The Tipsy Hedgehog: An Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Culinary Labor

By Alexandra Izzard, ’22

This past June, the WPAMC classes of 2021 and 2022 embarked on a week-long trip to explore the history and decorative arts of the Mid-Atlantic. Along this trip we stopped in Annapolis, Maryland where we were lucky to visit the Hammond-Harwood House. In 1773 Matthias Hammond, a newly elected delegate of the Maryland General Assembly, moved to Annapolis and commissioned English architect William Buckland to build this residence. Hammond himself never lived in the house, but the north wing was rented in 1779 to Jeremiah Townley Chase as his law office. In 1811 Chase purchased the house in its entirety, and it was inhabited by his daughter Frances, her husband Richard Loockerman, and up to ten enslaved individuals. Three of these women were Mary Matthews, Matilda Matthews, and Juliet: at present the names of the other enslaved people have not been recovered. We do know that there was one boy under fourteen years old, two girls under one year, one woman between fourteen and twenty-five, and one woman between twenty-six and forty-four. These are not the only enslaved people who made the wealth of the Loockermans possible: Richard was a plantation owner and profited greatly from enslaved labor. The last recorded date of an enslaved person inhabiting the house was in 1830. The Loockerman family resided at Hammond-Hardwood through 1925.

Figure 1: The front elevation of the Hammond Harwood House. The kitchen is located in the South Wing to the right of the image. Image courtesy of Hammond Harwood House.

These enslaved individuals were responsible for the maintenance of the house, including cooking for the family and their guests. The Hammond-Harwood dining room is currently interpreted with a dinner setting, showing off what was one of the first dining tables used in Annapolis. Dinner was a two to three course event, with each course consisting of between five and twenty-five dishes. The final course was almost always dessert, designed to refresh diners after a hearty meal. Along the eastern wall of the dining room is a tiered tea table that holds several confections, including a sweet hedgehog that caught my eye. It was not a poor replica of a pet, but rather a British dessert called a tipsy hedgehog. It is a form of a sponge cake whose whimsical shape is cited as dating back to the late eighteenth century, though earlier recipes used marzipan instead of alcohol-soaked cakes. This dessert is decadence in its purest form: from the excessive amount of sugar to the cups of alcohol to the cartoonish appearance. Though the presentation may err on silly, I was interested in investigating the labor behind this cake and what happened in the kitchen before it was presented to company.

Figure 2: The dining room in the Hammond Harwood House with the tiered tea table to the right of the image. Image courtesy of the Hammond Harwood House.

Figure 3: Detail of the tired tea table with the modern imitation tipsy hedgehog. Image courtesy of the author.

The best way to gain this historical understanding was to replicate the dessert’s creation as best as possible, and I did so following a recipe from Cassel’s Household Guide; Being A Complete Encyclopedia of Domestic and Social Economy, and Forming A Guide to Every Department of Practical Life, Volume II. Though this specific recipe dates from 1869, the cake could have been made at any time during the residency of the Loockerman family, meaning possibly by one of the aforementioned enslaved individuals. I am not recreating this labor in the hopes of trivializing it, rather to highlight the hours that went into a single cake. It is known that Mary and Matilda Matthews were both essential to kitchen operations; perhaps they made confections like this one.

Figure 4: Raw ingredients for the recipe, clockwise beginning at the top. Dried currants, room temperature eggs, heavy cream, cake flour, sugar, Charm City semi-sweet mead, almonds. Image courtesy of the author.

In the nineteenth century, recipes were not standardized, and cooking skills were often assumed. This recipe (the complete text below) begins with the making of a sponge cake in a “mold the shape of a hedgehog or porcupine” – my closest approximation was an 8-inch round casserole dish. I beat the eggs after warming them to room temperature and slowly added the sugar, then the flour. I whisked the mixture by hand for thirty minutes until bubbles formed, though I suspect I could have continued for longer to reach a frothier result. I then placed the cake in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven since this seemed like a “smart” temperature and watched it closely. This process of ingredient prep, combination, and whisking lasted an hour.

Figure 5: Rapidly whisking the eggs, sugar, and flour to introduce pockets of air. Image courtesy of the author.

Soon after the cake entered the oven, a sweet, eggy aroma began to fill the kitchen. The bake lasted thirty minutes, likely made longer by the ceramic dish than had I used a metal cake tin. The cake bubbled and rose a bit, though I suspect that I did not get as much air into the mixture as desired. I brought the cake out of the oven, let it cool for about ten minutes, gently loosened the sides with a knife, and inverted it on to a cooling rack.

Figure 6: The cake just after it was removed from the oven. Image courtesy of the author.

The next day I began in the soaking and decorating, first trimming the cake and then soaking it in locally made, semi-sweet mead. While the cake absorbed the liquid, I blanched the almonds and with help, set to removing their skins. I then split the almonds in half to make the quills and inserted them into the surface of the cake at random, making it look quite like a hedgehog. To finish off the decoration I created eyes and a nose with dried currants. Once the decoration was complete, I shook heavy cream and sugar in a jar until it was light and fluffy, and dotted it around the cake. After admiring the product for a few minutes, I tried it. Others I shared it with described the taste like an “alcoholic eraser”: I found the whipped cream to be the most pleasant aspect. This less-than-delicious product is likely a result of my typical reliance on modern kitchen equipment as well as my unfamiliarity with butter-less sponges (pan di spagna).

Figure 7: The completed tipsy hedgehog cake surrounded by dollops of whipped cream. Image courtesy of the author.

What is worth noting with my replication of this cake is that my experience in no way mirrors that of the laborers, either free or enslaved, in the Hammond-Harwood House. I was able to step away from the work as it was voluntary and for pleasure, rather than forced either through enslavement or financial necessity. I was in my air conditioned apartment, comfortable, and surrounded by creature comforts. Additionally, this cake, which took about three hours total, two of active labor, was only one of dozens of dishes they would have been preparing in the kitchen. It would have been nestled in with other desserts, perhaps remarked on aesthetically and nibbled on amongst other delicacies by the Loockerman family and guests. This jovial treat represents just a fraction of kitchen labor.

Tipsy Hedgehog Recipe from Cassel’s Household Guide

“Small sponge cakes – Beat well together a couple of eggs; stir into them a teacup full of powdered loaf sugar; beat again; and gradually a tea cup full of flour, beating all the while. Put the paste into a tin or into several small patty-pans as soon as it is completely made, and set into a smart oven immediately.

Tipsy cake – Procure a mold the shape of a hedgehog or porcupine; in this make a sponge cake; when cold, set it in a hollow glass dish. Blanch almonds by throwing them into boiling water; when the skins are removed, split them, cut the halves, lengthwise into. Pour over the back of the porcupine, to soften it, a glass of Marsala, Cette Madera, or other wholesome white wine. Then stick the back full of the almonds, to represent quills, and makes the eyes with currants or raisins. When wanted, poor round, in the hollow of the dish, as much of the same white wine as it will soak without melting or falling to pieces. Some add brandy to the wine, but that is apt to make it a little too tipsy. If you wish, on the contrary, to render it milder, when you judge the sufficient quantity of the wine has been absorbed by the cake, fill up the hollow of the dish with whipped cream or some kind of custard.”

Further Resources

Beeton, Isabella. Recipe 1487, Tipsy Cake, in The Book of Household Management. Project Gutenberg, 1859.

Cassell, Peter. Cassell’s Houehold Guide: Being a Complete Encyclopaedia of Social Adn Domestic Economy, and Forming a Guide to Every Department of Practical Life. Vol. Volume II. New York, 1869.

Goyette, Barbara. “On Juneteenth, Say Their Names: Mary, Matilda, and Juliet at Hammond-Harwood House.” Hammond Harwood House. History Reading List (blog), June 17, 2020.

Historic Foodways. “A Marzipan Hedgehog.” Colonial Williamsburg. Recipes: Colonial Williamsburg (blog), October 24, 2020.

“History.” Hammond Harwood House, 2021.

Jones, Judi. “Dining In 18th Century America.” Hammond Harwood House. Education Reading List (blog), July 2, 2020.

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