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Querkles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Querkles

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

milk to mix

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

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

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

Almacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almacks

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

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

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

Incomprehensible Pudding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incomprehensible Pudding for One

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

extra caster sugar or brulée sugar

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

Oaten Biscuits

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

recipes

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

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

jagging

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

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

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

Oaten Biscuits

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

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

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

Empty Pudding

Sometimes I stumble across a hidden gem of a recipe when I am supposed to be hunting out something else. Thus it is with this recipe that I found in a nondescript Edwardian cook book¹.

There are several things that drew me to this recipe. Firstly, the name, which is curious, and after following the recipe, is also extremely accurate. Secondly, the ingredients list. It is incredibly short. Just three ingredients. Which I find rather exciting – the possibility of creating something out of practically nothing is great fun. Especially since, in this case, the recipe has been costed at 9d, nine old pence, less than a shilling for, what appears to be, pudding for four. More so if it is delicious. Which this is. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This recipe so caught my attention, I don’t even remember what recipe I was searching for in the first place, so I was keen to read on and discover the secrets within. Alas, the fourth thing that drew me to this recipe is the confusing way it is written.
EmptyPuddingRecipe
As can seen above, the instructions call for one to:

  • Make pastry
  • Put zest & juice in the pudding basin
  • When basin is lined with pastry, add sugar.
  • Seal a pastry lid on top.

This didn’t seem right at all: juice trapped between the basin and the pastry would steam in the heat of the oven and prevent the pastry from becoming crisp, surely? Why use puff pastry if you didn’t want it crisp? How can you seal the pastry and prevent the steam escaping if the thing making the steam (the lemon juice) isn’t inside? This last instruction was, for me, the key, or rather the ‘permission’ to break my number one rule with old recipes and NOT bake it as written in the first place, and put the zest and juice inside the pastry.

And it worked wonderfully. I baked my puddings in individual-sized metal pudding bowls, to shorten the cooking time.

EmptyPie

And here’s how they turned out. Beautiful, golden pastry and a puffed and crispy lid. Inside, the lemon zest and juice combined with the sugar to make an incredibly zingy lemon syrup, which really packs a punch.

LiquidPie

The heat from the oven creates steam from the lemon juice inside the pudding, which in turn helps fluff the puff pastry into soft, delicate layers. The contrast of flavours and textures is amazing.

But there’s more.

Because not all of my puddings turned out perfectly. Two of them sprung a leak during baking, as can be seen here (arranged upside down).

LeakedEmptyPie

But here’s the thing: it’s not a disaster! The zest and juice still combined with the sugar to make a syrup, which, after the leak, coated the outsides of the pastry and made an amazing lemon caramel. Not all the liquid leaked out, so the insides still benefitted from steam, and puffed out fantastically. The photo at the top shows the insides of one of the ‘leaky’ puddings. These are also brilliant, as the lemon caramel hardens in the best traditions of creme brulee, and gives even more flavourful contrasts with the crisp pastry and soft interior. I might even like this variation more than the original. So if your puddings bake perfectly, or whether they spring a leak, it really is a win:win situation!

An extravagance: I used two blocks of puff pastry for just 4 puddings, because I wanted to use freshly-rolled pastry for the lids and the linings, in order to get the best ‘puff’ during baking. On reflection, this might have been unnecessary, as the basins do such a good job of ensuring the pastry puffs inwards whilst keeping the outsides smooth. Certainly, the lids were spectacular, so I’m going to recommend cutting lids from freshly-rolled pastry, and then re-roll the trimmings for the basin linings, which means you could probably get everything from a single block of puff pastry. I haven’t tested this, so I recommend having the second block of pastry on standby, just in case.

Empty Pudding

Serves 4

2 blocks puff pastry
2 lemons
4tbs caster sugar
butter for greasing
milk and caster sugar for glazing

  • Butter your pudding bowls generously. If your puddings spring a leak, you want to ensure you can still get them out of the bowls.
  • Roll out your pastry and cut 4 lids. Make sure the pastry is a little larger than the diameter of your pudding bowls, to ensure there is enough to make a firm seal.
  • Cut pastry to line your pudding bowls. Make sure the pastry overhangs the bowls a lttle to make a firm seal. Re-roll the trimmings if necessary.
  • Put the zest of half a lemon into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Put the juice of half a lemon into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Put 1tbs caster sugar into each pastry-lined bowl.
  • Moisten the edges of the pastry lids and attach to the rim of the bowls by pressing down firmly.
  • Chill the bowls in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow the pastry to relax and firm up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Place the chilled bowls on a baking sheet and crimp the edges between finger and thumb.
  • Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the baking tray around and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. NB Puff pastry takes a surprisingly long time to be properly cooked, so when in doubt, cook a little longer. You can also return them to the oven for extra browning when turned out. See below.
  • Remove from the oven and turn out as follows.
    • Ease a knife around the edge of the pastry to loosen it from the sides of the bowl.
    • Gently test whether you can lift out an un-leaky pudding.
    • If you suspect your pudding has leaked, turn your pudding out upside down.
    • Depending on your pastry colour, you might want to return your puddings to the oven for some extra colouring. If your pudding has leaked, I would definitely recommend returning them to the oven (still upside down) to harden the lemon syrup/caramel mixture until glossy and brown.
  • Serve with custard, cream or as they come.

¹ A little book of cookery by Dora Luck, 1905, Sands & Compy., London ; Edinburgh.

 

Buttered Oranges

For the past several years I have been making a searchable index of the digitised household books held at The Wellcome Library. In doing so, I’ve read over 300 manuscripts and logged more than 32,000 food and drink recipes and have a ‘To Do list of interesting recipes as long as my arm.

‘Buttering’ was exceedingly popular in times past, and was applied to numerous dishes: crab, chickens, rolls, loaves, turnips, rice, salmon… For the most part, this consists of a healthy slathering of butter over the dish in question. Buttered Oranges, however, stands apart, since it’s not a pairing that seems obvious. So it was that this year, in the midst of a Seville orange flurry of kitchen activity, I grabbed a net of sweet oranges and determined that Buttered Oranges would be promoted to the top of the To Do list with immediate effect.

Buttered Orange recipe
Buttered Orange recipe, circa 1750, MS1357, Wellcome Library Collection

I re-read all of the recipes from the collection that I could find, and they were all pretty similar. I selected this one because of the novel presentation suggestion, which is to serve the buttered oranges in candied orange peels. Completely optional, of course, but it does make for an eye-catching dessert.

Which hopefully makes up for what might possibly be a bit of a let-down, because it turns out that Buttered Oranges is pretty much what we today would call a fruit curd: juice and zest, sweetened and thickened with eggs with a generous, but not excessive, quantity of butter melted in.

After experimentation, I found the best way to present this dessert was to make each element separately and then assemble before serving. I felt the original recipe’s instruction to bake the filled oranges until set was a little too risky and prone to mishap to risk all the preparation, but don’t let that deter you from trying it for yourself – I would just advise against a spur of the moment decision during an important social occasion.

Preparing the peels

I chose blood oranges to serve the curd in, as they were a beautiful colour and relatively small, thus being perfect for serving elegant portions of this rich dessert.

1 orange per person
1kg caster sugar
1 litre water

Before you start, you should make a decision on how you will be preparing the peels. The original recipe says to zest the oranges, slice off the top, hollow out the flesh, then simmer in water until tender, then finish in syrup. This gives the skins a pale, almost pastel colouring, which is delightful, and means the whole of the orange is put to good use but also makes them rather fragile during the cooking. One solution would be to tie them lightly in muslin or cheesecloth, to protect them, or alternately, use un-zested oranges, which will have a darker colour, but are also much more robust and less likely to split during the cooking. The results of both are illustrated in the photograph at the top, the zested peels on the right, the un-zested on the left. If you choose to use un-zested oranges, then you will need twice as many oranges overall.

  • If you’re zesting the oranges, do that now and reserve the zest for later.
  • Slice a lid off the top of each orange, and scoop out the insides using a combination of sharp knife and teaspoon. Reserve the flesh and juice for later.
  • Make sure there’s no orange flesh or fibres left inside.
  • Place the hollowed oranges and their lids into a saucepan of cold water, making sure the water fills the cavities.
  • Slowly bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until tender. This will take about 1.5-2 hours.
  • Change the water and scrub the pan every 30 minutes to remove the bitter oil.
  • When the peels are tender enough to be pierced by a toothpick, make a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water over a low heat.
  • Add the peels and allow to simmer gently until the peel appears translucent.
  • Remove from the heat. The peels can remain in the syrup until required.

Buttered Oranges

As already mentioned, this is a variation of Orange Curd, so if you already have a favourite recipe, then by all means use that instead.

2 large eggs
the zest and juice from at least 4 oranges
the juice of 1 lemon
Sugar to taste
50g unsalted butter

  • Add the strained juices and zest to the eggs and whisk thoroughly.
  • Add the butter and whisk over a gentle heat until thickened.
  • Add sugar to taste.
  • To serve, you can either pour the curd into your oranges warm, or fill them and allow them to cool before serving.
  • I recommend serving some kind of biscuit or shortbread alongside to dip!

Banyon Toat Pie

This recipe is bonkers: bonkers name, bonkers method. I’ve spent ages trying to work out what, in the 18th century world of erratic spelling, the name is supposed to be, and drawn a blank. I’ve pondered many an hour over the pancake-ception involved in the filling, and been baffled. It’s a true one-off. I’ve never read anything like it – and I’ve read a LOT of recipes. Finally, ealier this month, I decided to grab the bull by the horns and just make it, and see how things go. The result, after a little tweaking, is insanely delicious, so I thought I would share in time for Pancake Day (February 16th), so you can enjoy the deliciousness yourself.

Banyon Toat Pye
Banyon Toat Pye (1700-1735), MS1797, Wellcome Collection

Aside from the already-mentioned bonkers title, the method of this pie is very unusual: make some pancakes, mash them up, mix in yolks, cream and sherry, fry this mixture as thin pancakes, then layer them in puff pastry with candied peel, dried fruit, sugar and butter. When baked, pour a sherry/lemon custard (caudle) through the holes in the lid.

The adding-the-sauce-after-baking was an acceptable approach for pies at this time. Usually the pastry served mostly as a container for the contents and to keep in steam and moisture, and an interesting sauce was added at the end.

It was the pancakes-made-from-pancakes that really intrigued. And so I set to with a vengeance, and initially, it all went swimmingly. Unfortunately, the second batch of batter proved a giant stumbling block. The recipe called for it to be made into thin pancakes, but even using single cream, it was more like bread sauce. Trying to dilute the batter with more cream meant it just wouldn’t hold together. Batch after batch was scrapped, which meant I then had to re-make the first batch and pancakes before working on the second. I must confess, I got a little tetchy, telling myself: it’s a pancake batter! How can I mess up a pancake!?

Eventually, I came up with a compromise, and made just a single, standard pancake batter, but with the flavourings and enrichment that had been used in the second batch. This did indeed make wonderfully thin pancakes, which were delicious in their own right.

Once this hurdle had been successfully leapt, the rest of the recipe was almost straightforward. The pancakes are layered in a puff pastry case, with each layer being sprinkled with sugar, spices, dots of butter, candied peel and dried fruit. A cut-pastry top, 40 minutes in the oven and the addition of the caudle sauce finished it off quite easily, and I must admit, being rather impatient to taste the result.

Well, gentle reader, you’ll be pleased to discover that it is bonkers. DELICIOUSLY bonkers! The pancake layers keep the filling evenly spread, but are light and delicately flavoured with no hint of ‘stodge’. The spiced filling mixture is reminiscent of mince pies, and rich-tasting and thanks to the sharpness of the sour cherries/barberries neither heavy nor cloying. The sauce/caudle really brings the zing, with the sherry and lemon-juice adding freshness and richness. I commented on Twitter after the first trial that it was ridiculously delicious, and I stand by that claim. I literally had to hold my daughter at bay until I had photographed the smaller pies, as she is so taken with them!

Now that I have sorted out the pancake problem, it’s a very straight-forward recipe: much more an assembly rather than anything complicated. If you’re short of time, you could even opt to buy the pancakes rather than make them, although that would mean on missing out on their delicate flavour.

Slices of hot Banyon Toat Pie

There are no quantities given in the original recipe for the filling, so you can be as generous or as careful as you like. The quantities below make for a flavourful, rich pie without overdoing it, but for special occasions, you could really layer them thickly.

Banyon Toat Pie

This can make whatever size and shape of pie(s) you like. One large (20cm) pie will serve 8 generously. Due to the richness, a smaller, 10cm pie can be shared between two. The instructions and quantities below are for one large pie, but, as mentioned above, can be scaled up or down easily.

For the pancakes
50g plain flour
1 large egg
1 large yolk
100ml milk
50ml cream sherry

butter for frying

1 x 500g block of puff pastry

Filling
40g candied citron peel, diced small
40g candied orange peel, diced small
40g candied lemon peel, diced small
40g dried sour cherries or barberries
40g butter
4tbs caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg

Caudle
2 large egg yolks
juice 1 lemon, strained
50ml cream sherry
15g butter
2tbs caster sugar
2tsp cream sherry to finish

Egg white and caster sugar for glazing

  • Whisk together the pancake ingredients and make four thin pancakes. Use a 1/4 cup measure to ensure the batter equally. Lay the cooked pancakes on kitchen paper and leave to cool.
  • Grease your pie tin(s) and line with thinly (5mm) rolled puff pastry. Leave a generous edge overlapping the sides of the tins, to help secure the lid. Cut a lid a little larger than your pie. Chill the lid in the fridge.
  • Pile the pancakes on top of one another, and place your  lined pie tin on top. Cut around the base of the tin, to make four pie-sized pancakes. Eat the pancake offcuts and enjoy!
  • Layer the pie contents as follows. For each layer:
    • Place a pancake.
    • Sprinkle 1tbs caster sugar.
    • Sprinkle ¼tsp ground cinnamon.
    • Sprinkle ¼tsp ground nutmeg.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied citron peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied lemon peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g candied orange peel.
    • Sprinkle 10g sour cherries or barberries.
    • Cut 10g butter into tiny pieces and dot over.
    • Repeat for all 4 layers.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the pastry lid from the fridge.
  • Cut holes in the lid. You can do this by using a lattice wheel, or by cutting a lattice by hand. Alternatively, use small pastry cutters or even the wide end of a piping nozzle, to cut random holes in the pastry.
  • Moisten the pie edge with water and carefully lay the lid over the filling. Press the edges together firmly, to seal, and then trim the excess with a sharp edge (I use my metal bench scraper).
  • Whisk an egg-white to froth and brush it over the pastry lid. Sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is crisped and brown. Turn the pie around midway through cooking, to ensure even colouring. When fully baked, it will be easy to lift the edge of the pie and check that the base is also browned. If you’re making mini pies in 10cm tins, cooking time is 25 minutes, turning the tray around after 15 minutes.
  • While the pie is baking, make the caudle, You can do this after the pie has been turned, so that it is ready to go when the pie is fully baked.
  • Whisk the ingredients (except the final 2tsp sherry) in a pan over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce has thickened. It should be of the consistency of single cream. If you think it looks too thin, whisk in an extra yolk. Taste, and add more sugar if needed. When ready to add to the pie, add the remaining sherry.
  • Remove the pie from the tin to a wire cooling rack. Spoon/pour the caudle into the pie through the holes in the pastry lid. Gently shake the pie to help distribute the caudle.
  • Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before enjoying.
  • Best served warm. Delicious by itself, if you wanted to ‘gild the lily’, you could serve it alongside some unsweetened whipped cream.

 

Oatmeal Pancakes

 

This recipe comes from the manuscript of Jane Newton dated circa 1675-1700. I like Jane’s manuscript a lot – she has ruled out the pages with red margins, still bright after more than 300 years, and stamps her character on them with occasional personal comments that are a pleasure to find. The one that always sticks in my mind is her snappily titled “To Make the Puffs I was Speaking of Before in my Pottage”.

Oatmeal Pancake Recipe
Oatmeal Pancake Recipe from Jane Newton’s manuscript, 1675-c1700, MS1325, Wellcome Collection

I chose this recipe this week because tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday and someone out there might fancy something different to the regular lemon & sugar pancakes. (Ratafia Pancakes are another option). Also, Jane’s comment at the bottom of this recipe: “They are the best pancakes that is made if you make them as directed” – quite the gauntlet you’re throwing down there, Jane! I’d have initially made it as written anyways, but now I’m feeling Jane’s beady eye on me. No pressure.

Long story short – she’s right. They might look fairly ordinary, but they are the first pancakes that I’ve tasted that I could eat with no further adornment. Yes, I know the picture shows them dusted with sugar – I added it for photographic purposes only. The batter is sweetened and spiced, and, as all good recipes using oatmeal, lightly salted which kicks in at the end of each mouthful as a delightful contrast.

Oatmeal Pancakes

60g medium oatmeal flour
150ml single cream
1 large egg
1 large yolk
1tbs plain flour
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2tbs caster sugar
30g unsalted butter – melted

  • Mix all the ingredients, except the butter, thoroughly and allow to stand for 30 minutes.
  • Stir through the melted butter until combined.
  • Melt some butter in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Add spoonfulls of the batter into the pan, you can cook 3 at a time.
  • Turn the pancakes when the undersides have browned.
  • Remove cooked pancakes to a sheet of kitchen roll.
  • Enjoy warm as is (it really is the best way) or with your favourite toppings.

 

Pickled Onions

I do love a pickled onion, and not having had any for a while, decided to put to the test some of the old recipes from the Wellcome Insitute Library archives. The methods are a little different from modern recipes and I was curious to see the differences made to the final product, if any.

Some of the pickled onion recipes were too involved for my purposes (and lack of patience), with the brining going on for almost a week before any actual pickling was done. I chose these two recipes because they were both immediate and do-able in a morning, and I liked that they had slightly different aromatics as well as methods.

A lot of pickling recipes take weeks to mature, and originally I hadn’t planned to post these recipes for quite a while. However, after a taste test this morning, the results were so delicious after just 24 hours, here we are.

Pickled Onion manuscript recipe 1

This is the recipe from a manuscript (MS751) that belonged to one Elizabeth Sleigh, with later additions by a Mrs Felicia Whitfield. The manuscript has been dated to from the middle of the seventeenth century (1647) to the early 18th century (1722). The method involves blanching the peeled onions briefly in two changes of salted water, simmering the pickle with some aromatics and combining the two when both are cold.

This recipe is from MS2323, originally owned by Amy Eyton and subsequenty by Mary Eyton and possibly even Mrs Sarah Justice. With a similar date (1691-1738), it is interesting how closely the recipes resemble one another in terms of method. This later recipe calls for initially soaking the peeled onions in two lots of brine, blanching in brine and then cooling in cold brine, and drying. The vinegar and aromatics are simmered for a while, then poured over the onions.

The results for both are deliciously similar: the onions have crunch and tang from the vinegar, but none of the harshness of raw onion nor eye-squinting ‘burn’ that accompanies the use of malt vinegar. The aromatics give subtle flavouring to the vinegar, which I suspect might intensify as time passes. As already mentioned, and by far the best part of this whole experiment, is they can be consumed almost immediately.

Elizabeth Sleigh’s Pickled Onions

1647-1722

I didn’t think I had any black peppercorns, so I used long peppercorns that were in the cupboard.

500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
9tbs table salt (divided)
800ml white wine vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
4 blades of mace

clean jar(s)

  • Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin
  • Bring the brine to the boil and drop in the peeled onions and cook for two minutes. Drain.
  • Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
  • Bring the fresh brine to the boil and drop in the onions and cook for another two minutes. Drain.
  • Cut the ginger into thin slices.
  • Add the aromatics and salt to the vinegar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add the blanched onions and cook for 2 minutes
  • Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the onions from the vinegar and set to cool on a baking tray or wire rack. Return any of the flavourings to the pickle.
  • Cover the vinegar pan and allow to cool.
  • When both onions and vinegar are cold, transfer them to your jar(s) and cover. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
  • Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.

Amy Eyton’s Pickled Onions

1691-1738

This recipe called for alegar – vinegar made from ale – of which I obviously have none, so I used half cider vinegar, half white wine vinegar. Use whatever light vinegar combination you like/have. Oh, and I found the black peppercorns.

500-750g small/pickling/baby onions
15tbs table salt (divided)
400ml white wine vinegar
400ml cider vinegar
1tbs allspice berries
1tsp whole cloves
1tbs black peppercorns
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
the zest of a lemon, cut in strips
4 bayleaves

clean jar(s)

  • Make a brine with 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Cut the tops and bottoms off the onions and peel off the brown skin. Drop the peeled onions into the brine.
  • Mix a fresh batch of brine (2 litres water, 4tbs salt).
  • Drain the onions, then add them to the fresh brine for 30 minutes.
  • Make a third brine (2 litres water, 2tbs salt) and bring to the boil.
  • Drain the onions, then add them to the simmering brine for 3 minutes.
  • Mix 2 litres of cold water and 4tbs salt.
  • Drain the onions and drop them into the cold brine for 15  minutes
  • Add the aromatics and 1tbs salt to the vinegars and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Drain the onions from the brine and dry with a clean cloth. Put the onions in your jar(s).
  • Turn off the heat under the pickle and allow to cool for five minutes,
  • Pour the pickle over your onions and seal. If you’re using more than one jar, make sure the aromatics are divided equally amongst them.
  • Wait 24 hours, then enjoy.

Chocolate Cakes

Whilst poring over old manuscripts, I love finding really early examples of recipes we would recognise today. And so I was delighted to come across this recipe for chocolate cakes. It appears near the front of a manuscript (MS1799, dated 1700-1775) digitised by the Wellcome Collection, and so, in my opinion, is closer in date to 1700 than the latter half of the century. The reason it caught my eye was because it reads as a ‘normal’ cake recipe, very unusual for the time.

18thC Chocolate Cakes
Chocolate Cakes, MS1799, (1700-1775), Wellcome Collection

Experience has led me to be cautious when it comes to the word ‘cake’ appearing in old recipes. In times past, this word was used for a broad range of ‘items that were circular’, rather than the baked confections of flour and eggs we associate with the word today. In the past I have been thrilled to find early recipes for lemon cakes and gooseberry cakes, only to find that they are for fruit paste and jellies, musk cakes that turn out to be incence, puff cakes that are meringues, rout cakes that are biscuits and spice cakes that are buns.

Even ‘chocolate cakes’ can catch the unwary, as many old recipes sporting such a title are actually instructions for making solid blocks of ‘chocolate’ ready to use in recipes. Unlike the cocoa powder we buy today, these ‘cakes’ were similar to the modern blocks of Mexican chocolate: solid, hard and requiring grating before use. The old recipes for ‘chocolate’ begin with the roasting of the cocoa beans, which are then pounded and ground extremely find and mixed with sugar, vanilla and spices before drying in cakes which are then stored for use, which makes me incredibly grateful that we don’t have to go through such Faff today.

Happily, this recipe omits the time-consuming ‘make your chocolate’ part, but in adapting this recipe for modern use, if an authentic 18thC flavour is required, the spices that would be part of the original cakes of ‘chocolate’ need to be added in. The quantities below might seem a lot, but there’s also a lot of cocoa, so to make sure they can all sing, the quantities need to be generous. You can play around with the spices to your taste – other chocolate recipes I’ve read include one or more of the following: allspice, cloves, aniseed, cardamom, musk, ambergris, and either achiote or cochineal for a reddish colour.

So what are they like? Well, to be honest, it took several batches of tweaking before I was happy with the result. The taste is intensely chocolate-y, and the addition of the spices makes for an unusual and rich flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, as can be seen from the photo, these are dense cakes, and are most definitely not of a lightness of a Victoria sponge, or even a sturdy Madeira cake. But to be frank, that is part of their charm. Since they are made without butter, I would recommend serving/eating them with some lightly whipped cream, or ice-cream, for the mosture as well as the contrast in texture and temperature: the rich warmth and spiciness of the cake against the cold cream is deliciously satisfying.

These cakes include ground almonds, which help to enrich the texture, but also require a little time to work their magic. Consequently, if you’re not eating them straight from the oven, these cakes benefit from being kept 1-2 days in order for them to soften. Freshly-baked, but cooled, they are rather – ahem – ‘firm’, but stick them in a ziplock bag for a day or two and they soften and become glossy and a little sticky (in a good way).

If you’d like to make a less sturdy, more modern sponge version, all it takes is the addition of 1.5tsp baking powder, sifted with the flour.

I used a silicon cupcake mould with straight sides, which look great, but, even thoroughly buttered, proved challenging when it came to getting the cakes out in one piece. Other options might be ‘regular’ bun/cupcake moulds, or use paper liners.

Chocolate Cakes

Circa 1700. Makes 8-12, depending on your small cake tin size.

30g melted butter
150g sugar
3 large eggs
1tbs vanilla extract/paste/seeds of 1 vanilla pod
40g cocoa powder*
2tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
75g plain flour
1.5tsp baking powder (optional)
pinch salt
75g ground almonds

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease your moulds with the melted butter.
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and foamy (5 minutes or so).
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa, spices, salt and baking powder if using.
  • When the eggs are foamy, use the whisk attachment (or a balloon whisk) to gently fold in the flour mixture.
  • Stir in the almonds.
  • Portion the batter out into the greased moulds.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the moulds around after 10 minutes to even the baking.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes to firm up.
  • Run a thin blade around the edges of the cakes (if not using cupcake papers) and gently ease the cakes from the moulds and cool on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy warm with cream, or place in an airtight container for 1-2 days to mellow.

* Modern cocoa is very drying, so if you’d like to use more than this amount, reduce the quantity of flour by that same amount. i.e for 50g cocoa, use just 65g flour.