Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Felicity's Sugar Cakes

The recipe that inspired A Peek Into the Pantry!

We're quickly coming up on the one year anniversary of this blog - can you believe it? I sure can't. I've already got some fun plans in the works for the anniversary, but when my grandma got the idea to get all the ladies on that side of the family (minus my sister, plus my brother, because she had plans and he never says no to a good time if there's going to be food there) for a tea last Sunday, I decided to break out the recipe that actually inspired me to start this blog in the first place: Sugar Cakes!

Remember, cakes are colonial cookies, and these are basically a nice, crunchy shortbread that are perfectly at home at just about any function. These definitely would have been on the table at a fancy tea or even at a wedding while Felicity was alive, and they're definitely something I'd like to keep in our usual rotation, too! They're incredibly easy to make, and they're special to me because again, without them? I might never have thought to make this blog!

So about a year ago, I was hanging out with my cousin and we decided hey, you know what? Let's find something to bake. Baking's fun, right? Since I was starting to get really into American Girl again and think about history all the time anyway, on a whim I googled colonial recipes and stumbled upon History is Served, the cooking blog from the team at Colonial Williamsburg. It's still one of my favorite places to get recipe ideas from because it's full of great historical tidbits and includes instructional videos if you've got more questions than the text can answer for you.

We did a little poking around and eventually stumbled upon sugar cakes! Since it only required three ingredients - butter, sugar and flour - we figured hey, this is going to be really easy and fun to make, so let's just do it!

The original recipe make a lot of cookies. A lot. Like seriously, I can promise it's more than you think it's going to, and that's great if you're planning on feeding a lot of people, but not so great if you're going to be left with a bunch of cookies sitting around your house calling your name! Fortunately, the recipe is very easy to halve, and that's what I decided to do this time around knowing full well we'd have a ton of left over cookies if I made the full batch.

You start by creaming the butter and sugar together, and then slowly adding the flour, beating well after each addition. The dough will look a little crumbly, but it's easy enough to work together once you get it out of your mixing bowl.

The dough has to be worked together on a floured surface, and then gets broken up into four balls. The biggest one should be about the size of a tennis ball, and the others should decrease in size from that. Once you've got the balls, you start slicing up them up to make the cakes. The difference in size is to make stacking the cakes easier, as this was almost always how cakes were displayed - the wider ones went on the bottom to form a base, while the smaller were stacked on top to make a pretty pyramid.

This is the one part of the recipe I will admit I have not fully mastered. My first couple slices turn out okay, but eventually the weight of the ball turns the discs of dough into something that looks like a filled in capital D. I'm not sure if it would work better to cut the dough horizontally instead of vertically to prevent this from happening, or if the dough should be chilled first, but it does make getting a uniform shape a little harder.

These get baked in the oven for about twelve to eighteen minutes. You'll know they're done when they don't bend under your finger when you poke them. Stack these all up on a plate, and you've got a pretty pyramid of colonial treats to enjoy!

The first time we made these cookies, they were actually pretty cakey, and I'm not sure why. Since it's been over a year since the last time I made them, I just flat out don't really remember what might have caused the difference! This time, they were nice and crisp and tasted like a really good shortbread. While I wouldn't call them bland, they're simple enough that they can be paired well with pretty much anything. I tried some whipped cream on mine, my cousin dunked hers in her tea, and the website recommends serving them with orange creams, a colonial treat that's sort of similar to syllabub!

Last year, I liked making these cookies so much and was so interested by the other recipes included on the website that I started to wonder how easy it would be to start teaching myself how to cook with the help of websites like this. I've always liked history, and I've always been interested in cooking, but it always seemed kind of difficult and time consuming, so it was an easy thing to kind of brush off and say maybe later to. Now, I've been doing this for about a year, and while I'm still not the most confident, happy chef, I have reaffirmed my love for baking, and I really have learned a lot!

A Peek Into the Pantry will be turning a year old next week, and like I said, I've got a hopefully fun post planned to celebrate the anniversary! In the mean time, if you're looking for a cookie you definitely can throw together quickly, tastes great and goes well with just about anything, this one is definitely worth a try!

So here's to the one that started it all!


  1. Thank you for sharing the origins of A Peek Into the Pantry! I find it fascinating to see what inspires people. I guess it goes to show that you never know what might light a fire worth pursuing. And the cookies look delicious, BTW!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it! You really don't know what's going to get something good going. =D

  3. Did you let the butter come to room temperature this time vs. last time? It could come down to technique, all things being equal. Baking is a science.

    1. Honestly, I don't remember. This was written well over two years ago!