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Fruit Puffs

This recipe appears in the 17th century manuscript book of Lady Anne Fanshawe (MS.7113 at the Wellcome Collection), and is attributed to Lady Scarborough. What might appear, from the name, at first to be something pastry-based, is in fact a form of meringue.

Unsweetened fruit (I used apples) pulp is mixed with sugar and eggwhites and whisked until stiff and white. The recipe calls for this to be dropped in spoonfuls onto glass and dried in the oven, although I made adaptations for the modern kitchen. After a couple of practice runs, the result is, to all intents and purposes, an apple-flavoured meringue. Not as sweet as regular meringues, with the pleasantly tart flavour of sharp apples.

It is from the same recipe family as Apple Snow, with a slight alteration in porportions and a spell in the oven, and to my mind would be delightful served alongside that ethereal confection.

The main challenge with this recipe was the missing details. Apple and sugar quantities are given, but the instruction to beat them ‘with white of egg’ is open to interpretation. Additionally, “dry it in a stove” is hardly suffering from an over-abundance of detail. Hence the trial runs.

One of the batches I made whilst juggling baking times and temperatures turned a light caramel colour, which I suspect is not how the finished puffs should look, but proved to be absolutely delicious – crisp, delicate with a whisper of toffee apple. I’m counting that particular error as a win!

Apple and Caramel Apple Puffs

Fruit Puffs

Although I have only used apple here, the recipe does state that any fruit pulp can be used. My advice would be to choose pulp that has some bulk to it. Berries might prove too moist. Stone fruit, rhubarb and gooseberries would all be suitable, especially if tart, as the sugar content is quite high, and it would ‘cut through’ it nicely.

340g cooked cooking apples
225g caster sugar
2 large egg-whites (about 80g)

  • Puree the apple smooth with a stick blender. Sieve the puree if liked (I didn’t, but I was very thorough with the blender).
  • Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until light, white and stiff. I used a stand mixer on High and this took 10 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan. This temperature will be for the white puffs, for caramel puffs, increase the temperature to 140°C, 120°C Fan after 2 hours.
  • Add a decorative nozzle to a piping bag and spoon in some of the mixture. Pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. There will be some shrinkage as the puffs dry out, so pipe them on the large side. For example, the white puffs in the top photo were 5cm tall when first piped. When dried, they are about 3cm tall.
  • Dry in the oven for 5-6 hours, depending on the size and how moist they are. Prop the oven door ajar by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon, for the first hour or so, to help dispel the moisture, (otherwise it stays trapped in the oven and slows down drying time).
  • After about 4 hours, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. The puffs should be firm enough by this stage to gently peel off from the parchment. Turn the puffs upside down and lay them back on the parchment, so that the bases can dry (about an hour). If you don’t let the puffs cool down first, you will squish them as you try to remove them from the paper. If the puffs aren’t firm even when cooled down, put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again.
  • For Caramel Puffs, bake as above for 2 hours, then increase the heat to 140°C, 120°C Fan and bake for 1 hour. Check the colour/dryness and bake a little longer if still sticky.
  • Once the puffs are dried to your liking, store them in an airtight container. They will absorb moisture and become sticky if left in the open air for any length of time.

Soda Bread

I was surprised to read recently that Soda Bread is considered to have migrated from the US, based on a notion that the early settlers used potash to improve their baking. Amelia Simmons (1796) uses potash in some of her gingerbread recipes and Mary Randolph includes a recipe for Soda Cake in her 1824 book The Virginia Housewife.

These notwithstanding, the earliest Soda Bread recipe that I have been able to find in print is a letter published in the Newry Telegraph, dated September 2nd 1836. The correspondant, who signs him/herself “M.D.” gives the following recipe:

Soda Bread recipe

Having tried a fair few soda bread recipes over the years, I was struck by how minimalistic this recipe is – literally four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, buttermilk. Over the years, modern recipes have managed to sneak in  a myriad of embellishments – white flour, sugar, honey, egg, butter, cream of tartar…. but this, this appears to be soda bread in its earliest and purest form. I had to try it. And I was not disappointed.

I followed MD’s recipe as written as closely as possible, and the first batch was fine, but not, in my opinion, the best it could be. The mixing of the soda in water was, for the time, an acceptable way to remove lumps, but it meant for an uneven distribution of soda throughout the flour, which resulted in blotches of yellow crumb amongst the wholemeal. Sieving the soda into the flour with the salt was a much better approach. In addition, buttermilk is not as freely available nowadays as it once was, so my solution was to mix equal quantities of whole milk and low-fat, plain yogurt. Lastly, as the recipe stated that the buttermilk should be very sour (which is what reacts with the soda to give the rise), I stirred in two teaspoons of vinegar.

Halving the batch made two mini loaves of dimensions 14cm x 8cm, which took, rather surprisingly, almost an hour to bake. If you wish to make the full batch, or bake in larger tins, you will need to increase the baking time accordingly.

The result is delicious. The crust bakes to a browned, knobbly crispness and the crumb inside is close-textured, but not claggy. Just warm from the oven and lightly spread with, as MD suggests, some fresh, salted butter, it is delicious with no further adornment. If, like me, you have occasionally read accounts of 19th century afternoon teas where guests are served ‘brown bread and butter’ and been rather puzzled at the plainness of the fare, having tasted this bread with butter, it all makes sense now.

If you’re a fan of modern soda bread recipes, this might not be to your tastes, but I would urge you to try it just once to enjoy the simple pleasure of this diamond in the rough, craggy crust.

Soda Bread

These litte loaves will almost double their size during baking, but only if you get them into the oven promptly. The soda will start reacting as soon as the liquids are added, so be sure the oven is at temperature before mixing wet and dry together.

340g stoneground wholemeal flour
1 level teaspoon of salt
1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
150ml whole milk
150ml low-fat, plain yogurt
2tsp white wine vinegar

a little milk (maybe)

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Grease and line two mini loaf tins (14cm x 8cm) with baking parchment. Grease the parchment.
  • Sieve the flour, salt and soda together twice (to spread the soda evenly).
  • Mix the milk, yogurt and vinegar until smooth.
  • When the oven is hot, add the liquids to the flour mixture and mix into a soft dough. You may need a little extra milk.
  • Put half of the dough into each prepared loaf tin and smooth over.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut a deep slit down the centre of each loaf.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tins around and bake for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove the loaves from the tins and place them back in the oven on a rack to crisp up the crust – a final 5-10 minutes.
  • Set to cool on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy just warm on the day of baking, or toast the following day for breakfast.

Chelsea Buns

Back in  2013 I wrote an article on the history of Chelsea Buns, ultimately included in my book Great British Bakes which culminated in a recipe suggestion for the original Chelsea Buns.

I based the recipe on anecdotes that appeared in various publications on the borough of Chelsea and its surroundings, mostly written in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Before me appeared the shops so famed for Chelsea buns, which, for above thirty years, I have never passed without filling my pockets…. …….These buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth; to four generations of the same family; and it is singular, that their delicate flavour, lightness and richness, have never been successfully imitated.”i

To be good, it should be made with a good deal of butter, be very light and eat hotii

“The old Chelsea Buns were greatly in demand and were a superior kind to our common buns, more like Bath Buns. Old people say they were very rich and seemed full of butter. They were square in form and were made with eggs, with the kind of sugar, lemon and spice but without fruit.”iii

“Note that the true Chelsea Bun of the Hands family was by no means the darksome and dismal lump which is now sold us as a hot cross bun. On the contrary, it was specially famous for its flaky lightness and delicate flavour.”iv

“It was not round, but square in shape, and it came into the world in batches, the several individuals crammed as close together as the cells of a honeycomb…..Excellent they were—light, sweet, glistening as to their crowns in a sort of sugary varnish, and easy of digestion.”v

There was no mention of the fruit which adorns the modern version of the bun, neither was there mention of the spiral. The recipe I came up with was therefore fruitless and a regular bun shape. I couldn’t quite let go of the iconic spiral shape, though, so baked a version in this shape, too. Below is one of the original photographs taken for the book.

Chelsea Buns

Fast forward to 2020 and last week I discovered a recipe for Chelsea Buns in a manuscript (MS10979) held by the National Library of Scotland. This was very exciting, because the manuscript was dated circa 1827, which is a time when the original Chelsea Bun House was still in business. (It was eventually torn down in 1839). Prior to this, the earliest recipe available had been the one published in 1854 in George Read’s The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant (p103).

Recipe for Chelsea Buns from a c1827 anonymous manuscript (MS10979) at the National Library of Scotland.

The recipe itself is rather challenging to read, but there are a couple of details that I think deserve pointing out. The recipe title “Chelsea Bunds for shops” suggests that the recipe was for an independant baker, who sold his/her wares wholesale. Perhaps s/he only had a baking premises and not a shopfront. The other detail is the tiny diagram  on the bottom left of the page, showing how the buns are to be laid out: laying the buns like this will ensure the characteristic square shape once the dough has risen.

As luck would have it, and paraphrasing the well-known bus analogy, you wait seven years for a recipe, and then two come along at once. Also last week I spotted another early Chelsea Bun recipe, which had heretofore hidden from my internet searching by the cunning ruse of calling itself Chelsea Bunns. It appears in A Treatise on Confectionary, in all its branches, with practical notes, etc (1817) by Joseph BELL (p36, see below).

Chelsea Bunns

The previous recipe referred to is one for London Buns – flour, sugar, butter, yeast, and no spice. The shaping of the buns in this recipe is also unusual: I’ve never heard of Chelsea Buns being diamond-shaped, and it makes me wonder whether the author was confusing them with another bun, and if so, which?

I used to be rather evangelical about recipes for things being the PROPER recipe. Seven years ago, I was very firm in my conviction that a fruitless Chelsea Bun was the PROPER recipe and the fruit-filled, overblown, too-heavily-glazed monstrosities on sale in bakeries were borderline abominations. Now I’m much more laid back, having come to understand that, just like us, recipes have a lifespan, some longer than others, over the course of which changes happen. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the light and gently-spiced Chelsea Buns were extremely popular. Over time, personal taste, or possibly economics (costs of dried fruit & sugar) saw a change to fruit-filled buns being favourite. It is absolutely possible to like one style of Chelsea Bun over another, and liking one style doesn’t invalidate the other in the slightest.

So enjoy whatever floats your boat – or in this instance, fills your bun.

Chelsea Buns

This recipe doesn’t contain any lemon, as mentioned in one of the anecdotes. Since it was the only reference I found that did mention lemon, I’m reserving judgement on whether it was a regular ingredient in the original. However, if you’d like to include some, I suggest the zest of one lemon, and just one teaspoon of spice.

1 sachet fast-action yeast
150ml hot water
150ml milk
500g strong bread flour
75g unsalted butter
110g soft brown sugar
2tsp mixed spice

150g melted butter for glazing

1 large egg
50ml milk

3-4tbs icing sugar

  • Mix the milk and water together, then add the yeast, 1tsp of sugar (from the listed amount) and 3-4tbs of flour (again from the given amount).
  • Whisk all together thoroughly, and stand aside for 15 minutes until the mixture starts to froth.
  • Put the rest of the flour, sugar, butter and spice in a food processor and blitz until thoroughly mixed.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the mixture seems a little too soft. If using a machine with a dough hook, make the last 2 minutes maximum speed, to pull the dough together.
  • Tip out the dough and roll into a thin (5-10mm) sheet on a floured surface.
  • Cover the whole surface with melted butter, using a pastry brush.
  • Roll up the dough from the long side, keeping it tight. This will be a little tricky to start, on account of the butter making it slippery.
  • Brush the outside of the roll with more melted butter.
  • Grease a 24cm square tin.
  • Starting from the centre of the roll, slice off 4cm rounds and place them cut-side upwards in the tin. You should get 16 well-shaped slices. The smaller end pieces can be placed in cupcake tins to bake.
  • Whisk the egg and the milk together to make a glaze and paint the cut surfaces of the buns.
  • Cover the glazed buns lightly with greased clingfilm and allow to prove for 45minutes or until doubled in size.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Glaze the buns again just before going into the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. The smaller bun offcuts will only need 20 minutes
  • As the buns are baking, mix the sugar into the remainder of the glaze, and brush over the cooked buns as they come out of the oven. The heat of the buns will set the glaze and the sugar will make them extra shiny.
  • Cool in the tin to keep the sides soft. Cover with a clean cloth to cool if you like the tops soft as well.
  • Enjoy warm.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

i“A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew”, p22, Sir Richard Phillips, J Adlard, London 1817

iiGentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 11, 1839, p466.

iiiThe Village of Palaces (1880) Vol II, p191

iv“By Chelsea Reach: some riverside records” Blunt, R. 1921. London. p55

v“Some Savoury Reminiscences”, The People’s magazine, May 4th, 1867, p331

 

Eggs and Bread

It’s very easy to make a meal out of just eggs and bread, as has been demonstrated over centuries. I grew up enjoying the culinary delight known in our house as Eggy Bread – bread soaked in egg and then fried in a little butter until the eggs were cooked and the slices a dappled yellow and brown. A delicious, savoury breakfast, brunch or supper.

So imagine my horror when I went out into the wide world and learned that some people sprinkle ICING SUGAR or – heaven forfend – POUR SYRUP on their eggy bread and call it French Toast or Lost Bread (pain perdu). It’s something I still can’t get my head around: imagine if I suggested you drizzled syrup over quiche. Yes, THAT level of horror. To me, Eggy Bread is, and will always be, a savoury dish.

Which leads me to this week’s recipes, neither of which are particularly old, but which are firm favourites in this house. Although I love discovering and resurrecting old recipes, I don’t live on them, and it struck me recently that it is as important to record here the ordinary, everyday recipes meals on my table, as it is to bring back the glorious fare of ages past. So here we are.

If the notion of a savoury egg and bread combo is new to you, let me lead you through, in the first instance, Eggy Bread.

Eggy Bread

Eggy Bread

As with many classic recipes, Eggy Bread is deceptively simple. It looks pretty straightforward, with just three ingredients – five if you count salt and pepper separately – but looks can be deceiving. Indulge me as I share my decades of experience in considering each element.

  • Eggs – size doesn’t matter. What matters is having enough egg to soak the bread thoroughly. A slice of Eggy Bread with too little egg is tragic. So always err on the side of caution and if in doubt, whisk in an extra egg, just to be on the safe side. A good benchmark is a 1:1 ratio of egg and bread slices. Of course, if your slices are doorsteps and your eggs quail, then some adjustments are going to be needed.
  • Bread – you can really go as wild here as you like, but with one proviso – no ready-sliced bread. Having made such a sweeping directive, I’m immediately going to contradict it – you CAN have ready-sliced bread, as long as it is done by the bakery department wherever you shop. Nice crusty cob or farmhouse or split tin – just take them to the bakery counter and ask them to slice it for you. THAT kind of sliced is fine. It’s the plastic-wrapped, ready-sliced, soft and squishy bread that is a disaster when it comes to Eggy Bread. The crumb is not open and the surface is impervious to egg: the slices slide around on top of the beaten egg and persistently fail to absorb it. Bread with airy holes in is perfect for filling with egg, so why not try a sourdough or similar?
  • Butter – for cooking the eggy bread. I recommend unsalted butter, as it makes balancing the seasoning easier.
  • Salt and Pepper. A must. Use table salt in the egg mixture, where it dissolves easily, and save your sea salt flakes for sprinkling over the finished product if liked. Pepper can be a minefield. I like coarse-ground black pepper, but the larger pieces run the risk of burning if the pan is too hot, so you have to be careful. Ground white pepper mixes in easily, but can quickly be overpowering if your hand slips when sprinkling. Dried red pepper flakes and a few dashes of hot sauce are also options.
  • Tomato ketchup – technically not an ingredient, but in my opinion a must-have to serve. I’m going to surprise you now by recommending a non-brand tomato ketchup. Not any particular brand, just not the 57 varieties one (which is too sweet, in my opinion). Cheaper, non-brand ketchups tend to be on the tart side, with the use of vinegar being a little heavy handed. Although it might sound like I’m not really selling this, the sharpness is a perfect foil against the richness of the Eggy Bread.

slices of bread
1 egg per slice of bread, + 1 extra
salt and pepper
butter

tomato ketchup

  • Break the eggs into a flat dish. A baking sheet with edges is ideal. It needs to be something large enough for the slices of bread to lie flat.
  • Whisk the eggs and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Lay the bread in the seasoned egg and allow it to soak (5 minutes).
  • Turn the bread over and soak the second side.
  • Melt a little butter in a pan. Have it set to medium heat. My hob goes from 1-9, and I cook Eggy Bread on 5.
  • Lay your slices of egg-soaked bread into the pan. Don’t crowd the pan – make batches if cooking for more than one person. If you have any egg left over, after a couple of minutes (when the surface of the egged bread has cooked) you can drizzle the remaining egg over the bread slices, filling up the holes in the bread.
  • Allow the slices to cook gently until the underside is cooked (3-4 minutes).
  • Carefully turn the slices over and cook to your desired level of done-ness. Lovers of a soft-boiled egg, or a classic French omelet, who enjoy a certain fluidity to their eggs, might want to leave it only a few moments. Personally, I can’t bear underdone eggs, so I like my Eggy Bread ‘well done’: for the egg to be fully cooked. The effect on the bread is to make it expand until they appear to be little butter-covered mattresses – very bouncy and springy.
  • Remove the cooked slices from the pan. I prefer to lay them on kitchen paper, to absorb excess butter, but if your tastes are otherwise, feel free to omit this stage.
  • Cut your Eggy Bread into soldiers and transfer to a serving plate.
  • Squeeze a generous blob of ketchup into a ramekin or similar, and serve.
  • Dip soldiers into ketchup and enjoy.

Once you have mastered Eggy Bread, or if you feel the need for more complex flavours, leap straight into Eggity Bread!

Eggity Bread

Eggity Bread

This has all the components of Eggy Bread, but rearranged and dressed up with a few exciting flourishes.

I have found several variations of this recipe on the internet, some of which might appeal more to your tastes. This version, with its jumble of textures and flavours with a pop of herbs, is the one that my daughter enjoys.

A few comments on ingredients

  • Eggs – softboiled. Cooked for between 3 and 4 minutes, just enough for the whites to be mostly cooked and the yolk runny.
  • Bread – as above, whatever you prefer or have to hand. Toasted, buttered, diced.
  • Seasoning – in addition to salt and pepper, these eggs also have a dusting of herbs. I’ve tried with both fresh herbs and dried, and my recommendation is that dried works best. It is easier to get a light dusting with dried herbs. In my experiments with fresh herbs, they quickly overpowered the eggs with the slightest slip of the hand. A light sprinkling of chopped, fresh parsley to serve is acceptable. The mixture of herbs can be anything you like – I like the combination of oregano, marjoram, thyme, and rosemary.

slices of bread
eggs – one per slice
butter
salt and pepper
dried herbs
fresh parsley to serve (optional)

  • Bring a pan of water to the boil.
  • Lower the eggs into the boiling water in a spoon and cook for 3 minutes if medium, no more than 4 minutes if large.
  • While the eggs are cooking, toast the bread and butter whilst hot.
  • Preheat the grill.
  • Cut the toast into cubes/dice. This small act makes for a fantastic mixture of flavours and textures in the finished dish – buttery, dry, soft, crunchy…
  • Remove the eggs from the pan and immediately crack them into a bowl. Don’t worry if they break – eggs boiled for this short a time are impossible to get out of the shells whole. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the shells, and chop the eggs roughly. If you find that your yolks have cooked solid, crack a raw egg into the mixture – this dish just doesn’t work without some liquid to bind everything together.
  • Season the eggs with salt, pepper and a dusting of each of the herbs. Use a light hand – literally two or three shakes of the herb jar, about 1/8th teaspoon of each.
  • Add the cubed toast to the seasoned eggs and toss together. The toast will become coated and lightly bound together with runny yolk and any liquid white.
  • Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof dish (a gratin dish as above is ideal) and place under a hot grill for about 90 seconds to heat everything through, crisp the edges of the toast and finish cooking any liquid egg.
  • Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve (be careful with the hot dish!).

 

Barm Hot Cross Buns

This recipe is taken from George Read’s mid-nineteenth century “The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant” (1854). It is a comprehensive handbook of all the recipes a baker might need, covering biscuits both hard and soft, cakes, gingerbread, buns, muffins and crumpets. It is available as a free-to-download PDF here.

Obviously commercial bakers would be dealing in much greater quantities than home-bakers today, so the recipes need to be scaled down. This one I have scaled to 1/35 of the original.

This is a very understated recipe, with just a spoonful of mixed spice and some currants, but the dough, enriched with butter and sugar, benefits from a long overnight rise, and bakes to an ethereally light and tender crumb.

Another difference is the crosses, which, unlike modern recipes, require no second dough – they are cut into the rising buns. Victorian bakers would have a specialised tool called a bun docker, but I find a pizza cutter does the job just fine.

If you’d made curd cheese recently, or have had some milk turn sour, whey makes excellent soft buns. Alternately, use half milk and half water.

Hot Cross Buns

Makes 20 buns, ready by 8.30am(ish) Good Friday Morning. If you haven’t got barm, use regular yeast and adjust the liquid levels accordingly to give 400ml in total.

150ml barm
250ml whey/milk + water – warmed
500g strong white bread flour
80g soft brown sugar – dark or light
100g unsalted butter
0.5tsp salt
5g mixed spice
180g currants

1 large yolk for glazing

2tbs caster sugar
100ml milk

  • Maundy Thursday Night – 10pm or 1 hour before bed, whichever is earlier.
    • Mix 50g of the flour with the barm and the warm whey/milk &water. Set aside to work for 30 minutes.
    • Put the currants into a bowl and cover with warm water to plump them.
    • Put the rest of the flour into a food processor with the butter, sugar, salt and spice and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
    • When the barm mixture is showing bubbles, add the flour mixture and combine. Knead by hand for 10 minutes. If you’re using a mixer and a dough hook, set it to the lowest possible speed for 10 minutes, then the highest speed for two minutes. You want the dough to be elastic, but probably a little more moist than regular dough – the long rise time is very drying and if the dough is too stiff to begin with, it will restrict the rise.
    • Drain and dry the currants. Add them to the dough and knead them in.
    • Turn out the dough and divide into 60g pieces (should be around 20).
    • For each piece, fold in the edges to the middle, turn over and roll under a cupped hand to a ball. Arrange on a baking sheet¹ lined with parchment paper in four rows of five.
    • Spritz the buns with water. Grease the underside of some cling film by brushing it with oil and stretching it over the tin. The cling film will help keep the air around the buns moist. The buns shouldn’t rise high enough to tough the cling film, but if they do, having it greased will keep the dough from sticking to it, and being pulled out of shape when it is removed.
    • Slide the tray of buns into the oven to rise overnight.
  • Good Friday Morning
    • As early as possible, as soon as you get up (6.00am here), cut the crosses into the buns. Use the flat end of a palette knife or a pizza wheel. Dip your implement into some flour and press into the top of the buns twice, at right-angles. No back-and-forth motion is required. The cuts should be in the centre of the buns and not break the edges. Be sure to re-flour your implement before each cut.
    • Re-cover with the cling film and allow to finish rising. I left mine for  two more hours, making for a total of 9 hours rising. Yours might vary. Decide the time based on how your buns look. If they look ready to bake when you get up, brush them with the egg glaze and use a baker’s lame/razor-blade/sharp knife to lightly cut the crosses (don’t deflate the dough!) and bake immediately.
    • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
    • Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water and brush lightly over the buns.
    • Bake for 15 minutes, turning the tray around half-way through to help them colour evenly.
    • While they are baking, heat the milk and sugar in a small pan until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.
    • After the buns have baked for 15 minutes, brush them over with the milk/sugar mixture  and bake for a further five minutes until shiny and golden.
    • Remove from the oven, cover with a clean cloth (to keep them soft) and allow to cool in the tin.

¹ The best baking sheet, in my experience, is the shelf that (usually? sometimes?) comes with the oven, with a 4-5cm raised rim all around. This can be helpful to support clingfilm during the overnight rise (the buns are small and won’t rise too high).

 

 

Barm Bread

Here is a basic barm bread recipe for you to use with your home-made potato barm.

I am still experimenting with recipes other than loaves of bread, and will hopefully be able to post some other uses in due course, but in the meantime, I present to you a basic recipe, and some suggestions of how you can use it to adapt to what you have to hand. If you have multiple loaf tins, feel free to double or even triple this recipe.

Both breads on this page, and the two white loaves on the previous page, were made according to this recipe. The above image is a cross-section of a loaf made with Stoneground Wholemeal Flour. The image below is from a loaf made with Stoneground Wholemeal Flour and Buckwheat Flour in a 50:50 ratio.

Buckwheat Wholemeal Barm Bread

 

Simple Barm Bread

350g bread flour(s)
150ml room-temperature barm¹
150ml warm water
1tsp salt

  • Mix 50g of the flour with the barm and the warm water. Set aside to work for 30 minutes. This is not strictly necessary with fresh barm, as it is full of life, but it is good to get into the habit for the future, be it weeks or months later, in order to check whether your barm is still lively. If there are no bubbles visible after 30 minutes, you can try and jump-start it by stirring in 1tsp brown sugar and waiting another 15 minutes.
  • When bubbles are visible, add the rest of the flour and the salt and mix thoroughly. Knead by hand for 10 minutes. If you’re using a mixer and a dough hook, set it to the lowest possible speed for 10 minutes, then the highest speed for two minutes. You want the dough to be elastic, but probably a little more moist than regular dough – the long rise time is very drying and if the dough is too stiff to begin with, it will restrict the rise.
  • Grease a large loaf tin well.
  • Tip out the dough and knead it into a loaf shape. I usually pat it flat(ish), then fold the ends in, then the sides in, then turn it over so the seal is on the bottom.
  • Lay the dough in your loaf tin. Brush the top of the dough lightly with a little oil or spray with water and/or scatter flour over the surface. This will help keep the dough from drying out.
  • If you have a plastic bag large enough, you could put your tin inside and ‘inflate’ it around the loaf to keep off any drafts. I usually just put it in the oven.
  • Set aside to rise. The rising time will depend on the age of the barm, the type of flour used and the temperature of the room.
    • I recently made white bread with a fresh batch of barm, and it took 5½ hours to rise during the day (warmer).
    • Stoneground wholemeal flour bread with some month-old barm took 10 hours overnight (cooler).
    • Enriched (with sugar and butter) dough with fresh barm (for hot cross buns) 9 hours overnight.
  • When the dough has risen sufficiently,² bake in a hot oven, 200°C, 180°C Fan for 50 minutes, turning the loaf around half way through the baking time to even the colouring.
  • For an extra crispy crust, remove the loaf from the tin and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.

 

¹ Be sure to shake/whisk your barm up well before taking your measure out.

² This should be when it has doubled in size. For this amount of flour, in a large loaf tin, it will be when the dough almost ¾ fills the tin. The last bit of rise should be in reaction to the heat of the oven (oven spring). Don’t worry if you mis-judge it and let it go a little too long, bake the loaf anyway – it will be delicious, just with a rather flattened top.

Barm

Barm is what we used to use to make bread before the advent of solid, compressed yeast. It was skimmed off the top of fermenting beer and occasionally wine, and, back in the day when everyone was drinking small beer and ale because water couldn’t be relied on, was in ready supply.

Nowadays, it is a little tricky to obtain, unless you live near a brewery, but easy to rustle up your own due to the numerous recipes available in old books.

In general, a small quantity of hops is simmered in water for flavour, then flour and sugar and boiled, mashed potatoes are added to create the right consistency (a little like double cream). Frustratingly, when I was first looking into this, most of the recipes I found included an instruction something along the lines of: “then add a pint of good barm.” So yes, you end up with a large quantity of barm for all your baking needs, but only if you have barm to begin with. What about if you have no barm or, as I recently found, no yeast in the shops due to the random panic buying intially happening at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown?

To the rescue came a recipe in a Welsh-language cookery book “Llyfr Coginio a Chadw Ty”, (Wrexham, circa 1880), in which you can indeed start with no barm and end up with about a gallon.

I’ve made this a few times. The batch I made last year was in October, and after something of a baking frenzy spread over a couple of weeks, I left the remainder outside the back door in a closed, tupperare box. With the recent demise of yeast in the shops, I thought I’d try and resurrect it, and by jove it worked! The bread had a pronounced beery/yeasty flavour, which was due to the age, I think. Still, good to know it can keep for over 5 months in a cool environment.

Unlike a sourdough starter, it doesn’t need cosseting and feeding. Once mixed, and it has ‘risen and fallen’, it can be transferred to your container of choice and left alone. Before you use it, you stir it up (because it will settle over time), take what you need, then put the rest back.

Baking with barm is a little different from regular yeast. For starters, it takes a long time to rise, but on the plus side, it only needs to rise once. For wholemeal flour, it’s usually about 10 hours at room temperature for a loaf, and for white flour, around eight. This can be to your advantage, in that you can set a batch to rise at night, and it’ll be ready to bake by the morning. Also morning/afternoon rise, bake at night. If these times don’t suit, you could always go for an extra long, slow rise by putting the dough in a cool place, or even in the fridge (not tried this myself yet).

I have three hop bines planted in my garden, and if, like me, your garden is tiny, I can thoroughly recommend them as they are excellent producers of foliage for a tiny footprint of earth. I freeze some of the cones for barm making, others can be used in pillows to aid sleep. They also look fabulous hanging up and absorbing smells from the kitchen (although once dry, the droppage from the cones when you brush past is a housekeeping nightmare).

I realise not everyone will be in a similar position, so I have spent some time exploring other options, and

  • you can buy hops on the internet from brewing supply stores. You only need 60g for one batch of barm – which makes a LOT – so don’t go mad with the quantities.
  • I have also been investigating whether hops are actually needed at all, and the good news is, they aren’t! I have successfully made a batch of barm using only sugar, flour, potatoes, salt and water. If I’m honest, the hop-less bread does initially seem to lack a little something flavourwise, so my workaround for this is a suggestion to use beer as some (up to 50%) of the initial liquid, in order to get the hint of brewery aromas. You can choose dark, strong beers if you like it really pronounced, or something from the ales aisle for a lighter flavour. Or, you could just wait a while – the lower bread in the picture was baked with 2 week old hopless barm, and it had already started to have its own yeasty flavour.

Home-made Barm

Day One
4.5 litres water or beer & water mixed
60g dried hops (optional)
225g brown sugar
4tbs salt
450g flour – a mixture of different flours if liked.

Day Three
1.5kg floury potatoes (Maris Piper, Wilja, etc)

Day Four
Put into container(s)

  • Day One. The aim on Day One is to get a mixture that will attract the natural airborne yeast that surrounds us. One method uses hops, another uses no hops, but beer and water, a third uses neither beer or hops.
    • With Hops: Add your hops to litres of water, bring the water to a gentle simmer and simmer for 30 minutes. If you want just a mild hoppiness, strain now, otherwise allow to cool to blood temperature and strain.
    • With Beer: Make up 4.5 litres of liquid using beer/ale and water. Bring the mixture to blood temperature.
    • No hops or beer: Bring 4.5 litres of water to blood temperature.
  • Weigh out 450g flour. It can be one type of flour or a mixture of flours. Generally speaking, bleached white bread flour isn’t the best, better to have a mixture of brown/wholewheat with a little rye or buckwheat for flavour.
  • Weigh out 225g brown sugar. Again, the type doesn’t matter, it’s more for colour and flavour. I prefer dark muscovado.
  • Mix the flour, salt and sugar to a smooth paste with a little of your warm liquid, then add the whole to the rest of the liquid and whisk together thoroughly.
  • Set aside and leave uncovered (so it can catch all the lovely natural yeast) for 48 hours. I use my preserving pan and leave it on one of the back rings of the hob.
  • The flour will eventually sink, so keep a whisk handy and give it a good stir every now and then.
  • Day Three
  • Peel and boil 1.5kg mealy potatoes.
  • Put the cooked potatoes through a ricer, or mash thoroughly.
  • Add the mashed potatoes to the flour mixture and mix thoroughly. If you’re concerned about there being lumps of potato, I’ve found a stick blender is very efficient at smoothing out the mix.
  • Leave for at least 24 hours. NB essentially what you are doing here is feeding the yeast your delicious flour/sugar mixture caught in the previous two days with a carb-fest of potatoes. The yeast will enjoy this so much, it will start working overtime, but will eventually fall into a carb coma. This is my very unscientific explanation of the ‘rise and fall’ that needs to happen before you confine your barm in a container. Failure to let this initial activity work through completely will result in exploded containers (see Exhibit A: my bathroom walls/ceiling/shower screen a few weeks ago….).
  • You can pre-empt any overflows by continuing to whisk vigorously during this 24 hour period, to knock out the air in the mixture. If you’re concerned that your pan might overflow overnight, put it in the (empty) kitchen sink before you go to bed. I’ve done this every time, and it’s never overflowed, but I’ll bet the one time I don’t do it, I’ll regret it.
  • Day Four: You will see a distinct ‘tide mark’ around your pan indicating both the high point your mixture got to, and confirmation that it has indeed ‘dropped’.
  • Stir your mixture one last time, and put into your container(s). I use a large, 5 litre tupperwear box for a whole batch, but large (1.5 litre) plastic fruit juice bottles make for a handy size, with the added ease of a screwtop. VERY IMPORTANT do not screw the lids tight initially, just rest them on the top and only tighten them gradually, otherwise explosions, mess, wailing and gnashing of teeth, yaddah, yaddah…

Here endeth the lesson on the making of barm. Next up, what to do with your gallon of barm !

 

Vegan Lemon Curd

This is a recipe from May Byron’s Rations Book (1918). Rationing during the WW2 is well known, but it was also introduced during the last year of the first world war. Confession time: I’ve changed the title of this recipe from the original. The original recipe is for Lemon Curd Without Eggs, which would have been a concern back then through food rationing. In this day and age, it is mainly be a dietary choice, so I have opted for the (nowadays) clearer and more succinct term, ‘vegan.’

It also has a lot of other things going for it, like being fat free, dairy-free, gluten-free and coconut-free. There are lots of vegan lemon curd recipes out there, but the vast majority seem to employ some kind of fat and many of them also include coconut cream to give body to the finished result and turmeric for colour.

This recipe has none of that, because the main ingredient in this recipe is swede. Yes, swede the vegetable. Also known as rutabaga, or ‘neeps’ if you’re in Scotland (shortened from Swedish Turnips, in case you were wondering). A mild-flavoured root vegetable, it adds body and also colour to the lemon curd. A little sugar, lemon-zest and juice and a gentle thickening with arrowroot, and you have a gloriously golden preserve to spread on your toast, fill your cakes and tarts and drizzle over ice-cream.

It doesn’t have to be arrowroot – although I do like the quick and ‘gentle’ set it has, and it’s ability to go clear when it’s setting qualities have ‘activated’. When cold, its not as firm/rubbery as other thickening agents. You could alternatively use cornflour, tapioca flour, sago, ground rice, etc. These last two were also in the original, but the sago needs to be soaked overnight and then cooked until translucent, and the ground rice made for a slight graininess, all of which takes away the spontenaiety. More cooking might have addressed the texture issue, but any prolonged cooking you run the risk of losing the fresh lemon flavour of the juice and zest.

And the flavour is the best thing about this recipe. It’s bright and fresh without any cloying richness from butter or eggs. It’s practically health-food!

This method could also be used for other citrus/fruit curds.

Vegan Lemon Curd

Makes about 250ml.

225g swede – peeled and diced small
85g caster sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons
pinch of salt
15g arrowroot

  • Simmer the swede in boiling water until tender (15-20 minutes).
  • Drain and return to the warm pan. Turn off the heat and allow the excess moisture from the swede to evaporate.
  • Puree the swede. Because it is a small amount, it can be done in a spice grinder or small liquidiser. It is important for the texture to use something with offset blades – that is, blades pointing in different directions – to ensure a smooth puree. A food processor, with it’s flat blades spinning in just one plane, won’t chop things finely enough. Spare a thought for May Byron’s original readers, who had to press the cooked swede through a sieve.
  • Add some lemon juice to make the pureeing easier.
  • Return the puree to the cleaned pan and add any remaining lemon juice, the zest, the sugar and the salt.
  • Mix the arrowroot with a tablespoon of cold water and pour into the pan.
  • Heat gently, stirring, until thickened (4-5 minutes) and you can no-longer see the whiteness of the arrowroot mixture.
  • Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

 

Cornish Pasties

Usually I like to begin by talking about the history behind a recipe, but there’s not much hard evidence with Cornish pasties. I would, however, like to clear up a few potential misconceptions before getting to the interesting stuff.

Over the years, there has been much discussion over what the proper filling for a Cornish Pasty should be, but it is now all rather academic since the standard for Cornish pasties has been both established and published online by the Cornish Pasty association.

The filling ingredients number just four – beef skirt, potato, swede and onion – and are used raw, with generous seasoning. Meat forms the largest quantity, making up just over one third of the filling. But the filling is only half the story, and I’d like to discuss the half that rarely gets a mention, namely the pastry.

Pastry is made up of a mixture of fat and flour in varying proportions, bound together with a liquid. It is probably common understanding that by varying the proportions of fat to flour, different types of pastry can be made, from crisp shortcrust to butter puff. What is easy to overlook is the role the type of fat plays in the end result.

A ratio of 50% flour/butter  makes for delicious pastry, but the end result is rather delicate. Puff pastry’s crisp, light flakes crumble at the slightest touch. A more sturdy result is achievable by reducing the proportion of fat to flour (either 3/4 fat to flour for rough puff/flaky pasty, or half fat to flour for shortcrust) and substituting lard for half of the butter. This produces a tasty pastry thanks to the butter, and also crispness due to the lard. Lard is also the fat of choice for hot water crust used mainly for pork pies.

Unfortunately for some people, this makes pastry something of a forbidden fruit as the use of lard makes pastry unsuitable for vegetarians. Doubly unfortunate is that with the lower fat/flour ratios, an all-butter pastry becomes flabby and tough. Some years ago I discovered a solution in an old Victorian baking book, which is the use of cornflour in an all butter pastry. By substituting 20% of the flour with cornflour, it restores the crispness of a lard/butter pastry, but, to the joy of vegetarians, without the animal fat. Using this principle, I have made a very delicious all-butter, hot water crust.

Despite the butter/lard combo being recommended by the Cornish Pasty Association, I’d like to suggest something a little different, which if you have never tried, is a serious gap in your taste experiences: beef dripping pastry.

Matching the fat of the pastry with the protein in the filling, is a great way to enhance the flavour of the whole pie. Collecting and clarifying your own is obviously the best option in terms of flavour and cost, but you can get blocks of beef dripping in the supermarket. Although it flakes very nicely when sliced thinly, it is a bit lacking in flavour, as evinced by it’s dazzling whiteness. If you know a butcher who renders their own, the flavour would be greatly improved. Otherwise, in the UK, the Morrisons chain of supermarkets stock their own jar of golden beef dripping.

As with lard and butter, beef dripping has it’s own characteristics when it comes to pastry. Firstly, you need less of it, just 40% fat to flour. The price you pay for this positively healthy option is the slight increased effort required to make the pastry. The dough is initially mixed with just ¼ of the fat, then it is rolled out and the remaining fat added by the puff pastry method, i.e. three successive rolling/dotting of fat over the surface/folding/turning. Finally, the dough should be fully rested in the fridge before use. There is no need to use stong bread flour for this pastry, regular plain flour is fine.

What you end up with is a robust (but not heavy or tough), flaky, crisp pastry that can be rolled relatively thinly (5mm), perfect for keeping the filling moist and flavourful. Brushed with a little beaten egg before baking, the pasties come out of the oven bronzed and beautiful.

Cornish Pasties

The filling is essentially proportional – almost equal parts meat and potatoes, half quantities of swede and onion, so whilst this recipe has specific quantities, you can make Cornish pasties with whatever quantities you have to hand.

500g plain white flour
200g beef dripping
1tsp salt
ice water to mix

400g beef skirt
300g potatoes – whichever type/texture you like. I prefer mealy Maris Piper
150g swede
150g onion
salt
pepper

1 egg for glazing

  • Put the flour, salt and 50g of beef dripping into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the motor running, gradually add the ice water, a spoonful at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the pastry out onto a floured surface and knead once or twice until smooth. Don’t work it for more than about 15 seconds, otherwise you’ll get tough pastry.
  • Roll the pastry out into a long rectangle and dot 50g of beef dripping over 2/3 of it.
  • Fold the plain pastry down over half the fat-covered pastry, and then over again. Turn the pastry 90° and repeat until all the fat is used (3 rollings in total).
  • To keep the final block of pastry neat, make the final fold a book fold (fat covering the centre half, fold both ends into the middle, then fold in half like a book.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  • Cut the meat neatly into 2cm cubes. Although this is larger than the rest of the ingredients, the meat will shrink a little during cooked, and so even everything out.
  • Cut the potatoes and onions into slightly smaller cubes, and the swede into 1cm cubes.
  • Mix the meat and vegetables together thoroughly and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Roll out your chilled pastry to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Cut circles of the desired size – whatever size you like is fine, as you can adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • For each pasty, dampen the edges with water, and place a suitable quantity of filling on half of the pastry.
  • Gently lift the pastry over the filling. Don’t pull or stretch the pastry – if it won’t meet, then remove some of the filling. Stretched pastry will shrink back and run the risk of tearing or bursting open in the oven.
  • Press the edges of the dampened pastry together to make a firm seal.
  • Now here’s a bit of heresy: I don’t like the folded and crimped edge – it makes the pastry excessively thick and consequently is rarely cooked properly by the time the rest of the pasty is ready. So I don’t do it. I use the tines of a fork to press down on the edges of the pastry. It makes a nice, simple pattern and means the edge is both sealed properly and not overly thick.
  • When all the pasties are done – or you run out of either filling or pastry – set them aside to rest while the oven is heating up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and brush generously over the pasties.
  • Cut a single vent slit in the top of each pasty. The heat of the oven and the moisture from the vegetables will create the steam that cooks the filling, but you don’t want it to be trapped in their otherwise your pasties are going to burst.
  • Bake your pasties until the filling is cooked and the pastry is golden brown. Large pasties will take 50-55 minutes, smaller ones 30 minutes. Check the undersides are fully baked before you remove them from the oven.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Rhubarb Gingerbread

This is a recipe from that classic of home cooking, Farmhouse Fare. I have copies ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1960s, and I always find it interesting to see which recipes come and go through the decades as they are replaced with more fashionable dishes, or as tastes change, as well as recipes which persist over time. This recipe comes from the second impression of the third edition, published in 1947.

It recipe is in the style of the delightfully named pudding cakes, which are so deliciously comforting hot from the oven with custard or cream, that can also be enjoyed cold as a cake. I must confess, though, this really does taste better warm, so have been briefly zapping leftover slices in the microwave to bring it back to a cosy and comforting temperature.

Pairing sharp, zingy  rhubarb with the warmth of treacle and ginger is just the tonic for this time of year, when there has possibly been a little over-indulgence, and a jaded palate needs reviving with something bright and fresh.

The rhubarb in the shops is currently of the beautiful, coral-pink forced variety and sandwiching it within gently-spiced sponge provides richness and freshness with every bite.

Rhubarb Gingerbread

150-250ml milk
60g butter
85g treacle
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg – whisked
225g self-raising flour, or plain flour + 2tsp baking powder
200g rhubarb, chopped into 2cm slices
50g soft brown sugar

  • Grease and line a dish with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper. I used a rectangular tin of dimensions 15cm by 25cm. You could also use a 20cm square tin, or indeed a round cake tin.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Put 150ml milk, butter, treacle and spices into a pan and warm through until the butter has melted.
  • Remove from the heat and sift in the flour, then whisk in the beaten egg.
  • Add more milk, if required, until the mixture reaches a dropping consistency – that is, it will drop freely from a spoon (as opposed to thud in a lump).
  • Spread half of the mixture into your prepared tin and then lay over the rhubarb. I like to gently poke the slices into the mixture standing on end, but you could also just scatter them freestyle.
  • Sprinkle over the sugar, then top with the remaining mixture.
  • Smooth over and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the middle is springy to the touch. If you like to test for doneness with a toothpick, be sure you don’t mistake cooked rhubarb for uncooked cake mixture and overbake.
  • Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then serve for pudding either as is, which is delicious, or with custard, cream or ice-cream.