Recipes from Scotland 1680s to 1940s

Sue Lawrence recipe and video


Sue Lawrence bakes 'Plume Cake'

'Masterchef' winner and author Sue Lawrence is no stranger to the historic recipes in the National Library of Scotland's collections.

In her book 'Scottish baking' (2014), she combined two recipes for 'plume' (or 'plumb' or 'plum') cake — a late 17th/early 18th century anonymous recipe and Janet Maule's 1701 recipe — to produce her own delicious version.

Why not watch our video 'Sue Lawrence bakes "Plume Cake", then follow Sue's recipe to make your cake:

Read the video transcript

Sue Lawrence's plum cake


  • 400g or 14 oz self-raising flour, sifted
  • 350g or 12 oz currants
  • 50 g or 1¾ oz raisins
  • 50g or ¾ oz mixed peel
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest of 1 small orange
  • 75g or 2¾ oz quince paste, diced (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp of ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp of ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp of ground mace
  • 250g or 9 oz butter, softened
  • 150g or 5½ oz light muscovado sugar
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 100ml or 3 fl oz double cream
  • 50ml or 2 fl oz medium sherry.


Mix the first 11 ingredients together in a large bowl, with a pinch of salt.

Beat the butter and sugar until thoroughly creamed, then beat in the eggs one by one.

Mix in the cream and sherry.

Spoon the mixture into a lined, deep 22cm or 8½ oz in cake tin, making sure that the paper is above the rim of the tin.

Bake at 170C / 325F / Gas 3 for 1 hour, then reduce oven to 150C / 300F / Gas 2.

Place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the cake and bake for a further 1¼ hours — so 2¼ hours in total.

Check it is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre: it should come out clean.

Place on a wire rack to cool before removing the cake from the tin.

Sue Lawrence video transcript

Today I'm making a Plume Cake, and this is Scots word for 'plumb', obviously, and any sort of plumb cake was something made with dried fruits. Plums and grapes became raisins and dried currants.

And this recipe is a sort of combination of two very old recipes, one from 1701 — Janet Maule's recipe — and one from a few years earlier, just the turn of the century.

And I'm starting at the end of the recipe, because what they would have done was melt some butter, and then dab — with a feather — the butter all over the paper in a hooped tin. I've done it with a pastry brush.

In the old recipes there would have been an awful lot of butter — at least two pounds: it would have taken forever to cream that.

They would have had loaf sugar, which would have been very difficult to use. You would have to hack it off and sometimes sieve it. But I'm using a nice, light, soft brown sugar. I put my machine on and let it do all the work.

For the plumb cake recipe it would have had so many pounds of flour — spelt 'f-l-o-w-e-r', interestingly. So, I've got self-raising flour: the old recipes always used yeast to give the rise.

It was mainly a deep, dense cake, and so they would have had lots [of currants] and that would have made it lovely and rich and delicious. With the raisins — they would have had to have been stoned in the olden days and then chopped. Currants also would have been plumped up in some sort of juice and then held by the fire to warm up.

Now we've got mixed peel. In those days there would have been a very large slab of 'citrus peel', whether it was from an orange or lemon or a mixture, and that would have been very finely hand-chopped.

I've got a lot of lovely spices.

Cloves they use a lot. We just associate them with Christmas, but in so many recipes they use cloves. They've got a lovely — quite strong — flavour. Nowadays we buy them ground: they would have had to grind them up.

We've got some cinnamon, and they would have probably had to crush up the long lovely barks of cinnamon.

Nutmeg would have been obtained like this, in its own little shape. Usually you buy it ground, but I think it's a lovely thing to do to actually grate it — in my little grater here.

And then mace, which is very closely associated with nutmeg. It's actually the same plant. So, similar flavour, but quite strong.

They would have had much more difficulty grating — and indeed all the things I'm doing would have been so much more difficult to actually do.

The actual recipe is quite straightforward. And in those days they didn't write the ingredients and then the method, they actually wrote the ingredients throughout the method. It was only in the 1860s with Isabella Beaton that the tabular form of writing ingredients and then the method came about.

Grated lemon zest — we might think they're slightly exotic, but in fact they were of the time.

The two ladies whose recipe books I looked at for this recipe — they would have obviously been fairly wealthy, because they could write, they had the materials to write, and they had the ingredients with which to cook. They also had their own oven, which was not that common in those days.

One final ingredient which is rather interesting — quince paste, which in one of the very old recipes is called 'corduidron', from the very old French word. And because these recipes were both 'pre' the alliance between England and Scotland and so we always used French terms.

You don't need to add this, but I just think it adds such a moist texture.

Far more interesting fruits and spices than our regular Christmas cake.

In the old recipe book it said add 22 eggs — so it gives you a sort of idea of how huge the cake was, but they'd have very big households in those days. I'm just adding three in.

And they would have used sherry in a lot of recipes — 'sack' they would have called it — and it's not a dry one, it's not very sweet: it's sort of medium sweet.

I'm also adding in cream, which is incredibly unusual nowadays, but it would have been very common because all the big houses would have had great vast jugs of cream.

And then add in the other mixture. It all goes in, looking rather 'globby' at the moment, but it's all going to combine well. In the old recipe it's a bit vague, so if it needs a little bit more liquid I can add a little bit more sherry, or perhaps even a little bit more cream. I wouldn't add in another egg by this stage.

It's already smelling wonderful with the spices, and the sherry as well.

By this stage, I've obviously got my oven on, and I've got it on just below medium — about 170 centigrade. But again in the old recipe books it says 'bake in a very quick oven', which meant a very high oven, which surprises me, because they wouldn't have had foil in those days to put on the top.

So, now we just have to fill the cake tin with this lovely, thick, rather delicious mixture.

It's always a good idea to keep the paper high up above the tin, or, as the old recipe calls it, 'the hoop'.

This goes into the oven for an hour, [then] foil on, and then for another hour.

The cake took two / two-and-a-half hours and it's been cooling for a nice couple of hours now.

A very exciting part of baking, whether in the 18th century or now. I like a nice big slab of cake. Oh, that's looks really good, doesn't it?


You can see how very easy that cake was to make. And so if you'd like to try it yourself, go to the National Library of Scotland website or, even better, visit the Library itself.