For my second bake inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, I really wanted something inspired by Bath – a city that features prominently in both the novel and in Jane’s life.
If you had money (or the appearance of it) Bath was the cool place to be seen. Jane, however, disliked it and gave that dislike to her protagonist, Anne Elliot.
Unlike Jane (and Anne) I love Bath, so wanted to feature a bake from there…and an excuse to share a pic or two.
The obvious idea would have been a Regency cream tea – a plate of scones jam and cream that one could imagine the Elliot’s sitting down to with other fashionable members of society. The problem with that idea, however, is that scones back in Jane’s time weren’t the scones we know today. They didn’t appear with jam and cream on fashionable plates until the 1840’s – when baking powder became available as a raising agent – and Jane died in 1817.
While there are references to scones in Scottish texts (as in books, not, well, texts…) from as far back as the early 1500s, those scones would have been made with oats, shaped into a large round and scored into wedges before being cooked on a griddle.
With scones off the table, so to speak, I considered Bath Buns. These first appeared in the 18th century so absolutely would have been available when Jane (and Anne Elliot) visited Bath in the early 1800’s. In fact, Jane wrote in a letter in 1801 of “disordering my stomach with Bath Bunns”.
The Bath bun is a sweet roll made from milk-based yeast dough with crushed sugar sprinkled on top after baking. Sometimes they contain caraway seeds or candied fruit, but the original 18th-century recipe used a brioche or rich egg and butter dough which was then covered with caraway seeds coated in several layers of sugar.
When we were last in Bath (December 2019) Sarah and I tried one. It had a cube of sugar in the middle and neither of us enjoyed it much at all. Maybe I had a bad example…
A teatime staple in Victorian times, a version of seed cake (which, flavoured with caraway seeds, was possibly the forerunner to the Bath Bun) would also have been a sweet indulgence in Jane’s day. I did, however, feature seed cake when we were reading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. (If you’re interested, the post is here.)
Finally, I considered the Sally Lunn, which is basically a light brioche. Given that I was short of time, I will, however, save this one for when we read Northanger Abbey – which is also set in Bath.
So, it’s back to Somerset we go with this cider cake – although versions of cider cake exist in any region where cider is produced.
Just like Anne Elliot, this is a deceptively plain cake, but no less lovely for that. The cider gives it a hint of apple flavour and reacts with the bicarb soda to cause the cake to rise. Some may call it the science of baking, but to me it’s magical.
The recipe I used came from Paul Hollywood’s British Baking – which, after borrowing it and renewing it as many times as I could from the local library, I finally gave in and bought a copy. You can, however, find it here.
My poorly styled photos don’t do this cake justice – and the lighting is off – but you get the idea. Besides, the photos of Bath make up for that…right?