Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout!
Mrs Elton was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. (Jane Austen, Emma)
If you make a habit of reading Austen and her contemporaries, you may have come across a Regency era party food called ‘Rout Cakes’. In Austen’s Emma, Mrs Elton is contemptuous of the quality of the said ‘rout’ cakes. Rout cakes are also alluded to in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair , when Joseph Sedley, Amelia’s rather overweight brother, virtually inhales twenty odd rout-cakes at a party:
‘Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.
What exactly is a rout, anyway? According to the Oxford English Dictionary a rout is ‘a fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries.’
Apparently, however, a ‘rout’ was not too large a gathering—under ten card tables, (which I believe seated four people) in fact. The earliest reference to the word rout goes back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator, the Georgian era equivalent of our modern Woman’s Day Magazine, which qualifies a rout this way. ‘She told me, that when the Number of the Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout.’
Rout Cakes are a kind of rich sweet cake flavoured with brandy and/or orange juice, rose water, Madeira and usually currants. These were traditional at a party/rout—and in the regency, ‘routs’ were very popular. Who doesn’t like boozy cakes!!
Now, I do love trying my hand at Regency era recipes, so for this blog I went looking for recipes—and found that there is a lot of variation in recipes. So for interest, here is the recipe which dates the earliest, and comes from Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery.(1824)
Mix two pounds, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currants, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with two eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto rose-water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin floured: a very short time bakes them.
But for more modern cooks, below is a recipe which might be easier to follow, and the one I used myself. See my photo below. I had a blast making them, and I can understand why Joseph Sedley ate so many!
- Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then add the remaining liquids.
- Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
- Heat the oven to 160F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper
- Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 2 teaspoons full. Or drop onto the surface with a spoon
- Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown
salted Butter, softened
Sugar half brown/ half white
1 & 1/2 CUPS
Orange-Flower Water or essence
Rose-Water or Rose essence
Sweet White wine –madeira, port or sherry
All-Purpose (Plain) Flour
3 & ¼ CUPS
If you can’t get the Orange-Flower Water or essence, try orange zest and orange juice together to get the flavour. A good supermarket should have Rose-Water or Rose essence in the baking section.
Store in an airtight container. Note: These were easy to make, and even more delicious than I had imagined! Serve with tea, coffee, sherry or Cointreau, and definitely serve them at your own ‘rout’!