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Gulielma Penn’s Portugal Cake

April 28, 2020

Filed under crafts

Gulielma Penn's Portugal Cake

Gulielma Springett Penn was born in 1644. She was a well-educated and devout member of the Quaker faith. She and William Penn married in 1672. They had 8 children, but only 3 survived to adulthood. Gulielma did not travel with her husband but would care for the family and home in England. She passed away in 1694 after a long illness.

In 1702 Gulielma’s son, William Penn Jr., hired Edward Blackfan to transcribe his mother’s recipes into a four-part manuscript. Gulielma Penn left 150 pages of recipes. The cookbook also included medicinal remedies, including 29 recipes for eye remedies alone. William Jr. brought this cookbook with him when he came to Pennsylvania in 1704.

The original transcript starts with “My Mother’s Recaipts for Cookerys Presarving and Chyrugery”, translated to modern English “My mother’s recipes for cooking, preserving and medicines”. The transcript is part of the collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Portugal cakes were a popular cake made by the wealthier English because sugar and mace (the outer covering of nutmeg) would have been very expensive imports in the 1600’s.

Original Transcript

Too Make Portingall Cake

take Lofe suger a pound, beat it and search it through a sive with a pound of flouer very fine that is well aired and then take a pound of butter, and wash it well in Rose water, then worke it well with youre hands till it bee soft, and strew the flouer and suger in bye degrees, till it bee ½ in, still working it with youre hands then put 6 yeolks of eggs and 4 whits  then by degrees worke in the other ½ of the suger and flouer, and when the oven is hot, putt in 2 spuffuls of Rose water a pound of Corants then have youre pans Redy buttered and fill them not almost ½ full and sirup suger one them just as you set them in the oven

Modern Day translation

Portugal Cake



1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

1 cup softened butter

1 tablespoon rose water (substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla)

Dash of mace (substitute ½ teaspoon nutmeg)

2 egg whites

1 egg yolk

1 cup dried currants (substitute raisins)

Sugar Syrup

¼ cup sugar

1/3 cup water


– Pre-heat oven to 350º and grease bunt pan with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

– In a large bowl, combine sugar and flour.

– In a separate bowl, cream butter and ½ of sugar and flour mixture.

– Add in the rose water, and mace.  Stir to combine.

– Add egg whites and egg yolk and the rest of the flour/sugar. Mix well.

Note: Dough will be thick.

– Stir in dried fruit. Combine well.

– In a small saucepan on the stove, heat the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.

– Pour ½ syrup in the bottom of the bunt pan.  Add batter and pour remainder of syrup over the batter.

– Bake for 40-50 minutes. Test by inserting a toothpick through the center of the cake. Toothpick should come out clean.

– Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool upside down on a cooling rack.

Want to try more historic recipes? Take a look at this Dinner with the Penns blog from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.