Small Cakes

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

small cakes are baked in individual small molds meant for single servings. We can be certain that small cakes came early to America, for Pilgrim father Edward Winslow brought a set of 12 banqueting trenchers to Plymouth Colony. The kind of banquet for which these trenchers were purposed was actually a little meal of sweets, which included the small Italian biscuits often called “prince bisket.” In modern terms, these were firm sponge cakes baked in home-sewn individual paper cases or round or rectangular metal or ceramic molds. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, prince bisket was joined on banqueting tables by new small cakes called Portugal cakes, which were an English invention. Portugal cakes were composed of roughly equal weights of flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, plus (in most recipes) a handful of the small raisins called currants, all of which were beaten together with the hand until the batter was aerated so that the cakes would rise light in the oven. Portugal cakes were baked in small tartlet molds called pattypans, about 24 of which were needed for one batch of cakes in 1-pound proportions.