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Brown Bread Drops

Brown Bread Drops, circa 1900, Harris & Borella, All About Biscuits

A large part of my interest in old recipes is driven by always being on the lookout for something a little bit different. People tend to be a little wary of old recipes, in part due to the “Ew!” factor of TV programs on historic food tending to choose the most unappetising-sounding recipes to show – Yes,  Stefan Gates, I’m looking at you and your Calf’s Head Surprise.

In my first book (shameless plug: Great British Bakes, available at all good bookshops, or indeed Amazon) I made a real effort to walk the line between the old and the new, and chose recipes that were both recognisable and appetising to someone in the 21st century, but also a little different in terms of ingredients and flavours, in order to provide both interest and reassurance that a good recipe is a good recipe no matter its age. I’m a firm believer that a delicious recipe shouldn’t be dismissed merely for being three or four hundred years old.

Which brings me to this recipe, which isn’t three or four hundred years old, merely about 120 years – a positive youngster. It’s a sandwich biscuit of to crisp ‘drops’ joined together with buttercream; not exactly custard cream or bourbon, but in the same ball park. So that’s the reassuring bit, now for the interesting bit: the biscuits are light and crisp and made (mostly) from wholemeal breadcrumbs, and the buttercream is flavoured with green (as in unroasted, as opposed to colour) coffee beans. All of which sounded pretty intriguing to me, and I hope it does to you too.

The method of making the biscuits is similar to sponge fingers – essentially a fatless sponge where wholemeal breadcrumbs are used in place of most of the flour, although a little flour is still required to provide cohesiveness. The buttercream is what we today call French buttercream, where yolks are tempered with a hot sugar syrup and then butter is beaten into them. In this recipe, the sugar syrup is infused with the flavour of green coffee beans.

If you can get your hands on a small quantity of green, unroasted coffee beans locally, from a local coffee bar that roasts their own, then great. Otherwise, like me, you’ll have to order online. You’ll also probably have to order far more than this recipe calls for, but I feel confident that the delicate and unusual flavour they provide will mean you’ll want to make this again and again, as well as infusing them into milk for desserts and puddings.

You can also leave the biscuits unadorned. They are crisp and airy, like almond ratafias or macaroons, which makes them perfect if, like me, you like the crunch of ratafias, but aren’t a fan of their intense almond flavouring. Enjoy plain, or use them to add texture to trifles and puddings.

Brown Bread Drops

75g dry, wholemeal breadcrumbs for the biscuits¹
40g dry wholemeal breadcrumbs for sprinkling²
2 large eggs
75g caster sugar
40g plain flour

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Heat the oven to 205°C, 185°C Fan.
  • Put the eggs and sugar into a metal bowl and whisk over simmering water until warmed to 38°C.
  • Remove from the heat and continue to whisk until the mixture is cooled and light.
  • Mix the flour with the 75g breadcrumbs and fold into the mixture (use a balloon whisk or the whisk attachment of your mixer).  Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle.
  • Pipe oval shapes onto the parchment. They will rise and spread a little in baking, so approx. 2cm x 3cm is my suggested size.
  • Sprinkle with the reserved breadcrumbs and bake until crisped and browned (8-12 minutes).
  • Allow the biscuits to cool on the tin.

Green Coffee Buttercream
I’ve scaled down the biscuit recipe to 1/6 of the original, but the buttercream is just half of the original, because even though it makes more than enough to fill the above batch of biscuits, it can also be used for cakes and desserts, or even frozen for later use. Working with even smaller quantities would be impractical.

30g unroasted coffee beans
15g unsalted butter

150ml water
170g sugar
2 large yolks
210g unsalted butter in small dice

  • Melt the 15g butter in a pan and add the coffee beans.
  • Stir over medium-low heat until the beans turn a rich, golden colour.
  • Drain the beans from the butter and crush to small pieces in a mortar or with a wooden rolling pin.
  • Add the crushed beans to the water and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer for 5 minutes, then cover, remove from the heat and allow to infuse for  30 minutes.
  • Strain the beans from the water and discard. Add the sugar to the water and heat gently until dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer until the temperature reaches 116-120°C.
  • While the sugar syrup is heating, whisk the yolks until light and frothy.
  • When the syrup reaches temperature, remove from the heat and while whisking, pour in a steady stream into the eggs down the side of the bowl. Try and avoid getting the syrup onto the whisk.
  • Continue whisking until the mixture has cooled.
  • Switch the attachment from whisk to beater and slowly beat in the butter, one cube at a time until smooth.
  • To serve: Spread or pipe the buttercream onto the base of a cooled biscuit and sandwich together with a second biscuit.

 

¹ You can make your breadcrumbs as follows. Tear 5 or 6 slices of fresh wholemeal bread into pieces and blitz to breadcrumbs in a food processor. Spread the breadcrumbs onto parchment-lined baking sheet and dry in a low oven (100C/80C Fan) until crisp. You will need to stir them every 5 minutes or so to ensure they dry evenly. Allow to cool, then blitz in the food processor again until fine.

² The breadcrumbs you reserve for sprinkling can be as fine as those in the biscuits themselves, but you could also set some aside after drying in the oven and before blitzing them a second time, in order to give a more textured appearance.

 

 

 

Coventrys, Godcakes and Congleton Cakes

It’s all about triangular pastries this week.

Let us start with Coventreys (middle pastry in the above photo). Essentially, these are jam turnovers, but there are a few key characteristics that set them apart from your average turnover. For a start they are triangular, formed by cutting circles of puff pastry, adding a teaspoon of raspberry jam and folding in the edges of the pastry to form an equilateral triangle. These are then turned over and laid on the baking sheet with the seal underneath. The edges of the pastry are notched using either a flat-ended spatula, or a knife. This has two purposes. Firstly, it allows the steam to scape during baking, and secondly, it permits the jam to peek through in an attractive manner.

Godcakes (on the left in the above photo) also hail from Coventry, but according to Harris & Borella (All About Pastries, c1900) are actually more well known in their home town than regular Coventrys. Godcakes too are triangular, formed in the same way as regular Coventreys, but are baked with the seals upwards and visible. Their filling is of a rich mincemeat, and derived their popularity from being given as blessings by godparents to their godchildren, the three sides being symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

There’s some differing opinions as to when this gifting of pastries might have taken place. Harris & Borella maintain it was at Easter, whereas other sources claim New Year’s Day or even the festive season itself. This might be down to the filling. Nowadays we tend to associate mincemeat very much with Christmas, but originally it was eaten pretty much all year round, and a number of eighteenth century cookery writers, including Hannah Glasse, have recipes specially tailored for consumption during Lent.

There’s certainly a long history of symbolic cakes tied to the church. A ‘God’s Kichel’ is mentioned in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale, and defined as

Kichel: A flat Christmas cake, of a triangular shape, with sugar and a few currants strow’d over the top – differing, only in shape, I believe, from a bun. Cocker says “Kichel is Saxon – a kind of cake of God’s Kichel, a cake given to God-children when they ask blessing of their God father.”¹

The third pastry is, I confess, something of a mystery in that I have not been able to find much detail about them at all. Congleton Cakes, aka Count Cakes, have long been celebrated. They are of triangular form, with a raisin inserted at each corner; and, from being eaten at the quarterly account meetings of the Corporation for more than a century, they are called ‘Court Cakes’. The three raisins are thought to represent the mayor and two justices, who were the governing body under the charter of James I. By others, they are supposed to symbolise the Trinity. ²

Aside from their shape, and the detail of the three raisins at the corners, there’s no further information that I have been able to find. The pastry, if indeed it is that, might be shortcrust, sweet shortcrust, puff or hot water crust. It might even be bread dough, either plain or enriched. The filling might be jam or mincemeat or apple or currants or something else entirely. I’ve gone with puff pastry and a mincemeat filling, as the names ‘court’ and ‘count’ have a whiff of expense. However, the high temperature needed to bake the puff pastry well and truly crisped the three raisins, which is what got me thinking the paste might be something plainer, shortcrust perhaps (like Chorley cakes), or even an enriched dough (like the original Banbury Cakes). They might not even be a filled pastry at all, but a fruited dough which has merely been cut into triangles, but it’s all guesswork unless someone can fill in the gaps.

If anyone has any information on these mysterious baked treats, please do get in touch.

Coventrys, Godcakes & Congleton Cakes

The instructions can easily be adapted to whichever of the three pastries you’d like to make, so it’s going to be a one-size-fits-all kinda recipe. To make about 8 cakes.

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
raspberry jam (Coventrys) OR mincemeat (Godcakes/Congleton cakes)
large raisins (Congleton cakes)
eggwhite (for glazing)
caster sugar (for glazing)

  • Heat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Sprinkle the pastry with flour and roll out a little thinner (3-4mm).
  • Cut plain circles of pastry, about 10cmin diameter.
  • Dampen the edges with a little water to help with sealing the cakes/
  • For Coventrys, spread a teaspoon of raspberry jam in the centre, then fold the edges in over the jam to make a triangle. Press gently, then turn the pastry over and place seal-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • For Godcakes, spoon a rounded teaspoon of mincemeat into the centre, then fold the edges in over the mincemeat to make a triangle. Press gently, then place seal-side uppermost on a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • For Congleton Cakes, place three large raisins at equal distance around the edge of the pastry. Spoon a rounded teaspoon of mincemeat into the centre, then fold the edges in over the mincemeat to make a triangle, ensuring the raisins are closely folded in the pastry.
  • Whichever style you have made, brush over with lightly whisked egg-white and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Using a flat-ended spatula, or a knife, make notches in all three sides of each pastry. For Coventrys, don’t make the cuts too deep, as the jam might leak out during cooking.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 10 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

¹ “Suffolk Words and Phrases: Or, An Attempt to Collect the Lingual Localisms of that County”, Edward Moore, 1823

² “The English dialect dictionary”, J. Wright, Volume 1 A – C, 1898

Sultan Cream Tart

This tart is a pleasant change from round or rectangular tarts and has the added advantage of being able to be made in any size required, from small, serving just one person to large, serving eight. Of course, if you’re feeling peckish, then one person could probably eat a large one, but I’m going to pretend I never said that – I’d hate to put ideas in your head.

This tart is also infinitely customisable. The original recipe (Harris & Borella, All About Pastries, c1900) filled the segments with delicately coloured and flavoured whipped cream, which makes for a wonderfully light and airy treat. For the photo above, I chose an 18thC recipe for a dairy-free whip. Similarly, fresh summer berries or indulgent fruit conserves are both equally appropriate.

Sultan Cream Tart

This enriched shortcrust pastry is halfway between pastry and shortbread: very crisp and friable and a great contrast with the buttery, puff pastry.

Sweet shortcrust
170g plain flour
60g cornflour
125g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar
1 large yolk
ice water to mix

  • Put the flours, yolk, sugar and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then roll out to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Transfer to a board, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

To assemble the tart
1 sheet of ready rolled puff pastry
1 large yolk whisked with 1tbs water for glazing

  • Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and cut out into circles of the desired size, 15-25cm in diameter.
  • Prick all over with a fork, to prevent blistering, and brush the surface with water.
  • Docked Pastry
  • Unroll the puff pastry. Each tart will require 5 strips of 1cm width, and 2 strips of 2cm width.
  • Place the 1cm strips of puff pastry as follows, laying two strips down the middle with a small gap in-between, as shown.
  • Lay the two, 2cm strips around the edge to form a rim. Have the ends start/finish at the top/bottom of the pastry as shown.
  • Trim the pastry ends neatly.
  • Return the pastries to the fridge and chill until firm. When thoroughly chilled, transfer each tart to a separate piece of parchment paper. using a sharp knife, cut down between the two vertical strips of pastry, and draw each half apart.
  • Heat the oven to 205°C/185°C Fan. Brush all the puff pastry edges with egg glaze and bake them until puffed and golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Finishing

These pastries can be made and finished with the glaze/nuts the day before they are required, and kept – carefully – in an airtight container until needed. Fill just before serving.

chopped pistachios
toasted, flaked almonds
75g apricot jam – warmed with 2tbs water

fillings of choice

  • Warm the jam with the water and whisk until smooth. Brush the semicircular rim with glaze and smother with toasted almonds.
  • Brush the glaze over the three dividing bars and smother with chopped pistachio nuts.
  • Fill as desired and serve at once.

 

 

Plum Cannons

These eye-catching pastries are, essentially, a jam turnover, but with a little deft handling, they are transformed into an unusual and appealing shape.

Another hit from the team of Harris and Borella’s All About Pastries, they date from the turn of the nineteenth century.

The original recipe suggested Greengage conserve for the filling, but alas, my cupboard was as bare of this preserve as the supermarket shelves. I was more than slightly perturbed by this sad state of affairs: I had merely run out, but I would have settled for ‘store-bought’. Seeing as Greengages are a classic in preserves, I was disconcerted to find my local Sainsbury’s devoid of Greengage Conserve, despite internet assurances that they would have some.

Of course, any high-quality preserves can be substituted – I opted for mirabelle – the real pleasure comes from enjoying the combination of crisp pastry, crunchy sugar topping and sweet/sharp burst of fruit in the middle.

With a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry, these treats come together very quickly – and will no-doubt disappear just as fast.

Plum Cannons

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
Plum conserve
egg-white for glazing
caster sugar to sprinkle

  • Use a rolling pin to roll the pastry a little thinner, so it measures at least 24cm by 36cm
  • Cut the pastry into nine rectangles 12cm by 8cm.
  • Put a teaspoon of jam/conserve in the middle of each piece of pastry.
  • Damp the edges of the pastry and fold the ends inwards to cover, overlapping the pastry by at least 3cm.
  • Turn the pastries over, so the seal is underneath and trim the ends (the original long side) straight with a sharp knife.
  • Arrange on a cutting board and chill for at least 30 minutes until firm.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the chilled pastries from the fridge and, again with a sharp knife, cut a neat V-shape from each end.
  • Arrange the pastries on a lined baking sheet (the jam WILL run during baking, and cleaning baked-on jam from a metal baking sheet is not fun).
  • Brush the pastries with lightly-beaten egg-white and sprinkle with sugar.
  • Cut a small vent in the top to let out steam – I was a little heavy-handed with this batch and the slits opened too much. No-doubt yours will be the epitome of elegance.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 15 minutes. NB This might seem a long baking time, but puff pastry needs a surprisingly long time to both puff up AND bake thoroughly. If you’re sceptical, before you remove the pastries from the oven, check underneath to see that they are golden brown. If you remove the pastries too early, they will sink as they cool and their layers disappear into stodge.
  • Cool on a wire rack and serve either warm or at room temperature.
  • Store in an airtight container and ‘refresh’ by crisping them in a low oven for 10 minutes.

Dutch Macaroons

Macaroons have been a favourite British treat for centuries. Their form, shapes and flavours might have changed over the years, but they basically remain a mixture of sugar, ground nuts and egg white.

These colourful specimens come from Harris & Borella’s All About Biscuits (c1900), a commercial handbook for the Victorian/Edwardian baker. Unlike the modern preoccupation with a relatively small number of shapes made from a seemingly standard recipe, this book boasts over fifty different macaroon recipes, many of which can be further varied in terms of both colour and flavour and thereby increasing the variety close to a hundred. I think we are missing out on enjoying so much variety by focusing on inconsequentialities such as getting the perfect ‘foot’ on a plain, round macaron – as if that impacts how it tastes. I plan on returning to this chapter in this book on a regular basis, so  stay tuned for more macaroon delights!

These miniature biscuits are just three centimetres in length and about two wide, and the two complimentary flavours are sandwiched together to give a tiny but elegant treat. They aren’t actually sandwiched with anything – their innate stickiness when removed from the baking parchment is enough to join them together, meaning the flavours can be savoured without additional distraction.

There’s nothing stopping you from having a filling, of course – seedless raspberry jam or redcurrant jelly for a burst of sharpness, a white or dark chocolate ganache for richness – but it would be like gilding the lily.

These macaroons get their distinctive form by allowing them to dry a little after piping, then just before baking, cutting through the paper-thin skin that has formed, into the moist mixture beneath. This forces the biscuits to expand in this one place during baking as the egg-white cooks. Whilst each one may vary slightly in the degree to which it expands, there’s much greater uniformity and less likelihood of lop-sidedness. The result is a batch where all the biscuits are much more similar, yet still retaining an organic, freestyle quality. The effect is very striking – much more preferable to the regimented uniformity of the modern, frequently machine-made style – and yet so simple to achieve. The original instructions suggest a sharp knife for this task, but I recommend using a baker’s lame (lah-may) or a single razor blade, in order to get a perfectly clean and sharp incision.

Dutch Macaroons

This is, to a large extent, a proportional recipe, so you can scale it up or down to your requirements. It calls for two parts sugar to one part ground almonds, with one egg-white for every 150g of almond/sugar mixture.

100g ground almonds
200g caster sugar
sufficient egg-whites to mix (about 80ml/2 large)
vanilla extract
raspberry flavouring
claret food colouring

  • Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit your baking sheet, and mark up a grid as below, of dimensions 2cm by 3cm. Turn the parchment over (so your macaroons won’t pick up any marks from the pen/pencil) and lay onto your baking sheet. Have ready two piping bags fitted with a 5mm plain nozzle. If you have disposable bags, you can just snip the end to 5mm.
  • Parchment mark-up
  • Select two mixing bowls, one of which will be used over simmering water. The other bowl will need to be heated with hot water until required.
  • Set a pan of water to heat to a simmer.
  • Put the sugar and almonds into one of the bowls and gradually whisk in sufficient egg white to make a mixture that  will run slightly.
  • Put the pan over the simmering water and whisk vigorously, either using a balloon whisk or with an electric whisk until the mixture is just hot enough for a finger to bear.
  • Remove the bowl from the heat.
  • Empty and dry the second bowl and pour half of the mixture into it.
  • Add vanilla flavouring to one mixture, and raspberry flavouring to the other, together with enough colouring to make a rich magenta (the colour will fade a little during baking.
  • Pour the mixtures into separate piping bags and pipe oval macaroons 2cm by 3cm in alternate squares in your grid.
  • Set aside until a thin sin has formed. The original recipe suggested overnight, but if this is inconvenient, a workaround would be to set your oven to 170°C/150°C Fan for one minute, then turn it off and put the baking sheet into the just-warm oven. Check after 1 hour, and if the skin hasn’t formed, repeat and leave for another hour.
  • When ready to bake, remove the baking sheet from the oven and heat it to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Using a lame/razor blade, slice through the skin of each macaroon vertially down the centre.
  • Bake for ten minutes, turning the baking heet around after five minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Allow to cool on the sheet.
  • When cold, wet the work surface and slide the baking parchment onto it. After a few minutes the macaroons should lift off easily and you can sandwich them together with one macaroon of each colour. If you’re using fillings, you might like to join the same colours together.  Go wild.

Old Fashioned Cheesecakes

These cheesecake recipes come from a favourite book – All About Pastries, from the All About… Confectionery Series by H.G.Harris & S.P Borella (circa 1900). The recipes are all for commercial quantities, but I’ve become quite adept at scaling them down to more manageable batches.

They were simpler times back then, and ‘cheesecakes’ weren’t always made of the cream cheese that is so widespread today. Much as the term ‘pudding’ originally described a texture, thus accounting for its use to describe both savoury black/white puddings, and sweet Kentish pudding pies, ‘cheesecake’ was used to describe a soft and light texture in a pastry case.

Before refrigeration, cheese curds weren’t available year round, especially as cows were sometime slaughtered in the winter when food sources were scarce. So with typical ingenuity, recipes were developed to achieve the same delicious morsel using other ingredients. Ground almonds were popular, and in commercial bakeries, cake, biscuit and bread crumbs have all been employed to produce a tender tartlet filling.

These two cheesecakes provide a nice comparison, because they also illustrate how one’s choice of pastry can affect the overall success of a recipe.

In the photograph above, the cheesecakes on the left are made with sieved cooked potato. The tartlets on the right are made with curd cheese. The cheesecakes on the left are made with buttery puff pastry, while the ones on the right are made with a very dry and crisp cornflour shortcrust. This is the combination of filling and pastry recommended in the book, but for science I decided also to swap them round, and bake the potato filling in shortcrust and the curd filling in puff pastry. It was not a success. Or rather, it was successful in confirming my belief that contrast is everything.

  • When the filling is rich, use a plain, unsweetened pastry.
  • When the filling is humble, use a rich, butter pastry.

This rule is of mutual benefit, because of the contrast between the two. The pastry adds a texture as well as a flavour contrast to the filling. Baking the rich filling with the butter pastry just made for a finished tartlet that was both heavy and overly greasy. Baking the potato filling with the crisp shortcrust made for a disappointing dry and desiccated bite. Bear this need for contrast in mind as you create your own pastry/filling combinations.

Potato Cheesecakes

Potato Cheesecakes

If you don’t have any maraschino, you could use a little lemon or orange zest, or almond/vanilla instead.

Potato Filling
75g cooked, sieved floury potato
75g unsalted butter – softened
1tsp maraschino liqueur
60g ground almonds
60g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large yolk

  • Press the potato through a sieve. This is easiest when the potato is still warm.
  • Add the butter and maraschino and beat together until light and fluffy.
  • Whisk the egg and the yolk together, then whisk into the potato mixture.
  • Whisk in the ground almonds.
  • Add the sugar and just stir it enough to combine.
  • Transfer to a container, cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

To assemble
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, all-butter if available
raspberry jam
a few slivered almonds to decorate
small fluted tartlet tins approx. 5cm in diameter

  • Grease the tartlet tins.
  • Unroll the pastry and cut into rectangles the approximate size of your tins.
  • Line the tins with the pastry, making sure to press it firmly into the fluted sides.
  • Using the ball of your thumb, press the base of the tart thin, thereby easing the edges of the pastry up the sides of the tin. If it rises above the top edge, that’s fine.
  • Chill the lined tins in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, to relax the pastry.
  • When the filling and pastry are thoroughly chilled, remove from the fridge.
  • Trim the pastry flush with the top edge of the tartlet tins using a sharp knife.
  • Put half a teaspoon of jam into the bottom of each tart case
  • Fill the tartlets 2/3 full with the potato filling , making sure it is spread to the sides of the pastry (to prevent the jam from bubbling up/through).
  • Scatter a few slivers of almond over the top.
  • Heat the oven to 210°C/190°C Fan.
  • Bake until the pastry is cooked and the filling puffed and browned. This will take 15-20 minutes. You need to judge how cooked you want your pastry to be. In the picture above, the pastry is baked, but not browned and the filling a delicate colour. Longer baking will brown the pastry, but the filling will also darken considerably, unless you cover them. Given the delicate nature of the filling, I think the lighter colour on the pastry is more suitable, but it’s only a personal preference.
  • Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack.
  • Serve at room temperature.

Curd Cheesecakes

Curd Cheesecakes

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

  • Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Grease some tartlet or cupcake tins.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out to a thickness of 4-5mm.
  • Cut out circles using a pastry cutter the same diameter as your tin indentations. Turn them over (so the side rolled by the rolling-pin is against the metal of the tin) and smooth into the sides of the tins.
  • Using your thumb, press the pastry on the base of the tins thin. This motion will ease the edge of the pastry to the top of the tins.
  • Chill the tin in the fridge while the filling is mixed.

Curd Filling
150g curd cheese, well drained
75g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1/2-1 lemon, according to taste
1/4 nutmeg, grated

  • Sieve the curd. Don’t skip this step, thinking that it is soft enough. Forcing the curd through a sieve gives it an incredible lightness which allows it to combine smoothly and easily with the other ingredients. Since there will be some loss in the process,  the actual amount required for the recipe is 115g.
  • Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and creamy.
  • Add the egg and whisk in thoroughly.
  • Add the flavourings, then lightly stir in the curd.
  • Chill until required.

To Assemble
raspberry jam
small fluted tartlet tins approx. 5cm in diameter

  • Put half a teaspoon of jam into the bottom of each tart case
  • Half fill the tartlets with the curd filling , making sure it is spread to the sides of the pastry with no gap (to prevent the jam from bubbling up/through).
  • Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • Bake until the pastry is cooked and crisp and the filling puffed – 15-20 minutes. The filling will lose its puff as it cools. This is normal.
  • Allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Serve at room temperature.

Ratafia Pancakes

Pancakes have been the traditional pre-Lenten meal for centuries. Pancake Day is preceded by Collop Monday, when the last  of the bacon and ham was fried up for the evening meal, usually with some eggs. The fat in the pan was then retained for frying the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

There are almost as many pancake tradition as there are households. In my childhood, we had sugar and lemon juice on our rolled pancakes, which I just assumed was the one and only way to serve them. Only when I went away to college did I learn about jam, syrup, honey, treacle also being options, puffy American pancakes with syrup AND bacon, and in more recent years Scandinavian æbleskivers and Dutch poffertjes.

Ratafia Pancakes, MS.2767 c1750-1825, Wellcome Collection
Ratafia Pancakes, MS.2767 c1750-1825, Wellcome Collection

This recipe comes from a Georgian manuscript recipe book, and is a charming twist on regular thin pancakes. Filled with a spiced custard and glazed with egg-white and sugar, they are then baked in the oven until crisp. There’s no ratafia flavouring in them, so I’m assuming that the name comes from the crunch of the caramelised sugar and the crisped pancake edges. The combination of warm, spiced custard, crisp pancake and crunchy sugar glaze is delicious. For an adult flavour, you can add a tablespoon of something alcoholic to the custard – cream sherry is probably the closest to the sack that was much in vogue at the time, Madeira, Marsala or Mead are also good choices.

You can use your favourite recipe, or the one below, and if short of time, use ready-made custard, or indeed ready-bought pancakes for that matter. The quantities given below are very modest, enough for four pancakes and filling. Increase the quantities to suit the number of diners you’re serving.

Ratafia Pancakes

For the pancakes
115ml milk
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g plain flour

Butter for frying

For the custard
250ml milk
2 large yolks
30g cornflour
50g caster sugar
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground mace
1/4tsp ground cinnamon
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
1tbs cream sherry/Marsala/Madeira/Mead (optional)

For the glaze
1 large egg white
caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Whisk together the ingredients for the pancake batter.
  • Melt a little butter in a pan and fry ¼ of the batter at a time to make four, thin pancakes. Don’t worry if they’re uneven – the folding/rolling will neaten everything.
  • Set each cooked pancake aside to cool.
  • Whisk together the yolks, sugar, spices and cornflour.
  • Heat the milk in a pan and when almost boiling, pour over the egg mixture, whisking briskly.
  • Return the mixture to the pan and stir over medium heat until thickened.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool. Stir in the alcohol, if using.
  • Cover the surface of the custard with plastic film and chill until cold.

To finish

  • Take ¼ of the custard and lay it in a log shape along the bottom edge of a pancake.
  • Fold the left and right sides of the pancake inwards (to contain the custard) and then roll up the pancake, keeping the custard filling well wrapped.
  •  Lay the rolled pancake on a parchment-lined baking sheet, with the free edge of the pancake underneath to keep it from unrolling.
  • Repeat with the remaining pancakes and filling.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg-white until frothy and brush generously over the rolled pancakes.
  • Sprinkle the caster sugar over the rolled pancakes.
  • Bake the pancakes for 15 minutes to caramelise the sugar and crisp the pancakes. Add an extra 5 minutes more, depending on how brown/crispy your tastes are.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving – the custard inside will be very hot.

Lancashire Butter Pie

The Lancashire Butter Pie is a regional, traditional pie specific to western Lancashire, especially the area around Preston, and has also been known as Friday Pie and Catholic Pie.

Preston has traditionally had a strong Catholic presence. In Tudor times, it was resistant – and at times downright hostile – to the Reformation. In 1583 the bishop of Chester denounced it as having a people ‘most obstinate and contemptuous’ of the Elizabethan laws on religion.

Since it was forbidden for Catholics to eat meat on Fridays, this pie, having only three simple ingredients, was ideally suited to the pious abstaining from their usual rich fare. And it does make for a good ‘story’.

However, my curiosity over the fact that it is the butter that gives the dish its name, rather than the potatoes and the onions led me to do some digging around into the pie’s history. My thoughts were that, although butter is commonplace for us now, it must have been regarded as a delicious treat in poorer times.

The modern incarnation of Butter Pie is alleged to owe much to the British Butter board, although I can find no verification for this. What I did find was what could be an ancestor of the modern recipe, in an account of the desperately poor existence of the cotton weavers of Lancashire, dating from 1827.

Joseph Greenwood, a worthy man of independent spirit, who has never troubled his parish, 60 years of age, with a wife and six children, lives at Bridge Inn, two miles and a half from Todmorden, on the Burnley road. He has five looms, and has wound and wove in his family, on an average, every week for the last four weeks, 16 pieces, each 30 yards of super calico, 28 west, at 9d, which gets 12s. per week. This sum is to support eight persons, pay rent, fire, clothes, candles to work by, shuttles, repair looms, &c. yet he will not run into debt. This family’s mode of living is as follows: they purchase a quantity of oatmeal, make gruel of oatmeal, salt, and water only, which serves for breakfast and supper; for dinner they bake a small quantity of the meal into a cake, and buy a little blue milk, as they call it, at ½d. per quart, and sup the milk along with the cake, but this is a luxury they cannot have every day. By way of change they sometimes buy wheaten flour to make the porridge, but with that they cannot afford to have the milk. Butter, cheese, and flesh meat, weavers never think of, unless now and then they purchase two ounces or a quarter of a pound of butter: or one or two pennyworth of suet, or odd bits of interior meat, to make a potatoe pie. The mode of making this pie is as follows: the potatoes are washed and cut into, slices, placed in a dish and sprinkled with salt, then filled up with water, the bits of suet are mixed with the potatoes, and the whole is covered with a thin crust, and if they cannot raise the suet or butter, the pie is made without them.[1]

Porridge morning and evening, oatcakes and skimmed milk for lunch. Having to choose between skimmed milk or wheat flour. Potato Pie as a treat. It’s a sobering thought. And little wonder that the tale of it being a dish of abstinence is the more popular, or at least, easier on the conscience. In this modern age, we are sometimes a bit too blasé about food and shameless with food waste. The story behind Butter Pie makes me, at least, be grateful for the abundance we have. This pie was a treat. IS a treat. No matter the humble ingredients.

So, if I haven’t plunged you irretrievably into a pit of despair, let’s talk ingredients!

This pie is deliciously savoury and ‘toothsome’ as Victorians were wont to say – ridiculously so, given the simplicity of its ingredients. Even with such a short list, you can vary the mix to produce delicately nuanced and finely-tuned combinations whilst still respecting the original.

My absolute favourite potato is the Pink Fir Apple, a fingerling-type potato with such a delicious flavour, I eat them as they are – no butter, no salt – they’re that good. In terms of texture, they sit perfectly between floury and waxy, relieving me of having to choose between these two different types of tuber. They aren’t very easy to find, alas. Many people have a specific preference, and will deign to eat only that one type. I, however, believe that there are times when one is more suited to a recipe than the other, and in this recipe you can celebrate both types according to the season. In spring and summer, use waxy new potatoes and spring onions or chives for freshness. In autumn and winter, big slices of soft, floury King Edward or Wilja potatoes with delicately softened brown onions turn this into an unctuous and comforting dish.

Whichever style you choose, the pastry should provide contrast against which the filling can really shine. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that with such a buttery filling, a rich buttery puff pastry would be the way to go, and you would be perfectly within your rights to try it, but it would not be the best option. It’s just too rich. Everything gets lost. My recommendation is for a cornflour, all butter, shortcrust pastry. It bakes incredibly crisp and the presence of the cornflour makes it a dry crispness – something not usually achievable with an all-butter pastry. And this unassuming, plain pastry is the perfect background for the soft, buttery filling to shine. It’s all about contrasts, of textures as well as flavours. You need the plainness of the pastry to really enjoy the rich-tasting filling.

Butter Pie Slice

Lancashire Butter Pie

The choice of potato is entirely up to you. I used Anya potatoes this time. The quantity of butter in the filling is restrained: you can also dot more over the potato layers if you’re feeling indulgent.

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

  • Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off two thirds. Put the remaining third back into the fridge.
  • Roll this piece out to a thickness of 4-5mm and use it to line a greased 18cm pie tin, loose-bottomed for preference, making sure there is enough pastry overlapping the sides of the tin to allow for joining the lid.
  • Chill the pastry while you prepare the filling.

Filling
750g potatoes
120g unsalted butter
2 medium onions
salt and ground white pepper

1 egg yolk for glazing

  • Peel the potatoes and cut into 1cm slices.
  • Boil or steam (preferred) until tender. Spread out on a clean cloth to cool/dry.
  • Chop the onions finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions.
  • Cook gently over a low heat until softened. Do not allow them to take any colour.
  • Spread a thin layer of buttery onions over the base of the pastry and season with pepper and salt. Cover with a layer of potato slices, cutting them if necessary to fill any gaps.
  • Repeat until the pie is filled, remembering to season each layer of onions. Pour any remaining butter over the top.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid.
  • Damp the edges of the pastry and lay the lid on top. Trim to leave a border of 1cm.
  • Crimp the pastry edges between finger and thumb. Gently press the crimped edge inwards until it is standing vertical.
  • Mix the yolk with 1-2tsp cold water, and glaze the pastry lid thoroughly using a brush.
  • Cut out some decorations from the offcuts of pastry and arrange on top of the glaze. Leaving the decorations unglazed will keep them from taking on too much colour in the oven, which means they will stand out more when baked. Cut a steam vent in the centre of the lid.
  • Chill the pie in the fridge while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake the pie for 40-45 minutes, turning it around after 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
  • Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before turning out and serving.
  • Also delicious cold.

[1] Niles’ National Register, Volume 32,  1827, p118

Apricot Dream Slice

For a number of years I have been collecting the original recipe books of regional Women’s Institutes. They usually take the form of spiral-bound, text-only booklets and are, I feel, a great indication of dishes being prepared in the homes at time of publication.

I have books dating from the 1920s to the 1980s and am always on the look-out for editions from missing counties to fill out the collection. For the most part, they are tried and tested recipes that embody the very best in home cooking, as long as you gloss over the late 70s/early 80s lowpoint characterised by an almost fanatical obsession with recipes that involved opening cans and packets – yes, even in the sainted W.I.!

The recipe comes from the recipe collection of the combined Federation of Women’s Institutes of Northern Ireland. The  booklet is undated, but with a little digging, I’m pretty confident it comes from the 1980s.

This traybake is a variation of a flapjack, but without all the earnest oats, which, speaking even as an oat-lover, can be a little much unless you’re particularly in the mood. It caught my eye mainly due to the title, but also because it was just that little bit different from a lot of the elaborate bakes seen today. It is also my most favourite kind of recipe, a storecupboard one: a recipe that does not require a special trip to the shops, that can usually be made with the contents of your cupboards. A mixture of crumbled digestive biscuits and dessicated coconut is sandwiched with a layer of chopped apricots and (optional) jam. It can also be varied very easily, just by changing the fruit used in the middle – I recommend keeping it sharp but exotic, with pineapple, mango, papaya, cranberries, prunes etc.

The result is crisp, crunchy, sharp, sweet and very moreish, ideal for packed lunches, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did in our house.

Apricot Dream Slice

Add as many or as few apricots – or whatever fruit you have – as you like. The original recipe called for just 125g, but after trying it, I felt this a little on the meagre side, and since the bag of apricots held 200g, and I just knew the extra would inevitably end up spilled on the cupboard floor, here we are. I like it with the extra fruit – it makes it deliciously indulgent.

For the base
100g digestive biscuits (about 7), crushed
125g wholemeal flour
100g dessicated coconut
100g dark muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
115g unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
2 large eggs
200g dark muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
40g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
125-200g chopped dried apricots
4-5tbs jam (optional) – I used up half a jar of apricot and passionfruit (divine combo, by the way)

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put all of the base ingredients except the butter into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Tip the mixture into a bowl and stir in the melted butter.
  • Set aside 1/3 of the mixture for the topping, and spread the remainder into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15 minutes.
  • While the base is baking, whisk the eggs with the sugar and lemon juice until creamy.
  • Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the jam.
  • When the base is cooked, spread over the jam, if using – the heat of the base will make it runnier and help it spread more easily.
  • Pour over the filling and smooth over.
  • Sprinkle the reserved base mixture over the top and pat smooth.
  • Bake for a further 35-40 minutes until nicely browned.
  • Allow to cool in the tin.
  • When cold, cut into bars or squares to serve.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Orange and Walnut Garland Cake

In my head, the book from which this recipe is adapted is practically modern, as I clearly remember the year it was published, but then my brain gently reminds me that 1978 is now 40 years ago and I am PLUNGED into a slough of despond at how OLD that makes me feel. But enough of the over-dramatics…

I found this recipe in Bread, Cakes and Biscuits, by Mary Norwak, one of the 500 Recipes series published by Hamlyn. It is a fantastic collection of almost every kind of tea-time bake you could wish for, reassuringly written by someone in whose recipes I have absolute confidence. If you’re in need of well-written, dependable recipes, then Mary Norwak is a name you can trust.

The 500 Recipes series is an immense collection of themed recipe books by a variety of authors and, when published, was very competitively priced at just 99p. I regularly find copies in charity shops and car-boot sales and have amassed quite a number of the range. Their only downside is, aside from the cover, a complete lack of illustrations, being printed as they are, on rather low-grade, coarse paper. So it takes a little imagination to be able to pluck out the real gems from a flat page of text.

I chose this recipe for a number of reasons: the unusual flavours, the simplicity of the recipe and the ease with which it can quickly be turned into a very eye-catching, celebration cake.

Nowadays, the more standard cake flavour combination is for coffee to be paired with walnut, but the brightness of citrus really lifts this cake into something altogether more delightful.

I have made a few, small, changes to the original recipe and am also introducing a new element, that of the glaze for the decoration.

Firstly, I have substituted Seville Orange zest and juice for the original sweet orange. The sharpness and bitter notes really pack a punch against the sweetness of the cake.  The simple glace icing is a revelation – I do so love it when an idea exceeds all expectation. This normally (for me) overly-sweet icing is really lifted by the tang of the bitter orange. And where do I have access to Seville oranges out of season, you ask? In my freezer, I reply.  Every Seville orange season, I buy, zest and juice at least one net of Seville oranges. After mixing the juice and zest together, I freeze it in ice-cube trays (one large ‘cube’ contains the juice and zest of 1 orange) and, once frozen, pack into a ziplock bag for later use, just as in this case. It’s fantastic for Seville orange curd, custard, even savoury dishes like roast duck or game casserole. I highly recommend the practice. If you have no Seville oranges, the recipe contains a suggestion for substitution.

You can leave the cake adorned with just the icing topping and it is delicious, but for a bit of wow-factor, you can add a garland of candied fruit and whole nuts. This is my favourite kind of decoration (requires practically zero skill and almost no effort from me), where the beauty of the ingredients IS the decoration and they can really shine. And on that note, I shall segue seamlessly into the new element of this recipe – the glaze.

You will have noticed that the fruit and especially the nuts in the picture above, have a glorious shine to them, and this is achieved through the use of a glaze. For fresh fruit tarts and the like, the traditional glaze is a syrup, but this has the downside of being exceedingly sticky, and in this case might interfere with the glace icing. Also, fresh fruit tarts tend to be eaten immediately, whereas this is a cake that will last several days in an airtight container. The glaze I have used for the decoration is a mixture of simple sugar syrup and gelatine. This adds the shine without the stickiness. The excess glaze will set like a jelly, and later can be gently warmed and re-used to decorate sweet buns, tea-breads, even sweet pies for an extra shiny appearance without stickiness.

Orange & Walnut Garland Cake

Do customise the flavorings to your own personal taste. Dislike walnuts? Use hazelnuts instead, or pistachios or macadamia nuts. Dislike candied peel? Make your own for a fantastic flavour punch, leave it out altogether or add in some more fresh zest.

225g self-raising flour (or plain flour + 1 tsp baking powder)
½ tsp salt
75g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
zest & juice of 1 Seville orange [1]
3 large eggs
30g candied peel – chopped
60g walnuts – quartered
a little milk (maybe)

Icing
zest & juice of 1 Seville orange [1]
120g icing sugar

Decoration
100g mixed whole nuts
50g candied peel, cherries, etc.

Glaze
50ml water
50g caster sugar
½ sheet gelatine – or enough vegegel to set 100ml of liquid.

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line an 18-20cm cake tin with parchment.
  • Sift flour and salt.
  • Cream butter, sugar and orange zest together until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between additions.
  • Fold in the flour.
  • Stir in the peel, nuts and juice. If the mixture seems a little heavy, loosen it to a dropping consistency with a little milk.
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the cake is cooked through[2].
  • Allow the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes (to firm up), then cool completely on a wire rack.
  • After decoration, store in an airtight container.

Decoration
As mentioned above, there’s two tiers of decoration you can use for this cake, either with just a simple glace icing, or with the addition of a garland of candied fruit and nuts.  Read through both sets of instructions, because if you want to do the glazed fruit and nuts on top, you need to start before mixing the icing.

  • Glace icing:
    • Mix the zest/juice into the icing sugar until smooth. It should be thin enough be able to pour, but not so runny that it just falls off the side of the cake.
    • Pour over cake and allow to drip down the sides a little.
    • Leave to set.
  • Glazed fruit and nuts:
    • Soak the gelatine in a little cold water.
    • Cut the cherries in half and trim the rest of the fruit to suitable sizes/shapes.
    • Dissolve the sugar in the water (zapping it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it helps) then add the softened gelatine and stir until it is melted.
    • Now, there are two ways to arrange and glaze the fruit and nuts, either glaze first, then arrange, or arrange, then glaze.  Choose whichever approach you prefer.
      • Arrange then glaze: As soon as you have poured over the icing, press the fruit and nuts into the icing while it is still moist. As the icing dries, it will hold them securely in place. Using a clean paintbrush, paint the glaze over the fruit and nuts, being careful not to allow it to drip onto the icing too much.
      • Glaze then arrange: Put the fruit and nuts into a bowl and pour the glaze over. Toss gently to ensure and even coating. Drain in a sieve, then arrange as above.

[1] If you have no Seville oranges, use the zest of 2 sweet oranges and the juice of 1 in the cake, and for the icing, the zest of 1 orange and the juice of a lemon.
[2] Quick reminder on how to tell when a cake is cooked:

  • Ears: the cake is not making any bubbling/hissing noises.
  • Touch: the cake feels springy when lightly pressed with the fingertips.
  • Eyes: The cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin a little.
  • Eyes: A cocktail stick inserted into the middle of the cake has no wet mixture on it when removed. NB when making moist, fruited cakes (apple, banana, etc) any fruit moisture is ok, it’s the cake mixture that’s important.