Harlequin Salad

It is June, and summer is upon us! It’s the time of salady goodness! And I have here a very easy salad for you which I’ve cobbled together over the years. It’s simple and fresh and delicious and exceedingly easy to make. In fact, the skill bar is set so low I’m going to sum it up in one sentence.

If you can use a knife, you can make this salad.

Yes, it’s that easy.

Like pretty much everyone, I think small is cute, especially when it comes to food. This salad embodies that notion, because all of the elements are of a similarly small size. It also addresses a perennial salad problem, that of gloopiness. Salad vegetables usually have a high water content, and when you start cutting into them, the juice starts to flow, so your salad can become somewhat waterlogged in a very short time. With just a couple of tweaks to your regular salad preparation, you can keep your ingredients crisp and fresh much longer.

Each element is neatly diced to keep the overall appearance looking clean and fresh. Cutting raw broccoli and cauliflower into miniature florets, as opposed to just chopping them, keeps the salad from becoming cluttered with stray leaves falling off. Plus mini florets look adorable.

Another advantage of this salad is how you can easily customise it to whatever you have to hand. For example, I had hoped to include radishes in the picture above, but the supermarket had not received its delivery and there were none to be had. So I just left them out. You’re only going to be limited by your imagination: if you’re a fan of fruit in salad, add in some chopped apple and pomegranate seeds, if you relish crunchy sharp flavours, add in some pickled vegetables. Just be sure to follow The Rule.

The One Rule: Everything in your salad should be roughly the same size.

Gather your ingredients and decide on the smallest item. In the salad above, it’s the sweetcorn, but it could just as easily be peas or something else. Using that as a guideline, peel and dice your salad ingredients to a similar size and mix them together.

Harlequin Salad

This salad can be scaled to your requirements – for as small a number as one, as a main course, to a family-sized bowl as a side. Undressed, it will keep in the fridge for several days. The number of ingredients is enirely up to you, but there should be roughly the same quantity of each ingredient. Here’s a brief run down of how to prep various salad ingredients. The top two are the most important to ensure your salad stays gloop-free.

  • Cucumber: Cut off a 6-8cm piece and cut it in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scrape out the seeds, leaving just the green flesh. Discard the seeds.¹ Slice the rest of the cucumber lengthwise into 1cm thick strips, then cut across into 1cm dice.
  • Tomatoes: Cut in half around the middle, then slice the seed stalk as shown in the picture. Scrape the seeds into a bowl and set side (see Harlequin Salad Dressing below). Slice the tomato flesh into 1cm dice. I used mini tomatoes, which were a bit fiddly, but they had beautiful mixture of reds and yellows.

  • Celery: Wash the stalks and trim the ends. Slice into 1cm strips. Cut across into 1cm dice.
  • Carrot: Top and tail and cut lengthways into 1cm thick slices. Cut each slice into 1cm strips and then cut across into 1cm dice.
  • Raw Broccoli: Cut mini florets from the 1-2 large branches. Cut the stalk into 1cm slices, then into 1cm strips and dice.
  • Raw Cauliflower: Cut mini florets from the 1-2 large branches. Cut the stalk into 1cm slices, then into 1cm strips and dice.
  • Raw French Beans: Top and tail and cut into 1cm slices.
  • Radishes: Top and tail and cut in half. Cut each half into four. If large, you might need to cut down further.
  • Peppers – all colours: Cut in half and remove the stalk and seeds. Cut into 1cm strips, then into 1cm dice.
  • Spring onions: Remove papery outer layers and trim roots. Slice into 1cm slices.
  • Red onions/shallots: Top and tail and remove papery outer layers. Cut into 1cm slices, then across into 1cm dice.
  • Red Cabbage – raw or pickled: Cut a 1cm slice, then cut into 1cm strips and slice into 1cm dice.
  • Sweetcorn – fresh, canned or frozen: No chopping required.
  • Peas – fresh or frozen: No chopping required.
  • Pomegranate Seeds: No chopping required.
  • Apple: Have the juice of a lemon ready squeezed. Peel (or not, you choose) your apple and cut in half. Remove the core and cut each half into 1cm slices. Cut the slices into strips and then cut across into dice. Toss immediately in lemon juice to prevent browning. Drain thoroughly before adding to the rest of the ingredients.
  • Pickled silverskin onions: No chopping required.
  • Pickled cornichons: Cut in half lengthwise, then slice into 1cm pieces.
  • Olives: Cut in quarters or eighths, depending on size.

When you’ve gathered and chopped your salad ingredients, the last flourishing touch is to add the secret ingredient which makes this salad really sing:

  • at least 1 sprig fresh mint

A little goes a long way, so one sprig is probably all you’ll need, unless in a moment of madness you’ve recklessly agreed to make Harlequin Salad in catering quantities.

Strip the leaves from the sprig of mint and shred finely. Turn the shreds and chop again crossways to cut the mint into small pieces and sprinkle over your chopped vegetables. Toss gently to combine.

Harlequin Salad Dressing

The tomato seeds can be a bit irritating, and in this instance would otherwise interfere with the clean salad appearance, but the flesh around them is deliciously tart and perfect to use in a dressing.

tomato seeds from the salad
olive oil
salt and coarse-ground black pepper
a light vinegar (optional)

  • Sieve the tomato seeds over a bowl until  all that remains are the seeds.
  • Add 1tbs olive oil, salt and pepper to the tomato seed juice and mix to combine.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more oil/vinegar as required.
  • Set aside until ready to serve the salad.

To Serve

  • Wash some lettuce leaves (I used Cos/Romaine), pat them dry with a paper towel and use them to line a serving dish.
  • Shake your dressing and pour over your chopped vegetables and toss gently to mix.
  • Spoon the dressed salad onto the leaves and serve.

¹I agonised over this, as it’s the only waste in this salad. Having thought about it for a while, my suggestion is to sieve the seeds to remove all the juice, and have a shot of cucumber water with your salad.

Cream Toasts

This is going to be the newest recipe on here, because I just made it up!

Well, not to claim all the credit – it is a Lego™ recipe in that I’ve cherry-picked a bit from here and a bit from there and brought it together into something absolutely delicious. As a bonus, it can be made with just a few storecupboard ingredients.

It struck me recently that there are no 21st century recipes here – indeed, there wasn’t even a 21st century category until I added one just now. I don’t want this blog to become a museum to British food, rather for it to be an ongoing celebration of British food that ranges across centuries, including this one.

This recipe pays homage to recipes that date back to Days of Yore (a very technical term in food history circles, which means quite a number of years ago!). Poor Knights of Windsor, Fried Cream, Fried Toasts and Pain Perdu are all similar dishes and all have long pedigrees in British food. Eggs, bread, sugar and cream, together with some spices and flavourings, sometimes even a splash of alcohol, have been tweaked and teased into subtly different, but equally enjoyable, dishes for centuries.

This recipe is also similar to several dishes ‘out there’ because, as we know, there’s nothing new under the sun. I’ve done some fairly rigorous searching and there isn’t anything out there exactly like this, but if I have missed something, be sure to let me know.

It was inspired by a dish I saw recently on television, specifically a caramelised French Toast, served in a restaurant in the Basque region in Spain: the smooth shiny, crisp outside a stark contrast with the soft, creamy insides. The local name for these fried milk toasts is Torrijas. Rather that slices, I decided to make toast fingers and roll them in panko breadcrumbs for contrasting crunch, because everything tastes better with crunch!

You can make simplified versions of this, according to your cupboard contents, but I’m just going to run through the method I used and the reasons behind it, so you can make your own decisions.

The Bread: Unsliced white bread. For a start, in these modern, health-conscious times, white bread is so NORTY, which makes it taste doubly delicious when used for a treat such as this. You can make your own, which has its advantages in that it holds up better during the soaking in the milk. However, a BOUGHTEN white loaf from the bakery retains its feather lightness incredibly, if you’re willing to be patient in the handling/preparation. It helps if you stale the bread a little before the soaking, as that will help keep it from falling apart. More on this below.

The Milk: A mixture of condensed milk and fresh milk gives both sweetness and richness. Also, keeping a tin on hand in the cupboard makes these an anytime snack. You could also mix your own combination of sugars and fresh cream/milk. Just ensure your mixture is fluid enough to soak into the bread.

The Flavourings. Whatever takes your fancy, really. I infused the milk with some citrus zest and then added a generous splash of vanilla and orange-flower water. It makes for a very creamy aroma, if that makes any sense.

The Coating: Breadcrumbs, Japanese Panko-style for preference. It forms a crisp, golden shell around the soft pillowy bread and looks very appetising when cooked and golden brown. My local supermarket (the orange one) has recently started selling large bags of panko breadcrumbs in the Japanese Foods section of the International Foods aisle. Great value for money and perfect for this recipe. Also, I prefer to use eggwhites for coating, as I believe it helps give crispness.

The Frying: Again, whatever takes your fancy. I used Indian ghee (clarified butter), as I didn’t want the milk solids from regular butter to catch in the pan and spoil the breadcrumb coating with dark flecks. You could also use oil, or even deep-fry them if you have a fryer. Alas, mine is currently filled with beef dripping, which is flavoursome for savoury dishes, but not so suitable for this sweet treat.

Cream Toasts

These quantities will make several servings, so if you’re not going to use it up all at once, keep the extra milk in the fridge for later use.

white loaf of bread

280ml milk – whole, skimmed, whatever you have
zest of 1 lemon
1tsp orange flower water (optional)
1tsp vanilla flavouring (optional)
1 tin sweetened condensed milk (397ml)

eggwhites for coating
panko breadcrumbs for coating
ghee, butter or oil for frying

sharp, seedless jam (raspberry/redcurrant/cranberry) or coulis to serve

  • Remove the crusts from the loaf and set aside for crust sandwiches.
  • Cut the bread ino 3cm slices, then cut each slice into 3 x 3cm fingers. Arrange the bread fingers on a wire cooling rack to stale for about an hour. This can be done beforehand.
  • Put the milk into a small pan and add the lemon zest.
  • Bring to a gentle boil and turn off the heat.
  • Cover and allow to infuse for 30 minutes.
  • Strain out the lemon zest (if you prefer, I didn’t) and mix in the condensed milk and other flavourings until well combined. Set aside.
  • Pour a little of the milk mixture into a plastic box.
  • Arrange the slightly stale bread fingers in the box, then pour over the rest of the milk mixture. Leave to soak for 5 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the bread fingers over and allow to soak for another 5 minutes.
  • Drain off the excess milk and put the plastic box into the fridge – uncovered – for an hour or two. This will allow the outside of the bread fingers to dry a little. If you’re wanting to make these for breakfast you can do everything up to this point the night before, and then continue in the morning. If leaving overnight, cover the box lightly in cling film so that it doesn’t dry out too much.
  • When ready to cook, pour some eggwhite into a plastic box and the panko breadcrumbs onto a shallow tray.
  • Whisk the eggwhites briefly until frothy.
  • Carefully take each soaked bread finger and coat with eggwhite. Since they will be rather delicate, I usually drop them into the eggwhite one by one and then shake the box from side to side and get the eggwhite to wash over them that way.
  • Lift out and let the excess eggwhite drain off, then lay them in the panko breadcrumbs.
  • Pat the panko onto the bread fingers until thoroughly coated.
  • Set aside onto a plate until ready to be cooked.
  • Heat the fat you are using in a small pan on medium heat. I use 6 on a scale of 1-9. If you use a small pan and can make your fat/oil 2cm deep, you’ll only need to turn your cream toasts once. If it’s shallower, you may need to fry each side individually.
  • Fry 3 or 4 fingers in the pan at a time. Cook until the panko coating is crisp and golden.
  • While they are cooking, set out a wire cooling rack, with a sheet of kitchen roll underneath it.
  • When cooked, transfer the now golden brown toasts to the wire rack and allow to drain.
  • Serve warm with a pot of jam/coulis for dipping.

Bonus recipe – Crispy Eggy Bread

Four fingers of Crunchy Eggy Bread with tomato ketchup for dipping

This same method can be used to jazz-up a personal favourite of mine – Eggy Bread. This is a savoury version of egg-soaked bread, and one which I enjoyed for breakfast as a child and still do to this day.

This recipe is more easily scaled than the one above, as it can be made in a per-person quantity.

The home-made loaf I made suited this recipe better than store bought.

Crispy Eggy Bread for One

1 x 3cm thick slice of white bread
1 large egg
salt and pepper to taste

eggwhites for coating
panko breadcrumbs for coating
ghee, butter or oil for frying

tomato ketchup to serve

  • Remove the crusts from the loaf and cut into 3 x 3cm fingers. Arrange the bread fingers on a wire cooling rack to stale for about an hour. This can be done beforehand.
  • Whisk the egg vigorously, then pass through a sieve to make sure the white and the yolk are fully mixed.
  • Season egg with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour a little of the egg mixture into a plastic box.
  • Arrange the slightly stale bread fingers in the box, then pour over the rest of the egg mixture. Leave to soak for 5 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the bread fingers over and allow to soak for another 5 minutes.
  • Put the plastic box into the fridge – uncovered – for an hour or two.. This will allow the outside of the bread fingers to dry a little. If you’re wanting to make these for breakfast you can do everything up to this point the night before, and then continue in the morning. If leaving overnight, cover the box lightly in cling film so that it doesn’t dry out too much.
  • When ready to cook, pour some eggwhite into a plastic box and the panko breadcrumbs onto a shallow tray.
  • Whisk the eggwhites briefly until frothy.
  • Carefully take each soaked bread finger and coat with eggwhite. Since they will be rather delicate, I usually drop them into the eggwhite one by one and then shake the box from side to side and get the eggwhite to wash over them that way.
  • Lift out and let the excess eggwhite drain off, then lay them in the panko breadcrumbs.
  • Set aside onto a plate until ready to be cooked.
  • Heat the fat you are using in a small pan on medium heat. I use 6 on a scale of 1-9. If you use a small pan and can make your fat/oil 2cm deep, you’ll only need to turn your eggy bread fingers once. If it’s shallower, you may need to fry each side individually.
  • Fry the fingers in the pan until the panko coating is crisp and golden.
  • While they are cooking, set out a wire cooling rack, with a sheet of kitchen roll underneath it.
  • When cooked, transfer the now golden brown toasts to the wire rack and allow to drain.
  • Serve warm with a pot of tomato ketchup for dipping.

Marble Cake

Marble Cake can be considered a classic British cake, still enjoyed by many all over the country. To my mind, however, it has always seemed less marble-y and more blobby, in that the big dollops of (usually) vanilla and chocolate cake batters are frequently only half-heartedly stirred together.

Well, as we all know, there’s nothing new under the sun and just over 100 years ago, Frederick T. Vine was thinking just the same thing. In his 1908 commercial baking book “Cakes and How To Make Them”, he has entries for several different marble cakes, whether by design or whether he forgot he’d already included some in the front of the book and just bunged a couple more in later on, we don’t know. His suggestions are obviously geared towards commercial bakeries turning out dozens of different cakes, as he initially suggests taking quantities of mixtures that are probably prepared on a daily basis and combining them into marble cakes a lot more colourfully than we do today.

  • Marble Cake No.1: 1 batch of Silver Cake, divided, half coloured pink, half left white, 1 batch Spice Cake, 2 batches Gold Cake.
  • Marble Cake No 2: 1 batch Silver Cake, divided: ¼ coloured pink, ¼ coloured brown with cocoa, ½ left white.
  • Marble Cake No 3: ‘White Part’ made with egg-whites, ‘Dark Part’ made with yolks, treacle, cinnamon and dark brown sugar.
  • Marble Cake No. 4: Silver Cake, with coloured and flavoured milk.

I tried a version of Marble Cake No. 1 some time ago, in a variety of loaf tins (see image below), and it certainly made a very jolly and colourful cake. However, if I’m being honest, it was still rather on the blobby side. So trying the ‘coloured milk’ method has been on the ToDo List ever since, and here we are.

4 slices of Fred Vine's four-colour marble cake

The original recipe did not call for any flavouring, aside from some brandy, so after a couple of trials I decided that a better approach was to flavour both the cake and the milk. I chose to flavour the cake with lemon and the milk with raspberry, to both preserve the paleness of the Silver Cake, and to make the milk complementary in flavour and contrasting in colour. You can, of course, choose any combination that appeals.

Using coloured/flavoured milk for the contrast allows for a much more delicate pattern to be achieved, and although a little fiddly in the construction, the results are very pleasing. The fine lines of red are a much more accurate depicion of the patterns in marble, and these are interspersed with the strong patches of colour/flavour where the milk has pooled between the spoonfuls of cake batter, almost a raspberry ‘ripple’ effect.

Marble Cake

I baked this Silver Cake mixture in mini loaf tins, but you could also use larger or smaller loaf tins and adjust the baking time accordingly.

115g unsalted butter, softened
140g caster sugar
140 egg whites
30ml brandy
zest of 1 large lemon
190g plain flour
60g cornflour
1tsp cream of tartar
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
milk (maybe)

60ml whole milk
raspberry flavouring
claret/raspberry colouring

  • Grease and line 3 mini loaf tins (16cm x 9 cm x 5cm) with baking parchment.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Mix the colour and flavouring into the milk. You want both to be strong, in order to be able to see and taste them in the baked cake.
  • Whisk the softened butter until light and creamy.
  • Add the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy
  • Add the eggwhites and mix thoroughly.
  • Mix in the brandy and the lemon zest.
  • Sift the remaining dry ingredients together, and gradually mix into the wet ingredients.
  • If the mixture seems a little tight, mix through some milk until you achieve a dropping consistency.
  • Spoon the mixture into the bottom of each tin in shallow blobs. Brush over the flavoured milk. There should be no uncoloured cake mixture. The excess milk will pool between the spoonfuls of batter and that’s fine. Each ‘layer’ should be a series of uneven portions of cake mix, rather than a smooth layer. Having the cake mix too smooth will make the flavoured marbling appear too formal. I found the best method was to scoop half a spoonful of cake mixture and lay it into the tin by ‘unscooping’ using the opposite wrist action, to lay it in a partial layer rather than a blob.
  • Repeat the spooning and painting until all the cake mixture has been used up.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes, turning the tins around after 15 minutes to ensure even baking. NB Be careful not to overbake – as an egg-white-only cake it will never be golden brown, and overbaking will make your cakes dry.
  • When baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, before removing the cakes from the tins, peeling off the parchment and setting to cool on a wire rack.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Hot Cross Buns

More interesting than toast, not as rich as cake, what’s not to love about a bun?  The buns traditionally served towards then end of Lent are… well now, here’s the thing. They go by many names. Most people might think, as the title above implies, that they’re Hot Cross Buns, but that’s not strictly accurate. “Hot Cross Buns!” was originally the cry of the street vendors who sold Cross Buns – hot. Recipes also appear under the name “Good Friday Buns” and “Easter Buns”.

Interestingly, Cross Buns weren’t originally fruited, only spiced – and thanks to an edict from Queen Elizabeth I, could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and for funerals.

“That no baker or other person or persons shall at any time or times hereafter, make,
utter or sell by retail within or without their houses, unto any the queen’s subjects,
any spice cakes, buns, bisket or other spice bread (being bread out of size, and not by
law allowed), except it be at burials, or upon the Friday before Easter, or at Christmas;
upon pain of forfeiture of all such spice bread to the poor.”

John Powell, The Assyse of Breade, 1595

Fruit gradually crept into recipes from about the middle of the 19th century, presumably as industrialization and improved transport links brought foodstuffs from far flung places to the UK cheaper and quicker, all to make for a really indulgent treat after the privations of Lent.

This recipe comes from a very favourite author of mine: Frederick T. Vine. Doyen of numerous professional books for the baker and confectioner. This is his own personal recipe, scaled down from a recipe in which quantities such as pounds and quarts were bandied about, and a full batch of which would produce almost 650 penny buns. The quantities below will make about 12 x 100g buns, more if you drop the weight down to 85 grams. This might seem a large amount, but they can be gifted to friends and family, or easily frozen to enjoy at a later date.

crossbunsrecipe

The buns are enriched with milk, butter and egg and are packed with bags of fruit and spice. The original recipe also includes malt extract, which gives a wonderfully rich flavour, but isn’t usually something you find in the supermarket, so you can improvise by adding some powdered Ovaltine to the mixing liquid if you have difficulty sourcing it. You can omit it altogether if liked.

The original recipe suggested using flavouring essences of lemon and ‘spice’. I happened to have some lemon flavouring, but no ‘spice’, so I used regular ground spices. Reading an inordinately large number of baking books as I do, I’ve noticed that the use of essences is very prevalent in commercial baking mixtures. The reason seems to be that regular ground spices darken the dough, which is assumed to be unappealing to the customer. This opinion contrasts greatly with the fact that, for example, in modern times the appearance of the seeds in vanilla-flavoured items today are celebrated – how things change! Personally, I like the authentic appearance of the dark flecks of spice, not to mention the flavour. Feel free to go with your own blend of spices, but I really like the punchiness of the quantities below. After all, no-one likes a bland spice bun – if you’re promised spice, you want to be able to taste it.

These buns have a sweetened, tinted glaze to be painted on after they are baked. It uses gelatine to give shine without the stickiness. If you’re not keen on using gelatine and don’t mind a little stickiness with your shine, then omit the gelatine, swap the water for milk and warm to dissolve the sugar.

Hot Cross Buns

I’ve gone for a mixture of spices, but it is traditional to only use allspice. If you’d prefer this flavouring, I suggest just 1½tsp ground allspice, as it is quite potent.

I’ve switched around the method a little to make for a more straightforward approach.

180ml water
90g unsalted butter, cubed
15g malt extract OR 2tbs Ovaltine
180ml milk
30ml of beaten egg, from1 large egg
135g soft brown sugar
½tsp salt
1 sachet fast-acting yeast
30g mixed orange/lemon peel, finely sliced/chopped
180g currants
1/2tsp lemon flavouring OR zest of 1 lemon
1tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground mace
½tsp ground allspice
½tsp ground mixed spice
500g strong white flour

Pre-bake Glaze
30ml beaten egg(from above)
30ml milk

Post-Bake Glaze
1 sheet gelatine (or vegetarian equivalent)
100ml cold water
2tbs caster sugar
1tsp treacle

  • Heat the water, butter and malt/Ovaltine until steaming and the butter melted, then add the (cold) milk. This should bring the temperature down to just warm.
  • Whisk in the egg, sugar, salt, lemon flavouring if using, and yeast.
  • Pour the warm mixture into a bowl.
  • Sift together the flour and spices and add to the bowl.
  • Knead into a soft and supple dough, about 10 mins.
  • Knead in the currants, zest if using, and peel, cover with plastic, and set to rise. Because of the enriched nature of this dough, this will take slightly longer than usual, about 1½ hours.
  • When the dough is risen, turn out onto a floured work surface and pat to deflate.
  • Weigh off the dough into 100g pieces, and then roll and shape each into a smooth ball.
  • Line a deep-sided baking tin with parchment.
  • Place the balls of dough into the pan, pressing with the flat of the had as you do so, to flatten them into discs about 2cm thick. Place these ‘cakes’ about 1cm apart from one another. This will mean they touch as they prove, giving a soft ‘kissing crust’ on each side and a rounded sqare shape.
  • Cut a cross into each bun using a dough cutter or similar. NB Take care not to cut all the way through, just deep enough so that the dough will stay apart during baking, preserving the cross.
  • Cover lightly with a cloth to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan. This is a slightly hotter temperature than usual for buns (180°C, 160°C Fan), because the sides of the tin will block direct heat, and the buns will therefore need cooking a little longer.
  • Pre-bake Glaze: Whisk the remaining egg with the milk and brush over the tops of the buns.
  • Bake for 20 minutes until risen and browned. Turn the tin around after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • While the buns are baking, prepare the gelatine glaze. Soak the gelatine sheet in the water until softened. Heat gently to dissolve the gelatine, then stir in the treacle and sugar. Continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
  • When the buns are baked, remove from the oven and brush over with the glaze.
  • Cover lightly with a cloth and allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. The cloth will keep the steam close, making for a soft crust.
  • After 15 minutes uncover the buns and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you leave them to cool completely in the tin, they’re prone to sogginess.
  • To serve: Cut in half and toast both sides. When toasted, spread with salted butter. For added decadence, add some slices of vintage cheddar cheese. The contrasts between the hot spicy bread, the fruit, the richness of the butter and the sharp, cool and creamy tang of the cheese is sublime.

Twelfth Night Cakes

Twelfth Cakes, circa 1800 (left) from a manuscript recipe book, and James Jenks' 1768 recipe (right).
Twelfth Cakes, circa 1800 (left) from a manuscript recipe book, and James Jenks’ 1768 recipe (right).

The biggest party of the festive season used to be the evening of January 5th, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas (Christmas Day being the first day), at which the Twelfth Night Cake made its appearance. Baked into the cake were a dried bean and dried pea, and when the cake was sliced and distributed amongst guests whoever discovered these in their slices were declared the King (bean) and Queen (pea) of the festivities. Quite how they managed to contrive that the correct gender found the appropriate bean/pea is not clear – unless two cakes were always served.

In times past, my home county of Herefordshire, being a very agricultural region, also has several rural traditions.

  • The Lighting the Twelfth Night Bonfires (twelve small fires in a circle and one larger one in the middle) in a wheat field and toasting the coming season with cider.
  • Wassailing the apple trees: Forming a procession to the apple orchard and arranging pieces of toast from the wassail bowl  (or cake, if one had been baked) in the branches and pouring the contents of the wassail bowl onto the roots of the tree, to encourage a good apple harvest.
  • Baking a cake with a hole in the middle and on Twelfth Night, placing it on the horns of a cow in the byre. The cow was then tickled until he tossed his head. If the cake was thrown backwards, it belonged to the mistress/dairymaid, and if forwards, to the bailiff/cowherd.

The Twelfth Night Cake was an extremely popular celebratory treat for centuries, but its popularity declined from the middle of the nineteenth century. A lot of people on the internet point the finger of blame at Queen Victoria, even going so far as to accuse her of banning the festivities circa 1860-1870. No evidence is offered to support this argument, and indeed I have been unable to find any myself, but if I missed something, do please get in touch and let me know.

Despite its popularity, recipes for Twelfth Cake are relatively few. Indeed, it has long been claimed that John Mollard’s 1801 recipe is the earliest one in print. Well, I do love a challenge, and the two recipes I have for you here do indeed date from the eighteenth century, albeit by a rather oblique route.

The first can be found in James Jenks’ The Complete Cook (1768).

As can be seen above, the recipe is actually called A Rich Cake, but has the helpful note “This is called a twelfth cake at London” underneath.

The second recipe I found in a handwritten manuscript at the Welcome Collection.

Twelfth Cake recipe from MS1074, Wellcome Collection, circa 1800

I appreciate that with an estimated date of 1800, this recipe is only just squeaking in to the 18th century, but I would argue, that it was unlikely to have been invented at the time of it’s entry into the manuscript, and thus has origins firmly in the preceding decades.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Twelfth Cakes are party cakes. They are made for celebrations, to be shared with numerous people, and consequently the quantities of both of these recipes are huge. I managed to scale them down considerably and chose to bake them in mini loaf/cake tins for the photo at the top of this page. This way, everyone can have their own miniature Twelfth Cake, and should you wish to annoint a King and Queen of the Revels, you can solve the tricky problem of ensuring the recipients are of the correct gender by adding the bean and the pea to cakes of different shapes.

James Jenks’ recipe is very heavily fruited and spiced and, whilst being a stickler for accurate scaling of recipes, I have had to reduce the proportion of both mace and clove in the recipe, as the original quantities of these spices tended to clonk you around the head flavourwise, and overpower the rest of the ingredients. The candied peel, nuts and alcohol all provide lots of interest and topped with a billowy royal icing, although both recipes are delicious, they are my personal favourite of the two. If this sparks your interest, Jenks’ book includes a further three rich cakes which could also be served as Twelfth Cakes.

The manuscript recipe is a paler and much milder affair. If lots of dried fruit and spice is not your idea of an enjoyable mouthful, then this might be the Twelfth Cake for you. Think of this as a sedate morning-coffee type of cake, as opposed to the full-on party-in-the-mouth that is James Jenks’ offering.

I chose to bake these in silicone moulds, as this protects the sides of the cake and prevents burning of the fruit. Metal tins might need a little less baking.

James Jenks Twelfth Cakes, 1768

Makes 8 small cakes

100g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
2 large eggs – separated
2 tsp brandy
2 tsp cream sherry
1½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground mace
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
70g plain flour
50g chopped almonds
115g currants
20g candied orange peel, sliced very thin
20g candied lemon peel, sliced very thin
20g candied citron peel, sliced very thin

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line your chosen baking tins with parchment.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Whisk in the egg yolks, brandy and sherry.
  • Sift together the flour and spices and fold into the mixture.
  • Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter, 1/3 at a time.
  • Fold through the fruit and nuts.
  • Spoon into the moulds. A standard ice-cream scoop is helpful here.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the tins/moulds around and bake for a further 10 minutes for a total of 25 minutes.
  • Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Icing
100g icing sugar
25g egg-white

  • Heat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Whisk the sugar and egg-white together for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is thickened.
  • Spread as liked on your Twelfth Cakes.
  • Set the cakes into the oven and turn off the heat.
  • Remove after 15 minutes, when the icing has set.
  • Set aside to cool.

Twelfth Cakes circa 1800

Makes 8-10 small cakes

100g salt butter
115g  powdered sugar
2 tsp brandy
3 large eggs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
170g plain flour
170g currants

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line your chosen baking tins with parchment.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Whisk in the eggs, one by one.
  • Add the brandy.
  • Sift together the flour and cinnamon and fold into the mixture.
  • Fold through the fruit and nuts.
  • Spoon into the moulds. A standard ice-cream scoop is helpful here.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the tins around and bake for a further 10 minutes for a total of 25 minutes.
  • Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Icing
100g icing sugar
25g egg-white

  • Heat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Whisk the sugar and egg-white together for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is thickened.
  • Spread as liked on your Twelfth Cakes.
  • Set the cakes into the oven and turn off the heat.
  • Remove after 15 minutes, when the icing has set.
  • Set aside to cool.

Chestnut Apple Pie

Lady Grisel Baillie was a Scottish noblewoman who lived in the 17th/18th century. She was married to a Scottish MP, and became known to social historians for the meticulously detailed account books she kept, which  offer a glimpse into the cost of living during that time, including food and drink, servants wages, travel costs and entertainment. Lady Grisel was also something of a foodie, as she noted down many a menu from various dinners she and her husband attended.

Extracts of Lady Grisel’s household books were published by the Scottish Historical Society in 1911 and over the years I have dipped into this book many times, and have been somewhat frustrated that menus are recorded, but not recipes. She definitely had a recipe book, because the Scottish Historical Society lists it amongst her papers:

“Lady Grisell left three ‘Day Books’ folio size, the first running from 1692 to 1718 inclusive, and containing 442 pages ; the second from 1719 to 1742 inclusive, and containing 354 pages, and the third from 1742 to the date of her death (6th December 1746), continued by her daughter, Lady Murray. She also left books containing the accounts of expenses in connection with their journeys to Bath and to the Continent ; Books containing Inventories of Bottles, etc. ; a Book of Receipts ; a Book of Bills of Fare ; Books relating to estate management during the years 1742, 1743 and 1744, and many other Account and Memoranda Books.”

A few years ago, I revisited a manuscript at the Folger Library to study a recipe for Stilton Cheese that had caught my eye, (the results of which can be found in Petits Propos Culinaires 114, June 2019), and in the course of my research, discovered that the manuscript in which it appeared was the long-lost recipe book of Lady Grisel Baillie! The manuscript had been purchased by the Folger Library in June, 1959 from the London bookseller Francis Edwards, Ltd. for the princely sum of £35.00. More intriguing is what happened to it during the preceding 48 years, from 1911, when its existence was noted by the Scottish Historical Society, and its purchase and trans-Atlantic voyage in 1959, and why the current Mellerstain estate owners didn’t know where it was. Very mysterious!

The point of this extended preamble is that this recipe comes from that self-same, long-lost recipe book. It has been on my radar for a while, because it is a sweet pie with chestnuts, and when I spotted nets of fresh chestnuts in the shops this week, I was enthused to have a stab at it.

A Cheston Pye, from the cookbook of Lady Grisel Baillie, Folger Digital Image Collection, Ms W.a.111, p289, circa 1706.

Which also brings me to the word of the day: scald. Both apples and chestnuts are scalded in this recipe, and after much hunting about reading other usages, the best definition I can come up with is: cooked gently in their skins. When scalded, the apple skin will peel off by itself freely, leaving the partially cooked flesh intact. I suspect this was done to prevent wastage, preserve flavour and minimise juice. Similarly, the chestnuts are scalded in order to soften them and to loosen both the skin and the pith surrounding the nut. This all sounds simple, but, from experience, left unsupervised, things can get a little tricky. It doesn’t take much for the water in which the apples are scalding to become too hot, thereby causing the apples to burst, and then you have to retrieve your apple pulp from the ‘soup’ in the saucepan. Scald the chestnuts for too long, and then you will have difficulty extracting them whole. This isn’t too much of a disaster, as the crumbled pieces are perfect for this dish, but if you were wanting them for another use – candying, for example – the wastage in broken nuts can get quite high.

Why you should make this pie

Well, it’s absolutely delicious, that’s why! It’s unusual, in that it is a sweet pie with chestnuts, and thus something of a novelty in modern recipes. During the long, slow baking, the pastry crisps up beautifully, and the chestnuts and candied lemon soak up some of the apple juice and become soft. The texture of the apples and the chestnuts is much more interesting that a regular apple pie and the contrast between the filling and the two different types of pastry is a delight. This pie embodies autumn in a deliciously comforting way, you’ll be elbowing your way back to the nets of chestnuts to make it again. Perfect for the upcoming holiday season!

Sliced of Chestnut Apple Pie
Slices of Chestnut Apple Pie: The pie slices very neatly when cold, and the chestnuts and candied lemon peel are shown.

Chestnut and Apple Pie

These quantities are for a 20cm diameter pie. You can obviously use as many or as few chestnuts as you like. You can, of course, shorten the prep time by using stewed apple and ready-cooked chestnuts. The only caveat to this I would add is that the ready-cooked chestnuts you can buy tend to be a little dark, whereas if you scald them yourself, they come out very similar in colour to the apple pulp.

If you’re making this from scratch, prepare the apples and chestnuts a day or so ahead, and then assemble the pie when required. The cooked apples and chestnuts will keep in the fridge several days.

Filling
4 Bramley Apples (or 600g unsweetened stewed apple)
1 x 400g net of raw chestnuts (or 300g cooked chestnuts)
30g candied lemon peel
30g unsalted butter
3-4tbs caster sugar
3tbs cornflour
zest of 1/2 a lemon (optional)

1 x box of ready rolled puff pastry
egg-white for glazing

Base Pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
ice cold water

  • Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth.
  • Roll out the pastry to the desired thickness (5mm) and line a greased, 20cm pie tin. Ease the pastry into the corners of the tin, rather than stretch it, and allow the excess to hang over the edges of the tin.
  • Place in the fridge to chill until required.

To scald the apples

  • Put the apples, whole, into a saucepan and add just enough water to cover.
  • Lay a saucer upside-down on top of the apples, to keep them submerged.
  • Put the saucepan on a gentle heat (I use 5 on a 1-9 scale) and allow the apples to barely simmer for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them, and if the skin starts to split, remove from the heat and the water immediately.
  • Lift the scalded apples out of the pan and set aside to cool.
  • When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and then scoop all the flesh from the core.
  • Mash the apple pulp with a fork. You don’t need to make it puree-smooth, just get rid of the larger lumps.
  • Mix the sugar and cornflour together and then add to the apple pulp and mix thoroughly.
  • Taste the apple pulp and add more sugar to taste.
  • Set the apple pulp aside until required.

To scald the chestnuts

  • Using a sharp knife, cut a slit ito each nut, being sure to pierce bith the hard outer shell and the soft skin underneath.
  • Put the nuts into a saucepan and cover with cold water.
  • Set pan on a gentle heat, and simmer the chestnuts for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the water.
  • Remove the chestnuts one at a time and peel away the softened shell and skin. Don’t worry if the nut doesn’t come out whole, as pieces are perfect for this recipe. Don’t drain the chestnuts, because the shells will harden quickly once out of the water, and make peeling them difficult.
  • Crumble the chestnuts into pieces – not too small – and store in a covered container in the fridge until required.

To assemble the pie.

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Slice the candied lemon peel into thin slivers. If you don’t have whole pieces, diced is fine, just make sure they’re not too big.
  • Divide the butter into three. Keep chilled until required.
  • Remove the pie tin from the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Leave about a 2cm overhang from the edge of the tin.
  • Fill the pie
    • Add a layer of apple pulp.
    • Add half the chestnuts in a layer
    • Add half the lemon peel
    • Dot over 1 portion of the butter in thin slices.
    • Add a layer of apple pulp.
    • Add half the chestnuts in a layer
    • Add half the lemon peel
    • Dot over 1 portion of the butter in thin slices.
    • Add a layer of apple pulp.
    • Dot over the last portion of the butter in thin slices.
    • Grate over the zest of half a lemon (optional). I like the lemony zing, but it can be omitted if you prefer.
  • Unroll the puff pastry and smooth out with a few strokes of the rolling pin.
  • Wet the edges of the shortcrust pastry with water.
  • Lay the puff pastry over the top of the pie and press the edges together gently.
  • Trim the puff pastry to the size of the shortcrust pastry.
  • Crimp the pastry edges as shown in the top photograph.
  • Cut out decorations for the top of the pie from the puff pastry offcuts and lay them on the pastry lid. I did a few apples and chestnuts.
  • Brush the top of the pie with eggwhite.
  • Bake the pie for 60 minutes. Turn the pie around after 30 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • After a further 20 minutes, if your puff pastry isn’t quite cooked through, turn the heat up to 220°C, 200°C Fan for the last 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pie from the tin and allow to cool until just warm.
  • Serve with double cream.

Querkles

These biscuits are great to have to hand in the cupboard for enjoying with cheese or jam, with butter, or serve them completely unadorned with drinks for toothsome and low-fat snacking – they may look plain, but they’re very moreish.

When I was writing last week’s post about Almacks, I thought to myself: I can add a link to those nice cracker biscuits – and then I couldn’t find them on the blog at all. The pictures eventually turned up in a folder on my laptop almost two years old, because it appears that I’d taken the photos but forgotten to actually write the post ! And so here we are.

These unusually-named biscuits come from the classic Victorian “Biscuits for Bakers” (1896) by Frederick T. Vine. Mr Vine has no idea where the name came from but assures us that “As the above seems rather catchy and the biscuits are something of a novelty, we will let it stand.”

Making your own savoury biscuits might seem a bit of a chore, especially when opening a packet is so much easier, but it’s always good to have a recipe to hand for short notice situations.

OK, now I think on it, I must confess I’m at a bit of a loss as to what kind of situation might warrant being deemed a biscuit emergency, so ANYHOO….

Another reason for making your own, of course, is because you have complete control over size, shape, texture and flavour of your biscuits. For crackers this is extremely simple, for it takes no more than the addition of a spoonful of dried herbs or a sprinkling of sea salt flakes to make a batch individual. The size is only limited by what biscuit cutters you possess. I’ve used a set of mini cutters to make the crackers in the picture above, each roughly the same size, but with differing shapes, which, in my opinion adds to the appeal. I’ll admit the biscuits shown in the picture are very small, about 3cm in diameter, but this means they can be popped into your mouth whole, thereby avoiding the danger lurking in larger biscuits, of shattering into pieces and dropping crumbs all down your front; I’m looking at you, Carr’s Water Biscuits and Bath Olivers.

The method for these biscuits is unusual in that, once baked, they are split open and returned to the oven so that the insides may dry and bcome toasted. Again, it is up to you how long you leave them and at what temperature, so the texture and colour can be suited to your needs.

SHOPS CLOSED ON EASTER SUNDAY! Finally thought of a biscuit memergency.

Querkles

225g wholemeal brown flour
7g butter
15g sugar
1tsp cream of tartar*
½tsp bicarbonate of soda*
½tsp salt

milk to mix

  • Heat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Put all of the dry ingredients into a food processor and blitz until well mixed.
  • Slowly add milk to mix until the mixture comes together in a paste.
  • Tip out onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
  • Roll out as for pastry, to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Cut your biscuits with whatever cutters you prefer. The top of a small glass can also serve.
  • Lay the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 10-12 minutes if small, 15-18 minutes if larger, until the surface is cooked, but not brown. NB If making small biscuits, work in small batches to help reduce breakage when splitting – see below.
  • Remove from the oven and with the point of a sharp knife, cut around the edges of the biscuits and split them in two. NB You should work quickly, because if the biscuits cool, then they will break rather than split apart.
  • Lay the biscuit halves insides-upwards and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until crisp and browned to your taste.
  • Allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

TOP TIP If, when cooled, your biscuits aren’t crisp, just put them back into the oven until they are. I suggest a much lower heat (100°C, 80°C Fan) for longer (20-30 minutes) in order to really dry them out. Fun Fact: Victorian bakers used drying ovens or provers to get that crispness to their biscuits without having to brown them further in the heat of the main ovens.

* Or instead of these two, 2 tsp baking powder.

Almacks

Almacks (also Almack’s and Almack) is one of many recipes that have originated from people copying dishes they have enjoyed whilst eating out. Almack’s was a Georgian/Regency London club where the great and the good could socialise during ‘the season’, Pontacks is another such establishment, now equally long gone, whose reputation remains only in the names of recipes they have inspired.

By the end of the 18th century, being presented at the Royal court was deemed old fashioned for the up and coming ladies in society, so Almacks provided a setting whereby  socialising and marriage alliances could be conducted amongst the ‘Ton’. As an example of the importance of Almack’s in the social life of the capital, when Lady Caroline Lamb published ‘Glenarvon’, with a thinly-fictionalised Lord Byron as the main character, Sarah Villiers, Lady Jersey, was so incensed at the way she had been satirised, she barred Lady Caroline from Almacks in 1816, thereby making her a social outcast *gasps and clutches pearls*. Although Lady Caroline eventually managed to regain membership three years later, thanks mainly to the assistance of her cousin, Emily Lamb (Countess Cowper), her reputation never recovered.

Almacks provided refreshments to its member and this thick fruit ‘cheese’ would have been ideal as it has great keeping qualities and is easy to serve at short notice. It can be eaten a number of ways: as a sweet, with cream or as a savoury, with biscuits and cheese. It is also versatile in its preparation as it can be varied by type of apple, pear and plum, thus giving it subtle changes in flavour with each batch. It is an ideal way to use up gluts of fruit, or to waste-not-want-not with windfalls.

Almack recipe (1785-1825) from MS1827, Wellcome Collection.

This is the earliest recipe I have found, coming from a household manuscript dated 1785-1825. The quantities are huge, even allowing for a loss of volume during the cooking. A peck of apples is roughly 6 kg, so it calls for a total of 18kg of prepared fruit, although it’s probably going to be closer to 20 kg by the time you factor in weight loss due to peeling/coring/chopping.

Almack recipe, (1800-1822) from MS1830, Wellcome Collection

This is a recipe with slightly more reasonable quantities – 3 quarts of each fruit = 7.5kg, but in the end I thought the recipe from Elizabeth Pease (below) was both the simplest and most reasonable in terms of batch size.

Elizabeth Pease’s recipe for Almacks (1802-1871) in MS3824, Wellcome Collection.

Admittedly, it does take a few things for granted such as expecting readers to know the method and how to prepare the fruit, but I’ll be filling you in on those in the recipe below.

So how much Almacks you make is really up to you and what you have to hand. As a guide, I used 750g of prepared apples and pears and 800g damsons (to allow for the stones) and it made 8 generous portions as seen in the photo above, and about 400g in a box for more casual use. The damsons add a real tang to the paste, and the low quantity of sugar means it sits right on the edge between sweet and savoury. Serve (small) portions with a drizzle of cream and a biscuit (ratafias, macaroons, etc) for crunch as a dessert, or with your favourite cheese and crackers.

Almacks

I’ve reduced the quantities, so you can make a small batch to try, but you can scale it up quite easily if you have it in mind to pot and gift it for Christmas.

500g peeled, cored and chopped apples
500g peeled, cored and chopped pears
500g plums/damsons, stones removed if possible
500g demerera sugar.

  • Cook the fruit. You want it soft enough so that it can be sieved easily. This can be done a couple of ways:
    • layer the fruit and sugar into a large casserole  (preferably ceramic or enamelled) and put it in the oven, uncovered, at 150°C, 130°C Fan for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure the fruit floating on top of the juice doesn’t dry out.
    • Put the fruit and sugar into a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. This method generates more juice, as it won’t evaporate as much as it does in the oven, but it has the advantage of being able to be left unattended for an extended period of time.
  • Sieve the cooked fruit until nothing is left but skin and (possibly) damson pits.
  • Simmer the puree in a preserving pan until no excess liquid is visible when you draw a spoon across the pan, and it’s just fruit puree. This will take rather a long time, if you used the slow-cooker method, due to the extra juice.
  • You MUST stir the pan, otherwise the puree will burn. Towards the end, it will turn into fruit LAVA< so have a towel cover your arm handy, to avoid the hot splashes.
  • When your puree is ready, spoon it into moulds or hot, sterilised jars as you would for jam. Silicone moulds are great, especially if you’re making Almacks to serve at a special meal – although you don’t need a special occasion to serve some delicious fruit cheese in a pretty shape. The flexibility of the silicone makes it very simple to turn out the paste, once cold.

Incomprehensible Pudding

When browsing handwritten manuscripts, my eye is always drawn to recipes with unusual titles. Whether it’s someone’s name, or a location, or as in this case, an odd title.

Incomprehensible Recipe
Incomprehensible Pudding Recipe, circa 1785, MS2242, Wellcome Collection.

To be honest, after reading it, I wasn’t sure why this pudding is incomprehensible. There are only a few ingredients – none of them unusual, and a straightforward method.

Then I made it and it turned out so light and delicate, it was a real surprise. At first glance, it seems like a custard, but the addition of the apple pulp, especially if you can get Bramley cooking apples, makes it almost frothy. With the use of clarified butter (where only the fat is used, and not the dairy solids), you could arguably denote this dairy-free.

It makes the perfect dessert in that it appears decadent, but can be enjoyed without the heaviness associated with a lot of puddings.

The original recipe called for puff pastry round the edge of the dish, which is something that has puzzled me for years, as it appears in many pudding recipes of this time. I can’t work out if it is for decoration only, or for consumption. I decided not to include pastry, because the high temperature required to cook it properly is at odds with the gentle heat needed to just set the custard.

I also opted for individual servings, so aimed for a shorter cooking time, because in typical 18th century style, the original cooking instructions are short and vague: “an hour will bake it”. Sometimes custard-style puddings are baked in a water bath, and in testing I did try baking it both ways, and for this serving size the difference was so slight I’m going to suggest no water bath. If you wanted to make a large serving, then yes, use a water bath to ensure the mixture cooks without curdling.

I’ve scaled the recipe down to a single serving size. You can scale it up as required.

The puddings in the photo are served plain, but you could also opt to sprinkle them with sugar and blowtorch/grill them to caramelise the top.

Incomprehensible Pudding for One

120g unsweetened apple pulp
1 large egg
20g liquid clarified butter
20g caster sugar

extra caster sugar or brulée sugar

  • Heat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and sugar until pale and frothy.
  • Add the apple and butter and mix until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a shallow dish and bake for 20 minutes until almost set (slightly wobbly in the centre).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
  •  (Optional) Sprinkle with caster sugar (or brulée sugar) and brulee with either blowtorch or grill.

Oaten Biscuits

The recipes this week come from a classic Victorian book “Biscuits for Bakers” (1896) by Frederick T. Vine. They are essentially two versions of the same biscuit, one sweet, one plain. The method and baking time for both is the same, with the only difference being some of the ingredients: more sugar and butter in the sweet version (above left), different mix of flours, less sugar/butter and the use of lard in the plain version (above right).

recipes

Since the recipes are from a book for commercial bakers, the quantities given are huge and the instructions rather scant. For example, instruction to ‘bake in a warm oven’ is very much open to interpretation, forcing me to, in the end, just guess as 150°C Fan.

I chose these recipes for several reasons. Firstly, I love an oat biscuit – who, in their right mind, doesn’t? Secondly, the comment that different mixtures resulted in differing suggested selling price points, with the sweet biscuit selling for 10d a pound, and the plain 8d per pound, so I was keen to see whether the sweet biscuits tasted 2d per pound better (spoiler alert, they did and they didn’t). Lastly, I wanted to use some gadgets – my vintage pastry wheels (aka jagging irons) pictured below, and the lettering stamp set I’d bought last year and not yet used.

jagging

One of my pet peeves is wastage, and the rectangular shapes of these biscuits meant that I could cut them out with absolute minimum wastage. There’s nothing wrong with re-rolling – see previous post about Empty Pudding – but you run the risk of the re-rolled items baking mis-shapen, due to poor combining of scraps, or becoming tough, due to over-mixing.

So what are they like? Well, the sweet version is like a sweet digestive – sweeter than the best-selling modern brand, but not overly sweet, and crisp and crumbly. I love the texture, but they are a little sweet for my tastes. Further experimentation with a finer grade of oatmeal and less sugar might refine this satisfactorily. I tried stamping ‘Rich Oaten’ on them, but the slight spreading due to the increased quantities of  butter/sugar meant the lettering veered towards the blobby, although they did become more browned during baking. The plain version held the lettering much better, and using the cutting wheel made for a very pleasing contrast between the flour-dusted top of the biscuit and the darker, unfloured cut sides. These biscuits are much more crisp and less crumbly, and although they were perfectly enjoyable plain, they really shine when eaten with a little salted butter, cheese or both.

During experimentation, it became clear that the optimum baking time for these biscuits is much longer than average, at 30 minutes. This is due to the need to ensure that they dry out completely, which in turn gives and maintains their crispness.

Oaten Biscuits

As mentioned above, the method and baking are the same for both types of biscuits, so just pick whichever style you prefer, and follow the method below.

Confession time: I was so engrossed in the lettering, I forgot to brush the biscuits for the photo with milk before baking. I quite like the results, but if you would like a browner biscuit, brush with milk.

Plain Oaten Rich Oaten
medium oatmeal 170g medium oatmeal 170g
wholemeal flour 115g wholemeal flour 56g
plain flour 85g plain flour 56g
caster sugar 56g caster sugar 85g
butter 28g butter 100g
lard 28g cream of tartar 1½tsp
cream of tartar 1½tsp bicarbonate of soda ¾tsp
bicarbonate of soda ¾tsp salt ½tsp
salt ½tsp milk  to mix
milk to mix    
  • Put the dry ingredients and fat(s) into a food processor and blitz to combine.
  • With the motor running, add milk a little at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip out the dough and knead a few times until smooth.
  • Roll out thinly – about 5mm – and dock (poke holes) all over, either with a docker or the end of a skewer or similar.
  • Cut out the biscuits. Rich Oaten are rectangles 3cm x 7cm, Plain Oaten are 5cm x 5cm squares.
  • If you have stamp letting to name the biscuits, use it now.
  • Chill the biscuits in the fridge for 30 minutes to help them keep their shape.
  • Heat the oven to 190°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Arrange the chilled biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk if liked.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and bake for another 10 minutes. Finally, flip the biscuits over so the bottoms can bake well and bake for 10 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • When cold, store in an airtight container.