The elegant city of Bath, renowned for its splendid architecture and magnificent baths is also home to a very old and delicious teatime treat.
Bath became the fashionable place to see and be seen after Queen Anne visited the city in 1702. The ‘beau monde’ of the day flocked to spend their summers there, attending the theatre, parties and concerts; drinking the waters in the Pump Room and visiting the famous baths. They followed a strict code of etiquette laid down by Beau Nash, the fashionable dandy of the time.
Sally Lunn, a Huguenot fleeing from persecution in France and a pastry cook, is reputed to have started a bakery in 1680 in Bath’s oldest house in Lilliput Alley, which was built in 1482 and was previously the home of the Dukes of Kingston. Sally Lunn, it is said, used to cry her wares in the city’s streets. The bakery became famous for its teacakes and was patronised by Beau Nash and other notables of the day. Today the bakery survives as a popular teashop and the delicious teacakes are still made there to a closely guarded secret recipe, which came with the deeds of the house. The building was extensively renovated in the 1930s, when the original ovens were discovered in the basement. These, together with the original foot trough in which large quantities of dough were pounded, can be seen today, – however this is one part of the original recipe that is not adhered to nowadays!
An alternative theory for the name of the teacakes is that the name derives from ‘Soleil Lune’ (sun and moon) cakes, because the cakes were round and golden on top and pale underneath. Whatever the reason for their name, Sally Lunns are wonderfully light and rich. In the teashop they are served split with plenty of butter, although Florence White in ‘Good Things in England’ (1932) asserts that they should be served split open and spread with clotted cream.
There are lots of versions of this famous teacake and many include butter in the dough. This recipe uses cream instead, which gives a smoother, lighter result, close to the original.
450 g/1lb strong (bread) plain flour
15 g/Â½ oz fresh yeast
4 Tablespoons lukewarm milk
2 teaspoons salt
240 g/9oz thick double (or clotted) cream, at room temperature
4 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
Put the yeast and tepid milk into a cup and leave for a few minutes until frothy. Meanwhile mix the flour, salt and spice in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture, cream and eggs and mix until thick – just stiff enough to form into shape.
Halve the dough and form each half into a ball. Place each ball of dough into a buttered, floured 16cm tin about 8cm deep and sprinkle each lightly with flour.
Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough has risen to the tops of the tins. This takes from 1Â½-2 hours. Immediately place the cake tins in a pre-heated oven, Gas 6/200C/400F and bake for 15 minutes until golden.
Heat the milk and sugar for the glaze in a small pan until boiling. Brush the top of the cake with this mixture while still in the tin. Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out and split the cakes in half.
Spread with clotted cream or butter, replace the tops and eat while warm. Alternatively leave plain and eat with ice cream or a fruit dessert. It is also delicious toasted and buttered.