Shrewsbury Pudding Tart

Georgiana Hill, 1862

Here is something a little different for the adventurous, an unusual dessert in the form of a gloriously vibrant beetroot tart: given an official Thumb’s Up™ by my daughter. I’ve tweaked this recipe slightly and baked it in a pastry case, for ease of serving. The original method was for a buttered-and-breadcrumbed bowl. The cooking times are roughly the same. The flavour is very light and delicate, the lemon counteracting a lot of the beetroot’s sweetness.

1 x 24cm blind-baked pastry shell

225g cooked beetroot
115g unsalted butter – melted
150g icing sugar
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 2 lemons
3 large eggs
60ml brandy
150-200g fresh white breadcrumbs

  • Preheat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
  • Puree the beetroot until smooth.
  • Add the butter, sugar, lemon, eggs and brandy and whisk thoroughly.
  • Add in the breadcrumbs BUT not all at once. You want them to absorb a lot of the moisture in the filling, which will vary depending on the freshness of the eggs and the moisture in the beetroot. You might not need all of them. The texture should be similar to a sponge cake mix, but still pourable.
  • Add the filling to the pie shell and place the tin on a baking sheet.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling has set. Turn the baking sheet around after 15 minutes to ensure even baking.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

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 .

 

Orange Blossom Tart

Here’s a wonderfully aromatic and delicious dessert that I have adapted from a recipe that appears in Hannah Glasse’s “The art of cookery, made plain and easy”. It must have been popular, because Hannah gives no fewer than four recipes for Orange Pudding, each slightly different. Copyright infringement back then being rife, it is highly likely that Hannah is not the original author of this recipe, but I have yet to find an older version with these particular ingredients.

Hannah calls this a pudding – and indeed it is certainly something that you might eat after lunch or dinner, but it is in fact what we would term a tart, and I can honestly say it is unlike any tart I’ve ever tasted before, for the very best of reasons.

The most striking aspect is the flavour – a mixture of Seville orange, orange flower water, rosewater and white wine. Rather surprisingly, the word that popped into my head when breathing in its aroma was ice-cream – and that was before it was cooked! Once cooked and chilled, the flavours mingle together and taste extraordinary – the only way I can think to describe it is like plunging your face into a bunch of fresh flowers – but in a good way! This isn’t soapy/perfumed – it’s light and fresh and rounded. None of the flavours overpower, it’s just fantastically floral.

One of the challenges when adapting old recipes, is that specific quantities are sometimes a bit of a challenge. This recipe is a good example, because amongst other things it calls for “the crumb of a halfpenny loaf”. Although food prices were relatively stable before the industrial revolution, wheat, and by extension bread, was especially subject to price fluctuations due to harvest yield. So much so, specific laws were created concerning the manufacture and sale of the various types of bread (The Assize of Bread) and books of tables drawn up specifying the size of loaves depending on the cost of wheat.

Even with the Assize of Bread tables to hand, it’s still not clear which loaf the crumb should come from: white, wheaten or household. Household bread was the coarsest, and therefore unlikely, I reasoned, to have been used for such a delicate dessert. That left either white or wheaten and at just over 6oz and 9oz for a penny loaf, the difference in the quantity of crumb was going to be significant. The only solution was to make two tarts, and try each to see if one quantity was more suited than the other.

The photograph at the top shows the result. The slice on the left was cut from a tart made with 150g fresh white breadcrumbs. The slice on the right from a tart made with just 100g. Personally, I prefer the one on the left – the texture is like baked cheesecake, but not heavy and cloying. The slice on the right has a much softer consistency – if you’re a fan of baked custards, then this is the one for you. For an even more delicate texture, you could even try with just 50g of breadcrumbs – do let me know if you try this!

This is a wonderful springtime tart and I really hope you’ll give it a try.

Orange Blossom Tart

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
225g plain flour
140g butter
60g cornflour
85g caster sugar
1 large egg
grated zest of 1 lemon
ice cold water
egg-white for glazing

  • Put all the ingredients except the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • If the mixture is too dry, add some ice cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the pastry forms a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Grease a 22cm fluted, deep, loose-bottom tart tin – a lemon meringue tin if you have one, is ideal.
  • Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and place on a floured surface.
  • Roll out thinly (7-8mm) and line the prepared tin, gently easing the pastry into the sides.
  • Let the excess pastry hang over the sides of the tin for now.
  • Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork and put the lined tin back into the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the tart from the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Don’t remove too much – allow 3-4cm to overhand the side of the tin – this keeps the pastry from shrinking back into the tin and can be trimmed after cooking.
  • Line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with baking beads/beans/rice.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the parchment and beads and bake for another 5-6 minutes until the pastry is cooked through.
  • Brush the inside of the pastry with lightly beaten egg-white and return to the oven for 5 minutes. This seems like a faff, but it will ensure you pastry is both cooked AND resistant to the wetness of the filling until it is cooked. *lying* I deliberately undercooked the pastry on the left in the photo to demonstrate.

Filling
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
250ml double cream
75g caster sugar
5 large egg yolks
60ml white wine [1]
1 tablespoon orange flower water [2]
1 teaspoon rose water [2]
zest and juice of a Seville orange [3]
70g clarified butter – melted

  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and set aside to let the flavours mingle. It will have the consistency of porridge.
  • When the pastry base is finally cooked, turn the oven down to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Cover the top edges of the pastry with tin foil, to prevent them from burning.
  • Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling is set. There should be a slight joggle to the middle of the tart, but nothing too fluid.
  • Set aside to cool for at least 1 hour.
  • When cold, trim off the excess pastry, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.
  • Eat slightly warm or at room temperature. Alternatively (and my own personal preference) chill thoroughly in the fridge for at least 5 hours.

[1] The original recipe called for sack, a fortified wine similar to sweet sherry. You could use sherry, madeira even marsala if you like. Whilst I love the flavours of all three, I thought them a little rich for this recipe, so I chose a regular white wine. A sweet and aromatic dessert wine would also be delightful.

[2]Both of these fragrances are available in the baking aisle at the supermarket. They also tend to vary greatly in strength and aroma according to which brand you use. The original recipe called for equal quantities of both, but the rosewater I use is rather strong. In contrast, the orange flower water that I use is rather lightly perfumed, so I used slightly more. if you use different brands, my advice is to use just 1 teaspoon at a time and taste as you go until you’re happy with the flavourings.

[3] If, like me, you made Seville orange ice cubes with the zest and juice back in January, then all you need is one cube. If not, then use the zest only of a sweet orange, together with the zest of either a lemon or lime for added sharpness.

Traditional Stuffing

Here’s something that very often gets neglected next to the flashy stars of the Christmas meal – stuffing. If I could get just one of you this year to refrain from buying a cardboard packet and to try this instead, then I’ll be happy-clappy.

Traditional stuffing is so simple – basic, almost (breadcrumbs, onions, herbs, stock) – yet it can really add to and enhance a main meal more than ingredients costing ten times as much.

When it comes to the traditional roast meal, though – I have a problem with where it goes and how it usually gets served up.

I understand that, packed inside the poultry of your choice, it’s supposed to impart flavour, but what invariably gets dished up is a big glop of solid stodge to eat alongside some dried up old bird (and I’m not just referring to myself here).

In fact, the more I think about it, the more illogical it seems:

We calculate the cooking time for a lump of meat based on its weight, and filling it with stuffing obviously adds to that weight. If you cook a bird according to its ’empty’ weight, then the stuffing remains a thick lump of glop. If you calculate cooking time based on the ‘stuffed’ weight, by the time the stuffing is cooked through, the meat is dried out.

So I say: stuff stuffing the stuffing – cook it separately. That way both the meat and the stuffing can get cooked to perfection and everything is right in the world.

You can bake it in a big slab, or roll it into balls and let it cook around the outside of the meat. Personally, I like to cook it in a bun/ muffin tin, in individual portions: the outside gets crispy and crunchy, and the inside remains moist and juicy. Traditonally, stuffing contains suet – but I prefer to replace it with butter for two reasons: it means vegetarians can enjoy it as well (make sure you use vegetable stock), and it still tastes great when cold. Cold, congealed suet is not a good taste in anything. So today’s handy hint is: Avoid suet if you’d like to continue to enjoy your stuffing cold.

Traditional Stuffing

Makes 12 portions

2 onions
50g butter
225g breadcrumbs (4-5 slices)[1]
1 heaped tsp each of dried parsley, sage, thyme, oregano
1/2-1 tsp dried rosemary
salt & pepper
200ml stock
1 egg

  • Grease your muffin tin well.
  • Chop the onions and cook gently in the butter until softened and translucent.
  • Put all the other ingredients into a bowl.
  • Mix in the softened onions and any butter left in the pan.
  • The mixture should be moist enough to hold its shape when pressed together.
  • Spoon the mixture into the tin and press down gently. I think the crunchy bits on top are the best bits, so I use a fork to just rough up the surface.
  • Bake at 200°C, 180°C Fan for 45 minutes.

[1] Stale/dry breadcrumbs are fine – use a little extra stock if you think the mix is too dry.