Tomorrow is Robbie Burns Day so in honour of this famous poet it is time to show the Scots side of Berlin and the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. Mrs. Hall submitted a recipe called Scotch Cake (p. 199) for this community cook book. There are two recipes for Short Bread on the same page so I should have realized that Scotch Cake is essentially shortbread too — flour, fat, and sugar. Each recipe has something a little different whether is is the addition of an egg or in this case the use of brown sugar and a mixture of butter and lard. The directions also fascinated me.
This recipe is characteristic of the late 19th century since it has a mix of weight measures and cup measures. I suspect this is a recipe Mrs. Hall had learned long ago but had to write down her measurements in order to submit the recipe. I can just hear her saying “well, I use this cup and fill it almost full of brown sugar and I take some butter and lard and then put in enough flour …”.
The recipe has some challenges. What’s a moderate cup? How about dry brown sugar? I generally just use household cups rather than exact cup measures when working with these older recipes. I pulled out my trusty small blue and white mug and measured brown sugar. I didn’t tighten the lid on the brown sugar container yesterday and accidentally ended up with dry brown sugar for this recipe.
Many older recipes call for weighing ingredients so I own a small kitchen scale. It is possible to find conversion charts which will tell you how many cups in a pound of flour but it is more accurate to use a scale. I weighed the lard and found that 1/2 pound (8 oz) of lard is approximately 1 1/4 cups.
Next was the large cup of butter. I think her instructions are basically describing clarifying butter so I melted the butter slowly in a pan and skimmed off the white foam that appeared. Our modern Canadian taste is for butter with salt which is a holdover from the days when salt was used to preserve butter. Older recipes sometimes ask for the butter to be washed to remove the buttermilk and salt. Mrs. Hall’s description is a new one for me. I think a modern cook could simply use unsalted butter for this recipe although perhaps the clarifying is still necessary.
My next question was whether to add the hot butter or let it cool? I’m an impatient cook so I poured the hot butter in with the lard and brown sugar and mixed until smooth. Then I added about 5 cups of flour. I am still not sure if that was enough flour. I spread the dough in a rectangular cake pan and baked in a 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. The “cake” was browned by then and seemed firm. Based on previous experience with short bread I decided to cut or score it while it was still warm. I tried to take a sample out while it was still hot but soon decided I had to let it cool. This is a very tender shortbread. It was good but I’m not sure it is worth the extra work with the butter. I suppose lard makes it cheaper and perhaps creates the flaky texture in Scotch Cake but I think I’ll stick to my familiar short bread recipe. I have it memorized: 1 pound butter, 1 cups white sugar and 4 cups flour.
I don’t know which Mrs. Hall submitted the recipe. There’s Christine, Frances C. and Phoebe P. in Berlin and Annie in Wellesley and Grace E. in Elmira who are each married to men with the last name Hall. I suspect it is one of the first three women since usually this cookbook includes a location after the name if the contributor lives outside Berlin or Waterloo.
2 moderate sized cups of brown sugar, (have it as dry as possible), 1/2 pound lard, 1 large cup of butter, melt butter so as to extract the salt and butter milk. Flour enough to hold together. Mix ingredients together, should dough seem too greasy, add more flour, should be too dry, mix more butter and lard together and add to dough. Bake in a moderate oven 1/2 hour.