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Dairy-Free Cream

Here is very useful recipe for those looking to avoid dairy products or even to just reduce the amount of fat in their diet. By whisking together some smooth jam and a couple of egg-whites, a deliciously light and frothy ‘cream’ can be created, for use as a finishing touch to trifles, puddings and pastries, or to enjoy by itself. The cream will be influenced by whatever flavour of jam you choose to use, but it doesn’t dominate at all. The above was made using seedless raspberry jam, and the subtlty of colour reflects the subtlty of flavour – a mere whisper on the palate. For an almost white ‘cream’ with a very faint flavour (if that suits your needs best), I can recommend making and using Christine Ferber’s Green Apple Jelly.

It is a surprisingly elegant solution for anyone with dietary restrictions, and dates from the cusp of the 17th and 18th centuries (circa 1700).

This particular recipe I found in a manuscript held by the Wellcome Collection in London, but I have also read variations in other manuscripts and locations. I am surprised tht it has fallen out of favour, for it is one of the simplest and easiest recipes I have adapted.

Well, I say adapted. In fact I have changed very little from the original instructions.

To Make Cream Without Milk, MS1804, dated circa 1700, Wellcome Collection.
To Make Cream Without Milk, MS1804, dated circa 1700, Wellcome Collection.

The one detail I did change was to reduce the number of egg-whites from three to two, reasoning that the eggs we have nowadays are much larger than those of three hundred years ago.

Thanks to modern technology, we are also spared the two hours of hand whisking (with a spoon of all things!) required in order to achieve the light and fluffy outcome pictured above, and can achieve the same result with about 10 minutes of whisking with your kitchen gadget of choice.

The potential worry regarding the consumption of raw egg whites is eliminated by the convenience of being able to purchase pasteurised egg whites in a carton.

The finished whip will hold its shape for several hours, should the need arise, allowing you to prepare this well in advance of your entertaining needs. I decided to leave the whipped ‘cream’ out, to test it’s durability, and can confirm that after 5 hours, it was still (mostly) holding its shape, as can be seen below.

Dairy Free Cream after five hours
Dairy Free Cream after five hours

Furthermore, this recipe is customisable in that you can vary the flavour of the whip by using different jams/jellies. For the smoothest result, they should be clear and set. Alternately, you could make your own by gently warming and sieving the jam to remove the fruit pieces in the conserve or jam flavour that you require. Apple, apricot, redcurrant, cranberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, plum, damson, marmalade…the possibilities are endless!

Dairy-Free Cream

You can easily halve the recipe at first, to make a trial batch to see if you like it. However, this might be too small an amount for a stand mixer to get to grips with, so use a hand-held whisk instead.

2 large egg whites (80ml)
225g seedless raspberry jam (or smooth jam/jelly of choice)

  • Put both ingredients into a bowl and whisk using a mixer, for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick and glossy and holds its shape.
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Turkey Salmi

This week I’d like to talk turkey and making champagne tastes on a beer budget.

Just look at that crisp, golden pastry and glossy, rich sauce covering the tender pieces of turkey!

Turkey is a staple on the festive dinner table, but the preference for the pale breast meat has seen the rise of the turkey crown. Since science has yet, one fervently hopes, to develop a limbless turkey, those extra bits don’t just disappear, but are still around to purchase and enjoy.

Actually, I have no idea what happens to the trimmed turkey wings – one of life’s great mysteries – but turkey legs are available in both drum and thigh formats, and should be snapped up whenever you see them because they are fantastic value for money, robustly flavoured and, treated properly, can make for delicious and relatively fuss-free meals.

A quick gallop around the aisles this week tells me that turkey thigh and turkey drumsticks are available in Sainsbury’s, Asda (drumstick only) and Tesco (thigh only). The Tesco thigh is the best value, at only £2.80/kg, but the Sainsbury’s drumstick (£3.30/kg) and thigh (£4.67/kg) and Asda’s drumstick (£3.71/kg) are also very budget friendly, especially when compared to other proteins.

I also took a look at what people out there on the t’Internet are doing with turkey drumsticks and thighs and long story short, not a lot. Both are almost exclusively roasted, and whilst knawing on a joint the size of your arm is certainly a look, here we’re going to be more concerned about taste, tenderness and the use of cutlery.

Rather than the harsh heat of the oven or the barbecue, the method I’m proposing is to use our old friend the slow cooker. A long, low, braise will render even the sturdiest of turkey legs tender and melt-in-the-mouth. And it is so EASY! Literally plonk in the turkey, slosh over some braising liquid, switch it on and you’re set for several hours. You can choose whatever stock you like for the braising, but the simplest and best, in my opinion, is beef stock. Using the jelly-like  beef stock pots made up to double strength (so using only half the water), gives the turkey both flavouring and seasoning in one. Being strongly flavoured, the leg meat also flavours the stock in return, to give a fantastic base for gravy or, as we have here, a sauce.

This recipe is an adaptation of the numerous game bird salmis so favoured by the Victorians. You can serve the meat in the sauce over rice, noodles or potato snow¹, but my recommendation is for a puff pastry vol-au-vent case, to add a fantastic contrast in colour and texture.

In another tip gleaned from the history books, for the vol au vents you can use just a single roll to make six, large vol-au-vent cases. I used to buy two rolls of puff pastry, and cut the bases from one and the borders from another, but this way you can get both from a single roll. Simply cut out the centre of each base and re-roll it until it is as big as the border, then slide it under the pastry border and trim neatly.

Turkey Salmi

You can start this the day before and cook the turkey overnight, else cook on High for about 5 hours to eat the same day. You can also cook the pastry cases the day before and just warm them in the oven before serving.

For the Turkey
Bone-in turkey thigh and/or drumstick – however many will fit in your slow cooker
Rich beef stock pots x 6

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg for glazing

For the Sauce
30g butter
1 small onion finely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 cloves
1 blade of mace
100g streaky bacon – chopped
200ml red wine (or red grape juice/pomegranate juice/more stock)
300ml beef turkey stock
1 heaped tbs cornflour mixed with a little cold water

  • Put your turkey meat into your slow cooker.
  • Make up the beef stock with just 1.5 litres hot water. Make sure they have melted fully before adding to your slow cooker. If you need more liquid, just add water.
  • Turn the heat to LOW and cook for 8 hours-10 hours. Overnight is perfect. You can also cook on HIGH for about 5 hours if that suits your timings better.
  • When the meat is tender, lift the joints from the slow cooker (a large strainer spoon is helpful here, if you have it), and remove and discard the bones, skin, tendons and cartilage. Try and keep the meat in large pieces. Strain the stock through a sieve and set aside 300ml. Save/freeze the rest for other uses.
  • For the sauce:
    • Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion, bacon and flavourings.
    • Fry for 10 minutes over medium heat until the onions have begun to caramelise.
    • Add the red wine, if using, and simmer for five minutes.
    • Add the stock and let all simmer together for a further 10 minutes, allowing all the flavours to mingle.
    • Optional: Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and return the liquid to the pan. The sauce in the photograph has been strained, and as such gives a really shiny and glossy finish. (I had the bacon and onion in some of the sauce later, on a baked potato. It was delicious.) But there’s nothing wrong with leaving the bacon and onion in the sauce (waste not, want not and all that) – the choice is yours.
    • Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as required.
    • Add any flavouring sauces to your own taste. These include, but are not limited to, oyster sauce, Worcester sauce, Henderson’s Relish, Soy Sauce, Mirin, Shaoxing wine, anchovy essence, Hoisin sauce, Teryaki sauce, etc.
    • When seasoned to your satisfaction, whisk in the cornflour mixture and slowly bring to the boil, stirring, until the sauce clears, thickens and becomes glossy.
    • Reduce the heat to low and add the cooked turkey pieces.
    • Serve over rice/noodles/riced potatoes, or keep warm while you bake the pastry cases.
  • For the pastry:
    • Heat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
    • Unroll the pastry and cut into 6 squares (lengthwise in half, then vertically in thirds to give 2 rows of 3)
    • Cut out the centre of each square, leaving a 2cm-ish border.
    • Roll out the middle pieces until they match the size of the borders.
    • Dampen the edges of the now very thin, centre pieces and slide the borders on top. Trim the edges neatly. Prick over the bases with a fork to help keep them from rising during baking.
    • Whisk the egg and paint it over the borders using a pastry brush. Try and keep the egg from dripping down the sides, as this will glue the layers together as it bakes and keep the pastry from rising to its fullest extent.
    • Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisped, risen and golden, turning the baking sheet around halfway through.
    • Cool on a wire rack. Once cold, store in an airtight container (if making ahead).
  • Spoon the warmed turkey and sauce into the baked pastry shell and serve.

¹ Baked or boiled potatoes put through a ricer into a bowl. The riced potato should be allowed to fall into the serving dish in a mound and then served immediately untouched by anything else, spoon or seasoning, to maintain the lightness. Great for dishes with a rich sauce or gravy such as this.

Steak and Kidney Pudding

I enjoyed reading this tweet a few weeks ago:

I feel it’s only fair to warn you: This is an “Okay, so..” post. Click here to skip to the recipe.

This post is in response to a request made over on Time To Cook Online, and I was happy to take a deep dive into this dish because of both its convenience and cheapness. This steak and kidney pudding can be made using a slow cooker and thus uses only a small amount of electricity. It also uses the cheaper cuts of beef (although it can be used with other fillings) as well as (by some) low-regarded and lowly offal. This notwithstanding, it makes for a fantastically satisfying meal that can be ready and waiting for you when you come home from work, with very little to do other than lift it out of the slow cooker and onto a plate. You can also make it ahead and reheat easily, again using the slow cooker.

This recipe goes back a long way, into the Georgian Era of the early nineteenth century, and is a development of the even older Beef Pudding. Contributors to the Wikipedia article on Steak and Kidney pudding rely on Jane Grigson’s assertion that Mrs Beeton was the first to include both steak and kidney in a suet pastry. However, there are at least two recipes in print that pre-date Beeton. One of the quirks of British recipes is that their names are rather fluid, and the same recipe can exist under numerous names. In short, you’re not going to get very far recipe hunting if you only look for ones that bear the same name as modern ones. Differences might be related to geography, or in this case, decades of time.

Anne Cobbett published the following recipe in her (undated, but generally believed to be) 1835-ish book The English Housekeeper.

From The English Housekeeper, Anne Cobbett, 1835-ish.

An even earlier recipe can be found in Alexander Murray’s The Domestic Oracle, also undated, but believed to be around 1826. where the star of the dish would appear to be the kidney, and the steaks almost an afterthought.

From The Domestic Oracle, Alexander Murray, 1826ish.

In the almost two centuries since then, as with any recipe, there have been various tweaks and adjustments made to the basic recipe. Additions that I’ve noted include oysters, oyster sauce, mushrooms, mushroom ketchup (the catsup of Anne Cobbet’s recipe), lemon pickle, mustard, beer, wine.. it really can be whatever you want to make it.

Which brings me to my next point: there are some things you should not skirt, if you want your steak and kidney pudding to taste delicious, and I’m going to take a bit of time to explain what you should do and why you should do it. If you follow these key points, you will have the knowledge to turn out a pretty darn near perfect steak and kidney pudding right from the get-go. In addition, much of it will be adaptable to other, suet pastry puddings, both sweet and savoury. If you’re already impatient to get to the recipe, you can skip ahead by clicking here.

  • Raw or Cooked Filling
    • The Old School way was to put the filling in raw. For the past 50 years or so, people have been following Jane Grigson’s advice to cook the filling first, to stop your pudding becoming soggy. This approach increases both the length of time it takes as well as the Faff Factor™ quite considerably: First you have to cook it, then you cook it again. Well, as will be demonstrated below, if you take a little care with your preparation, there’s no danger of your pudding becoming soggy, so sorry Jane Grigson, we’re going to cut out about two hours of fiddling around on the stove, and fill the pies raw.
  • The Suet Pastry: As with baked pastry crusts, people gradually realised that it didn’t need to be just an outer casing of food, it tasted pretty darn good too, infused with all the juices from the filling. These are some steps you can take to make sure your suet pastry is the crowning glory of your pudding.
    • Suet: Back in the Dayes of Yore, suet came fresh from the butcher and had to be soaked and then grated by hand. You can still find friendly butchers that will supply you with lumps of fresh suet if you ask, and it really is worth the effort in terms of the texture and flavour of the suet crust it produces. I understand not everyone has the time for such Faff,™ and luckily we have the convenience of packs of suet on the supermarket shelves. The suet in these packs has an amazingly long shelf life, because it differs from fresh suet in that it is dried. Here’s the important point for this and any old recipe you might want to try: you need to use LESS dried suet than usual. Most old suet paste recipes are pretty much ‘half fat to flour’, which is fine if you’re using fresh suet, but when using dried, it can make the pastry heavy. So when using dried suet, you should aim to use about 10% less. For example, if a recipe called for 225g of flour, I would use 115g of fresh suet, or just 100g of dried.
    • Baking powder: The original suet pastry would have been rather heavy, but with the advent of baking powder, it can now puff up to a delightfully light texture. The general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 115g flour.
    • Breadcrumbs: You can also lighten the pastry further by incorporating some fresh breadcrumbs into your suet pastry. Again, it is proportional to your flour, so 1 part breadcrumbs to 4 parts flour (divide the weight of your flour by 4 and that’s the weight of the breadcrumbs to use).
    • Seasoning: You don’t want your suet pastry to be a lump of nothingness, so season it! The very minimum should be salt and pepper. If you’re feeling bold, add in some chopped, fresh herbs, or a bit of mustard powder or horseradish – something to give it a bit of personality.
  • The Meat – Beef
    • For all its high-falutin’ title, the very best beef for this pudding is not going to be steak. At least, not STEAK steak. You should actually pick one of the less-prime cuts, ones that are full of flavour and do well with long, slow cooking. I recommend beef cheek, if you can find it (Morrisons supermarket in the UK has an excellent meat department and has always had it in stock whenever I’ve needed some). Also excellent is beef skirt (also carried by Morrisons). Although I haven’t tried it, beef shin is another cut that benefits from long, slow cooking. Finally you could try hangar and/or flat-iron steak, both of which have the marbling to make for a very succulent filling. Cut your meat into 1.5cm dice, so they can be packed tightly into your puddings and be perfectly cooked at serving time.
  • The Meat – Kidneys
    • I appreciate that offal is very divisive, but it tends to be cheap and it is packed with valuable vitamins and nutrients. Even within the offal world, kidneys are somewhat niche. And having researched numerous recipes to prepare for this post, I can understand why people might be kidney averse, or even be in the ‘tried it once, hated it’ camp. Because I was horrified to discover that the majority of recipes fail to prepare the kidneys properly. Everyone is very gung-ho with chopping them up and throwing them in, and I am APPALLED. There are two important stages to preparing kidneys:
      • Removing the core. The core is the hard, white ‘business part’ of kidneys and should be cut away completely. It’s not nice to chew and it never gets soft, even with extended cooking. Cut the trimmed meat into 1.5cm pieces.
      • Soaking the kidney. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The function of kidneys is to filter out the waste products from the blood and send them, and excess water to the bladder. If you don’t soak the kidney in acidulated water or similar (which will draw out the bad-tasting waste products), then they will still be full of all those waste products. That’s going to make the kidney, and everything it’s cooked with, rather ‘funky’ to say the least. Now some people might like that flavour, but for those that think they hate kidney, they probably ate a dish where the kidneys had not been soaked prior to cooking. To soak your kidney, put them in a bowl of cold water to cover, with a teaspoon of salt and the juice of half a lemon (or 2 tablespoons of vinegar) added. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place it in the fridge for 2 hours, after which drain and discard the soaking liquid and pat the meat dry with kitchen paper.
  • Flouring The Meats
    • When cooking your pudding using a raw filling, you don’t want your pudding to become soggy during cooking, so it is advisable to toss your meats in seasoned flour beforehand, so the flour can act as a thickening agent for all the juices released during cooking. What is lacking in all the recipes I’ve read is the important point that THIS SHOULD BE CORNFLOUR. This is because cornflour doesn’t stick to itself, and consequently, unike regular flour, it doesn’t clump, so there’s only ever a very light covering on the meats and no lumps. In addition, cooked cornflour is transparent, which makes for a wonderfully clear gravy inside your pudding.
  • Gravy:
    • With your puddings properly sealed, the juices from the meats (and vegetables if using) will mingle together to keep it moist. But they will need a little help. You can choose to add water to your puddings, but the better choice is to use beef stock. I use a beef-flavoured stock cube (actually it’s a pot of jelly-like stuff) to make some double strength stock, and add in a splash or two of Worcester Sauce. You can also use beer or wine instead, which can be nice but also something of a hit-and miss in that you need to guesstimate how much to put in at the very start, instead of tasting and adjusting as you go.
    • You should also have some gravy ready to serve with the meal, either on the side or to pour directly into your puddings. Raw ingredients shrink during cooking, so there will always be a gap between filling and the top of the pudding, whatever the size.
  • Add-Ins
    • As mentioned above, there are lots of little tweaks you can do to both the pastry and the filling to jazz it up. Onions are mentioned by many of the old recipes, but are only recommended in very small quantities. They don’t break down during the cooking, which some might find noticeable pieces of onion off-putting. I recommend using onion powder/granules instead, which give the flavour without distracting from the richness of the meat filling. Carrots are another popular choice, but with a raw filling, you have to either dice them rather small, or add in already cooked carrots and run the risk of them turning to mush. Personally, I’m a bit of a purist, and believe the filling should be richly and unapologetically meaty. Perfectly cooked vegetables can be served on the side. However, as can just be made out in the photos, I have taken Dorothy Hartley’s advice and added some black-gilled mushrooms to the mix. Mushrooms have a complementary ‘meaty’ texture and their juices make a flavoursome addition to the gravy, as well as darkening it to a rich brown.
  • Buttering Your Bowls
    • This is what is going to make your puddings turn out beautifully. Use REALLY softened butter and a pastry brush to paint it on. The secret to the beautiful golden colour of the suet crust in the pictures above and below? Butter and a long slow cook in the slow cooker. Taking care to ensure every part of the inside of the bowl is buttered, will ensure a perfect pudding turnout every time.
  • Covering Your Bowls
    • The water in your slow cooker needs to come at least 3/4 of the way up your bowl(s). It never boils furiously, so there’s no danger of the water splashing over the top of the bowls. The main reason for covering your puddings is to protect from the drip of condensation from the lid. Before the advent of the pudding bowl, steamed puddings used to be covered with a floured pudding cloth, but the modern method of greased and pleated parchment and foil works very well.
  • Cooking Your Puddings Long Enough
    • This is probably the main reason things go wrong with steamed puddings, sweet or savoury. All of the old recipes suggest puddings be cooked for many hours, simmering in water which must be constantly topped up to ensure the puddings don’t boil dry. Five hours is a time frequently mentioned. Using a slow cooker has the advantage of being able to, literally, set it and forget it. No need to constantly monitor the water, as the lid keeps it all inside. No need to top up or check if it’s boiling dry. It is very difficult to overcook a suet pudding in the slow cooker. What is very easy to do, is under-cook a pudding. In her column “How To Cook The Perfect Steak and Kidney Pudding”, Felicity Cloake had little complimentary to say of Constance Spry’s cook-from-raw recipe, “The raw beef … comes out gloopy with flour, and tough as a Victorian boarding school”. In Constance’s defence, she did specify beefsteak and stewing steak had been used instead, but in my opinion the main problem was probably cook time. I trialled cooking these puddings in the slow cooker on both High and Low heat settings using raw ingredients. On High, they take 5 hours – not too bad if you’re at home all day, but not really helpful in terms of having a meal ready when you get in from work. On Low I tested puddings with cooking times of 8 hours and 10 hours. Both ended up with golden fluffy pastry and meltingly cooked filling. So provided you can get up early enough to assemble your puddings and get them cooking before you leave for work, they can be ready for supper at the end of a long day. The only suggestion I would make would be to have lots of extra gravy to hand if you’re cooking your puddings 8+ hours.

Last thing I want to have a little rant about in this marathon of a blog post, is the falsehoods I found being perpetrated ‘out there’ with respect to photographs of steak and kidney puddings. The images being posted were frequently not of the recipe they appear alongside. The worst example I found was of a photograph that has been on the internet since 2009 being posted alongside a recipe from 2022. Also, do not be deceived into thinking if you cut a wedge out of your steak and kidney pudding, the meat will tumble artfully onto the plate like many of these pictures suggest. If it does, it will leave your crust rather empty. What it will also do is ruin the structural integrity of your pudding and, if it is undercooked, cause its slow and heartbreaking collapse into a heap on the plate. Setting aside the very insipid colour of some of the pastry, even if the photo is of the actual recipe, it will have been staged for maximum eye appeal, and probably had extra filling added in order to make the image seem plentiful. I am puzzled, for example, how all this filling fit inside this pudding? If your pastry is no oil painting, do not despair, you can always drown it with the gravy (that this recipe doesn’t even tell you how to make).

So in light of these criticisms, I feel compelled to admit to the shenanigans I’ve employed in the pictures on this post. This image is from another of the test puddings, made on a different day (hence the different lighting) in a slightly smaller bowl to the one in the top picture. The ‘manipulations’ I have used include removing the top of the pudding pastry to reveal the filling, and adding in some extra gravy to increase the eye appeal. No extra filling was added and this pudding is absolutely made from the recipe below.

Steak and Kidney Pudding


These quantities are sufficient for two generous puddings in bowls of diameter 12cm. You can also put everything into a large bowl and use the longer of the cooking times. You can also increase the quantities to suit your needs. As a general guide, you need 100g beef, 40g kidney, 1 large, flat mushroom per person, but you can adjust these ratios to your liking.

For the filling:
200g beef cheek/skirt/hangar/flatiron steak, in 1.5cm pieces
80g prepared and soaked beef/ox kidney (see above), in 1.5cm pieces
2 large, dark-gilled mushrooms, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
60g cornflour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp onion powder/granules
250ml strong beef stock
2-3tsp Worcester Sauce (optional)

For the pastry:
340g plain flour
3tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
150g dried suet (170g fresh)
85g fresh breadcrumbs

softened butter to grease the bowls

  • Butter your pudding bowls generously.
  • Tear off and butter 2 pieces of parchment to cover your puddings. The butter will help brown the pastry, and keep it from sticking. Fold a pleat across the middle of each. Set aside.
  • Tear off two pieces of foil to cover your puddings. Fold a pleat across the middle of each. Set aside.
  • Cut lengths of string to tie around the foil to keep it in place. Set aside.
  • Mix all the ingredients for the pastry.
  • Add cold water and stir gently until the mixture comes together into a soft dough.
  • Divide the dough into two. Cut off a small piece of dough to make the lid.
  • The dough is too soft to warrant using a rolling pin. Pat out the larger pieces of dough on a floured surface until about 1cm thick. Lift the dough and drop it gently into each bowl, allowing about 3cm to hang over the rim of the bowls. Be sure to patch any holes that form with extra pastry. The pastry must be ‘watertight’ to keep all the gravy from leaking out.
  • Pat out the smaller pieces of dough until 1cm thick and set aside.
  • Mix the cornflour, salt, pepper and onion powder together.
  • Toss the pieces of kidney in the seasoned cornflour . Remove any excess cornflour by tossing the pieces in a sieve over the bow. Set aside.
  • Repeat for the pieces of beef, including tossing the coated pieces in the sieve (you may need to work in batches).
  • Layer the beef, kidney and chopped mushroom until the bowls are full. The filling can be a little higher than the edge if necessary.
  • Add the Worcester sauce to the stock if using, and then pour into the puddings until the liquid is just visible below the top layer of meat.
  • Lay on the pastry lid and moisten the edges with water.
  • Fold the excess pastry over onto the lid and use a fork to seal the edges well.
  • Cover the tops of the puddings with the buttered parchment, butter side downwards.
  • Cover the parchment with foil and press closely to the sides of each bowl.
  • Tie string just under the rim of the bowls to keep the parchment/foil in place.
  • Turn your slow cooker to High or Low, depending on your schedule.
  • Place your puddings into the slow cooker.
  • Boil some water and pour carefully into the slow cooker, until the water level is ¾ of the way up the sides of the bowls.
  • Cover with the lid and cook according to your needs. On High, the puddings will take about 5 hours. On Low, they will be done in 8 hours, but can go as long as 10 hours with no deterioration in quality.
  • To serve, switch off the slow cooker and remove the puddings from the water. I find a long-handled skimmer/strainer spoon useful.
  • Cut the strings and remove the foil and parchment.
  • Place your serving dish/bowl over the puddings and turn over.
  • Lift off the bowls.
  • Serve as is with extra gravy and freshly cooked vegetables on the side, or cut the tops off the puddings and stir in some gravy to moisten before serving.
  • You can reheat the puddings by wrapping in foil (to keep from drying out) and putting into a 170°C, 150°C Fan oven, or, if using ceramic bowls, in the microwave. Alternately, keep the parchment and foil on from the original cooking, and reheat in hot water in the slow cooker on High.

Damson Ice-Cream

The autumn months are almost upon us and it truly is the season of mellow fruitfulness.

First among equals is the damson, a fruit I have been familiar with my whole life. Damsons are small, oval, wild plums with a signature ‘bloom’. They are different to bullaces, a different wild plum which is more round and apple-shaped. It was only a few years ago that I learned that damsons aren’t universally known, rather they are concentrated in just a few counties, namely Shropshire, Worcestershire, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire and Westmorland.

Damsons are really tart – there’s no possibility of enjoying them raw – and make fabulous jams and chutneys. I particularly enjoy them in sweet dishes, because their sourness and tartness are a great foil against sugar and sweetness.

And so to this recipe. This is a fabulously simple recipe which makes beautifully soft and creamy ice-cream with just two main ingredients, plus flavouring, without the need for an ice-cream maker. This last point is especially useful if, like me, you lack worktop space. There is no need to repeatedly remove it from the freezer and stir to remove ice crystals, because they never form. You can literally mix it in minutes and freeze overnight and enjoy perfectly smooth, delicious ice-cream immediately.

The ice-cream recipes over on TimeToCookOnline include salted caramel and malt, both of which can be made with storecupboard ingredients, but I fancied adapting this recipe to use fresh fruit, and my freezer provided the ingredients. I had a bag of damsons that had been languishing there for probably three years, so their time to shine was long overdue.

The method can be used for any frozen, or indeed fresh, fruit. Most importantly, it is necessary to get rid of as much water from the fruit as possible, as it will form ice-crystals when frozen and ruin the smoothness of your ice-cream. The majority of this post will be on how you can achieve this, plus a short-cut or two.

Fruit Puree Method – Damsons

The flesh of a damson clings tightly to the stone, so the best way to separate the two is by cooking. Sweetened, stewed damsons were a regular simple pudding on the table during my childhood. One had to spoon the cooked fruit into your mouth, then discretely return the stone to the spoon and lay it on the rim of your dish. For ice-cream purposes, though, a puree is what is required.

  • Put 1kg (or more if liked) of damsons, fresh and rinsed or frozen, into a saucepan.
  • Add 3-4 tablespoons of water and cover with a lid.
  • Turn the heat to low and let the fruit gently steam/stew until soft.
  • Pour the fruit into a sieve over a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to separate the fruit pulp from the stones and skins. Use the back of a knife to regularly scrape the pulp from the underside of the sieve. Be warned, damson juice will stain, so wear an apron and wipe up any spills promptly, especially if you have a wooden worktop.
  • When all that remains in the sieve is stones and skins (which can be discarded), measure the fruit puree and add HALF the volume of puree in granulated sugar. e.g 4 cups of juice will need 2 cups of sugar.
  • Return the puree to the pan, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
  • Simmer over a low-medium heat until it has reduced and thickened. This may take a while, depending on the volume of puree you’re working with. There’s a lot of pectin in damsons, so if you spoon a little onto a cold plate and it sets, it’s done.
  • What you should be left with is something of the consistency of runny honey.

Sugar Absorption Method – Fresh Apricots

This method is an adaptation of a jam-making method used by ‘The Jam Fairy’ Christine Ferber. I used it with fresh apricots which I spotted recently at a bargain £1 a punnet. It takes a little longer, but preserves the fresh flavour of the fruit.

  • Slice the apricots and remove the stones.
  • Score the inner flesh with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut too deeply – the skin should remain intact.
  • Lay your apricot halves side by side in a bowl in layers, flesh-side up.
  • When you can fit no more into the layer, cover generously with granulated sugar to a depth of about 1cm.
  • Continue layering and covering with sugar until all your fruit is in the bowl.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 8-10 hours, or overnight. The sugar will draw out the juices in the apricots and in turn be drawn into the flesh of the fruit.
  • Tip the fruit and sugar mixture into a saucepan and heat very gently until all the sugar granules have dissolved. Stir occasionally.
  • When all the sugar is dissolved, bring the syrup to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the pan. Leave to stand until cool.
  • Drain the fruit from the syrup.
  • Remove the skins of the fruit. The heat of the syrup will have softened the skins as well as separating them from the apricot flesh. If you lift up each apricot half by pinching the skin at the back, it should pull away quite easily. It is likely to remain attached at the edges, in which case you can help things along by scraping the flesh away with a teaspoon. Put the flesh into a separate bowl. Discard the skins. You can keep the apricot flavoured syrup to use as a glaze for fruit tarts, buns etc.
  • Puree the flesh.
  • Taste, and add a little lemon juice to taste to sharpen the flavour, if liked.

Storecupboard Hacks

Tinned fruit in syrup has already been processed, so you could drain some tinned apricots/peaches/pears etc and puree the fruit. The flavour won’t be quite as fresh-tasting, but it’s much quicker and you can be feet up, waiting for your ice-cream to freeze in about 15 minutes.

Even quicker, you could substitute jam for the fruit. Use a good quality brand such as Bon Maman, which has compotes and conserves in a range of delicious flavours. How much you’ll need will depend on personal preferences, but I suggest starting with 300g and seeing how that goes. Warm the compote/conserve gently, then puree. You can always stir in extra as a ‘ripple’.

Damson Ice-cream

This damson ice-cream is the best ice-cream I have ever tasted. EVER. The intense sour/tartness of the fruit is a perfect foil to the intense sweetness of the condensed milk, and the result is smooth and rich and velvety, with a huge zing of ‘rippled’ damson. Gooseberries (perhaps with a dash of elderflower cordial) and rhubarb would also work well.

Despite the title, you can use this method to make any fruit ice-cream that takes your fancy. Because it was slightly runny, but intense in flavour, I used just 350ml of damson puree in the ice-cream, and another 150ml as ‘ripple’.  The apricot puree was thicker, so I mixed in a full 500ml.

600ml chilled double cream
1 x 397g tin of sweetened condensed milk
500ml sweetened damson puree – divided

  • Put the cream and the condensed milk into the bowl of a mixer.
  • Add 350ml damson puree.
  • Whip the ingredients with a balloon whisk attachment until light and fluffy.
  • Pour into a suitable plastic container.
  • Add dollops of the remaining puree and swirl through with a knife.
  • Cover and freeze overnight.

Toad In The Hole

Toad In The Hole was a favourite dish of my childhood, and also one of the first dishes I made when I began cookery lessons at school, aged 11. Toad in the Hole is a traditional lunch or supper dish combining sausages and a standard Yorkshire Pudding batter.

The earliest mention attributed by the Oxford English Dictionary is 1787¹, but as the digitisation of old books increases, earlier mentions will no-doubt come to light. I’ve managed to find a few.

From 1762 we have a mention in the publication The Beauties of all the magazines selected, a kind of Readers Digest of its day, in an article describing an engraving by William Hogarth. The Hogarth print, published in 1761,  is entitled The Five Orders of Perriwigs, and the magazine’s description of the first image (below) is as follows:

The first Capital discovers only a forehead, nose, lips, and one eye, the rest of the face is eclipsed by the Wig’s protuberance, and appears like a small piece of beef baked in a large pudding, vulgarly called, a Toad in a hole.

The other mention is from several years earlier, 1749 to be exact, and is in the form of a footnote to some verse in a play².

In the eighteenth century, ‘Cant’ was secret language or jargon used by certain groups of people, such as gypseys, thieves and professional beggars, for the purposes of secrecy. In this context, it more likely to have been (slightly derogatory) slang. Together with the wig reference, the overall image is of a rather mean piece of meat being padded out to the point of almost being swallowed by a large, voluminous  and above all, filling pudding.³

Nearly three hundred years later it is still a very budget friendly dish, as it can make a meal for 4 out of a pack of sausages and a few cupboard staples.

There are a couple of tips when making a Toad which can add both flavour and interest. I was taught to put the sausages in your baking/serving dish and put the dish into the heated oven for 10-15 minutes before adding in the batter. This allows the sausages to start cooking and (hopefully) develop a little bit of colour. Most importantly, however, it will allow the fat in the sausages to start to render, thereby greasing your dish, and thus you don’t need to add any additional fat.

The second is flavouring. Many people like to serve Toad In The Hole with gravy – onion gravy is popular. But not all people are gravy enthusiasts, and so another approach is to flavour the batter. Obviously salt and pepper are a given, but the addition of some fresh herbs can add some big punch flavours, especially if the sausages are also herbed. I think you can’t go wrong with the old “Scarborough Fair” mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. As far as quantity, go by your own personal taste: a nice rounded teaspoon of fresh chopped, or half that if using dried is a reasonable amount to start with. Onion in some form is also another option. Pick your preferred strength from what I like to think of as an allium continuum: chives, spring onions, white/French, pink, shallots, red, brown, – and whether to add them raw, softened, browned or caramelised.

This version is time as well as budget friendly, as it cooks in the slow cooker. With only about five minutes work, you can then forget about it and be tucking into a crispy Toad in just two hours.

There are couple of important tips to using a slow cooker for your Toad In The Hole

  1. To avoid a soggy Toad, you need to prevent the condensation that will form on your slow cooker lid from dripping back onto your Toad, so you need to trap – for want of a better word – some kitchen paper or a clean teatowel under the lid to absorb the moisture.
  2. No peeking! Lifting the lid to check on progress will cause the heat to escape, which will adversely affect the cooking of your batter. I peeked several times when first trying this method, and the resulting Toad was decidedly ‘firm’. By not peeking throughout the whole two hours, the Toad had a much lighter crust. Admittedly not quite as puffed as an oven-baked Toad, but perfectly acceptable for such a hands-off approach. As a bonus, the bottom and sides get deliciously crisp and brown.
  3. (Optional) Pre-cooking the sausages. You don’t have to do this, you can just plonk everything in at once, but I find a little colour on the sausages does wonders for the visual appeal of the finished dish. The cooking doesn’t have to be that long either. In a pan on a fairly high heat, they will take a little colour in about a minute (you only need to have colour on one side). Then you can arrange them coloured-side up in your slow cooker before pouring over the batter.

Toad In The Hole – Slow-cooker method

Caveat: I have a large slow cooker, for easy batch cooking, and I appreciate not everyone will have a slow cooker of a similar size. Smaller cookers will require some adjustment in either the quantity made and/or the length of cooking time. Do let me know how you go if you are making this in a small slow cooker.

Batter (based on a 17thC recipe)
2 large eggs
120g plain flour
220ml milk
salt and pepper
herbs (optional)
onions (optional)

12 chipolata sausages.

kitchen paper or clean teatowel

  • Turn on your slow cooker to High to heat up.
  • Colour one side of your sausages in a pan. Set aside.
  • Put the eggs, flour and milk into an appropriate container and whisk into a batter (I use a stick blender).
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in your herbs and/or onion if using.
  • Brush the inside of your slow cooker with some of the sausage fat. Remember to include the sides for when the batter puffs up.
  • Arrange your sausages coloured side upwards. I like to use chipolata sausages because they cover the bottom of the slow cooker more densely than regular-sized sausages.
  • Gently pour the batter between the sausages, trying to keep them from rolling over, although it’s easy to turn them back if this does happen.
  • Lay a double-thickness of kitchen roll over the top of your slow cooker and clamp it in place with the lid.
  • Set a timer for 2 hours and NO PEEKING!
  • When the time is up, remove the Toad from the slow cooker to a dish or board, and cut into serving pieces.
  • Serve with salad and/or vegetables and/or gravy.
  • DejaFood: If you have any leftover Toad, it reheats well. Wrap in foil and put into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 10 minutes.

¹ “Pudding-Pye-Doll, the dish called toad-in-a-hole, meat boiled in a crust. Norf.” Francis Grose · A provincial glossary, with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions · 1st edition, 1787.

² A general history of the stage; (more particularly the Irish theatre) from its origin in Greece down to the present time. (1749), by William Rufus Chetwood, printed by E. Rider, for the author, and sold by Messrs. Ewing, Wilson, Esdall, and James, in Dublin, and Mr. Sullivan in Cork, Dublin, p183.

³  Sidebar: Hannah Glasse’s 1747 book The Art of Cookery contains a recipe for Pigeons In A Hole³, which is definitely a related dish:

The art of cookery, made plain and easy; which far exceeds any thing of the kind ever yet published. (1747), Hannah Glasse, printed for the author; and sold at Mrs. Ashburn’s, a China-Shop, London, p46.

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.