Nelson Balls (1881) ★★★★

If you haven't already heard of The Foods of England Project, I really recommend exploring the website. Its a really informative site and its where I found today's recipe for Nelson Balls.

Apparently Nelson Balls may have been named after Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). Nelson was a British officer, recognized for his service during the Napoleonic Wars. He is known for his famous quote, "England expects that every man will do his duty." I'm not sure what this has to do with lemon-flavoured confections, but I suppose its a nice enough legacy for a war hero.

Amusingly, the recipe on The Foods of England Project page came from a book published in the United States. There wasn't much other information, other than the earliest known reference to Nelson Balls was in an 1803 advertisement: "E Russell, Bread and Biscuit-baker ... the greatest variety of biscuits, Nelson's balls, Dutchess of York's biscuits..." So I decided to do a little internet digging. I did a search through Google Books and found a plethora of references to Nelson Balls. Several sources offered definitions of the food:
Salopia Antiqua (London, 1841)
Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words (London, 1855)
The English Dialect Dictionary (1905)

I also found an interesting article about Nelson Balls:
So it appears that the treat was known under several names: Nelson Balls, Nelson's Balls, Waterloo Balls, and Nelson's Bullets. In one case, it appears that some schoolboys decided to refer to the confection as "horseballs." Nelson balls also seem to be a critical ingredient in the recipe for Nelson Puddings:

While there was a huge selection of recipes available for Nelson Pudding, I could only find one other for Nelson Balls:

Massey and Son's Biscuit, Ice, & Compote Book (London, 1866)
By the way, if you're interested in what a biscuit break is, Ivan Day has a great post all about that.

Original Recipe:

NELSON BALLS  3 lbs flour ½ lb butter ½ lb sifted sugar Essence of lemon to flavor.   Mix up very stiff with milk; place in a cloth for a half hour; break smooth with a biscuit break; mould into small balls about the size of a walnut; bake in a rather quick oven, and put in a warm place to dry.

The Verdict:

This recipe looked huge, so I decided to third the amount of ingredients. In the end I got maybe 30 or slightly less balls out of the thirded recipe. There wasn't really a described method, so I ended up mixing the ingredients in order. I put the flour and sugar in a bowl and mixed in the butter with my fingers. Then I added the milk and lemon extract, working it to a stiff dough with my hands. I let it sit for longer than half an hour because I got distracted. I beat the dough with my rolling pin for a while, until it looked nice and smooth. I wasn't sure about "size of a walnut," but since the recipes for Nelson Puddings called for 6 balls or small cakes, I made them about golf ball size. I baked them for about 15 minutes at 380F.

These aren't bad. The are not very sweet at all and I could have used more lemon flavouring (even though the dough smelled strongly, it wasn't enough after they were cooked). Some fresh lemon zest would have been great, actually. Mr. Man loved them (he doesn't like overly sweet things), but we both agreed these would be improved by some icing on top or even lemon curd in the middle, as they're a bit dry and dense. I can really see how making them into a pudding would be a great improvement. They're definitely edible as is, though!

Modernized Recipe*:

(Adapted from The complete bread, cake and cracker baker)

455g FLOUR

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Add the butter and combine with your fingers until crumbly.
2. Add in a little milk at a time, mixing until you get a stiff dough. Add the lemon extract to taste. On a flat surface, knead and beat the dough with a rolling pin until it is smooth.
3. Cover the dough with a cloth or plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 380F.
4. After the dough has rested, roll into balls about the size of a golf ball. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tops just start to turn light brown. They don't rise or spread much at all, so they can sit close together on the baking sheet.

*Thirded recipe

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.