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.

Fasting Day Soup

On my other blog I recently posted my version of the classic Leek and Potato Soup, which is a firm favourite not only because of its deliciousness but also its simplicity to make. I thought it would be nice to complement it here with an equally delicious and equally simple-to-make soup from three centuries ago.

This Fasting Day Soup comes from the manuscript recipe and household book of the Coley family (MS1711), and is held in the archives at the Wellcome Library.

It would have been served on one of the many fasting (i.e. non-meat) days that used to be observed in the church calendar, and as such is eminently suitable for vegetarians and, with a little adjustment, vegans. It is so speedily made, it takes only about 30 minutes from start to finish.

In the original recipe, it is thickened through a combination of breadcrumbs and egg-yolks. For simplicity, I would recommend choosing just one of these, and to keep the soup accessible to anyone with a gluten intolerance, the yolks are the obvious choice, adding both richness and silkiness of texture. Vegans will obviously need to choose breadcrumbs, or a different thickener, or indeed no thickener at all.

The main flavourings are of lettuce, spinach and chervil, which are unusual for a soup, but their delicate nature allows for the soup to be quickly made. As already mentioned, the soup is enriched with egg yolk and also the addition of bright green pistachios. When purréed smooth, the colour is truly glorious, something not accurately reflected in the photo, alas.

I particularly liked the serving suggestion of a toast and a poached egg, to which I have added only a scattering of chopped pistachios.

Fasting Day Soup recipe
Fasting Day Soup recipe, circa 1750 – MS.1711, Wellcome Library Collection

Fasting Day Soup

50g unsalted butter
4 gem lettuce
200g baby spinach
1 bunch fresh chervil – or 3tbs dried
0.5tsp salt
50g shelled pistachios
1 onion – peeled
8 cloves
1 litre boiling water
3 large egg yolks
60ml white wine
juice of 1 lemon

to serve: per person
1 slice of bread, toasted
1 poached egg
a few chopped pistachios
coarse-ground black pepper

  • Shred the lettuce, spinach and chervil finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and heat gently until browned.
  • Add the greens and stir until wilted.
  • Stick the cloves into the onion and add to the pot with the pistachios, salt and hot water.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Take about a cup of liquid from the pan and remove the onion. Blend the soup smooth using either a liquidiser or use a stick blender.
  • Whisk the yolks with the white wine, then slowly add the cup of liquid to the yolk mixture, whisking thoroughly.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the soup and stir over a medium heat until the soup thickens. Do not let the soup boil.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning, adding some or all of the lemon juice to taste.
  • Serve with toast, a poached egg and a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.

Welsh Cakes

I’ve always had a fondness for Wales. The first family holidays were amongst its lush and rolling hills and I became an avid fan of rugby through watching Wales during the glorious days of the mid-1970s.

In terms of its food, I’m constantly frustrated by the existence of so few old books from which to draw recipes. I have on my bookshelves just three in the Welsh language, all dating from the 19th century, and, disappointingly, not one of them contains recipes for either Bara Brith or Welsh Cakes. I have a feeling that there must be a very rich hoard of manuscript recipes lurking somewhere in storage, perhaps in a record office or some archive, just waiting to be discovered.

I have already brought you a couple of Bara Brith recipes, being unable to choose between the rich fruitiness of one and the delicate texture of the other. For years I have been in search of an authentic and worthy Welsh Cake recipe, with no joy. With the best will in the world, the modern Welsh Cake can be a little on the heavy side. The more tactful descriptions suggest ‘close-textured’, other spade-a-spade critiques might go with ‘stodgy’. And the stodginess would seem to be almost necessary, as too long on the griddle and the pastry-like dough of the modern Welsh cake recipe is prone to drying out and becoming tough.

I have therefore been more than a little mollified by this week’s recipe, which I found in the digitised manuscript collection of the Welcome Library. It comes from the recipe book of Dorothea Repps (nee Fountaine) and dated 1703, when she was just 21 and already married to John Repps. I am extremely fond of this manuscript book, for Dorothea’s handwriting is bold, confident and easy to read, and adorned with swooping flourishes. This recipe for Welsh Cakes appears very early on in the book and consequently I feel confident that she must have recorded it  no later than 1710.

What I find curious, quite apart from it pre-dating most other Welsh Cake recipes by at least 150 years, is the fact that Dorothea spent her life in Norfolk, just about as far east and distant from Wales as you can get without falling in the sea. There’s nothing else in her book that is particularly Welsh, so its presence is something of an enigma. Also curious is the form that Dorothea’s Welsh Cakes take: a single, large, layered yeast cake sprinkled with currants and sandwiched with raisins.

Welsh Cakes Recipe
From MS 7788, Wellcome Library Collection

As with many recipes of this age, the quantities of ingredients are huge, and reflect the catering-size amounts required in a large house. I scaled them down to something more manageable and baked it as described and I have to be honest, it was a bit heavy. Nice, but decidedly door-stop. So I had another go, making even smaller, single-serving versions, with just two layers of the currant dough sandwiching the plump raisins. They were very neat, and baked to a lovely golden brown, but…..ordinary. Despite the richness of the mix, the oven heat, even without fan convection,  made the outsides of a crustiness that all the post-baking basting with milk failed to soften.

Having concentrated so much on the presentation, after carefully cutting and shaping these little filled cakes, I found myself left with quite a lot of trimmings. I can’t abide waste, so I decided to gather them together, re-roll and cut them like modern Welsh Cakes. Since the oven was in use baking the sandwich version, I thought I might cook these in a dry pan on the stove top. And this spur of the moment decision provided the secret to revealing the deliciousness of this recipe. For cooked in the traditional bakestone manner, they are extraordinary.

The thin crust that forms from contact with the warm pan (for a gentle heat is all they require) surrounds a yeast-raised interior so delicate and feather-light they almost disappear. They are at their best hot from the pan, sprinkled with a little caster sugar.

This combination of a centuries-old recipe, with a relatively modern form and method of cooking produces a real tea-time delicacy.  Wherever she gathered this delightful recipe from, I’m grateful to Dorothea Repps for recording it in her book so that we can enjoy them today. If you’re in Norfolk, you can stop by and thank her yourself: she is buried in the place where she lived until the ripe old age of 78 and lies surrounded by her family, in a vault in the magnificent church  of St Peter and St Paul, in Salle.

Dorothea Repps’ Welsh Cakes

You can, of course, use your own favourite spicing/flavourings for these Welsh cakes, instead of Dorothea’s suggestion of nutmeg. I suggest no more than a total of 1 teaspoon of whatever spices you choose.

Makes 16-20

225g plain flour
pinch of salt
½-1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
15g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
50-100ml milk
10g fresh yeast
40-60g currants

caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Mix the flour, icing sugar, salt and spices in a bowl.
  • Whisk 50ml of milk and the yeast together, then add the yolk and stir thoroughly.
  • Melt the butter and allow to cool a little before whisking in the milk/yeast mixture.
  • Add these wet ingredients to the dry and knead until the mixture comes together in a soft dough. Add more milk if necessary.
  • Knead for 10 minutes until smooth.
  • Knead in 40g of the currants. If it looks a little sparse to your tastes, add more until the desired level of fruitiness is achieved. Oooh, Matron!
  • Cover and set aside to rise until the dough has doubled in size. Due to the richness of the mixture, this may take between 1.5-2 hours.
  • When risen, tip the dough out and pat gently to deflate. Use a rolling-pin to roll the dough out to a thickness of 1.5cm.
  • Use a fluted, 5cm cutter to cut out little cakes, making sure each one contains a sprinkling of fruit. Re-roll trimmings until all dough has been used.
  • Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 30-45 minutes.
  • When ready to cook, gently heat a thick-bottomed, heavy pan on your stove. My induction hob goes from 0-9, and I cook these on 5. I also place the cakes around the edge of the pan, avoiding the concentrated heat of the middle. The dough is rich with butter, so no further oil is required.
  • Bake the cakes until lightly browned on each side and the centre is cooked through: around 7 minutes for the first side, and 6 minutes on the second. Turn them gently, as the uncooked tops will have risen due to the heat and will be extremely light and easily deflated.
  • Remove the cooked cakes from the pan and sprinkle the tops lightly with caster sugar.
  • Serve warm, or allow to cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight box. Warm gently before serving

Soda Cake

This was a spur-of-the-moment bake this week, and in just over 1 hour after reading the recipe, I was taking this picture. Not as fast as scones, admittedly, but made from store-cupboard ingredients and comes together in mere minutes.

I found the recipe in a manuscript recipe book from The Wellcome Library, an impressively long-lived book containing over 100 years of family entries, starting around 1750.

The use of bicarbonate of soda became popular in the 19th century for its speed and ease of use, especially in areas where fresh yeast was difficult to come by.  This is a very early recipe – not the earliest I’ve found – that award goes to the recipe in “The Virginia Housewife” by Mary Randolph, published in the US in 1824, but this recipe has the added deliciousness of currants and candied peel.

Notes in the book suggest a larger proportion of peel and fruit can be used if liked, but I think it’s perfect as is. Best enjoyed fresh from the oven, it is delicious plain and also spread with an indulgent layer of butter.

You can add a little lemon juice to sour the milk if liked – the bicarbonate reacts best with acidity – or you could use buttermilk, a mixture of milk and plain yogurt or whey.

Soda Cake (1835) MS4645, Wellcome Library
Soda Cake (1835) MS4645, Wellcome Library

Soda Cake

450g plain flour
115g currants
115g caster sugar
115g unsalted butter
60g candied orange peel – diced small
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
240ml milk/buttermilk/yogurt+milk/whey

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Butter a square, 20cm tin or cover a baking sheet with parchment if you want to bake it freeform.
  • When the oven is heated, mix the flour, currants, sugar, peel and soda in a bowl.
  • Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan on a low heat.
  • Add the milk (or whatever liquid you are using) to the melted butter and pour into the dry ingredients.
  • Mix thoroughly and either shape into a round on the baking sheet or in the tin, if using. Try and mound the mixture up into a dome shape, if possible, but don’t faff about too much The quicker you get the cake into the oven after adding the liquid, the more lift you’ll get from the reaction of the soda.
  • Bake for 50-55 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Turn the sheet/tin around after 30 minutes to help with even colouring.
  • Cool the cake on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy warm.

 

Sally Lunn

The Sally Lunn is a traditional, enriched tea bread that hails from the West Country city of Bath. It is a completely separate item to a Bath Bun, which is an enriched dough, traditionally filled with fruit and peel, topped with a smattering of sugar nibs.

The Sally Lunn has been likened to a British brioche, rich with dairy and eggs, but not sweet. The traditional shape is round and tall, allowing it to be easily sliced horizontally, usually into three, before being loaded with lashings of butter or, as asserted by Dorothy Hartley in her 1954 book Food In England, cream. More descriptively, she actually wrote:

“This yellow-white bun was an infernal trouble to make, taking from sunrise to sunset to raise, was made gold on top with the beaten yolks of eggs, and split hot and embosomed in clouds of cream”.

I don’t know which recipe Ms Hartley was referring to, but the ones I have read seem straightforward enough. As with all yeast-raised goods, this requires only sufficient time to rise, which involves practically no input from the maker whatsoever.

The first mention of the Sally Lunn bun has for years been accepted as 1780 when, in his publication “The Valetudinarians Bath Guide”, Mr Philip Thicknesse wrote:

I had the misfortune to lose a beloved brother in the prime of life, who dropt down dead as he was playing on the fiddle at Sir Robert Throgmorton’s after drinking a large quantity of Bath Waters, and eating a hearty breakfast of spungy hot rolls, or Sally Luns.

making them arguably the first buns so good they were simply to die for.

Moving on from this grisly-yet-detatched account, I’m going to rock the Sally Lunn world with some newly discovered snippets of information that pushes their provenance back even earlier in the eighteenth century.

Firstly a song, published in 1778 in The Gentleman’s Magazine” the opening lines of which read:

A general Invitation to Sally Lund at Spring Garden

Ye Beaux and ye Belles, who resort to the Wells,
Come to Bath, your loose guineas to fund;
One and all I invite, free from envy or spite,
To feast upon sweet Sally Lund.

Spring Gardens were the pleasure gardens set out across the River Avon, east of Bath, which held public breakfasts twice a week, with musical accompaniment, at sixpence a head.

Just to, if not rain, then certainly drizzle a little, on Bath’s bun parade claim to fame, in 1776, a (long and, to be honest, rather dreary) poem published in The Westminster Magazine contained the lines:

Where Donnybrook surveys her winding rills,
And Chapelizod rears her sunny hills
Thy sumptuous board the little loves prepare,
And Sally Lun and Saffron cake are there.

placing these teatime treats surprisingly, but very firmly, in the Dublin countryside.

And finally, we have a recipe. The only recipe I’ve been able to find that actually dates from the eighteenth century. A recipe which predates all other mentions by several years and comes, not from elegant, regency Bath, but from Newcastle in the north-east of England. Discovered in a book published in 1772 by Mary Smith, it admittedly doesn’t have the exact same name, but it is recognisably similar. In addition, the recipe itself does indeed make a bun that fits the description of a Sally Lunn, right down to the traditional serving suggestion.

Luns Cake

As well as the early date and surprising location of this recipe, there are two further interesting details: the single rise and the bakeware. When a dough is enriched with dairy and eggs, it lengthens the amount of time required for the yeast to do its work. This explains why, in old recipes, the dough is first set to rise, and only afterwards are the enriching ingredients kneaded in, just before the dough is shaped.  Enriching dough can be something of a double-edged sword, because yes, the result is very delicious, but also, without the correct proportion of liquid, or time, it can turn out heavy. The single rise here means that the initial, exuberant frothiness of the yeast is tempered with the rich ingredients, ultimately producing the perfect balance of both richness and lightness.

Luns Cake

The second detail was the recommendation for an earthenware pot to bake it in. It makes sense – a metal tin would get very hot in the brick oven and the enriched dough would run the risk being scorched. Early test batches of this recipe were baked in some red, 10cm, tapas dishes like this. However, on a visit to a French market I found some ceramic mustard jars (shown in the top image) and they proved the perfect shape to allow the dough to really soar whilst still remaining protected from the heat of the oven.

Mary Smith’s (Sally) Luns Cake

1772

450g plain flour
20g fresh yeast
60g unsalted butter
300ml milk, plus more to mix (maybe)
2 large eggs

  • Put the flour into a bowl and crumble in the yeast.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, then remove from the heat and add in the milk. Swirl to mix.
  • Whisk the eggs, add about 2/3 of them to the milk mixture, then pour the liquids into the flour.
  • Mix to a soft dough, adding more liquid if required.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Divide the dough evenly between your baking dishes (or tins if you haven’t anything else). The mustard pots took 150g of dough, the tapas dishes about half of that. Shape into round, smooth balls and place in the greased dishes/tins to rise for about an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
  • Use the remaining egg to gently brush the tops of the risen buns lightly. Make sure the egg doesn’t drip down the sides as it will cause the dough to stick.
  • Bake for 30-50 minutes, depending on the size of your buns, until well risen and golden brown on top.
  • Remove from the dishes promptly and allow to cool on a wire rack.
  • Store the cooled buns in an airtight box and warm gently in the oven before serving.

Malt Scones

My current lack of oven (for those interested the ETA is currently mid-February) has prompted me to delve into my small but eminently interesting collection of Victorian and Edwardian commercial bakery books in search of something to ‘bake’.

Back in the day, there were numerous recipes that could be baked on a griddle, a far more varied selection than the standard trio of Welshcakes, muffins and crumpets generally known today.

Admittedly, these do tend to be variations of a theme of ‘scones’, but the range available with just slight alterations of the ratio of ingredients is delightful.

The recipe I’ve chosen today is for an unusual griddle scone, as it is flavoured with malt, and every other version I have read has been for oven-baked scones only. I’m a great fan of malt loaves,  and have been since childhood, and they’re pretty straightforward to make at home. The 2-5 day wait for them to mature once baked, however, is frustratingly long.

Not so with this recipe. Cooked in just 10 minutes on the stovetop, they can be enjoyed on day of making either fresh from the griddle or cooled, split and buttered. The delicate malt flavour is probably most pronounced when the scones are freshly baked and cooled. Interestingly, these use both yeast and raising agents to achieve their light and fluffy texture, as well as just a single proving.

These are not SWEET sweet scones, although the malt and the sultanas do place them on the sweet side. I was delighted to discover that, with the original quantity of sultanas (30g), they are delicious with cheese. For a sweeter bite, double this quantity and enjoy them split and buttered.

This batch makes twelve, so if this is rather too much for your needs for one day, you can either freeze some, warm them in the oven (just flaunt your oven-ness at me why don’t you!?) or enjoy them toasted and buttered.

Malt Scones

Makes 12

Ferment
150ml warm water
10g    fresh yeast
2 tsp sugar – brown or white
1tbs plain flour

225g plain flour
35g unsalted butter
30g sultanas
60g  malt extract
½tsp cream of tartar
¼tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Whisk together the ferment ingredients and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes until frothy.
  • Put the remaining ingredients except the sultanas, into a food processor and blitz until the malt and butter are fully incorporated,
  • Tip the flour mixture into a bowl.
  • Gradually stir in the frothy ferment until the mixture comes together as a soft dough. NB Depending on the moisture levels of the rest of the ingredients you might not need all of the ferment.
  • Knead for 10 minutes.
  • Add the sultanas and mix thoroughly.
  • Divide the dough into three (about 150g each, or 170g if using the larger amount of sultanas).
  • Roll into a smooth ball, then pat out by hand to a 12cm circle.
  • Cut into quarters and set the farls onto a floured board to rise for 45 minutes.
  • Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove top. I use a cast iron, non-stick pan on the largest ring set to the lowest heat. Allow the pan 5-10 minutes to come to an even heat before you start cooking the scones. If your pan doesn’t have a thick base, then choose a smaller heat and watch carefully that the scones don’t become too dark.
  • Cook the scones in batches, for 5 minutes per side until risen and lightly browned.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Store in an airtight container once cold.

Steamed Sponge

This recipe is for a traditional steamed sponge, the type many of us remember from our childhoods. So comforting in the winter months, with a blanket of hot custard draped over. They are a breeze to mix, but in these days when most people have a gas or electric stove-top, rather than an always-on range, the three-hour steaming time makes the cooking something of a marathon.

To make things easier for everyone, I’ve scaled this recipe down to make four individual puddings which can be cooked in a steamer pan over simmering water. Not only are mini puddings delightfully small and perfectly formed, they take a mere 30 minutes to steam. This means that they can be put on to cook as everyone sits down to the meal, and be ready by the time the main course is done and cleared away.

As if this weren’t cause enough to rejoice, this recipe can also be easily and infinitely adapted with different ingredients and flavours, even to the point of producing four differently-flavoured puddings from the one mixture. A few suggestions are included below, but do please experiment with your own creations too!

Steamed Sponge

Serves 4

The base instructions are for a plain sponge.

170g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
70g butter
pinch of salt
85g caster sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
120-150ml milk
softened butter for greasing the pudding bowls

  • Bring a pan of water to a simmer.
  • Put the butter, flour, salt, sugar and baking powder into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip out into a bowl.
  • Whisk the egg and vanilla with the milk and stir into the dry ingredients until smooth.
  • Generously butter four individual pudding bowls and divide the mixture evenly amongst the prepared bowls.
  • Cut four squares of foil for the lids and make a single pleat in the middle. This will allow the sponge mixture to expand during cooking without forcing the foil cover off. Butter the inside surface of the foil, then fold over and around the pudding bowls.
  • Arrange the four bowls in the steamer pan, cover with a lid and place over the simmering water.
  • Steam for 30 minutes.
  • Peel off the foil and run a knife around the side of the puddings to loosen them.
  • Turn out the puddings and serve with cream, custard or pudding sauce of your choice.

Variations

These tweaks can be made to the basic vanilla sponge.

  • Jam Sponge – put a tablespoon of your favourite jam into the bottom of the pudding bowls before adding the sponge mixture. Have some of the jam warmed for serving.
  • Fruit Sponge – put 2 tablespoons of cooked fruit into the bottom of the pudding bowls before adding the sponge mixture. Again, have extra fruit to hand when serving.
  • Raisin decoration – dot large colourful raisins onto the sides of the buttered moulds before adding the plain sponge mixture.
  • Raisin sponge – Add 60g raisins to the plain mixture. You can also ornament the sides of the bowls as above.
  • Coconut sponge – add 60g dessicated coconut to the sponge mixture. Stick more coconut to the butter in the moulds before adding the sponge mixture.
  • Citrus sponge – omit the vanilla flavouring, add the grated zest of a lemon/orange/lime to the sponge mixture, together with the juice. Use a little less milk to mix. Add 60g of diced, candied peel of the same flavour if liked.
  • Candied fruit sponge – use 60g of candied fruit such as cherries, cranberries, pineapple, either on their own or mixed.

The following tweaks should be done by altering the method slightly and using the creaming method for the sponge (creaming butter and sugar, then eggs then dry ingredients), as the darker colour of the sponge sometimes highlights butter pieces that have not fully combined with the other ingredients.

  • Dried fruit pudding with toffee top. Use brown sugar to mix the sponge and add 60g of chopped figs, dates or prunes to the sponge mixture. Mix 30g of softened butter and 30g of soft, dark brown sugar and divide amongst the bowls before adding the sponge mixture.
  • Double jam sponge – Omit the vanilla, before adding the milk and egg, stir 3 tablespoons of jam into the sponge mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of jam to the bottom of each of the pudding bowls.
  • Chocolate sponge – Add 2 tablespoons of cocoa to the mixture and use a little more milk to mix. Add 60g chocolate chips to the mixture, or put them in the bottom of each pudding mould to form a chocolate ‘cap’. Alternately, half fill the moulds then add the chocolate chips in a well, and cover with more sponge mixture. This will make for a molten centre once cooked.
  • Coffee and Walnut sponge – Omit the vanilla, add a tablespoon of espresso powder or coffee essence to the sponge mixture and stir through 60g chopped walnuts. Put a half-walnut upside down in the bottom of each basin before adding the sponge mixture.