed to, they still wouldn't be my favorite cookies in the history of the world. The rosewater - even while less intense after baking - was kind of just weird

This recipe made a lot of cookies, especially because we used fairly small cookie cutters. It's a good one to make if you've got a function where you're going to need to feed a lot of people!

That is a lot of cookies!

There's only one real way to display these kinds of cookies - "cakes" were usually served in stacked pyramids on trays, so we picked some of our favorite cookies and made a mini pyramid!

We used the circles, hearts and starbursts to decorate.

Overall? This was a little bit of a misstep in a lot of ways, and I'm kind of bummed out about it. The rosewater was overpowering at first, and the cookies were sort of cakey and bland, not buttery and crisp like the recipe says they should be. This was probably totally my fault for being distracted and messing up the order the ingredients needed to be combined in, and I would imagine further attempts at making this recipe will be more successful because I'll know to be less silly about what ingredients should go in when. If or when I do do that, I might feature them on the blog again so that you all can see and get feedback on what a true Shrewsbury cake is like!

Next up for our holiday features is Marie-Grace, so stay tuned because we've got a really great recipe planned for her! The post should be up in a few days if everything goes according to plan.

Until then, good luck making your own cakes and cookies, and make sure you read the recipe carefully!


  1. It's too bad they didn't turn out too great.

    Here's a link to a scan someone put up from AG:

    1. Thank you! Man, that is a lot of rosewater. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't try this one, haha.