I confess my daughters and I are in the throes of a Regency era obsession. In two weeks, we are attending the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, sponsored by the Greater Louisville Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America. A co-worker told me today how lucky I am to share such a passionate interest with my girls. Indeed, I raised them on a steady diet of Jane Austen literature and movies but, until a few weeks ago, we really didn’t delve much into the daily lives-or eating habits-of Jane and her characters.
So, while we research and create authentic costumes to wear to the festival, I’ve been teaching them about the differences in menu and dining habits of people living in the British Regency Era, from 1795 to 1837. To help, I picked up two cookbooks from the library: “Cooking with Jane Austen” by Kirsten Olsen and “The Jane Austen Cookbook” by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye. Consequently, you’re going to see a lot of recipes-and learn a lot about regency food-in the next few weeks!
I began cooking from Olsen’s fabulous book. The first 33 pages are spent describing menus, food shopping and preparation, table habits, manners, etiquette, and the general dining schedule of Jane and her family and her characters, which we believe mimicked her accustomed way of life, in some manner.
One of the principle meals of Jane’s time was “tea”-which was not held in the afternoon, as you might think. Afternoon tea did not come about in the form we think of today until the Edwardian era, about 100 years after Regency ended. Indeed, in Jane’s time, tea was the last meal of the day-usually eaten around 7 or 8 p.m. and consisting of tea, wine, bread, cakes and cheese. Jane makes mention of tea and of biscuits in her novel Emma, saying “Tea was made down stairs, biscuits and baked apples and wine before she came away: amazing luck in some of her throws.” (pg 329)
The original version of this recipe is as follows:
Take six eggs, and put the yolks of four into one pan, and the whites of the whole six into another; add to the yolks an ounce and a half of chocolate, bruise very fine, with six ounces of fine sugar; beat the whole together well, and then put in the whites of your eggs whipt to a froth: when they are well mingled, stir in a little and little six ounces of flour, and put your biscuits upon white paper, like spook biscuits or in little paper molds buttered: throw over a little fine sugar, and bake them in an oven moderately heated.
• 4 egg yolks
• 6 egg whites
• 3 tablespoons cocoa
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup flour
Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray or fill with muffin papers. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, cocoa, and sugar until they are thoroughly combined.
In a mixer, beat the egg whites to still peaks.
Fold them into the chocolate mixture.
Gently fold in the flour.
Scoop the mixture by scant ¼ cups into your muffin cups. Bake 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets midway through the baking time.
The girls and I loved these-they are chocolatey and sweet. They sort of look like a cupcake but are a little more hearty. If you add a little real berry jam, they are truly delicious. And they’re perfect with tea!