Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From the Pages of Jane Austen's Emma: Routs and Rout-Cakes

Rout-Cakes -
Hopefully, These are Good Enough for Mrs. Elton


Mrs. Elton was very shocked at the lack of sophistication displayed by her new neighbors  in Highbury and she particularly expressed her dismay at the “poor attempt at routcakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card-parties.”

Emma, Chapter 34

Fans of Jane Austen's Emma know that the character of Mrs. Elton is high maintenance, persnickety, and difficult to please, even at the best of times. So it is no shock that she found fault with the fare served at the card parties she attended at her new home as a married lady in Highbury. Oh well, dear hostesses of Highbury . . . better luck next time at pleasing Mrs. Elton.

What is a Rout?
  • The word rout is an English word that comes from the French word route, meaning company.
  • According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a rout is "fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries." 
  • The earliest reference to the word rout with this definition going back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator II. xii. 328: "She told me, that when the Number of Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout." 
    • Similarly, a 1771 reference confirms the relative smallness of a rout party: "She keeps a small rout at her own house, never exceeding ten or a dozen card-tables." 

What is a Rout-Cake?
  • A rout-cake is basically a rich small cake (cookie to Americans) served at the above-stated routs. 
  • The earliest reference to these cakes goes back to 1782 from an advertisement in the Morning Post on 5 November: "Fruits, Ices, Jellies, Rout-cakes, and all sorts of Confectionary, &c.” 
  • Rout-cakes are usually a drop biscuit (cookie) made with orange zest, orange-flower water or rose water, currants, and often spirits such as brandy.
  • The earliest published reference to the recipe goes back only to about 1824, but its existence is clearly earlier. 
Here is the 1824 recipe from Maria Rundell's, A New System of Domestic Cookery (London):

Rout-Cakes: Modern Recipe Adaptation

Ingredients:
  • 1 Pound Butter, Softened
  • 2 1/4 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Orange-Flower Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Rose-Water
  • 2 Tablespoons Sweet White wine
  • 2 Tablespoons Brandy
  • 6 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • One Pound Zante Currants
Directions:
  1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then, add the remaining liquids.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and zante currants. 
  3. Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
  4. Divide the dough into four equal portions and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. This is important because you will be able to roll the dough more easily when it's cold and it will prevent the cookies from spreading too much in the oven.
  5. While the dough is cooling, heat the oven to 375º and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 3/4 of an ounce in weight (about 1 1/2 teaspoons).
  7. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown.

References:
  • Oxford English Dictionary