Ornamental Separator

Nun's Cake

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

The pound cake was the standard cake of the 18th century, calling for a pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar, and a pound of flour. In every kitchen, there were balance scales which allowed the cook to weigh the ingredients. To change the recipe, the cook needed only to adjust the ratio.

18th Century

You must take four pounds of the finest flour, and three pounds of double-refined sugar beaten and sifted; mix them together, and dry them by the fire till you prepare the other materials; take four pounds of butter, beat it with your hand till it is soft like cream; then beat thirty-five eggs, leave out sixteen whites, strain off your eggs from the threads, and beat them and the butter together till all appears like butter; put in four or five spoonfuls of rose or orange-flower water, and beat again; then take your flour and sugar, with six ounces of carraway-seeds, and strew them in by degrees, beating it all the time for two hours together; you may put in as much tincture of cinnamon or ambergris as you please, butter your hoop, and let it stand three hours in a moderate oven. You must observe always, in beating of butter, to do it with a cool hand, and beat it always one way in a deep earthen dish.

— Glasse, Hannah, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.” pg.311.

21st Century


This version of the recipe is reduced by half.

  • 2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 cups cake flour
  • 6 whole eggs plus 5 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp. orange or rose flower water
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup of caraway seeds
  • 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch springform pans.
  2. In a 5-quart bowl using a heavy duty mixer, cream your butter until smooth.
  3. Separate the egg yolks from the whites and put them in separate bowls. Put the yolks into the butter and mix thoroughly.
  4. When the butter and eggs are well combined, slowly add the sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Add 3 tablespoons of orange or rose flower water, 1/3 cup caraway seeds and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and mix well.
  6. With a hand mixer or whisk, beat the egg whites until frothy. Slowly add 1/3 of your flour to the mixture, beat well, then add 1/3 of your frothed egg whites, beat well, and so on until the flour and egg whites are incorporated together to give you a good batter. The batter may seem a little heavy.
  7. Divide batter evenly between your two pans and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 1 ½ hours. The last 10 minutes of baking time, turn off the oven and allow cake to finish off with the residual heat. Cake is done when a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean.

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