Shrewsbury Biscuits or Shrewsbury cake as the Britishers call it is an English dessert, named after Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire in England.
According to Mason & Brown, the authors of the book ' The Taste of Britain ' wrote that Shrewsbury cakes or biscuits were first documented in the 1500's.
The biscuits were renowned for their texture, being crisp and brittle. A couple of centuries later the Restoration playwright William Congreve used Shrewsbury cakes as a metaphor (“as short as a Shrewsbury cake”) within his play of 1700, ' The Way of the World'
I must say that Shrewsbury Biscuits have quiet a history behind them, and come under one of those foods that came into being during the Renaissance or the Victorian Era.
Mr. Pailin was the person who first baked this humble recipe with a mix of simple ingredients around the 1760's in Shrewsbury. A plaque on an old shop near to Shrewsbury Castle states that ...
"This shop occupies the site of a building where Palin first made the unique Shrewsbury cakes to his original recipe in the year 1760”
It mentions, "Mr. Pailin prince of cake compounders, The mouth liquefies at thy very name!" Mr. Pailin's mix was particularly popular, and hence that praise.
After Mr. Pailin's recipe there were several other recipes that occurred in various books, family recipes, these were more or less similar with slight variation in proportions , this started happening after the Second World War due to the rationing of key ingredients, in particular butter. Just like the war gave birth to "Apple Cobbler".
When British ruled India, India decided to keep a chunk of their British Culinary and Culture, making Shrewsbury Biscuits one of the most popular and hot selling biscuits in the country.
A lot of the credit would go to the Irani Zoroastrian immigrants to India who were invited by the Parsee's of Mumbai to seek asaylum in Mumbai, Pune and even Hyderabad. Due to lack of capital to establish themselves in trading or any other industry the Irani's opened cafe's , bakery and confectionery joints. Soon their breads, cookies, biscuits and cakes became famous and relished by Indians.
This is when ordinary Indian started having access to confectionery products such as cakes and cookies. Pune's Kayani Bakery is one such stop, they are particularly famous for their freshly baked 'Shrewsbury Biscuits'. Just like Hyderabad's Karachi Bakery is famous for 'Fruit Biscuits'. A trip to Pune of Hyderabad is never complete with having bought the biscuits for loved ones back home.
I am thankful to my sister Neha and her husband Sachin for having me over one such weekend, where i visted the fanous Kayani Bakery. A traditional Bawa shop, the store opened at 4:00 pm in the evening due to a national holiday and by 6:00 the entire stock was almost polished. A whiff of vanilla bean and butter was all in the air as I entered the store. I must say, not that Sachin did not visit us earlier with the box of Kayani Bakery's Shrewsbury Biscuit, but i never had them since the packaging was so sad, but i was also on a diet then :)
But when i finally had my first bite into the freshly baked biscuit...it was awesome, right texture, crisp and deliciously buttery. The store has a lot of other things to offer sich as Mava Cake, Madeira Cake, Rum and Raisin Cakes, Orange Biscuits, etc.
After that trip, and the much spoken Shrewsbury, it made all the sense to hunt down the recipe and try them. So here I am with Mr. Pailin's Original Recipe for Shrewsbury Biscuits. The original recipe calls for use of some spices, which could be a Turkish Influence. Spices such as Caraway Seeds, Nutmeg and Cinnamon.
225 gms Flour
120 gms Castor Sugar / Powder Sugar
120 gms Butter
1 tsp Baking powder
2 tsp Rose Water
1 Egg (the original receipe uses Egg, but Kayani indicates the biscuits does not make use of any Egg)
1/2 tsp Caraway Seed (Kayani does not use this)
1/4 tsp Nutmeg Powder
Zest of One Lemon ( Kayani perhaps uses this )
Preheat oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Prepare two large baking sheets.
Rub the butter into the flour.
Add the spices to the sugar and then tip the whole into the flour and butter mixture.Add the beaten egg, and also the rosewater. I did this ahead of adding sherry, and found the mixture already to be too wet for rolling out successfully. I had to add more flour and omit the sherry altogether. I then chilled the mixture, covered, in the fridge.
Roll out the mixture on a floured work surface. This still might take a bit of doing as the mixture is still a little sticky. Using circular fluted cutters to press out your biscuits and pop onto baking sheets.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes, but keep an eye on them. They need to be baked just until slightly golden brown, infact just when they begin to turn their sides brown.
Leave biscuits to cool for a few minutes before sliding them onto a wire cooling rack.