Shrewsbury cakes

These are not your ordinary cookies. They’re lighter and less sweet than modern cookies, delicately flavored, and made without chemical leavening, in a style that goes back more than 300 years to England (where they were named for the town of Shrewsbury). This version is essentially the “Shrewsberry Cakes No. 1” from The Carolina Housewife, a charity cookbook compiled by Sarah Rutledge of Charleston, South Carolina, and first published in 1849. Here’s the original “receipt”:

One pound of sugar, powdered; twelve ounces of butter, one gill of cream, four eggs, a little spice, and a table-spoonful of rose (or peach) water; rub the butter and sugar to a cream; add the eggs, which must be first beaten quite light; then the cream, spice, and essence, and knead in just flour enough to roll them thin; cut out the paste in whatever shape you please, and bake them on tins, in a slow oven.

The version below is half the original recipe, with quantities and ingredients modernized. I took advantage of my refrigerator, but otherwise I’ve interpreted them fairly literally.

    • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 6 ounces (12 tablespoons) butter, softened

    Cream together. A wooden spoon is fine for this.

    • 2 eggs

    Beat well in a separate bowl, then beat into the butter and sugar.

    • 2 teaspoons rose water
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • [frac]1/4[/frac] cup heavy cream
    • a pinch of salt (optional; see note)

    Stir in.

    • 4 cups all-purpose flour

    Stir in gradually. Don’t worry about being gentle. In fact, kneading a little is fine; developing the gluten slightly will give the cookies some structure.

  1. Chill the dough for a couple of hours until it is easier to handle.

  2. Roll to about 1/8-inch thick and cut out as you like. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, or until set and very slightly browned at the edges.


  • All butter in 1849 was salted for preservation, so if you use unsalted butter, you may want to add a pinch of salt. I didn’t when I first made them, though, and I don’t think they need it.