Bread and Sponge Cake

Unknown (see below)

Recipes from inside a Penny Black cover of 1840

I was looking through my father’s box of stamps that he occasionally bought, and found the Penny Black cover he had mentioned. There are a lot of them around, so they’re not particularly valuable, although this one is quite early (postmarked Bedford, 8th August 1840, to an address in Kelsall, Cheshire) — but what interested me was the contents, which was two recipes written on the back, and nothing else (no letter, no text, not even a greeting or signature).

The recipes are written longhand as single paragraphs. I have reproduced them below as written, including line-breaks, and then followed them with the ingredients and method in modern format.

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1½ lb of flour 6 oz butter rubb’d

in very fine 1 pint of new

milk 2 spoonfuls of yeast

3 eggs & a little salt, mix all

together set it to rise 3 hours

before the fire then sift in

6 oz lump sugar with a

few currants, bake them in

small tins.



  • 6 oz butter
  • 1½ lb bread flour
  • 1 pt milk
  • 2 tsp dried yeast
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt (see tip)
  • 6 oz sugar
  • handful of currants



  1. Rub the butter into the bread flour with your fingertips as for shortcrust pastry.

  2. Warm a little of the milk and mix the yeast into it, then add the rest of the milk.

  3. Whisk the eggs into the yeast and milk, then add to the bread flour and butter with the salt, and mix thoroughly.

  4. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for three hours (less with modern ingredients).

  5. When risen, gently fold in the sugar and currants, pour into baking tins and bake for 45 minutes at 180°C.

Sponge Cake

Beat separately the yolks and whites

of ten eggs — for 15 minutes then

add the rind of one lemon

grated or a little of the eſsence

& 1 lb of lump sugar grated fine

beat these together ½ an hour, then

add 10 oz flour & immediately set

it into the oven in bread heat.


  • 10 eggs | separated
  • 1 lb caster sugar
  • 1 lemon rind | grated
  • 10 oz white flour


  1. Whisk the whites until they form soft peaks.

  2. Beat the yolks with the caster sugar and lemon rind until pale and smooth.

  3. Add the white flour to the mix and stir well.

  4. Fold in the whites.

  5. Bake at 180°C for just under an hour.

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