The Fresh Loaf

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A Challenge For Everyone On TFL

Anonymous baker's picture
Anonymous baker (not verified)

A Challenge For Everyone On TFL

I thought it might be a nice idea for everyone to have a challenge, should you choose to accept it (very Mission Impossible like).

Here is a recipe from 1699 for "Wiggs".

These are little "cakes" leavened with barm, or ale yeast, enriched with butter and eggs, flavoured with caraway and coriander seed and sprinkled with sugar.

Barm or Ale Yeast (is there a difference?) will be difficult to come by for many so feel free to be inventive here.

Without further ado here is the recipe...


To make little Cakes 1699

Take a pound of New Butter and a pound of Wheat flower, one halfe peniworth of Caraway seeds, and another of coriander seeds, 3 yolks of Eggs and one white, 2 spoonfulls and a halfe of New Ale yeast, mixe all these together to a Past, but knead it not, nor mould it but beat it with your hand till it be thin, and cut it in what formes you please and pricke them on the wrong side, strew some searced sugar on them before you sett them in the oven, and when you take them out you must strew some more searced sugar upon them.

From Elizabeth Brown's (Birkett) Receipt Book 1699


P.s. I shall not be attempting these as I do not like butter.

MichaelLily's picture

I misplaced my halfe peniworth measuring spoon last winter and cannot find it anywhere.  Thus, I cannot make this recipe.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Either use halfe a whole peniworth or two quarter peniworth. I look forward to seeing your Wiggs.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I did have an idea of making a high hydration sourdough starter with ale instead of water so when mature it'll be frothy and barm like with an ale taste.

But thank you for the an actual recipe for Wiggs which does make it clearer to understand.

Runnerfemme's picture

this is fabulous

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

to your fabulous Wiggs. Please post them here and let us know what you think of them.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

in the photo yet the recipe directs to "beat the past thin" to cut forms?

What do we suppose is searced sugar?   Misspelling of seared?  Scorched?

flux's picture

Searce means sieved/sift:

The link Rube posted makes the recipe a lot clearer.


Wonder if the local craft beer place would part with some barm? I should ask.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I've often wondered where to get barm from and I have seen local craft beer being served in pubs. Didn't think to ask them for barm. In case they don't, or won't, then Rube has posted a recipe which explains how to make a "barm" like starter.

Icing Powder for the sugar?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I'm thinking the beating is the kneading after which make shapes how you wish (?)

I think they are made into balls then scored like a soda bread (?)

Searced is sieved sugar so I think like powdered icing sugar according to Flux (above).

I'm scratching my head about pricking the "wrong" side.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I had first thought the dough was heavier more like shortbread, and that would explain the docking.  When I read the variety of recipes I'm beginning to see dough evolution...  starts out with flour (flower) and barm...  Later butter starts replacing some of the yeast and later on  eggs and sugar start replacing some of the butter.  Finally milk appears. 

I just got all the comments and links describing  a fluffier richer sugar dusted sweet dough ball.  Mind blower.  I was just getting used to the idea of caramelising the sugar for a topping and how I was going to go about it.  Now to see sugar included in some of the doughs and even powdered sugar.  ok...  now what?  

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It would have developed overtime and have regional differences. By all means get ideas from all the added info but the original recipe is above. Bit cryptic that's why I thought it'd be a nice challenge. You can give it a Mini Oven interpretation.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Will figure something out and flavour to my tastes.   Thanks.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Well then,  :) how about shortening?   Hard to believe you would put up a challenge and not participate.  

I'm starting with a small recipe to test,

  • 100g butter softened
  • 100g flour
  • 1 egg yolk and part of the white as needed (20g total)
  • 1g instant brewer's yeast 
  • 1g barley malt
  • spices  (caraway & coriander) (most likely 0.5 g each)  
  • pinch of salt

See where that cup of paste takes me and what I can do with the sugar.  My paste is too soft to knead but will easily rise. Let's see what happens.   Should put this into a tall beaker and mark the level.

I suppose if I had a milk cow, I'd be making this type of biscuit often having a good amount of cream and butter around.  Sounds like a peasant food rediscovered.  Something for the bag lunch.  Or a long journey snack.   

Butter scotch biscuits, short'nin bread, rusks, shortbread, sugar coated crackers, I'd call them cookies.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I've always had an aversion to it. Ever since I was a kid I could never stand it. However if it is disguised in a recipe so i'm not aware it's there I can eat, and enjoy, it. So believe it or not I do like to buy scones as they taste good and even though I know there's butter in it it's not apparent when eating them.

I think I may just bite the bullet and make these. Either learn to work with butter and get counselling :) Or find a way around it.

I'm thinking these may be like a savoury scone with a hint of sweetness to it. Half way between a bread roll and a scone. They definitely would belong in that category.

I look forward to your Wiggs.


"Wiggs, slightly sweetened buns flavoured with carraway seeds, were served at funerals in the North West of England. In the Lake District they were sometimes called 'arvel bread'. It is likely that the 'quick' flavoured seeds they contained were symbolic of resurrection and everlasting  life.

Wiggs or whigs were leavened buns that were lighter and richer than household bread. As a result they were usually eaten as a special treat. They were always flavoured with carraway seeds, or  carraway comfits. Elizabeth David was of the opinion that the name wigg was derived from an Old Norse word meaning wedge. Because she could find no clues in old recipes about how wiggs should be shaped, she assumed that they would have been made up into a round loaf and then cut across to form the wedges. In reality, they were probably made up into various shapes, though Randle Holme in The Anatomy of Armoury (1688) tells us that wiggs were elliptical in shape".

hreik's picture

in the UK, Delamere's Dairy, Delamere

It's horribly expensive here, but worth it.  It's seriously wonderful

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I even had picked up some butter while shopping for ingredients and stood there for a minute or two, holding the butter, contemplating whether I could bring myself to use it. After which I placed it back in the open fridge and resolved to use coconut oil. Something about me and butter doesn't gel. 

Never heard of goats butter. Does it taste like cows butter? Perhaps this is the one kind I may be able to eat. 

hreik's picture

by and try it... lol.   It has a different taste to my buds (and my husband's) from cow's butter.  I must say I always use it cold on toast or bread... also bake w it... but I don't cook other things w it b/c of it's horrible price.

dabrownman's picture

I used to get some for a lady who raised goats close by but now she uses all of her milk for cheese:-(

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I gave my dough time to rise at 26°C, no rise.  So that is verified.  Plopped the dough out with little handling onto floured board to gently shape into a square for cutting, flipping over once to flour both sides.  Pretty much followed the shaping in video Rube posted with the exception of using a wet knife to cut the ball shapes and a mini oven set at 190°C for 20 minutes and didn't let them brown.  

Dusted again with powdered sugar while hot.  Let cool on parchment on tray as they are easily broken apart when moved.  Allowed to set and cool.  I  expected butter to melt out all over the tray but it didn't.  Very delicate, melt in your mouth type of cookie.  A slight crunch from the baked sugar coating.  Crushed seeds give a burst of flavour now and again as one savours the flavours in the mouth.  You would not dip these cookies for fear they  fall apart in your dipping or on your dress.  

Yellow coloured crumb from butter and the yolks.  Winter fed chickens and cows most likely had lighter coloured butter and yolks.  Caraway flavour is so far delicate and not overpowering.  Don't care for half shells of coriander in my mouth, getting stuck between teeth.  I had read somewhere about the caraway being candied,  might try grinding up seeds with the sugar for pre-bake dusting.  (The southern girl in me wants to add pecans.)  

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Thank you for being the first to rise to the challenge. Your thoughts and descriptions will help me with my bake tomorrow (hopefully) with my ideas still being formed. This 'swete treate' (they were always spelling things wrong in those days but today we get told off for it) does sound nice to have with a cuppa tea or coffee and you can imagine, back then, this would have been a rare treat. How spoiled we are today.  My thoughts are as follows...

Adding in some wholemeal because I think they would have used more wholegrain. 

To get around my butter phobia i will use coconut oil but reduce it by 20% as while coconut oil is close to 100% fat, butter is 80%. I'll use milk for the remainder. 

I know a pub which has a micro brewery and if I pluck up enough courage i will ask for some barm. Failing that I'll make a high hydration starter with beer or ale.

It doesn't say so in the recipe/s but when barm was used they did a preferment rather like a sourdough poolish. In the recipe video he kind of did this but not much more than you'd activate a dried yeast in a normal yeasted bread. I'm think more poolish style.  That's why I think a sourdough starter, if I chicken out for asking for barm, will be the way to go. 

Enjoy your sweet treat Mini  and keep us informed of its evolution into the perfect Mini style 17th/18th century treat. 

Samuel Pepys talks about them in his diary. Just a passing reference mind you but this dates them at least to the 17th century.

Truth Serum's picture
Truth Serum

Well done!



Rube Goldberg's picture
Rube Goldberg

An 18th century treat!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and maybe reducing the liquids (egg white)   I beat the butter and egg yolk together first before adding the flour/dry ingredient mix.  My butter was very soft as the room was 26°C.   

Hubby picked up the one intact cross and it fell apart in his fingers.  First he found the taste strange, but that didn't keep him from taking another section.   They were gone quickly as my reduced recipe makes only 4 crosses or buns.  Now to try the same recipe with different flour.  Also to brown or not to brown?  I might just repeat the recipe and change the order of mixing so more gluten is formed.  There is not much holding them together.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I found a recipe for Dorset Wiggs...  and used that as a template incorporating the spices from 1699 recipe, barm (or my sourdough version of it) from the website Rube kindly found and some ideas of my own. 

Here was the final draft...


450g flour (315g bread, 90g whole wheat, 45g whole rye)
130g sourdough starter (52g flour, 78g ale)
220ml milk

1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp caraway seeds
60g coconut oil, softened
30g icing sugar (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
1 egg, beaten


Mix the flours and coriander and rub in the softened coconut oil. 

Mix in the caraway seeds and icing sugar. 

Beat the egg with the milk then add that to the flour mix together with the barm and form a dough. 

Gently knead for a few minutes till it comes together and gluten is formed. Don't over work it. 

Leave to rise till doubled. 

Shape into rounds, sprinkle icing sugar on top and final proof for about an hour to 1.5 hours. 

Score and bake in a preheated oven at 230C for 10 minutes then turn down the oven to 200C and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. 

Cool on wire rack. 

Best eaten warm. 

Edit: This is a sweet roll. The sweetness and caraway coming through. Somewhere between a bun and a teacake. Surprisingly more-ish. Very tasty indeed! 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

You only scored yours?  I cut mine down to the board and then they ran together during the bake.  I figure each quarter was a good bite size and that it was common to share while eating these tender Wiggs.

What happens when you cut the buns through?  

The video reminded me more of clover rolls (where 3 little dough balls are put together in a muffin (cup cake) pan to make rolls.  

With the large amount of butter, I don't fear too much gluten development.  In fact, I might chill the dough and knead it slightly to get more gluten with the richer recipe.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

and thought that'd be enough. It wasn't. I got big oven spring and the scoring completely filled back up ending up with what looks like a hot cross bun. Next time I will go more for your style. Thanks for the close up photo of what looks like a very delicious dainty wigg cake. I think yours is what they were supposed to be like. The version I followed more closely for the actual dough had less eggs which probably made it more like an enriched bread dough than a cake-like batter. When I looked at the 1699 recipe I realised it was going to be very! sticky and thought i'd might not be able to handle it. It starts off with equal amounts of butter and flour (by weight) then it starts adding 3 eggs and barm.

The actual dough was somewhere between a biscuit and bread dough. Although sticky it was easy to handle. The result was more of a bun with a lovely flavour and very soft but holds together really nicely.

I can't bake through the week but i'll definitely be following your progress and planning another bake next weekend. These, I have a feeling, will become a regular bake. From what I've seen is that wiggs started off as a simple little cake as in the 1699 recipe but quickly evolved into many varied regional recipes. Which probably gave birth to things like scones and hot cross bun type of buns.

dabrownman's picture

are a few craft beers that are bottled filtered with the yeast still active and you can use them to make barm no problem.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I didn't know that. If I just source a craft beer that still has live yeasts in it then I can create a barm starter from that.

Nice! Good to know.

Hopefully i'll have sourced one by the end of the week when I try these again.

Always learning something new here.

Maverick's picture

Interesting spelling of pennyworth. It is about 1 or 2 Tablespoons BTW.