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Yeast Cake

February’s Recipe from our Victorian Kitchen

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Before the general use of ‘chemical’ raising agents – Bicarbonate of Soda and Baking Powder – there were only two ways of making flour mixtures light. Either beating eggs for over an hour to trap air, or using yeast.

Visitors on our February Steaming Sunday were able to taste a YEAST CAKE – called in Eliza Acton’s book A Light Luncheon Biscuit(!) or Nursery Cake. Many Victorian recipes are a little more dry and slightly more dense than we experience today. They are nevertheless very pleasant but different! So to our modern tastes we might call this a Bun Loaf rather than term it a cake and serve it spread with a little butter.

These YEAST CAKES are very traditional across many regions of the United Kingdom, all areas believing they had the best and most authentic receipt (recipe). Many added a range of different spices including – mixed spice, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, but some did not. Not wishing to favour one part of the country over another the recipe given below is one from Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management – But half quantity!

Yeast Cake Ingredients

  • 12oz (350g) strong white flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 sachet fast action dried yeast
  • 5fl.oz (150ml) milk
  • 4oz (110g) butter/block margarine
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • 3½ oz (100g) caster sugar
  • 6oz (170g) currants
  • 1oz (25g) candid peel

Glaze Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar


  1. Sieve flour, mixed spice and salt into a mixing bowl. Stir in dried yeast
  2. Heat milk and butter/margarine in a saucepan until fat has just melted. Do not allow mixture to get too hot. If in doubt cool slightly before using
  3. Make well in the flour, add beaten egg and almost all the milk and butter liquid
  4. Mix to a soft smooth dough, add more liquid if necessary to achieve this. Beat well in the bowl
  5. Cover with cling film and leave to rise until the dough has doubled in size
  6. Keep the dough in bowl and mix in the currents, candid peel and sugar
  7. Once all have been well kneaded in, turn out onto a lightly floured table and then – shape into a large round to bake as 1 large cake, or divide into 2 and bake in two loaf tins
  8. Allow the dough to rise again about 1/2 hour
  9. Bake at 200C, 190C fan, Gas Mark 6 for 15 minutes and then turn down the temperature to 190C, 180C fan, Gas Mark 5 for another 20 minutes, longer for the large cake
  10. When the loaf or cake sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom put onto a cooling tray and, if used, brush the sticky glaze over the top while cakes are still hot. Allow to cool before slicing
  11. To make the glaze put the ingredients into a saucepan, allow the sugar to dissolve completely before bringing the milk to the boil. Boil for a couple of minutes and then use as described above. (This does make the top very sticky – but it is nice!)

A few notes about making this Yeast Cake.

  • It works well made using the dough cycle of a bread maker but allow the dough to cool slightly before adding the sugar and dried fruit
  • When mixing in the sugar and dried fruit it is advisable to do this in a bowl, otherwise the dried fruit goes everywhere!
  • Take care not to over mix this last stage. Only mix enough to combine the fruit and sugar with the risen dough. Over mixing will make the mixture very sticky
  • It does freeze well so you don’t have to eat it all in one sitting!

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