Here is very useful recipe for those looking to avoid dairy products or even to just reduce the amount of fat in their diet. By whisking together some smooth jam and a couple of egg-whites, a deliciously light and frothy ‘cream’ can be created, for use as a finishing touch to trifles, puddings and pastries, or to enjoy by itself. The cream will be influenced by whatever flavour of jam you choose to use, but it doesn’t dominate at all. The above was made using seedless raspberry jam, and the subtlty of colour reflects the subtlty of flavour – a mere whisper on the palate. For an almost white ‘cream’ with a very faint flavour (if that suits your needs best), I can recommend making and using Christine Ferber’s Green Apple Jelly.
It is a surprisingly elegant solution for anyone with dietary restrictions, and dates from the cusp of the 17th and 18th centuries (circa 1700).
This particular recipe I found in a manuscript held by the Wellcome Collection in London, but I have also read variations in other manuscripts and locations. I am surprised tht it has fallen out of favour, for it is one of the simplest and easiest recipes I have adapted.
Well, I say adapted. In fact I have changed very little from the original instructions.
The one detail I did change was to reduce the number of egg-whites from three to two, reasoning that the eggs we have nowadays are much larger than those of three hundred years ago.
Thanks to modern technology, we are also spared the two hours of hand whisking (with a spoon of all things!) required in order to achieve the light and fluffy outcome pictured above, and can achieve the same result with about 10 minutes of whisking with your kitchen gadget of choice.
The potential worry regarding the consumption of raw egg whites is eliminated by the convenience of being able to purchase pasteurised egg whites in a carton.
The finished whip will hold its shape for several hours, should the need arise, allowing you to prepare this well in advance of your entertaining needs. I decided to leave the whipped ‘cream’ out, to test it’s durability, and can confirm that after 5 hours, it was still (mostly) holding its shape, as can be seen below.
Furthermore, this recipe is customisable in that you can vary the flavour of the whip by using different jams/jellies. For the smoothest result, they should be clear and set. Alternately, you could make your own by gently warming and sieving the jam to remove the fruit pieces in the conserve or jam flavour that you require. Apple, apricot, redcurrant, cranberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, plum, damson, marmalade…the possibilities are endless!
You can easily halve the recipe at first, to make a trial batch to see if you like it. However, this might be too small an amount for a stand mixer to get to grips with, so use a hand-held whisk instead.
2 large egg whites (80ml) 225g seedless raspberry jam (or smooth jam/jelly of choice)
Put both ingredients into a bowl and whisk using a mixer, for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick and glossy and holds its shape.
Marble Cake can be considered a classic British cake, still enjoyed by many all over the country. To my mind, however, it has always seemed less marble-y and more blobby, in that the big dollops of (usually) vanilla and chocolate cake batters are frequently only half-heartedly stirred together.
Well, as we all know, there’s nothing new under the sun and just over 100 years ago, Frederick T. Vine was thinking just the same thing. In his 1908 commercial baking book “Cakes and How To Make Them”, he has entries for several different marble cakes, whether by design or whether he forgot he’d already included some in the front of the book and just bunged a couple more in later on, we don’t know. His suggestions are obviously geared towards commercial bakeries turning out dozens of different cakes, as he initially suggests taking quantities of mixtures that are probably prepared on a daily basis and combining them into marble cakes a lot more colourfully than we do today.
Marble Cake No 2: 1 batch Silver Cake, divided: ¼ coloured pink, ¼ coloured brown with cocoa, ½ left white.
Marble Cake No 3: ‘White Part’ made with egg-whites, ‘Dark Part’ made with yolks, treacle, cinnamon and dark brown sugar.
Marble Cake No. 4: Silver Cake, with coloured and flavoured milk.
I tried a version of Marble Cake No. 1 some time ago, in a variety of loaf tins (see image below), and it certainly made a very jolly and colourful cake. However, if I’m being honest, it was still rather on the blobby side. So trying the ‘coloured milk’ method has been on the ToDo List ever since, and here we are.
The original recipe did not call for any flavouring, aside from some brandy, so after a couple of trials I decided that a better approach was to flavour both the cake and the milk. I chose to flavour the cake with lemon and the milk with raspberry, to both preserve the paleness of the Silver Cake, and to make the milk complementary in flavour and contrasting in colour. You can, of course, choose any combination that appeals.
Using coloured/flavoured milk for the contrast allows for a much more delicate pattern to be achieved, and although a little fiddly in the construction, the results are very pleasing. The fine lines of red are a much more accurate depicion of the patterns in marble, and these are interspersed with the strong patches of colour/flavour where the milk has pooled between the spoonfuls of cake batter, almost a raspberry ‘ripple’ effect.
I baked this Silver Cake mixture in mini loaf tins, but you could also use larger or smaller loaf tins and adjust the baking time accordingly.
115g unsalted butter, softened 140g caster sugar 140 egg whites 30ml brandy zest of 1 large lemon 190g plain flour 60g cornflour 1tsp cream of tartar ½tsp bicarbonate of soda milk (maybe)
Grease and line 3 mini loaf tins (16cm x 9 cm x 5cm) with baking parchment.
Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
Mix the colour and flavouring into the milk. You want both to be strong, in order to be able to see and taste them in the baked cake.
Whisk the softened butter until light and creamy.
Add the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy
Add the eggwhites and mix thoroughly.
Mix in the brandy and the lemon zest.
Sift the remaining dry ingredients together, and gradually mix into the wet ingredients.
If the mixture seems a little tight, mix through some milk until you achieve a dropping consistency.
Spoon the mixture into the bottom of each tin in shallow blobs. Brush over the flavoured milk. There should be no uncoloured cake mixture. The excess milk will pool between the spoonfuls of batter and that’s fine. Each ‘layer’ should be a series of uneven portions of cake mix, rather than a smooth layer. Having the cake mix too smooth will make the flavoured marbling appear too formal. I found the best method was to scoop half a spoonful of cake mixture and lay it into the tin by ‘unscooping’ using the opposite wrist action, to lay it in a partial layer rather than a blob.
Repeat the spooning and painting until all the cake mixture has been used up.
Bake for about 25 minutes, turning the tins around after 15 minutes to ensure even baking. NB Be careful not to overbake – as an egg-white-only cake it will never be golden brown, and overbaking will make your cakes dry.
When baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, before removing the cakes from the tins, peeling off the parchment and setting to cool on a wire rack.
More interesting than toast, not as rich as cake, what’s not to love about a bun? The buns traditionally served towards then end of Lent are… well now, here’s the thing. They go by many names. Most people might think, as the title above implies, that they’re Hot Cross Buns, but that’s not strictly accurate. “Hot Cross Buns!” was originally the cry of the street vendors who sold Cross Buns – hot. Recipes also appear under the name “Good Friday Buns” and “Easter Buns”.
Interestingly, Cross Buns weren’t originally fruited, only spiced – and thanks to an edict from Queen Elizabeth I, could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and for funerals.
“That no baker or other person or persons shall at any time or times hereafter, make, utter or sell by retail within or without their houses, unto any the queen’s subjects, any spice cakes, buns, bisket or other spice bread (being bread out of size, and not by law allowed), except it be at burials, or upon the Friday before Easter, or at Christmas; upon pain of forfeiture of all such spice bread to the poor.”
John Powell, The Assyse of Breade, 1595
Fruit gradually crept into recipes from about the middle of the 19th century, presumably as industrialization and improved transport links brought foodstuffs from far flung places to the UK cheaper and quicker, all to make for a really indulgent treat after the privations of Lent.
This recipe comes from a very favourite author of mine: Frederick T. Vine. Doyen of numerous professional books for the baker and confectioner. This is his own personal recipe, scaled down from a recipe in which quantities such as pounds and quarts were bandied about, and a full batch of which would produce almost 650 penny buns. The quantities below will make about 12 x 100g buns, more if you drop the weight down to 85 grams. This might seem a large amount, but they can be gifted to friends and family, or easily frozen to enjoy at a later date.
The buns are enriched with milk, butter and egg and are packed with bags of fruit and spice. The original recipe also includes malt extract, which gives a wonderfully rich flavour, but isn’t usually something you find in the supermarket, so you can improvise by adding some powdered Ovaltine to the mixing liquid if you have difficulty sourcing it. You can omit it altogether if liked.
The original recipe suggested using flavouring essences of lemon and ‘spice’. I happened to have some lemon flavouring, but no ‘spice’, so I used regular ground spices. Reading an inordinately large number of baking books as I do, I’ve noticed that the use of essences is very prevalent in commercial baking mixtures. The reason seems to be that regular ground spices darken the dough, which is assumed to be unappealing to the customer. This opinion contrasts greatly with the fact that, for example, in modern times the appearance of the seeds in vanilla-flavoured items today are celebrated – how things change! Personally, I like the authentic appearance of the dark flecks of spice, not to mention the flavour. Feel free to go with your own blend of spices, but I really like the punchiness of the quantities below. After all, no-one likes a bland spice bun – if you’re promised spice, you want to be able to taste it.
These buns have a sweetened, tinted glaze to be painted on after they are baked. It uses gelatine to give shine without the stickiness. If you’re not keen on using gelatine and don’t mind a little stickiness with your shine, then omit the gelatine, swap the water for milk and warm to dissolve the sugar.
Hot Cross Buns
I’ve gone for a mixture of spices, but it is traditional to only use allspice. If you’d prefer this flavouring, I suggest just 1½tsp ground allspice, as it is quite potent.
I’ve switched around the method a little to make for a more straightforward approach.
180ml water 90g unsalted butter, cubed 15g malt extract OR 2tbs Ovaltine 180ml milk 30ml of beaten egg, from1 large egg 135g soft brown sugar ½tsp salt 1 sachet fast-acting yeast 30g mixed orange/lemon peel, finely sliced/chopped 180g currants 1/2tsp lemon flavouring OR zest of 1 lemon 1tsp ground nutmeg ½ tsp ground mace ½tsp ground allspice ½tsp ground mixed spice 500g strong white flour
Heat the water, butter and malt/Ovaltine until steaming and the butter melted, then add the (cold) milk. This should bring the temperature down to just warm.
Whisk in the egg, sugar, salt, lemon flavouring if using, and yeast.
Pour the warm mixture into a bowl.
Sift together the flour and spices and add to the bowl.
Knead into a soft and supple dough, about 10 mins.
Knead in the currants, zest if using, and peel, cover with plastic, and set to rise. Because of the enriched nature of this dough, this will take slightly longer than usual, about 1½ hours.
When the dough is risen, turn out onto a floured work surface and pat to deflate.
Weigh off the dough into 100g pieces, and then roll and shape each into a smooth ball.
Line a deep-sided baking tin with parchment.
Place the balls of dough into the pan, pressing with the flat of the had as you do so, to flatten them into discs about 2cm thick. Place these ‘cakes’ about 1cm apart from one another. This will mean they touch as they prove, giving a soft ‘kissing crust’ on each side and a rounded sqare shape.
Cut a cross into each bun using a dough cutter or similar. NB Take care not to cut all the way through, just deep enough so that the dough will stay apart during baking, preserving the cross.
Cover lightly with a cloth to rise for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan. This is a slightly hotter temperature than usual for buns (180°C, 160°C Fan), because the sides of the tin will block direct heat, and the buns will therefore need cooking a little longer.
Pre-bake Glaze: Whisk the remaining egg with the milk and brush over the tops of the buns.
Bake for 20 minutes until risen and browned. Turn the tin around after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
While the buns are baking, prepare the gelatine glaze. Soak the gelatine sheet in the water until softened. Heat gently to dissolve the gelatine, then stir in the treacle and sugar. Continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
When the buns are baked, remove from the oven and brush over with the glaze.
Cover lightly with a cloth and allow to cool in the tin for 15 minutes. The cloth will keep the steam close, making for a soft crust.
After 15 minutes uncover the buns and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you leave them to cool completely in the tin, they’re prone to sogginess.
To serve: Cut in half and toast both sides. When toasted, spread with salted butter. For added decadence, add some slices of vintage cheddar cheese. The contrasts between the hot spicy bread, the fruit, the richness of the butter and the sharp, cool and creamy tang of the cheese is sublime.
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.
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!
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.
Almacks (also Almack’s and Almack) is one of many recipes that have originated from people copying dishes they have enjoyed whilst eating out. Almack’s was a Georgian/Regency London club where the great and the good could socialise during ‘the season’, Pontacks is another such establishment, now equally long gone, whose reputation remains only in the names of recipes they have inspired.
By the end of the 18th century, being presented at the Royal court was deemed old fashioned for the up and coming ladies in society, so Almacks provided a setting whereby socialising and marriage alliances could be conducted amongst the ‘Ton’. As an example of the importance of Almack’s in the social life of the capital, when Lady Caroline Lamb published ‘Glenarvon’, with a thinly-fictionalised Lord Byron as the main character, Sarah Villiers, Lady Jersey, was so incensed at the way she had been satirised, she barred Lady Caroline from Almacks in 1816, thereby making her a social outcast *gasps and clutches pearls*. Although Lady Caroline eventually managed to regain membership three years later, thanks mainly to the assistance of her cousin, Emily Lamb (Countess Cowper), her reputation never recovered.
Almacks provided refreshments to its member and this thick fruit ‘cheese’ would have been ideal as it has great keeping qualities and is easy to serve at short notice. It can be eaten a number of ways: as a sweet, with cream or as a savoury, with biscuits and cheese. It is also versatile in its preparation as it can be varied by type of apple, pear and plum, thus giving it subtle changes in flavour with each batch. It is an ideal way to use up gluts of fruit, or to waste-not-want-not with windfalls.
This is the earliest recipe I have found, coming from a household manuscript dated 1785-1825. The quantities are huge, even allowing for a loss of volume during the cooking. A peck of apples is roughly 6 kg, so it calls for a total of 18kg of prepared fruit, although it’s probably going to be closer to 20 kg by the time you factor in weight loss due to peeling/coring/chopping.
This is a recipe with slightly more reasonable quantities – 3 quarts of each fruit = 7.5kg, but in the end I thought the recipe from Elizabeth Pease (below) was both the simplest and most reasonable in terms of batch size.
Admittedly, it does take a few things for granted such as expecting readers to know the method and how to prepare the fruit, but I’ll be filling you in on those in the recipe below.
So how much Almacks you make is really up to you and what you have to hand. As a guide, I used 750g of prepared apples and pears and 800g damsons (to allow for the stones) and it made 8 generous portions as seen in the photo above, and about 400g in a box for more casual use. The damsons add a real tang to the paste, and the low quantity of sugar means it sits right on the edge between sweet and savoury. Serve (small) portions with a drizzle of cream and a biscuit (ratafias, macaroons, etc) for crunch as a dessert, or with your favourite cheese and crackers.
I’ve reduced the quantities, so you can make a small batch to try, but you can scale it up quite easily if you have it in mind to pot and gift it for Christmas.
500g peeled, cored and chopped apples
500g peeled, cored and chopped pears
500g plums/damsons, stones removed if possible
500g demerera sugar.
Cook the fruit. You want it soft enough so that it can be sieved easily. This can be done a couple of ways:
layer the fruit and sugar into a large casserole (preferably ceramic or enamelled) and put it in the oven, uncovered, at 150°C, 130°C Fan for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring every 15 minutes to make sure the fruit floating on top of the juice doesn’t dry out.
Put the fruit and sugar into a slow cooker and cook on high for 4 hours. This method generates more juice, as it won’t evaporate as much as it does in the oven, but it has the advantage of being able to be left unattended for an extended period of time.
Sieve the cooked fruit until nothing is left but skin and (possibly) damson pits.
Simmer the puree in a preserving pan until no excess liquid is visible when you draw a spoon across the pan, and it’s just fruit puree. This will take rather a long time, if you used the slow-cooker method, due to the extra juice.
You MUST stir the pan, otherwise the puree will burn. Towards the end, it will turn into fruit LAVA< so have a towel cover your arm handy, to avoid the hot splashes.
When your puree is ready, spoon it into moulds or hot, sterilised jars as you would for jam. Silicone moulds are great, especially if you’re making Almacks to serve at a special meal – although you don’t need a special occasion to serve some delicious fruit cheese in a pretty shape. The flexibility of the silicone makes it very simple to turn out the paste, once cold.
When browsing handwritten manuscripts, my eye is always drawn to recipes with unusual titles. Whether it’s someone’s name, or a location, or as in this case, an odd title.
To be honest, after reading it, I wasn’t sure why this pudding is incomprehensible. There are only a few ingredients – none of them unusual, and a straightforward method.
Then I made it and it turned out so light and delicate, it was a real surprise. At first glance, it seems like a custard, but the addition of the apple pulp, especially if you can get Bramley cooking apples, makes it almost frothy. With the use of clarified butter (where only the fat is used, and not the dairy solids), you could arguably denote this dairy-free.
It makes the perfect dessert in that it appears decadent, but can be enjoyed without the heaviness associated with a lot of puddings.
The original recipe called for puff pastry round the edge of the dish, which is something that has puzzled me for years, as it appears in many pudding recipes of this time. I can’t work out if it is for decoration only, or for consumption. I decided not to include pastry, because the high temperature required to cook it properly is at odds with the gentle heat needed to just set the custard.
I also opted for individual servings, so aimed for a shorter cooking time, because in typical 18th century style, the original cooking instructions are short and vague: “an hour will bake it”. Sometimes custard-style puddings are baked in a water bath, and in testing I did try baking it both ways, and for this serving size the difference was so slight I’m going to suggest no water bath. If you wanted to make a large serving, then yes, use a water bath to ensure the mixture cooks without curdling.
I’ve scaled the recipe down to a single serving size. You can scale it up as required.
The puddings in the photo are served plain, but you could also opt to sprinkle them with sugar and blowtorch/grill them to caramelise the top.
The recipes this week come from a classic Victorian book “Biscuits for Bakers” (1896) by Frederick T. Vine. They are essentially two versions of the same biscuit, one sweet, one plain. The method and baking time for both is the same, with the only difference being some of the ingredients: more sugar and butter in the sweet version (above left), different mix of flours, less sugar/butter and the use of lard in the plain version (above right).
Since the recipes are from a book for commercial bakers, the quantities given are huge and the instructions rather scant. For example, instruction to ‘bake in a warm oven’ is very much open to interpretation, forcing me to, in the end, just guess as 150°C Fan.
I chose these recipes for several reasons. Firstly, I love an oat biscuit – who, in their right mind, doesn’t? Secondly, the comment that different mixtures resulted in differing suggested selling price points, with the sweet biscuit selling for 10d a pound, and the plain 8d per pound, so I was keen to see whether the sweet biscuits tasted 2d per pound better (spoiler alert, they did and they didn’t). Lastly, I wanted to use some gadgets – my vintage pastry wheels (aka jagging irons) pictured below, and the lettering stamp set I’d bought last year and not yet used.
One of my pet peeves is wastage, and the rectangular shapes of these biscuits meant that I could cut them out with absolute minimum wastage. There’s nothing wrong with re-rolling – see previous post about Empty Pudding – but you run the risk of the re-rolled items baking mis-shapen, due to poor combining of scraps, or becoming tough, due to over-mixing.
So what are they like? Well, the sweet version is like a sweet digestive – sweeter than the best-selling modern brand, but not overly sweet, and crisp and crumbly. I love the texture, but they are a little sweet for my tastes. Further experimentation with a finer grade of oatmeal and less sugar might refine this satisfactorily. I tried stamping ‘Rich Oaten’ on them, but the slight spreading due to the increased quantities of butter/sugar meant the lettering veered towards the blobby, although they did become more browned during baking. The plain version held the lettering much better, and using the cutting wheel made for a very pleasing contrast between the flour-dusted top of the biscuit and the darker, unfloured cut sides. These biscuits are much more crisp and less crumbly, and although they were perfectly enjoyable plain, they really shine when eaten with a little salted butter, cheese or both.
During experimentation, it became clear that the optimum baking time for these biscuits is much longer than average, at 30 minutes. This is due to the need to ensure that they dry out completely, which in turn gives and maintains their crispness.
As mentioned above, the method and baking are the same for both types of biscuits, so just pick whichever style you prefer, and follow the method below.
Confession time: I was so engrossed in the lettering, I forgot to brush the biscuits for the photo with milk before baking. I quite like the results, but if you would like a browner biscuit, brush with milk.
cream of tartar
cream of tartar
bicarbonate of soda
bicarbonate of soda
Put the dry ingredients and fat(s) into a food processor and blitz to combine.
With the motor running, add milk a little at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
Tip out the dough and knead a few times until smooth.
Roll out thinly – about 5mm – and dock (poke holes) all over, either with a docker or the end of a skewer or similar.
Cut out the biscuits. Rich Oaten are rectangles 3cm x 7cm, Plain Oaten are 5cm x 5cm squares.
If you have stamp letting to name the biscuits, use it now.
Chill the biscuits in the fridge for 30 minutes to help them keep their shape.
Heat the oven to 190°C, 150°C Fan.
Arrange the chilled biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk if liked.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and bake for another 10 minutes. Finally, flip the biscuits over so the bottoms can bake well and bake for 10 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.
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.
As can seen above, the instructions call for one to:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
50ml cream sherry
butter for frying
1 x 500g block of puff pastry
40g candied citron peel, diced small
40g candied orange peel, diced small
40g candied lemon peel, diced small
40g dried sour cherries or barberries
4tbs caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
2 large egg yolks
juice 1 lemon, strained
50ml cream sherry
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.
Whilst poring over old manuscripts, I love finding really early examples of recipes we would recognise today. And so I was delighted to come across this recipe for chocolate cakes. It appears near the front of a manuscript (MS1799, dated 1700-1775) digitised by the Wellcome Collection, and so, in my opinion, is closer in date to 1700 than the latter half of the century. The reason it caught my eye was because it reads as a ‘normal’ cake recipe, very unusual for the time.
Experience has led me to be cautious when it comes to the word ‘cake’ appearing in old recipes. In times past, this word was used for a broad range of ‘items that were circular’, rather than the baked confections of flour and eggs we associate with the word today. In the past I have been thrilled to find early recipes for lemon cakes and gooseberry cakes, only to find that they are for fruit paste and jellies, musk cakes that turn out to be incence, puff cakes that are meringues, rout cakes that are biscuits and spice cakes that are buns.
Even ‘chocolate cakes’ can catch the unwary, as many old recipes sporting such a title are actually instructions for making solid blocks of ‘chocolate’ ready to use in recipes. Unlike the cocoa powder we buy today, these ‘cakes’ were similar to the modern blocks of Mexican chocolate: solid, hard and requiring grating before use. The old recipes for ‘chocolate’ begin with the roasting of the cocoa beans, which are then pounded and ground extremely find and mixed with sugar, vanilla and spices before drying in cakes which are then stored for use, which makes me incredibly grateful that we don’t have to go through such Faff™ today.
Happily, this recipe omits the time-consuming ‘make your chocolate’ part, but in adapting this recipe for modern use, if an authentic 18thC flavour is required, the spices that would be part of the original cakes of ‘chocolate’ need to be added in. The quantities below might seem a lot, but there’s also a lot of cocoa, so to make sure they can all sing, the quantities need to be generous. You can play around with the spices to your taste – other chocolate recipes I’ve read include one or more of the following: allspice, cloves, aniseed, cardamom, musk, ambergris, and either achiote or cochineal for a reddish colour.
So what are they like? Well, to be honest, it took several batches of tweaking before I was happy with the result. The taste is intensely chocolate-y, and the addition of the spices makes for an unusual and rich flavour. In the interests of full disclosure, as can be seen from the photo, these are dense cakes, and are most definitely not of a lightness of a Victoria sponge, or even a sturdy Madeira cake. But to be frank, that is part of their charm. Since they are made without butter, I would recommend serving/eating them with some lightly whipped cream, or ice-cream, for the mosture as well as the contrast in texture and temperature: the rich warmth and spiciness of the cake against the cold cream is deliciously satisfying.
These cakes include ground almonds, which help to enrich the texture, but also require a little time to work their magic. Consequently, if you’re not eating them straight from the oven, these cakes benefit from being kept 1-2 days in order for them to soften. Freshly-baked, but cooled, they are rather – ahem – ‘firm’, but stick them in a ziplock bag for a day or two and they soften and become glossy and a little sticky (in a good way).
If you’d like to make a less sturdy, more modern sponge version, all it takes is the addition of 1.5tsp baking powder, sifted with the flour.
I used a silicon cupcake mould with straight sides, which look great, but, even thoroughly buttered, proved challenging when it came to getting the cakes out in one piece. Other options might be ‘regular’ bun/cupcake moulds, or use paper liners.
Circa 1700. Makes 8-12, depending on your small cake tin size.
30g melted butter
3 large eggs
1tbs vanilla extract/paste/seeds of 1 vanilla pod
40g cocoa powder*
2tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground nutmeg
75g plain flour
1.5tsp baking powder (optional)
75g ground almonds
Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
Grease your moulds with the melted butter.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and foamy (5 minutes or so).
Sift together the flour, cocoa, spices, salt and baking powder if using.
When the eggs are foamy, use the whisk attachment (or a balloon whisk) to gently fold in the flour mixture.
Stir in the almonds.
Portion the batter out into the greased moulds.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the moulds around after 10 minutes to even the baking.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes to firm up.
Run a thin blade around the edges of the cakes (if not using cupcake papers) and gently ease the cakes from the moulds and cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy warm with cream, or place in an airtight container for 1-2 days to mellow.
* Modern cocoa is very drying, so if you’d like to use more than this amount, reduce the quantity of flour by that same amount. i.e for 50g cocoa, use just 65g flour.