Banbury cakes are named after the town in Oxfordshire with which they have been associated since at least the 17th century. The cakes were sold from a shop there in 1638, by one Betty White according to some local records. (This shop, in Parsons Street, was certainly known as ‘The Original Banbury Cake Shop’ in 1833 and its history is documented since then, including the export in the 19th century of considerable numbers of the cakes to India.)
The first known recipe, by Gervase Markham (1615), required a rich, sweet, spiced, yeast-leavened dough to be divided into two portions. One was left plain, and the other was mixed with currants. The portion with the currants in was then sandwiched between thin layers of plain paste. If the quantities given in the recipe were used to make just one cake, the final product would have been very large, weighing about 4 kg (8 lb). Similar cakes were known elsewhere, one example being the Shrewsbury simnel cake; in Scotland, one has survived down to the present day in the form of black bun, made at New Year.