December 14, 2011, by Fraser

14 December: A Great Plumb Cake

If the festive season puts you in the mood for baking – and eating – why not try whipping up a cake with a difference?

This recipe for a great plumb cake comes courtesy of Derbyshire baker Elenor Mundy and features in her recipe book of 18th century culinary delights.

We know when it comes to baking that the proof is in the pudding. That’s why we set Caroline Kelly – Team Leader for the Manuscripts and Special Collections department in which the recipe lives – the challenge of making the cake.

See how Caroline got on by taking a look at the slideshow below, and hopefully pick up some tips along the way:

An alternative version is also available to download in PDF format.

If that’s put you in the mood for historical baking, here’s what you need to know:

The ingredients (1/4 of the original quantity):
1 ¼ lbs. Flour
1 ¼ lbs. Currants
1 ½ Nutmegs (grated)
2 ½ Blades of Mace (beaten)
5 Egg Yolks
5 Egg Whites
¼ pint Good Ale Yeast
½ pint Double Cream
4oz Butter
2oz Sugar
2oz Mixed Peel
Pinch Salt

Whale vomit…

The only ingredient that we couldn’t get hold of was for the cake’s icing and that was ‘whale ambergrease.’ This ingredient – which is now known simply as ambergris – is solid, waxy and produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. Because of this, ambergris is found in either the vomit or excrement of the whales and is rather expensive to get hold of.

Unfortunately, despite it being in the original recipe, our budget couldn’t quite stretch far enough for us to buy ambergris for Caroline to use. In fact, for just 42 grams, we were quoted nearly £900. That’s why we decided that we better leave lavish experimentation with ambergris to the likes of Heston Blumenthal.

All of the items featured in our e-Advent calendar are from the University’s historic library holdings, held in Manuscripts and Special Collections. For more information on the wide range of materials available, take a look at their website and blog or contact the curators on

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