Church Cakes

In the year 1478 cakes were made for a feast at St Ewen’s Church, Bristol. The accounts show the ingredients:

  • A bushel of meal for cakes,
  • Item for saffron for the same cakes,
  • Item for milk and cream,
  • Item for eggs to the same.

We are not given the recipe for these particular cakes but a recipe of about 1500 uses the same ingredients. Saffron at this time was used all over England in many dishes and saffron cake and bread were not confined to the Cornish, as they are today.


  • 1 stick (120 g) butter or generous cup clotted cream (the latter is preferred in the medieval recipe)
  • ½ cup (120 g) castor sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon saffron, soaked in 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk
  • 2 cups (240 g) self-raising flour


Cream the butter or cream with the sugar and dry spices. Strain in the saffron water. Beat in the eggs and finally the flour, a little at a time. When the mixture is well beaten place spoonfuls on a well-greased baking tin. Space well apart, as they will spread and rise during cooking. The original recipe says, “the paste will be very short, therefore make them very little”. A scant tablespoonful is about the right amount for each little cake. Bake at 400°F (200°C, Gas Mark 6) for 8 to 12 minutes.