Shetland bride's bonn/bun or bridal cake was traditionally baked by the mother of the bride. It was broken over the bride's head as she entered the marital home after the wedding ceremony and was intended to bless the marriage with prosperity and fertility. This breaking of cake was a wedding tradition observed in many parts of the country, and indeed is also a feature in the wedding traditions of other countries.
In Shetland, the bride's bonn/bun was also known historically as either infar-cake or dreaming-bread. F. Marian McNeill has a note regarding infar-cake or dreaming-bread:
‘A decorated form of shortbread is still  the national bride’s-cake of rural Scotland, and was formerly used as infar-cake. The breaking of infar-cake over the head of the bride, on the threshold of her new home, is a very ancient custom, having its origin in the Roman rite of confarratio, in which the eating of a consecrated cake by the contracting parties constituted marriage. (Scots law, unlike English, is based on the old Roman Law.) Portions were distributed to the young men and maidens “to dream on”.’
At christening feasts a dreaming-bread may also be distributed to guests, for the same purpose of giving maids and young men a sneak preview of their future partner - dreaming-bread is also known as dumb-cake.
Mark Morton in 'Cupboard Love', further explains the Roman roots of the cake-breaking act:
'Romans solemnized marriages through the rite of confarreatio, a word literally meaning to unite with grain-cake (the far in the middle of confarreatio is the Latin far, meaning grain, a word that also appears in farina and farrago). In contrast, the English infare literally means to go in, deriving as it does from the words in and from the Old English verb faran, meaning to go or to travel. Before it was specifically applied to cake, infare could also refer to a feast provided for guests when someone, newly married or not, took possession of a new home.'
Although Shetland Bride's Bonn is generally classified as a shortbread, when cooked on a girdle (griddle), as it would have been historically, it is closer in form to a bannock or scone. When oven-baked the bonn would be crisper and more biscuit-like.
My recipe comes from 'A Cook's Tour of Britain', by the Woman's Institute and Michael Smith (pub. 1984), and I have gone with the girdle cooking option.
110g/4 oz. plain flour
50g/2 oz. butter
25g/1 oz. caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon of caraway seeds
a little milk
1. Rub the butter into the flour.
2. Add the sugar and caraway seeds.
3. Mix to a stiff consistency with milk (get your hands in the bowl to achieve this, and add only a little milk at a time - start with a generous splash).
4. Roll out into a round shape. Now at this point the book suggests that you roll a round 5cm/2 inches thick, but this is way too thick for this small quantity of dough, plus it would never cook in the time given. My dough was about 2cm thick. Cut the round shape into triangles.
5. Bake on a fairly hot girdle for 3 minutes on each side, or in an oven at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 20 minutes.
I gave the caraway seeds to my junior helper to sniff, but he promptly stuffed a few in his mouth and demanded more. That's my boy! He was less enthusiastic about the finished cake, but then he had just finished a rather large lunch. I must teach him the benefits of pacing your food consumption, and that chocolate buttons don't always have to be downed in one hand/mouthful. I found the cake pleasant enough, but as a cross between a pastry and a scone it is best eaten fresh. I forgot to sleep with a morsel under my pillow, but I would only have had to disappoint Johnny Depp by explaining I am already married.
For more information on the Shetland Islands and local food and drink - click on The Shetland Food Directory, or take a look at this site if you want to be completely seduced and find yourself moving north (west/east/possibly not south).
What a lovely post to read and all the history behind this bridal cake!
And she's back!
I read up on a lot of Scottish bridal customs before my own wedding, but didn't come across this one - nor the notion of breaking cakes over people at all, come to that. Maybe I can suggest it when one of my siblings gets round to it...
I love the term "dreaming-bread". Dumb-cake isn't so good (maybe you give it to people to shut them up?)
I have heard of the tradition of breaking bread at a wedding breakfast but never one done quite like this. It does indeed sound like a scone, what was the texture like?
I love your posts they always teach me something new. Keep researching.
I've just discovered your blog and I find it fabulous! Very well researched, lots of exotic recipes for my Frenchy self, and it makes me feel like baking (that is, once the temperature in Los Angeles comes back to something decent, in October).
Thanks for such a great blog.
Who would have thought that there was so much history in one little cake!
I'm always impressed when people decide to focus on baking. It's such an art, yet something most people in cooking don't focus enough on. Thierry
Now that you mention it, I'm sure we learnt about the Roman marriage story with bread as part of Roman Law I at university - fascinating how traditions can be traced from so many thousands of years ago into the 2st century. A friend of mine from the Shetland Islands got married a few years ago in Birmingham - I'm going to ask her if she had this cake broken over her later!
I would love to try this bridal cake!
1. Fantastic blog!
2. The recipes are amazing; I shall definitely have a go at making a few things after reading up!
3. The cultural/historical/personal elements are equally fascinating. There's nothing quite like the how's and why's of regional baking and cooking.
I look forward to seeing more wonderful things here.
I have nominated your blog for the Brilliante Weblog Premio 2008 award, its now your turn to nominate another 7 blogs you think are worthy.
It’s a great way of finding new blogs so I hope you will take up the challenge!
Shetland is having its first ever food festival soon. have you heard about it?
Great Big Veg Challenge
These are so pretty :). They look like they'd be perfect with a cup of tea!
Am livin in Scotland now but have never heard of this. What a great piece.
I love the detailed history you provide for all the delicious recipes. Do you have anything traditional for St Andrews Day? I love Sticky Toffee Pudding and wondered what the Scottish connection is for this pudding. I made it recently( with recipe from UDNY Arms) and had to improvise with figs instead of dates and it still tasted yummy.
Hi, is there an email address for this blog? It's regarding book reviews. Shari
Just found your blog and enjoyed reading it. I am no baker but who knows . . .As an American living in the UK I enjoyed thie history of it all.
Hello Baking for Britain,
LOVE your blog! I will make it short & sweet. I am interested in advertising on it (http://bakingforbritain.blogspot.com) with a text link on the sidebar.
Please let me know if you might be interested. If we can come to a fair price, I will pre-pay for 1 year via paypal.
Many thanks, cheers!
All the best,
please come back!
Yum Yum. When do I get them in the mail?
This cake look delicious! I love your blog.
Only just found your blog this morning. I hope you will one day return to it!
A very interesting read about the culture and history about the Shetlands cake. Thanks!
I have to say this is one of the better food blogs. A really well researched site with facts and stories that brings food to life. I look forward to more new ideas. Ray
Hello, do you read french?
I speak of your blog here: http://elzevier.canalblog.com/archives/2009/02/14/12536725.html
I like what you do, even if a recipe written in english is not so easy to cook for me :p
On my weblog, I'm going to speak of Agatha Christie and british cooking, so Baking for Britaint is going to be very interesting for me the next few days.
Leave your comments if you want !
Congratulations for your photographs, just looking at them makes me hungry!
Good bye and so sorry for my poor english
It looks quite simple which I like, so I'm definitely interested to try this one.
Hi Anna - was just researching Romary biscuits in Tunbridge Wells and came across your wonderful site - hope you're still going? Is it a book yet??? Jane
We bumped into your blog and we really liked it - great recipes YUM!!! YUM!!!.
We would like to add it to the Petitchef.com.
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Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
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am i missing some pages, seem to only be posting from aug 2008, hope this is my mistake and that the blog hasn't ended. love the blog and all the information as well as the recipes x
Life just seems to have got a little busy of late. I am in the process of setting up an online business, and that as well as looking after a two-year old, seems to take up all my time. However, my little boy is a keen cook's assistant, so I hope that I will be able to get his assistance on some future posts ; )
My Name is Sharon. Your blog is good online source for food lovers.I think your blog gives great information on baking. As i am also into food research. Its a good blog with lots of information. Keep the good work on.
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This is a lovely blog. A pity it hasn't been updated for nearly a year.
Fantastic and delicious blog - please do keep writing, when time and toddler permit!
They look supremely cheerful and yummy....please continue with your elaborate writing.
Great tradition and they look wonderful too
I don't know this cake!
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Thanks for the post. :)
i just love the story of this cake..
thanks for your post...
wow what a blog, I adore it please add a follower icon for me pretty please
I miss your posts! You must be busy with a child...as I understand that! When you get a chance, share a post!
The history of bridal cake was so nice. I love how you have the "story/history" behind the food, makes it's so much more involving.
Just a note from another fan who loves your blog and eagerly awaits new posts!
A lot of history for one cake, WOW!
Looks so tasty and yummy!
Looks so yummy!
I tried this cake and loved very much... I added Patan ghee in it and the taste was very delicious...
Fascinating how traditions can be traced from so many thousands of years ago into the 2st century.
This looks wonderful!.Great recipe, great presentation, great post.Thanks for sharing.
Fantastic blog!. Great recipe. your Photography is also good. thank you for sharing
This looks wonderful! your blog is too fine. thanks for sharing
Fantastic blog!. The recipes are amazing.
Nice blog, good posting
This looks so beautiful. Very nicely done. I love this.Thanks.
I notice that your blog includes a link to the www.visitshetland.com website.
You may be interested to learn that the old visitshetland.com website is no longer live. If you attempt to visit this address now you will be forwarded to some pages provided by Visit Scotland. However, I am delighted to inform you that there is a new site at www.shetland.org, specifically designed to provide up-to-date, relevant information about Shetland. The Shetland.org site is owned and operated by 'Promote Shetland' - Destination Management Organisation for Shetland - and includes a sub-site dedicated to tourism (http://visit.shetland.org), and another dedicated to assisting anyone considering a move to Shetland (http://move.shetland.org). The Shetland webcams are also hugely popular.
We would really appreciate it if you considered linking to www.shetland.org instead of (or as well as) www.visitshetland.com, as we believe that this would provide your visitors with the best possible information about Shetland.
Thank you for your time and assistance on this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions at all.
Shetland Museum & Archives
ok - maybe we will move to the Shetland Islands. I was thinking of Wales, but maybe we could do both. We currently live in New Zealand....
I haven't been back to your blog for ages - which is lucky as I missed your long hiatus and all the waiting for you to resume posting that that would have entailed. I hope that now your business is started, you will be able to post more baking, as it is a truly excellent blog. I don't even bake - mostly I only bake something after being inspired by your blog, and it is always interesting to read in any case. I love the mixture of practical baking knowledge, enticing photos, and readable history
i love cake.... but this cake sound delicious.... i have no words to express.... such a nice post....
YUM YUM YUM!! My stomach just audibly growled at my desk. I can’t wait to try this, so perfect for this cold, wet weather in the city
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Wow! This cake looks super yummy. I would love that for my wedding.
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Wow! This cake looks super yummy. I would love that for my wedding.
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