Monday, October 26, 2015

Bunn Cake: A 19th century Sweet Bread Recipe to Make All the Year Long

Burn Cake Two Ways: Dressed Up for Thanksgiving and Christmas

This recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations.


Bunn Cake

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in England the word bun or bunn can refer to a variety of individually-sized sweet, round cakes, usually fruit laden, that can be held easily in the palm of one’s hand. The earliest examples (in the years 1371 and 1460, for example) are less specific about the type of loaf or cake constituted by the term, bun. On the other hand, in 1845 Eliza Leslie was very specific about the English custom of eating Cross-Buns at breakfast on the morning of Good Friday, but she also wrote “they are very good cakes at any time, but are best when fresh.” (p.217) Other contemporary recipes for buns are: Carter’s, The Frugal Housewife (1803); 1803; Emerson’s, The New England Cookery (1808), which is a pirated edition of Carter’s recipe; Randolph’s, The Virginia Housewife (1824); Howland’s, The New England Economical Housekeeper (1845); Allen’s, The Housekeeper’s Assistant (1845); and Lea’s, Domestic Cookery (1869).

This recipe can be used to make a very good version of an Easter hot cross bun; however, I chose to dress the buns up for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are laden with fruit and topped with royal icing and decorative festive sugar. Enjoy during the holidays or, as Eliza Leslie suggests, at any time of the year!


Bunn Cake

1 ½ lb. flour, ½ lb. butter, a wine glass of yeast, wet it with milk, 4 eggs ½ a glass of wine, ½ glass Brandy, little cinnamon & nutmeg, a handful of currants stirred together. When risen, stir in ½ lb. of sugar let it stand an hour. bake it in tins one spoonful sufficient.


Modern Recipe Adaptation

Yield: 48 1-ounce bunns

½ Cup Warm Water
2 ¼-Ounce Packets of Dry Active Yeast
4 ¾ Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Ceylon Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1 Cup of Zante Currants or Other Dried Fruit (I like fresh candied lemon and orange peel for Christmas)
½ Pound Butter, Salted and Softened
½ Cup Whole Milk
4 Large Eggs
½ Cup White Sweet Wine
½ Cup Brandy
1 Cup Granulated Sugar

1.    Whisk together the warm water and the yeast and set aside to activate for at least 5-10 minutes.

2. While the yeast is activating, mix together the flour, spices, and dried fruit.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the milk, eggs, wine, and brandy. Mix together until well-blended. Add the yeast and mix again.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet.

5. Place the bunn dough in a warm place and let sit for at least 1 hour. After one hour, add the sugar. Let the dough sit again for another 30 minutes.

6. While the dough is sitting, heat the oven to 375ยบ. Grease mini-muffin pans by with butter or spray oil, or use muffin liners.

7. After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, spoon 1 ounce portions, 2 tablespoons, into the muffin pans.

8. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through and slightly golden in color.

9. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely if planning on icing them. These can be iced with simple royal icing, or you can use flavored icing such as lemon, orange or almond. Top with festive sugars/sprinkles for holiday service.

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