Steak and Kidney Pudding

I enjoyed reading this tweet a few weeks ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Domestic Oracle, Alexander Murray, 1826ish.

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

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

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

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

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

Steak and Kidney Pudding


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

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

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

softened butter to grease the bowls

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

Lady Grisel Baillie was a Scottish noblewoman who lived in the 17th/18th century. She was married to a Scottish MP, and became known to social historians for the meticulously detailed account books she kept, which  offer a glimpse into the cost of living during that time, including food and drink, servants wages, travel costs and entertainment. Lady Grisel was also something of a foodie, as she noted down many a menu from various dinners she and her husband attended.

Extracts of Lady Grisel’s household books were published by the Scottish Historical Society in 1911 and over the years I have dipped into this book many times, and have been somewhat frustrated that menus are recorded, but not recipes. She definitely had a recipe book, because the Scottish Historical Society lists it amongst her papers:

“Lady Grisell left three ‘Day Books’ folio size, the first running from 1692 to 1718 inclusive, and containing 442 pages ; the second from 1719 to 1742 inclusive, and containing 354 pages, and the third from 1742 to the date of her death (6th December 1746), continued by her daughter, Lady Murray. She also left books containing the accounts of expenses in connection with their journeys to Bath and to the Continent ; Books containing Inventories of Bottles, etc. ; a Book of Receipts ; a Book of Bills of Fare ; Books relating to estate management during the years 1742, 1743 and 1744, and many other Account and Memoranda Books.”

A few years ago, I revisited a manuscript at the Folger Library to study a recipe for Stilton Cheese that had caught my eye, (the results of which can be found in Petits Propos Culinaires 114, June 2019), and in the course of my research, discovered that the manuscript in which it appeared was the long-lost recipe book of Lady Grisel Baillie! The manuscript had been purchased by the Folger Library in June, 1959 from the London bookseller Francis Edwards, Ltd. for the princely sum of £35.00. More intriguing is what happened to it during the preceding 48 years, from 1911, when its existence was noted by the Scottish Historical Society, and its purchase and trans-Atlantic voyage in 1959, and why the current Mellerstain estate owners didn’t know where it was. Very mysterious!

The point of this extended preamble is that this recipe comes from that self-same, long-lost recipe book. It has been on my radar for a while, because it is a sweet pie with chestnuts, and when I spotted nets of fresh chestnuts in the shops this week, I was enthused to have a stab at it.

A Cheston Pye, from the cookbook of Lady Grisel Baillie, Folger Digital Image Collection, Ms W.a.111, p289, circa 1706.

Which also brings me to the word of the day: scald. Both apples and chestnuts are scalded in this recipe, and after much hunting about reading other usages, the best definition I can come up with is: cooked gently in their skins. When scalded, the apple skin will peel off by itself freely, leaving the partially cooked flesh intact. I suspect this was done to prevent wastage, preserve flavour and minimise juice. Similarly, the chestnuts are scalded in order to soften them and to loosen both the skin and the pith surrounding the nut. This all sounds simple, but, from experience, left unsupervised, things can get a little tricky. It doesn’t take much for the water in which the apples are scalding to become too hot, thereby causing the apples to burst, and then you have to retrieve your apple pulp from the ‘soup’ in the saucepan. Scald the chestnuts for too long, and then you will have difficulty extracting them whole. This isn’t too much of a disaster, as the crumbled pieces are perfect for this dish, but if you were wanting them for another use – candying, for example – the wastage in broken nuts can get quite high.

Why you should make this pie

Well, it’s absolutely delicious, that’s why! It’s unusual, in that it is a sweet pie with chestnuts, and thus something of a novelty in modern recipes. During the long, slow baking, the pastry crisps up beautifully, and the chestnuts and candied lemon soak up some of the apple juice and become soft. The texture of the apples and the chestnuts is much more interesting that a regular apple pie and the contrast between the filling and the two different types of pastry is a delight. This pie embodies autumn in a deliciously comforting way, you’ll be elbowing your way back to the nets of chestnuts to make it again. Perfect for the upcoming holiday season!

Sliced of Chestnut Apple Pie
Slices of Chestnut Apple Pie: The pie slices very neatly when cold, and the chestnuts and candied lemon peel are shown.

Chestnut and Apple Pie

These quantities are for a 20cm diameter pie. You can obviously use as many or as few chestnuts as you like. You can, of course, shorten the prep time by using stewed apple and ready-cooked chestnuts. The only caveat to this I would add is that the ready-cooked chestnuts you can buy tend to be a little dark, whereas if you scald them yourself, they come out very similar in colour to the apple pulp.

If you’re making this from scratch, prepare the apples and chestnuts a day or so ahead, and then assemble the pie when required. The cooked apples and chestnuts will keep in the fridge several days.

Filling
4 Bramley Apples (or 600g unsweetened stewed apple)
1 x 400g net of raw chestnuts (or 300g cooked chestnuts)
30g candied lemon peel
30g unsalted butter
3-4tbs caster sugar
3tbs cornflour
zest of 1/2 a lemon (optional)

1 x box of ready rolled puff pastry
egg-white for glazing

Base 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.
  • Roll out the pastry to the desired thickness (5mm) and line a greased, 20cm pie tin. Ease the pastry into the corners of the tin, rather than stretch it, and allow the excess to hang over the edges of the tin.
  • Place in the fridge to chill until required.

To scald the apples

  • Put the apples, whole, into a saucepan and add just enough water to cover.
  • Lay a saucer upside-down on top of the apples, to keep them submerged.
  • Put the saucepan on a gentle heat (I use 5 on a 1-9 scale) and allow the apples to barely simmer for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them, and if the skin starts to split, remove from the heat and the water immediately.
  • Lift the scalded apples out of the pan and set aside to cool.
  • When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and then scoop all the flesh from the core.
  • Mash the apple pulp with a fork. You don’t need to make it puree-smooth, just get rid of the larger lumps.
  • Mix the sugar and cornflour together and then add to the apple pulp and mix thoroughly.
  • Taste the apple pulp and add more sugar to taste.
  • Set the apple pulp aside until required.

To scald the chestnuts

  • Using a sharp knife, cut a slit ito each nut, being sure to pierce bith the hard outer shell and the soft skin underneath.
  • Put the nuts into a saucepan and cover with cold water.
  • Set pan on a gentle heat, and simmer the chestnuts for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the water.
  • Remove the chestnuts one at a time and peel away the softened shell and skin. Don’t worry if the nut doesn’t come out whole, as pieces are perfect for this recipe. Don’t drain the chestnuts, because the shells will harden quickly once out of the water, and make peeling them difficult.
  • Crumble the chestnuts into pieces – not too small – and store in a covered container in the fridge until required.

To assemble the pie.

  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Slice the candied lemon peel into thin slivers. If you don’t have whole pieces, diced is fine, just make sure they’re not too big.
  • Divide the butter into three. Keep chilled until required.
  • Remove the pie tin from the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Leave about a 2cm overhang from the edge of the tin.
  • Fill the pie
    • Add a layer of apple pulp.
    • Add half the chestnuts in a layer
    • Add half the lemon peel
    • Dot over 1 portion of the butter in thin slices.
    • Add a layer of apple pulp.
    • Add half the chestnuts in a layer
    • Add half the lemon peel
    • Dot over 1 portion of the butter in thin slices.
    • Add a layer of apple pulp.
    • Dot over the last portion of the butter in thin slices.
    • Grate over the zest of half a lemon (optional). I like the lemony zing, but it can be omitted if you prefer.
  • Unroll the puff pastry and smooth out with a few strokes of the rolling pin.
  • Wet the edges of the shortcrust pastry with water.
  • Lay the puff pastry over the top of the pie and press the edges together gently.
  • Trim the puff pastry to the size of the shortcrust pastry.
  • Crimp the pastry edges as shown in the top photograph.
  • Cut out decorations for the top of the pie from the puff pastry offcuts and lay them on the pastry lid. I did a few apples and chestnuts.
  • Brush the top of the pie with eggwhite.
  • Bake the pie for 60 minutes. Turn the pie around after 30 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • After a further 20 minutes, if your puff pastry isn’t quite cooked through, turn the heat up to 220°C, 200°C Fan for the last 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the pie from the tin and allow to cool until just warm.
  • Serve with double cream.

Empty Pudding

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

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

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

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

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

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

EmptyPie

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

LiquidPie

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

But there’s more.

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

LeakedEmptyPie

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

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

Empty Pudding

Serves 4

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

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

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

 

Banyon Toat Pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slices of hot Banyon Toat Pie

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

Banyon Toat Pie

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

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

butter for frying

1 x 500g block of puff pastry

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

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

Egg white and caster sugar for glazing

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

 

Sultana Tarts

This recipe comes, once again, from the pen of Frederick T. Vine. I like it because it shows how much can be achieved with a very small number of ingredients.

I chose it because ’tis the season and is also a great way to present mince pies, making the most of each component.

Mince pies are delicious, but they can be fiddly – especially if you have sausage fingers like me. Trying to get the pastry rolled thin enough, and neatly into the tins, is a challenge. Then too, with a very rich filling, a little variation in cooking times and they can either be a little greasy, or overcooked and dry, and an overall disappointment. With Mr Vine’s approach, everything is prepared separately, and then merely assembled when required. This allows for everything – mincemeat, cream, pastry – to be at it’s absolute best and remove much Faff and stress.

The pastry is baked by itself: rolled slightly thicker than usual – although ready-rolled is fine – the pastry is glazed and baked in whatever shape you like. Once cooled, you can decorate with royal icing (optional), split them open and add your filling.

These are called Sultana Tarts because the original recipe has a crescent of puff pastry added as a garnishing flourish, held in place with royal icing, and with both pieces of pastry being  decorated with patterns also in royal icing. Neither is compulsory, of course, but the dazzling white of the royal icing and the glossy burnished surface of the pastry does make for a very striking appearance.

Iced Pies

I think the pies look just as attractive without the crescent of pastry and some dots of royal icing, in as simple or as elaborate a style as you can muster.

If you want to serve mince pies with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of impact both of taste and visual appeal, I don’t think you could do any better than to serve these delightful Victorian versions.

Sultana Tarts

Puff pastry – home-made, block or ready rolled.
sieved icing sugar for dusting
To serve:
mincemeat of choice – delicious vegan version here
cream – double, whipped or clotted

  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll out your puff pastry if necessary, slightly thicker than usual, about 8mm.
  • Cut your pastry into the shape you want, although it will probably change shape during baking. NB My circles never stay circles,  despite being fastidious in letting the pastry rest for ages.
  • Put the sieved icing sugar onto a tray or piece of parchment.
  • Wet the tops of the pastry with water, turn them over onto the powdered sugar, then set them right side up onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. The bit of moisture is enough to melt the sugar which will turn a rich, glossy brown during baking.
  • Now, a word or two about baking. Puff pastry is capricious and will rise like a phoenix, but all too often a phoenix that has been on the Christmas lollywater, i.e. in many a lopsided way. To mitigate this, you can balance a cooling rack over the top, resting it on top of some metal egg-cups or small pudding tins, to help control the rising to a set height. Due to the sugar glaze, it is probably best to have a layer of parchment between the rack and the pastry, to prevent any sticking.
  • Bake for 20-30mins, depending on size. Puff pastry can be tricksy, in that it looks done long before it actually IS done. It needs a surprisingly long time to both puff up and crisp up.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Decorate with royal icing when cold.
  • Store in an airtight container until required.
  • Warm in a 160C, 140C Fan oven for  10 minutes before splitting, filling and serving. Be sure to warm your mincemeat enough to allow the suet to melt, before filling.

 

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.

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.

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