Ornamental Separator

Sugar Cakes

Watch our historic foodways staff cook this recipe, then try it at home

This is much like classic shortbread. The key to baking these is observation. A light touch will tell you when they are done. Being slightly firm tells you they are ready.

18th Century

Take a pound and a half of fine flour, one pound of cold butter, half a pound of sugar, work all these well together into a paste, then roll it with the palms of your hands into round balls, and cut them with a thin knife into thin cakes, sprinkle a little flour on a sheet of paper, and put them on; prick them with a fork and bake them.

— Briggs, Richard, “The English Art of Cookery”

21st Century


  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 sticks, or 1/2 lb. butter
  • 1 cup sugar


  1. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add flour in thirds to the mixture. Remove the mixture by scraping with a spatula or knife and place on hard surface and knead until well mixed and smooth. Dough will be stiff.
  2. Form into four balls, one the size of a tennis ball and reducing in size as you go until the smallest ball is about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
  3. Slice dough 1/4” thick with a sharp, smooth knife. Place on parchment paper or lightly greased cookie sheets.
  4. Bake at 350, 12-18 minutes until the centers of the large cakes are set when lightly pressed with your finger.
  5. After cooling, remove from cookie sheet. To form into a pyramid shape, use the larger cakes on the base, and stack the next smaller ones on top. Sift confectioner’s sugar on top (optional).

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