Vintage Recipe – Samuel Johnson’s Puffs of Affection, 1928

Dundee Courier, 14th February 1928

Dundee Courier, 14th February 1928

For something a little different this Valentine’s Day, why not make a little “Puff of Affection”, as apparently loved by the eminent eighteenth-century dictionary-compiler, Samuel Johnson. Or Robbie Coltrane, as he is forever in my mind’s eye.

I’d give one to Hugh Laurie, especially in the Prince Regent get-up. A puff of affection, that is.

As Johnson has it – it’s a little cake (“A kind of delicate bread”) for a Valentine (“a sweetheart, chosen on Valentine’s day”) to have for pudding (“1. a kind of food very variously compounded, but generally made of meal, milk, and eggs. 2. The gut of an animal. 3. A bowel stuffed with certain mixtures of meal and other ingredients.”)

“Puffs of Affection”

It is recorded that Samuel Johnson was very fond of these puffs. He refers to them as having been first made in honour of St Valentine, but that in his calendar the saint’s day came often.
Make a batter with 1 tablespoon flour and 1/2 pint milk, then add a beaten egg, 1 teaspoon sugar, the same of grated lemon rind, and a tiny pinch of salt. Butter some small moulds, pour a little of the mixture into each, just half filling them, and bake in a slow oven for 30 minutes. Turn out, sprinkle liberally with sugar, and serve hot.
Similar puffs are often served with syrup, and make quite a good stand-by pudding.

There’s a couple of odd things about the recipe. Firstly – flour, milk and eggs, flavoured with lemon, sugar and syrup. It’s pretty much a low-flour pancake, which seems a bit strange to have as a tradition merely a week after Shrove Tuesday. Secondly – one tablespoon of flour? I was interested to see how this would hold together with so little flour, and…well, it didn’t.

Not so much a Puff of Affection as a floppy slop. And no-one wants that on Valentine’s Day.

A Flop of Affection

A Flop of Affection

I tried again, upping the flour to that of my normal pancake recipe, 125g of flour with all the other ingredients kept the same.

Sugared and syruped Puffs of Affection

Sugared and syruped Puffs of Affection

These were much better in that they at least kept their shape, and they tasted, unsurprisingly, of fat pancake. But one of the charms of a pancake is its delicate thinness, and the fresh memory of a stack of them a week ago means this pales a bit in comparison. To be honest, I’d recommend a Valentine’s breakfast of a savoury bacon and cheese pancake instead.

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