A Look at Hannah Wolley’s Old Sugar Cakes

In the mid 1600s, Hannah Wolley was one of the premier names in household management and cooking. At The Beautiful Dame, I’ve written about Aphra Behn, one of the first women to make a living as a writer. Today, I’m going to look at the life of Hannah Wolley, another woman to make her living as a writer and attempt to make her old Sugar Cakes recipe.

Hannah Wolley was born in 1622. Little is known about her early life, but by the 1640s, she was a servant believed to be Anne, Lady Maynard. Between her early life and her time as a servant, she learned about cookery, food, medical recipes and techniques, and lessons on how to run a home. She married Jerome Wolley, a schoolmaster in 1646 and raised six children, as well as assisted him in running a school. In reflection, Hannah remembered her marriage and family life as a happy and fulfilling one.


[By unknown. Original artwork is 17th century [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

After the death of her first husband in 1661, she began to write her books on household management including recipes, notes on domestic management, embroidery instruction, the etiquette of letter writing, medicinal advice, and perfume making. By publishing her books, she was also able to advertise for her career as a physician. In her books, she encouraged readers to visit her and send her queries. Historical evidence suggests that her skills as a physician were respected, especially noteworthy considering her lack of formal training and her status as a woman.

She remarried a Francis Challiner in 1666, but the marriage was shortlived, with her husband’s death in 1669. After which, she continued to write, publishing The Queen-like Closet OR RICH CABINET, written and published in approximately 1670. This household tip and recipe book was the fourth or six books she wrote and her most popular. Project Gutenberg has made it available here.

The date of her death is unknown for certain, but historical evidence suggests she passed on in about 1675.

I am a lover of all things dessert, so my first foray into Wolley’s cookbook will be her Sugar Cakes recipe. Below is the verbatim recipe:

To make Sugar Cakes.

Take a pound of fine Sugar beaten and searced, with four Ounces of the finest Flower, put to it one pound of Butter well washed with Rose-water, and work them well together, then take the Yolks of four Eggs, and beat them with four Spoonfuls of Rosewater, in which hath been steeped two or three days before Nutmeg and Cinamon, then put thereto so much Cream as will make it knead to a stiff Paste, rowl it into thin Cakes, and prick them, and lay them on Plates, and bake them; you shall not need to butter your Plates, for they will slip off of themselves, when they are cold.

Tomorrow, I will post the re-created recipe.

Photograph Credits: By Hannah Woolley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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