This little cake would be prefect to serve at a ladies’ afternoon tea, especially for teaching young girls etiquette lessons, since the cookies were to be perfectly round and white, just as all good girls’ petticoats were to be. Thus, these cookies were more of a luxury item in 1836 – you could only find them in wealthy homes or on very, very special occasions.
2 ½ cups flour
½ cup sugar (powdered sugar is recommended, but granulated also works)
1 cup butter softened
Cream butter and sugar together. Roll into two logs measuring 12” x 1” each. Allow to chill at least one hour. Slice about ¼” thick and bake on a greased sheet in a 325° oven for 8 to 10 minutes. This receipt will make about 80 – 100 cookies.
All cookies were formerly known as little cakes.
A great favorite of the Campbell house in Prairietown, this shortbread has a deceptively simple recipe. Some care is required for it to come out right. If the oven is too hot, they can run or become burnt. If they do not chill long enough, the dough can become too soft, and they become difficult to slice. The goal is to come out with a plateful of uniform little cookies, all of them as pale and white as possible.
This uniformity is even harder to reach in 1836, when ovens did not have temperature controls, and there were no refrigerators to chill the dough quickly and easily. Mrs. Campbell, for example, might try to set them aside for a few hours in a cool place to firm up, but on hot summer days, she usually bakes them right away.
To have white sugar often required it to be clarified. Sugar came in a solid cone that had to be broken into pieces or “snipped” with a special tool called sugar nips. There are many kinds of sugar, but all sugar is made by boiling down sap from a plant such as sugar cane or maple trees. Most store-bought sugar in 1836 came from sugar cane, as did molasses. When boiled sugar cane sap reached the proper stage, it was poured through filters into a cone-shaped mold. The mold was made in such a way that it could catch the sugar particles, while letting the remaining liquid drip away. Molasses is what we call the liquid that runs off when the cane sugar is molded – it is still sweet, but not as sweet as the sugar. The cone mold is inverted so that the molasses will run off of the tip of the cone, thus the more impurities would gather in the smaller end of the cone. The base of the cone would contain the lighter colored sugar and the tip the darker. To get white sugar, it had to be further refined or clarified as explained in The Cook’s Own Book, written by a Boston Housekeeper in 1832. Sugar was boiled in clear spring water to which an egg white had been added. This mixture was to be boiled up and skimmed every time the scum rose. The skimmings could be saved and used for more common uses, while the clarified sugar was for the finer dishes. As you can see, it took a lot of work to get fine, white sugar, so recipes that call for it were usually made only for special occasions.