Today is Guldize, the Cornish harvest festival. As part of the festivities in Penzance I wanted to contribute some seasonally appropriate fayre to the harvest table. I was told of some descriptions of Guldize involving a kind of plum cake or pudding – sort of like a Christmas pudding – the plums in fact referring to any dried fruit particularly raisins, and rarely plums. However, now that Christmas, plum or figgy pudding is so firmly in our consciousness as a Winter and Christmas thing I didn’t feel it would be quite right for day. In my researches I came across an early 18th century recipe for Penzance cakes, thanks to the Foods of England website. I am taking the liberty of reproducing the original receipt/recipe as described by Prof. R. Bradley in The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director, 1728:
To make Penzance-Cakes. Take the Yolks of Eggs well beaten, put to them some Mace finely powder’d, with a few spoonfuls of Wine, a little Salt, and as much Sugar as you please; then add as much Flour as is necessary, and a small quantity of Ale-Yeast, and work your Dough pretty stiff; then add some fresh Butter, broken in little bits, and work it in till all the Paste has partaken of it, and the Dough becomes as stiff as at first. Make your Cakes then, and bake them. They will keep some time.
As is often the case with historic recipes, much is left to the ingenuity and imagination of the cook. I have experimented with historic recipes before but none is vigorously tested as this one. I tried three iterations of the recipe, each time honing in on what makes these little yeasty, spicy, cakey buns different.
The first turned out much like a fruit bread/tea cake. The second I tried as a loaf and finally the third, and the most authentic, I feel, of the three. The third picture shows the Penzance cakes that will be shared tonight at the Admiral Benbow after the traditional Crying the Neck. They are like rock cakes but heady with mulled plump fruit, citrus peel, and rich honey sweetness. The key flavours are wheat, red wine mulled fruit, citrus peel and ginger. All versions were made partly with local Cornish wholemeal flour from Trewey Mill in Zennor. I used some of the sieved-out wheatgerm and chaff to decorate the tops of the final versions to give them some festive flair. The butter and milk used were also Cornish, everything else sourced from the excellent Weigh Inn on Causewayhead, Penzance where I get all my baking ingredients. The red wine used is a full-bodied Cabernet. I’ll blog the final recipe later but you should try your own versions. My base to experiment with quantities and proportions was a recipe for Cornish yeast cakes.