A Birthday For Jane Austen

It’s Jane Austen’s birthday today. She would have been, poor thing, 245 years old. But Jane was no poor thing. Her books are timeless. 

Readers of my blog will know I joined the Jane Austen Society of North America this year, in part to keep at bay the awful news of each day.

JASNA encourages members to bake a cake for Jane’s birthday today. Now, though I love to bake, I won’t be doing that. Social distancing means I can’t really share a cake and yours truly and hubby don’t want to eat cake alone. However, in The British Museum Cookbook, one of my treasured volumes of recipes from the past, I found one for “Mrs. Raffald’s Chocolate Puffs.” These little meringue-like cookies are delicious.

Elizabeth Raffald was an extraordinary woman. Almost a generation older than Jane Austen, she was an entrepreneur as well as a chef. Born into the working class, she was first a maid, then housekeeper to an aristocratic family in Cheshire, England. After marriage to the estate’s head gardener, she and her husband moved to Manchester. Elizabeth opened an employment agency for domestic workers and ran a cookery school, selling high-end ready-prepared food from the premises. At the same time, she instructed her students and readers on methods of frugality, with recipes for the creative use of leftovers. Her cookbook, The Experienced English Housekeeper —for the Use and Ease of Ladies, Housekeepers and Cooks, etc ( I love the etc!).was published in 1769. Still seeking income opportunities, Mrs. Raffald pulled together the first-ever directory of civic leaders and merchants in Manchester. It went into three editions, and her cookbook into eight editions, remaining in print for fifty years. Her books succeeded where others did not by providing clear directions in the order in which they were to be done.

Mrs. Raffald’s Chocolate Puffs

Adapted from the British Museum Cookbook, by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, The British Museum Press, 1987.

These light little cookies contain only egg white, sugar, and chocolate, making them lighter than macarons and most cookies. Perfect for after dinner.

1 large egg white
100g or 4oz sugar
25g or 1oz good quality dark chocolate grated fine

Cover a cookie sheet with foil and grease it.

Heat the oven to 110c, 225F.

Beat the egg white till very stiff. Beat in the sugar and grated chocolate.

Drop very small teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto the foil, allowing room for the puffs to spread.

Bake for one hour or until done. Puffs will be dry to the touch.

Cool and remove from the foil and store in an airtight container.

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