Old-Fashioned Lemonades

I don’t think I’ve done drinks on the blog before, but I’ve got a trio of delicious variations on lemonade, originating in the 17th century manuscript books at the Wellcome Library. They are each wonderfully thirst-quenching and will make for a delicious treat to have in the fridge.

Mrs Yorke’s Lemonade – the best that can be made

From the recipe book of Mary Rooke, 1770s (back right in photo).

Mary Rook's Original Recipe
Source: DDU 818/1, Essex Record Office

225g granulated sugar
225ml fresh lemon juice (from 4 juicy lemons – have 5, just in case)
Thin strips of peel from 4 lemons
900ml boiling water
450ml boiling milk

  • Put the sugar, lemon juice, thinly peeled lemon peel into a bowl.
  • Pour over the boiling water and stir to dissolve the sugar.
  • Cover with plastic and allow to cool.
  • When cold, pour in the boiling milk. NB The lemon juice will cause the milk to curdle. DON’T PANIC – THIS IS FINE.
  • Cover with plastic and allow to cool, then chill overnight in the fridge.
  • Strain the solids out by passing the lemonade through a fine-mesh sieve.
  • Strain the lemonade finely by passing it through a jelly bag, or a double layer of muslin. Be sure to scald the muslin first by pouring boiling water over it, then squeeze out the excess moisture.
  • To have your lemonade especially clear, rinse the muslin thoroughly and double the layers to 4 and pass the lemonade through it again. This will take longer than the first time, due to the greater number of layers of material.
  • Taste and add more sugar if liked. For adults only, you can add 225ml of white wine. Choose one with light, citrus flavours.
  • Chill thoroughly.
  • Serve over ice.

Cool Summer Drink

Anon., 17th century (back left in photo).

Original Recipe
Source: MS8097, Wellcome Library Collection

This is a very refreshing drink similar to an Indian lassi. The milk will tend to separate slightly, so blending the drink just before serving helps combat this.

450ml milk
400ml water
½ tsp rosewater – I use Nielsen Massey
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1 sprig rosemary
1 tbs granulated sugar

Slices of lemon and sprigs of rosemary to serve

  • Bruise the rosemary to release its flavour by gently tapping the leaves with a rolling-pin.
  • Put all of the ingredients into a jug.
  • Cover with plastic and allow to infuse for 2 hours in the fridge.
  • Remove the rosemary and strain the drink by passing it through a fine-mesh sieve, which will catch any rosemary leaves that might have fallen from the stem.
  • Using a stick blender or liquidiser, thoroughly mix the drink to an even consistency.
  • Serve at once.

Lemonada

Anon., 17th century, (front left in photo).

Lemonada Original Recipe
Source: MS8097, Wellcome Library Collection

600ml light and fresh German white wine – Liebfraumilch or Reisling
450ml water
225g granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
juice of 1 orange
5cm stick of cinnamon
1/4 nutmeg in 1 piece
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced thinly

  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan over a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil, cover and remove from the heat.
  • Allow to steep until cold.
  • Strain to remove solids and chill in the fridge until required.
  • Serve over ice.

Spiced Strawberry Tart

Jane Parker, 1651 adapted from The Good Huswife’s Jewell, 1587

I was drawn to this recipe because it involved spicing strawberries and baking them in pastry, both details being so different from how we tend to use strawberries today. Originally, I was delighted to find the recipe in Jane Parker’s manuscript recipe book¹ but some months later, when I found an earlier version in a cookery book from the previous century, it became at once both more interesting and more delightful. Thomas Dawson’s recipe for strawberry tart², was published in the middle of the reign of Elizabeth I, and is, in all honesty, a little sparse on the level of detail to which our 21st century eyes are accustomed when it comes to recipes. Indeed, it is so brief I can quote it in full below:

To make a tart of strawberries

Wash your strawberries and put them into your Tarte and season them with sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and put in a little red wine into them.

No quantities, cooking times, or even mention of a pastry recipe. It would appear Jane Parker also thought a little extra detail was required, and her recipe is as follows:

Jane Parker's Recipe
Source: MS3769, Wellcome Library Collection

Whilst there’s still no pastry recipe, we do have more detail in terms of presentation: the tart should be shallow, the pastry lid should have diamond cutouts, baking time of 15 minutes and a sprinkling of spiced sugar over the baked tart. These additional details, to my mind, highlight the fact that, even if she didn’t actually make the tart herself, Jane Parker definitely got the recipe from someone who had, as these details are precisely the kind of personal touches an experienced cook would note down for future reference.

After centuries of refinement, the strawberries we now use are impressively large but much milder in flavour than those that would have been used for this originally Elizabethan tart. If you can find sufficient wild strawberries either to mix with your ordinary strawberries or, decadently, to use on their own, their deep aromatic flavour, together with the wine and spices, will make for a much more robust flavour to this unusual Tudor tart.

Spiced Strawberry Tart

1 batch of Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

600g fresh strawberries
3 tbs caster sugar
1tbs cornflour
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
60ml red wine or port
Milk for glazing
1tbs caster sugar
1tsb ground cinnamon

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry thinly. The thinner the pastry, the less time it will need in the oven and the freshness of the strawberries will be all the better for it.
  • Cut out four lids for your tarts. Cut them generously so that there is sufficient pastry to form a seal with the pastry lining the tins. Use a small diamond cutter or any small shape, to cut a lattice into the lids. Be careful not to cut too close to the edge, otherwise they will be tricky to attach to the rest of the pastry.
  • Gather the trimmings and re-roll the pastry.
  • Grease and line four individual pie tins with the pastry. Let any excess pastry hang over the sides for now.
  • Prepare the strawberries: Remove the stalks and cut into small pieces, either 4 or 8, depending on the size of the strawberries.
  • Put the cut strawberries into a bowl and sprinkle over the red wine. Toss gently to coat.
  • Mix the sugar, cornflour and spices together. Sprinkle over the strawberries and toss gently to mix.
  • Divide the strawberry filling amongst the tins and smooth over.
  • Moisten the edges of the pastry and place the lids over each tart. Press firmly to seal, then trim and crimp the edges
  • Brush the tops with milk and bake for 12-15 minutes until the pastry is cooked and lightly golden.
  • Mix the remaining caster sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the hot pies.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

¹ MS3769, Wellcome Library.
² The Good Huswife’s Jewell, 1587

Old English Bread Pudding

Mary Bent, circa 1670

I adore everything about this recipe. For a start, it epitomises the very British traits of not only being a hot pudding, but also having been created from almost nothing. The ingredients are modest, the flavouring minimal, yet these simple, little puddings are a real delight. Even more so when you realise that these were already being looked upon with nostalgic fondness when Mary Bent recorded this recipe in the middle of the seventeenth century. Where modern bread puddings tend towards the solid and the fruited, this 350 year old recipe is light and delicate as a souffle.

Original Recipe
Source: MS1127, Wellcome Library Collection

Old English Bread Pudding

125g fresh breadcrumbs
300ml milk
2 large yolks
1 large egg
2tbs caster sugar
1/4tsp salt
freshly grated nutmeg

  • Warm the milk until just below boiling then pour over the breadcrumbs and allow to soak for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/gas 3.
  • Whisk the egg and yolks and pour into the breadcrumb mixture. Add the sugar, salt and grate the nutmeg.
  • Stir everything together until a smooth mixture.
  • Generously butter four pudding basins and pour the breadcrumb mixture evenly amongst them.
  • Arrange the basins on a lipped baking sheet.
  • Bake for 45 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
  • When cooked, allow the puddings to rest for a couple of minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pudding bowls and turn out.
  • Serve with a few fresh berries and whipped cream or Hard Sauce .

 

Plum Pudding

This pudding has a lot going for it: its fruity, spiced, zesty with candied peel, suet-free and thus vegetarian, less than 2 hours in the making/baking – and over 300 years old!

I found this recipe in the manuscript recipe book of Elizabeth Philipps (circa 1694), when I was hunting for Christmas recipes. The recipe’s full title is “An excellent Plum Pudding Hot or Cake Cold”, which is just the kind of two-for-one recipe that our modern Christmas needs – especially if you’re running late and missed stir-up Sunday. Excellent example of Deja Food too!

The recipe is marked with the annotation “daughter Green”. I think this must mean the recipe was passed on by her daughter, whose married name was Green – although there were unusual naming conventions back then; perhaps Mistress Philipps had a rainbow of daughters? We can but guess. As if the title wasn’t endorsement enough, a later hand has also awarded a tick and the comment ‘good’. This made this recipe a culinary ‘dead cert’ in my opinion: something that was so delicious when tasted, the recipe was requested and recorded by hand in the family recipe book, and this approval was then endorsed by a third party coming across the recipe at a later date.

Mini Puddings
Mini Puddings

You can bake this in a regular cake tin, but a ceramic pudding bowl works just as well, and makes the resemblance to a Christmas Pudding much clearer. The hour-long baking time creates a wonderfully dark and crunchy crust, which contrasts dramatically with the light, pale insides.  You can also bake it in individual pudding bowls (the recipe makes 10 small puddings), which looks very sweet too, although the shorter cooking time makes for a paler outside. This would be too much traditional Christmas Pudding for one person, but this pudding is a yeast-raised, light, fruited, cake texture, and much more refreshing to the palate as well as being easier on the stomach.

Plum Pudding Original Recipe
Source: MS3082, Wellcome Library Collection

Plum Pudding

375g plain flour
1/3 nutmeg, grated
1 tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground cloves
1 sachet fast-action yeast

40g granulated sugar
150g unsalted butter
150ml cream/milk
50ml cream sherry or mead
2 large eggs

300g currants
75g raisins
60g mixed candied peel [1]
40g flaked almonds

  • Mix the flour, yeast and spices.
  • Put the sugar, butter and milk/cream in a pan and warm gently until the butter is melted.
  • Add the sherry or mead.
  • If the mixture is still hot, let it cool a little first, then whisk in the eggs.
  • Add the liquids to the flour and mix thoroughly. It should form a soft dough. Add up to 150ml more milk if you think it is required.
  • Set somewhere warm to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Stir in the fruit and almonds until thoroughly combined.
  • If you are making small, individual puddings, each mould or aluminium foil cup will take about 125g of dough. Otherwise, generously butter a 1.6 litre pudding bowl and add the dough.
  • Set aside for 15 minutes while the oven warms up.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Bake
    • a single, large pudding for about an hour. Turn the basin round after 30 minutes and check for done-ness at 50 minutes.
    • the small, individual puddings for 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Run a spatula around the sides of the basin to loosen the pudding, and carefully turn out onto your serving plate.
  • Serve warm, with double cream.
  • For later: Even though this pudding is nice cold, it really is at its best just warm, so for serving later, zap slices/individual puddings in the microwave for 30 seconds before serving.

[1] I used 20g each of orange, lemon and pink grapefruit, rinsed of excess syrup

Tunbridge Cakes

Here’s another recipe resurrection, but I’ll give you fair warning, it’s a little caraway-heavy. If you’re not a fan of the taste of caraway, then you’re not going to have a fun time.

The solution to that, of course, would be to substitute a different flavouring for the caraway – easy-peasy – aniseed or cumin if you want to keep it seedy, or lemon/orange zest to make it fresh but really, anything that appeals is fine.

ANYHOO – back to the cakes.

Despite the name, Tunbridge Cakes are actually a biscuit. In the mid nineteenth century, Alfred Romary set up a biscuit factory in the town and the biscuits were manufactured for over a hundred years. Queen Victoria was so delighted with them she awarded a royal warrant and the royal connection continued until the final batch was baked for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

The advertisements for the biscuits described them as being “As thin as lace, of a flavour so delicate as to be indefinable. The clubs serve them with port, but they are also excellent with ices or at afternoon tea. Many people prefer them to sweets and chocolate. In two flavours, Sweet and Ginger.” Interestingly, there’s no mention of caraway, nor does it appear on the ingredients list on the tins above, which mention only flour, butter, shortening, sugar and salt. George Read’s “The complete biscuit and gingerbread baker’s assistant” (1854) makes a distinction between ‘Water Cakes with Caraways’ and ‘Tunbridge Water Cakes’, though whether these bear any resemblance to the Romary biscuits is unclear.

Tunbridge Cakes actually go back much further than mere Victorian times. Recipe books from the early half of the nineteenth century contain several mentions of Tunbridge Cakes, although, on closer examination. they all appear to be plagiarised copies of Mrs Eliza Rundell’s 1806 recipe. The earliest printed recipe I could find just managed to sidle into the eighteenth century – John Perkins’ 1796 recipe for Tunbridge Wafer Cakes. However, in my favourite recipe collection, that of the manuscripts of The Wellcome Library, I found not one but four recipes more than one hundred years older than any I could find in print.

Sample Recipe
Source: MSMSL2, Wellcome Library Collection

Since the recipes were so similar, with only slight variations in proportions of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and seeds, baking a batch of each was the only way they could be fairly compared. I managed to scale down the recipes to a common quantity of flour, and then mixed and baked a batch of each.

It was immediately apparent that two of the batches stood out as being superior, but for different reasons. Batch A was incredibly light and delicate, friable and crumbly in texture, whilst the flavour of Batch B had that elusive je ne sais quoi deliciousness that was difficult to place, without knowing what the ingredients were. My dilemma was: I couldn’t decide which I liked better. Batch B was very heavy on the caraway seeds, but the background spices kept me coming back to nibble. The delicate texture of Batch A was a delight.

In the end I added the extra flavourings from Batch B to the mix of Batch A and baked a hybrid that seemed to being the best of both batches. If you want to try the original recipe, simply omit the optional flavourings in the ingredients listed below.

“Yes, but even after all the yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, they still don’t look very interesting” I hear you say. I know. They’ve not got much wow factor to look at, and if you’ve read this far, you might even be wondering why you should bother with them at all. So allow me to try and convince you. Firstly, their taste – the most basic quality for a recipe – they are delicious, and this should be reason enough. If you need further convincing,  it would be their delicate texture: crisp, crumbly and friable. And lastly, and for me this is their most enchanting quality, their age. Late 17th century. To put this in context, contemporaneous events include the English civil war, Roundheads & Cavaliers, Oliver Cromwell, the Great Fire of London, Peter The Great crowned Czar of Russia and the Salem witch trials are conducted in Massachusetts. And this is a delicious biscuit from those times. As Sue Perkins so eloquently put it in her Foreword for my first book, it’s taste-bud time travel!

Apart from the flavourings, the other key aspect of these biscuits is their thinness. And I mean thin. Really, really thin. Like 2mm. Even though the quantity of dough is small, I strongly suggest working with just half of it at a time, so that you can really concentrate on getting the dough as thin as possible. It will become translucent when rolled thinly enough. The biscuits will then take only minutes to bake.

Tunbridge Cakes

Based on recipes in The Wellcome Library 17th century manuscripts, dated 1650-1700

113g plain flour
23g unsalted butter
34g powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
½tsp caraway seeds
½tsp ground ginger – optional
¼tsp salt – optional
50-70ml double cream to mix

  • Put the flour, butter, sugar and egg yolk into a food processor and blitz together to mix.
  • Tip mixture into a bowl and add the caraway seeds, ginger and salt, if using.
  • Stir together.
  • Gradually add the cream until the mixture comes together into a stiff paste.,
  • Tip the paste out of the bowl and knead smooth. The texture should be like a firm shortcrust pastry.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Retrieve the paste from the fridge, divide in half and put one half back into the fridge to stay cool.
  • Lightly flour the work surface and a rolling pin and roll out the dough extremely thinly, until translucent and the work surface is visible through it.
  • Using a fork, dock (i.e. poke holes in) the whole surface of the paste. This is a little time consuming, but infinitely better than trying to dock the biscuits once they have been cut out.
  • Cut out biscuits using a plain, 8cm cutter.
  • Transfer the biscuits to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake for 4-6 minutes, until the edges are just beginning to brown. Check after 3 minutes and turn the baking sheet around if the biscuits are colouring unevenly.
  • Remove the biscuits from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Easter Simnel

Wotchers!

We’re back to the history books this week, with an original Simnel recipe from the 1650s. And yes, I’m exactly a week late, since they were originally enjoyed on Mid-Lent Sunday, which has, over the years, segued into Mothering Sunday/Mothers’ Day. Still, they were popular throughout the Easter celebrations, so there’s still time to rustle some up if you feel inspired.

Three regions of Britain lay claim to strong Simnel traditions: Devizes in Wiltshire, Bury in Lancashire and Shrewsbury in Shropshire. The Devises Simnel is recorded as being star-shaped and without a crust, and the Bury Simnel is traditionally flat, but the Shrewsbury Simnel was the most popular and which went on to develop into the Easter cake we know today.

The Shrewsbury Simnel of 350 years ago was much different to the traditional almond-paste-filled cake made today. Originally, it was an enriched and fruited yeast dough wrapped in a plain, yeasted dough,and then boiled before being baked, in a method similar to the way modern bagels are made. There are similarities with today’s Scottish Black Bun, the difference being both the use of unleavened pastry and the much richer filling of the northern version.

simnel cakes
Shrewsbury Simnels, from The Book of Days, Robert Chambers, 1863, Volume 1, p3
15thC simnels
Sketches of an early Tudor Symnelle (from A Pictorial Vocabulary of the 15th Century, in “A Volume of Vocabularies! by Thomas Wright, 1857, p266)

Whilst descriptions and images of what Simnels looked like are well known, recipes have, to a great extent, been either extremely vague or pretty much guess-work, as all the original recipes have vanished over the years.

Until now.

For, as I was browsing through the digitised 17th century manuscripts of The Wellcome Library, I found a recipe for a Simnell. It’s made in the traditional manner of first boiling then baking, and someone has subsequently crossed it out, but it’s still legible and much older than anything I’ve been able to find until now, so in terms of authenticity, that’s good enough for me.

SimnelRecipe
Simnel recipe from The Wellcome Library’s digitised 17th century manuscripts collection

It’s a little sparse on quantities and details such as cooking times and temperatures, but there was enough for me to muddle along with my own interpretation. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the traditional saffron flavouring, these cakes being ‘gilded’ with egg-yolk glaze only, so maybe the use of this spice was a later development.

It also fails to mention what size these festive cakes were. There’s anecdotal evidence from several 19th century sources, that claim Shrewsbury Simnels were made in all sizes from miniature up to cushion size, and also of them being sent all over the country as gifts. One account tells of a bemused recipient using hers as a footstool, not being aware that there was a delicious cake within the double-cooked crust. I opted for pork-pie-sized cakes for a couple of reasons:

  • The recipe says to “take it upon the back of your hand and pinch it” – difficult for a large sized cake.
  • The baking instructions are “bake them as cakes or small bread” – so bread roll size rather than loaf sized.
  • Mention I found of cymlings or simnels in the notes of early American settlers on the local vegetation.
    • In 1690, the Reverend John Banister recorded in his Natural History [of Virginia]

    We plant also Cucumbers & Pompions, the common, & the Indian kind with a long narrow neck, which from them we call a Cushaw. Of Melopepones or the lesser sort of Pompions there is also great variety, all which go by the Indian name of Macocks; yet the Clypeatae are sometimes called Simnels & because these others also from the Lenten Cake of that name which some of them very much resemble.

    • Earlier, in A Description of New Albion (1648), Beauchamp Plantagenet (what an AWESOME name!) observed “strawberries, mulberries, symnels, maycocks, and horns, like cucumbers” on Palmer’s Isle (now called Garrett Island)  at the northern end of Chesapeake Bay.

The vegetable they both refer to is nowadays more commonly called the pattypan squash.

Pattypan Squash
Pattypan Squash

The recipe below will make four, individual-sized Simnels. Feel free to enrich the filling for the dough even more by adding extra fruit, spice peel, sugar, butter and eggs. The mix below, however, will make a delicately spiced and fruited tea bread that is delicious on its own as well as spread with butter and/or toasted. Provided your Simnels don’t burst their seams during baking, the hard outer dough will ensure that they keep very well for a couple of weeks.

Shrewsbury Simnels

For the plain dough:

250g white bread flour
0.5tsp salt
0.5tsp mace
0.5tsp nutmeg
0.25tsp cloves
1/2 sachet easy-blend, fast-action yeast
warm water to mix

  • Sift the flour, salt, spices and yeast into a bowl.
  • Slowly add enough warm water to bring the ingredients together into a firm dough.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Put into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic film.
  • Set aside to rise for 1 hour.

For the filling dough:

250g white bread flour
0.5tsp salt
0.5tsp mace
0.5tsp nutmeg
0.25tsp cloves
1/2 sachet easy-blend, fast-action yeast
1 large egg
60ml double cream
50g butter
2tbs sugar

100g raisins
100g currants

2 large egg yolks for glazing.

  • Sift the flour, salt, spices and yeast into a bowl.
  • Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a pan with the cream and the sugar.
  • Warm gently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved
  • Whisk the egg and add to the warmed ingredients. NB Make sure they aren’t so hot that they cook the egg.
  • Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Put into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic film.
  • Set aside to rise for 1 hour.
  • Put a large pan of water on the cooker to boil. I use my preserving pan. Do it now because it will take practically the whole hour to come to heat up.
  • When the dough has doubled in size, knead in the raisins and currants.

To assemble the cakes:

  • Divide the plain dough into 8 even pieces and roll each piece out thinly (3mm).
  • Line 4 small deep pie/tart tins with cling film. This will help turn out the finished cakes.
  • Use 4 pieces of plain dough to line the tart tins. Leave the excess dough hanging over the edge of the tins, as it will help in forming a good seal around the cake dough.
  • Chill in the fridge together with the remaining pieces of dough, which will form the lids, for 20 minutes. This chilling will firm up the dough and make it easier to form the crust on the cakes.
  • Divide the fruit dough into four and knead until firm and smooth. If you’ve added extra fruit or your tins are on the small side, you may need to reduce the size of the dough balls.
  • Remove the chilled dough from the fridge. It is best to form one cake and then place it in the hot water immediately. If left to one side while you make the other cakes, the dough will warm up, rise and potentially burst its seals.
  • Place a ball of fruit dough in each tin.
  • Moisten the edges of the dough with water and cover with one of the dough lids.
  • Press firmly and pinch together to form a seal around the fruit filling. Trim any excess dough.
  • Crimp the edges of the cake according to your own design.
  • Fill a large bowl with cold water.
  • When the water is simmering, place each cake on a skimmer and slowly lower into the water. It will sink to the bottom of the pan initially. When the cake rises, use a skimmer to gently turn it over so that the lid cooks for about a minute.
  • Lift the cake from the hot water and lower it gently into the bowl of cold water.
  • When cooled, set the cake  onto a silicon sheet (so that it doesn’t stick) to dry.
  • Repeat for the remaining cakes.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • Place the Simnels onto the baking sheet.
  • Brush with beaten egg-yolk to glaze.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes until firm and golden. They should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Don’t be tempted to take them out too early, even with the dip in the hot water, these will take a relatively long time to bake.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Honey Bunnies

The recipe for this dough comes from one of the many digital manuscripts made available by The Wellcome Library, and dates from 1699. The original was a bit sparse in some of the instructions (“add honey to sweeten” “what spice you will”), but I’ve experimented and come up with a version that is rich, not too sweet and delicately spiced. I specifically wanted a recipe that did not contain fruit, but feel free to throw some in if you like. Additionally, mix it up with your own spice blends.

Honey Bunnies

Makes 12 bunny buns

450g strong, white flour – plus extra for kneading.
1 sachet easy-blend yeast
2tsp ground cinnamon
2tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground allspice
250ml whole milk
113g honey
113g unsalted butter
2 large eggs

  • Put the honey, butter and milk into a small pan and warm gently until the butter has melted and the honey dissolved.
  • Whisk the eggs in a bowl.
  • When the milk mixture has cooled to blood temperature, pour into the whisked eggs, stirring briskly.
  • Add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and stir to combine.
  • Make a well in the centre and pour in the wet ingredients.
  • Stir together until the mixture comes together in a soft dough. Important: The texture of the dough depends on the moisture content of the ingredients, including that of the flour, eggs, butter and honey. It is probably going to look too wet. Don’t panic. Knead in extra flour to bring it back to a consistency with which you’re happy. It is better to have it slightly too soft, than too dry.
  • Knead for 10 minutes until smooth.
  • Cover and set to rise until doubled in size. The butter and the honey will mean that it will take longer to rise than regular bread dough, so think more in terms of 2-3 hours than just a single hour.
  • When risen, tip out from the bowl and press out the air.
  • Fold the dough together loosely and weigh it.
  • Cut into 12 portions. Using a digital scale will give you the greatest accuracy and therefore a more even batch overall.
  • Shape into buns. To help you shape the dough into bunnies, I’ve prepared a photographic how-to:
dough tail head
Divide each portion of dough into 3 – about 5g for the tail, 1/3 for the head/ears, and 2/3 for the body. Roll all three into smooth balls. Roll the medium ball into a sausage shape as above.
forming ears
Hold your hand as if you were going to do a karate chop, and roll the bottom edge of it back and forth over the sausage of dough, about 1/3 of the way from the left. The smaller portion of dough will form the head, and the remainder the ears.
Shape the 'ears' portion by flattening it slightly and adding a point at the end. It will be roughly leaf-shaped, whilst the 'head' portion remains rounded.
Shape the ‘ears’ portion by flattening it slightly and adding a point at the end. It will be roughly leaf-shaped, whilst the ‘head’ portion remains rounded.
Using a sharp knife or the edge of a scraper, divide the ears by cutting down the middle of the dough.
Using a sharp knife or the edge of a scraper, divide the ears by cutting down the middle of the dough.
Shape the body. I pondered long and hard how to describe the shaping of this piece of dough, until I had a brainwave: make it into the shape of a computer mouse. Vaguely oval, with the back end higher and rounded and the front sloping downwards.
Shape the body. I pondered long and hard how to describe the shaping of this piece of dough, until I had a brainwave: make it into the shape of a computer mouse. Vaguely oval, with the back end higher and rounded and the front sloping downwards.
Using a little dab of water, attach the tail. Shape the two front paws by cutting approx. 1/3 of the length of the dough, dividing the front part into 2, just like with the ears.
Using a little dab of water, attach the tail. Shape the two front paws by cutting approx. 1/3 of the length of the dough, dividing the front part into 2, just like with the ears.
Raw honey dough bunny
Add another dab of water to moisten and lay the head/ears onto the body.

Cinder Toffee

Here’s another recipe that can, be part of a home-made Christmas, either for nibbling at home or prettily wrapped in cellophane as a gift, or indeed any suitable gift-giving time.

It can also be customised in a number of ways, as I shall detail below, be it in the ingredients you choose or the finishing touches you employ.

Honeycomb recipe from a 17thC manuscript (MS1511) dated 1682 in the Wellcome Library
Honeycomb recipe from a 17th century manuscript (MS1511) dated 1682 in the Wellcome Library

Cinder toffee is a traditional UK sweetie recipe which has been around for centuries, and early recipes can be found in household manuscript books from the reign of Charles II. Recently, it has seen a return to popularity under the name Honeycomb Toffee. Whilst a more appetising name, perhaps, unless you actually make it with honey, it is, to my mind, a bit misleading, whereas you have only to glance at the Wikipedia page for cinder to see that the appropriateness is evident in both looks and definition.

The toffee is made by bringing a mixture of sugars to the Hard Crack stage and then quickly stirring in a small amount of bicarbonate of soda to produce effervescence. The mixture is then poured into a suitably prepared tin and as it cools, the air bubbles are trapped in the sugar, thus giving it its distinctive structure.

Having read numerous recipes online, it is fairly safe to say that the most popular combination of sugars is caster sugar and golden syrup. This gives a bright, golden toffee reminiscent of the insides of a modern Crunchie bar. Whilst delicious, the flavour is, however, very one-note, and extremely sweet, and I got to pondering how it might be improved.

I found a recipe in F.Marian McNeil’s The Scots Kitchen (1929) for Black Man, a version of cinder toffee made with treacle, and kin to the Yellow Man of Northern Ireland. Made solely with treacle and bicarbonate of soda, it would definitely have the dark, bubbled appearance of genuine cinders, however in experimentation, the treacle proved exceedingly bitter as well as being much too easily burnt.

I liked the idea of using more complex flavourings to make the toffee and so I have come up with a base recipe for cinder toffee, with suggestions of how to adjust it for variety and interest. By varying the sugars and syrups, the range of flavours can be quite extensive and with more time at my disposal, I believe similar subtleties could also be achieved using honey as the liquid sugar. Feel free to experiment yourself!

Base Recipe Components

Choose your main flavouring from either the solid sugars or the liquid sugars. For example, malt extract and caster sugar, Demerera sugar and golden syrup. Both together, e.g. treacle and dark muscovado, is too dark and will burn to bitterness.

  • Solid sugar: This can range from fine, white, caster sugar, granulated sugar, soft light brown, soft dark brown, Demerera, light muscovado, dark muscovado all the way through to molasses sugar. The varying degrees of colour have a bearing on the eventual flavour which becomes richer and more caramelised the darker you go.
  • Liquid sugar: Any sweet syrup liquid at room temperature can be used including golden syrup, molasses, maple syrup, treacle, agave nectar, malt extract, honey.
  • Butter – for richness
  • water – to help dissolve the sugar
  • cream of tartar/liquid glucose – to help prevent crystallisation
  • bicarbonate of soda – for the bubbles! This recipe only uses a teaspoon, which, if properly stirred through, is more than enough to produce sufficient bubbles. Using more will produce more vigorous frothing, however, it will also become more noticeable in the flavour of the toffee, as well as being trickier to stir through without clumping.
Cinder Toffee 3 ways
Cinder Toffee 3 ways

Presentation Suggestions

  • Plain: Cinder toffee is delicious in it’s simple, unadorned state, but will absorb moisture from the air if left exposed. Once cooled, it should be stored in an airtight box or ziplock bag to keep from becoming sticky.
  • Dipped in chocolate: To keep the toffee crisp without the need for airtight storage, you can dip pieces in melted chocolate and set aside to cool. Although this will serve admirably, it will have a tendency to melt in the hand. The solution is to temper the chocolate, instructions for which abound on the internet. Whilst milk chocolate is the most popular pairing, you can experiment with a whole range of flavours from white through to the extremely dark. The sweetness of the cinder toffee made with caster sugar and golden syrup can be offset to a certain extent by dipping in dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate, not to mention the very pleasing contrast of the golden toffee against the dark chocolate. Similarly, the bitterness of treacle cinder toffee can be lightened by the use of white chocolate flavoured with lemon zest.
  • Made into cinder coal: This is the most fun. By tossing the chocolate-coated cinder toffee pieces into some black caster sugar, they immediately become, to all intents and purposes, little pieces of sweet coal, and thus the embodiment of their name.

How to make black sugar

The intense colour provided by modern gel food colouring is ideal for creating vibrant coloured sugar. Although we’ll only be using black the principal is the same for making any shade of coloured sugar.

1tsp black food gel colouring
200g caster sugar.

  • Pour the sugar into a small zip-lock bag and add the food colouring gel.
  • Seal the bag and gently massage the sugar against the gel. It will gradually take on an intense colour whilst still remaining separate grains.
  • Continue massaging the sugar until it is evenly coloured throughout. If the shade is too light, add a little more gel and repeat the massaging motion.
  • The coloured sugar will keep in the ziplock bag for weeks.

Cinder Toffee

110g caster sugar
110g treacle
30g unsalted butter
2tbs cold water
1 pinch cream of tartar or 1/2tsp glucose
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Line a roasting tin with parchment paper.
  • Put all of the ingredients except the bicarbonate of soda into a non-stick saucepan and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Increase the heat until the sugars boil. Continue heating without stirring until the syrup registers 150°C on a thermometer.
  • Tip in the bicarbonate of soda and mix briskly for 5 seconds, ensuring the powder is well incorporated.
  • Pour the frothing mixture onto the baking parchment in the tin and leave to cool. You can speed this up (and thereby trap more bubbles in the toffee) by putting it into the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • When completely cold, tap gently to break into bite-sized pieces.

To cover with chocolate

  • Melt or temper 200g of your chocolate of choice.
  • Drop pieces of cinder toffee into the melted chocolate and use a fork to lift them out.
  • Tap the fork briskly on the side of the chocolate bowl in order to shake off excess chocolate.
  • Lay the coated pieces on parchment paper to set.
  • Store in an airtight container.

To make cinder toffee coal

  • Whilst still wet, drop the chocolate coated pieces into the black sugar and toss to coat.
  • Lift out the coated pieces and lay onto a wire rack until set.
  • When completely cold, toss the pieces of coal gently in a wire sieve to remove excess sugar.
  • Store in a ziplock bag or wrap in cellophane bags for presents.

Apricot Jam

I’m a big fan of the sharp-sweet tang of apricots, and with a respectable amount of pectin, there’s no need to Faff About™ adding any extra. The small quantity lemon juice helps anyway, both in the set and in sharpening the flavour of the apricots.

This method, gleaned from several hand-written 17th century manuscripts, is slightly longer than your regular jam-making session might be, but it is seriously low on effort. Start-to-finish, it’s about 24 hours, but of that, there’s maybe only 1 hour of actually doing anything – bonus!

The result is so vibrant, so delicious, you’ll wish you’d made more – however many jars you make. I bought 6 x 350g punnets – and made six jars. One jar of finished jam for every 350g of raw fruit is also a handy way to work out how many jars your going to need. As a precaution, I always have one jar extra, all cleaned, heated and ready to go, in case of an overabundance. I’ve scaled the quantities down to use just 1 kg of fresh, pitted fruits (so 3 punnets from the shop), so it’s a little easier to scale up/down.

This method involves first macerating (or soaking) the fruit in sugar for several hours (or even overnight). The sugar draws out the juice from the fruit, and in turn a little of the sugar is absorbed. This absorption of sugar will help to firm up the fruit and keep it from disintegrating during the necessary boiling later on.

That being said, this is not a solid jam that has to be crowbar’d out of the jar (a particular dislike of mine). It’s definitely leaning more towards the conserve, although having sliced the fruit to manageable bite-sizes, I think that disqualifies it from the traditional definition of conserve (i.e. whole fruit in syrup).

ANYHOO….

Here’s how it goes:

Apricot Jam

3 x 350g punnets of Bergeron (for preference, but not compulsory) apricots, to give 1kg of prepared fruit
800g granulated sugar
Juice of 2-3 lemons
Day 1

  • Rinse the apricots and cut into halves, top to bottom, and remove the stone.
  • Layer the apricot halves, sugar and the juice of 2 of the lemons in a large bowl ensuring the cut surfaces of the apricots are covered with sugar.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for 8-10 hours, or overnight.
  • Mop brow and declare loudly to any interested parties “This jam-making is EXHAUSTING! I must have a REST and watch a FILM”.
  • Put feet up.

8 hours later, or next morning if you started at night

  • Gently slide the apricot mixture (which will probably be quite runny by now) into a preserving pan and warm gently, until all the sugar is melted.
  • Try and avoid stirring, as the fruit will still be very fragile and might begin to break apart with too much spoon action.
  • When all the sugar is melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
  • As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the fruit mixture back into the bowl.
  • Re-cover with cling film and set aside overnight.
  • Mop brow and put feet up as above.

12-14 hours later

Here’s where things might get a little too Faffy™ for your liking, feel free to skip the next part if you prefer a slightly more rustic jam.

  • Removing the skins
    • Strain the fruit from the syrup. I prefer to lift the aricot gently with a skimmer, to avoid squishingthem too much, but you can pour it through a sieve if you like.
    • By this time, after their overnight soaking, the skins should be wrinkled and easy to separate from the flesh of the apricots. I usually start by picking up an apricot half by the skin in my left hand and then using a small, sharp knife to ease the flesh away. Sometimes the cut edge of the apricot next to the skin has hardened and needs a little encouragement to come free. If your apricots have a slightly thicker skin, this may not be as easy as described. In this case, give up.. Persevering will only mash the apricots to mush.
    • Discard skins.
  • Using some sharp scissors, cut the now skin-free apricots into strips about 0.5-1cm wide. Again, feel free to skip this if so inclined. It just makes the jam easier to spread. Set fruit aside for now.
  • Once the fruit is prepared, it’s time to boil the syrup to setting point.
  • But before you start heating it, taste. I like a particularly sharp jam, so I tend to add the juice of another lemon at this stage if necessary. Taste the syrup and make your own decision.
  • Also, put 2 saucers in the freezer. These will be used later to test whether your jam has reached setting point.
  • Pour all the syrup into the preserving pan and bring to a simmering boil. Keep an eye on it, as too high a heat may cause it to boil over.
  • Skim the froth from the top of the simmering syrup – removing this will help give your finished jam that jewel-like clarity. Don’t throw the foam away, it’s still delicious, just bubbly. Enjoy on toast with some salty feta or goats cheese – NOM!
  • Setting point is reached at 105°C, when the excess water has evaporated – there will be a distinct lack of steam coming from the pan, but use a thermometer to double-check.
  • Add the apricots, sliding them gently into the syrup. It will immediately go off the boil, and as there will be quite a lot of syrup clinging to the apricots themselves, it will take several minutes to come back to setting point.
  • Use this time to wash your jam jars, rinse and arrange onto a baking sheet, together with their lids.
  • Put the jars into a cold oven, and turn the heat to 100°C, 80°C Fan.
  • When the jam has reached setting point for the second time, draw the pan to one side away from the heat and test the jam by putting a teaspoon onto one of the cold saucers from the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer for a minute or two then remove and slowly push a finger through the cooled jam. If the surface wrinkles, then the jam is done. If not, return to the heat for a few more minutes and test again.
  • Once the jam is set to your satisfaction, turn off the heat and leave it to cool a little. You want it to be cool enough to begin to form a thin skin on the surface. This means that it is starting to set, and you should put it in jars. Depending on how big a batch you’re making, this could be as long as 20 minutes. Have a cuppa while waiting!
  • Stir the jam gently, to distribute the fruit throughout the syrup. Now that the jam has cooled a little, the fruit will stay suspended evenly. Stirring when the jam is too hot will do nothing, and pouring too-hot jam into jars will just make all the fruit float to the top.
  • Remove the hot and now dry jars from the oven and, using a jam funnel, pour your jam into the jars. You might want to use oven gloves to hold the jar steady. Fill the jars as close as possible to the top – to within 5mm at least (bacteria love air gaps, so you want to keep them as small as possible).
  • Screw the lids on tightly and then wipe off any spillage from the outside of the jars. Leave to cool completely before labelling.

Candied Peel

A forgotten art in British preserving is home-made candied peel. ‘But I can buy that!’ you shriek. Yes, I know. But if you’ve ever tasted fresh candied peel made with nothing more than sugar, peel and water – you’d understand. I used to hate store-bought candied peel, and avoided anything that included it, but home-made just blows it out of the water. The explosion of citrus flavour is amazing. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can candy any citrus peel you like, and not be limited to just orange and lemon. So here, for anyone who fancies having a go, is how to do it, gleaned from 17th century manuscript recipe books. It’s not difficult or complicated, but it is a bit repetitive. But make a decent amount at one time, and you won’t have to repeat it for a good few months. Oh – and it’ll make your house smell amazing.

How To Candy Peel

Citrus fruit of choice
Sugar
Water

  • Remove the skin from the fruit. Slice off the top and bottom (to make a flat surface to stand the fruit on) and then cut the peel from the sides of the fruit by slicing downwards. Keep as much of the pith as possible.
  • Scrape any flesh and membranes from the fruit rind. Don’t worry if you can’t get it all, it’ll become easier after the peel has been boiled. Leave the pith intact – it’s the pith absorbing the sugar that keeps the rind juicy and helps prevent it becoming hard.
  • Place the rind into a pan large enough to hold it plus an inch of water. Cover with clean water.
  • Bring water to a boil and boil for a minute or two then drain.
  • Rinse the peel thoroughly, and also scrub the sides of the saucepan thoroughly as well. Why? The bitterness of the peel comes from the citrus oil in the skin of the fruit. Bringing the water to the boil helps release this oil, but it then floats on the top of the water, coats the rind when the water is poured off, and also congeals onto the sides of the pan. If you don’t rinse the peel and scrub the pan well, you just end up basically boiling the peel in the bitter citrus oil, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of repeated boilings.
  • Repeat until the peels are semi translucent and very tender. This will greatly depend on the type and condition of the fruit itself, but as a rough guide, lemons = 4 times, oranges = 5 times, grapefruit = 6 times.
  • Leave in a colander to drain well.
  • While the peel is draining, make some sugar syrup: mix 1 part water to 2 parts sugar. 500ml water to 1kg sugar is straightforward, but might leave you with a lot of leftovers, if you’re not making much peel. Not very helpful I’m afraid, but to my mind, it is better to have a little extra syrup, than have to make more once you’ve added the peels because there isn’t enough. I usually guesstimate by eye – and use non-standard measures (i.e. large mug or jug) and just measure by volume.
  • Heat the sugar and water slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil and continue to heat until the mixture is clear.
  • Squeeze excess water from the peels by pressing them between several layers of kitchen roll – or I find that using a clean hand towel works best – they’re surprisingly soggy peels!
  • Scrape off any remaining flesh and membranes using the side of a teaspoon and cut the peels into 5mm strips.
  • Once the syrup is clear, drop in the drained peel. Make sure that there is enough syrup to allow all of the rinds to be submerged.
  • Bring syrup and rind to a boil then cover and put onto the lowest heat. Let it stew gently until the rinds become translucent and jewel-like (almost like coloured glass). Stir occasionally. This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things along, it’ll just harden the peel.
  • Store the candied peel in screw-top jars, making sure it’s completely covered by the syrup. This will keep it moist until required, and the high sugar content of the syrup will act as a preservative. When you need to use it in a recipe, rinse off the excess syrup and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Any excess syrup can be bottled and saved to drizzle over cakes or desserts. It will have a wonderful flavour.