Friday 10 January 2014

Wooden Food Moulds

Living in this modern world of plastic food moulds and factory made cakes and confectionery got me thinking about what they did in 'the old days' when it came to decoration on food. So I had a little dig around and found many historical food moulds, the majority made from pear or boxwood. Here are just a few.

Many thanks go to Ivan Day, food historian and television & radio broadcaster for the reproduction of much of the text and images in this post.

Twelfth Cake Moulds

This impressive Twelfth Cake is ornamented with gum paste 'devices' printed from original eighteenth century moulds. The two crowns, standard decorations used on cakes of this kind, were constructed from ten individual shapes pressed from the mould below, a rare survivor from the late eighteenth century. The other ornaments were all printed from two carved wooden moulds or confectioner's boards. Designs for these cakes varied considerably, but the cake above, made with the tools of the Georgian confectioners trade gives a pretty fair impression of these remarkable precursors of the Victorian Christmas Cake.

Eighteenth century crown sugar mould

The front and back of a typical confectioner's board carved with various "devices". This mould is unusual in that it is carved from chestnut. Most were carved from box or pearwood.

A nineteenth century fruitwood mould carved by the celebrated confectioner William Jarrin. Jarrin was famous for his elaborately decorated Twelfth Cakes, which graced the window of his shop during the Christmas season. Motifs of this kind were pressed out of gum paste and stuck back-to-back to form standing figures. They were probably designed as Twelfth Cake ornaments.

This striking specimen of a Jarrin mould below depicts a winged Egyptian mask signed by him on the side, it is dated - 1820.  It is also exceptionally large, taking up almost the full length of a ten inch long block of pear wood.

English Gingerbread Moulds

These little gingerbreads are flavoured with ginger and coloured with red sanders. Chips of red sanders can be seen at the top left of the photograph. It is the wood of the red sandelwood tree (Pterocarpus santalinum),which before the introduction of cochineal was used as a red food colouring. In sixteenth century London there was such a call for it as a dyestuff that there was actually a Guild of Sanders Beaters, whose job was to grind this very hard brick red wood into a fine dust.

Below are a pair of early Stuart gingerbread Moulds.

A nineteenth century pearwood mould for making Punch and Judy gingerbreads,
and a pair of gingerbreads made from that mould.

A selection of English moulded gingerbreads


Some high status dishes in the medieval and early modern periods were not merely decorative, but adorned with images of allegorical, heraldic or religious significance. The sixteenth century Portuguese almond paste mould below, carved with an image of Orpheus playing music to the beasts and birds.

Early modern French multi-purpose food mould with hunting scenes and coats of arms.

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, pies with incredible baroque pastry decorations similar to those on plasterwork and woodcarving were a common element at important feasts. The pastry cooks who made these extraordinary food items possessed skills which were frequently as well developed as those of artists who worked in more conventional media.

Old Icelandic bread moulds

These carved wooden moulds would be pressed on top of the bread prior to baking, to make patterns in the crust

Inscription:  'Glory be to the Good Giver of Gifts'


A French pearwood card mould (ca.1780). The card is carved with the components to make a number of objects, including the tazza (below) with its emblematic royal dolphins.

An early boxwood confectioner's mould (ca. 1720.) for making the components of a tester bed (below). There are more motifs on the back. This kind of mould, carved on both sides, was known as a 'card' or 'board'.The bed may have been designed as an ornament for a bride cake.

A dolphin tazza                                                                          The gum-paste tester bed

A Victorian Royal Cheese Mould


Wooden moulds were also utilised for printing decorative patterns on quiddany, cotoniack and Genoa paste, the principal quince confections of the early modern period.

A quince paste mould carved with the arms of Phillip V of Spain - 18th century.

After this relatively small amount of research into the subject of wooden food moulds it makes me think how boring modern food is to look at by comparison, all these moulds were carved by hand, with our modern technology and CNC carving capability's why are all present day pies, pastries and confectionary not decorated to such a fine detail ?

Many thanks go to Ivan Day, food historian and television & radio broadcaster for the reproduction of much of the text and images in this post. His highly informative website can be found here:


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  3. Wonderful!!! I have a keen interest in old methods of cooking and baking and this is much better than merely reading about it. Thank you so much for posting these photos and text!

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