Steak and Kidney Pudding

I enjoyed reading this tweet a few weeks ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Domestic Oracle, Alexander Murray, 1826ish.

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

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

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

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

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

Steak and Kidney Pudding


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

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

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

softened butter to grease the bowls

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

Toad In The Hole

Toad In The Hole was a favourite dish of my childhood, and also one of the first dishes I made when I began cookery lessons at school, aged 11. Toad in the Hole is a traditional lunch or supper dish combining sausages and a standard Yorkshire Pudding batter.

The earliest mention attributed by the Oxford English Dictionary is 1787¹, but as the digitisation of old books increases, earlier mentions will no-doubt come to light. I’ve managed to find a few.

From 1762 we have a mention in the publication The Beauties of all the magazines selected, a kind of Readers Digest of its day, in an article describing an engraving by William Hogarth. The Hogarth print, published in 1761,  is entitled The Five Orders of Perriwigs, and the magazine’s description of the first image (below) is as follows:

The first Capital discovers only a forehead, nose, lips, and one eye, the rest of the face is eclipsed by the Wig’s protuberance, and appears like a small piece of beef baked in a large pudding, vulgarly called, a Toad in a hole.

The other mention is from several years earlier, 1749 to be exact, and is in the form of a footnote to some verse in a play².

In the eighteenth century, ‘Cant’ was secret language or jargon used by certain groups of people, such as gypseys, thieves and professional beggars, for the purposes of secrecy. In this context, it more likely to have been (slightly derogatory) slang. Together with the wig reference, the overall image is of a rather mean piece of meat being padded out to the point of almost being swallowed by a large, voluminous  and above all, filling pudding.³

Nearly three hundred years later it is still a very budget friendly dish, as it can make a meal for 4 out of a pack of sausages and a few cupboard staples.

There are a couple of tips when making a Toad which can add both flavour and interest. I was taught to put the sausages in your baking/serving dish and put the dish into the heated oven for 10-15 minutes before adding in the batter. This allows the sausages to start cooking and (hopefully) develop a little bit of colour. Most importantly, however, it will allow the fat in the sausages to start to render, thereby greasing your dish, and thus you don’t need to add any additional fat.

The second is flavouring. Many people like to serve Toad In The Hole with gravy – onion gravy is popular. But not all people are gravy enthusiasts, and so another approach is to flavour the batter. Obviously salt and pepper are a given, but the addition of some fresh herbs can add some big punch flavours, especially if the sausages are also herbed. I think you can’t go wrong with the old “Scarborough Fair” mix of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. As far as quantity, go by your own personal taste: a nice rounded teaspoon of fresh chopped, or half that if using dried is a reasonable amount to start with. Onion in some form is also another option. Pick your preferred strength from what I like to think of as an allium continuum: chives, spring onions, white/French, pink, shallots, red, brown, – and whether to add them raw, softened, browned or caramelised.

This version is time as well as budget friendly, as it cooks in the slow cooker. With only about five minutes work, you can then forget about it and be tucking into a crispy Toad in just two hours.

There are couple of important tips to using a slow cooker for your Toad In The Hole

  1. To avoid a soggy Toad, you need to prevent the condensation that will form on your slow cooker lid from dripping back onto your Toad, so you need to trap – for want of a better word – some kitchen paper or a clean teatowel under the lid to absorb the moisture.
  2. No peeking! Lifting the lid to check on progress will cause the heat to escape, which will adversely affect the cooking of your batter. I peeked several times when first trying this method, and the resulting Toad was decidedly ‘firm’. By not peeking throughout the whole two hours, the Toad had a much lighter crust. Admittedly not quite as puffed as an oven-baked Toad, but perfectly acceptable for such a hands-off approach. As a bonus, the bottom and sides get deliciously crisp and brown.
  3. (Optional) Pre-cooking the sausages. You don’t have to do this, you can just plonk everything in at once, but I find a little colour on the sausages does wonders for the visual appeal of the finished dish. The cooking doesn’t have to be that long either. In a pan on a fairly high heat, they will take a little colour in about a minute (you only need to have colour on one side). Then you can arrange them coloured-side up in your slow cooker before pouring over the batter.

Toad In The Hole – Slow-cooker method

Caveat: I have a large slow cooker, for easy batch cooking, and I appreciate not everyone will have a slow cooker of a similar size. Smaller cookers will require some adjustment in either the quantity made and/or the length of cooking time. Do let me know how you go if you are making this in a small slow cooker.

Batter (based on a 17thC recipe)
2 large eggs
120g plain flour
220ml milk
salt and pepper
herbs (optional)
onions (optional)

12 chipolata sausages.

kitchen paper or clean teatowel

  • Turn on your slow cooker to High to heat up.
  • Colour one side of your sausages in a pan. Set aside.
  • Put the eggs, flour and milk into an appropriate container and whisk into a batter (I use a stick blender).
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in your herbs and/or onion if using.
  • Brush the inside of your slow cooker with some of the sausage fat. Remember to include the sides for when the batter puffs up.
  • Arrange your sausages coloured side upwards. I like to use chipolata sausages because they cover the bottom of the slow cooker more densely than regular-sized sausages.
  • Gently pour the batter between the sausages, trying to keep them from rolling over, although it’s easy to turn them back if this does happen.
  • Lay a double-thickness of kitchen roll over the top of your slow cooker and clamp it in place with the lid.
  • Set a timer for 2 hours and NO PEEKING!
  • When the time is up, remove the Toad from the slow cooker to a dish or board, and cut into serving pieces.
  • Serve with salad and/or vegetables and/or gravy.
  • DejaFood: If you have any leftover Toad, it reheats well. Wrap in foil and put into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 10 minutes.

¹ “Pudding-Pye-Doll, the dish called toad-in-a-hole, meat boiled in a crust. Norf.” Francis Grose · A provincial glossary, with a collection of local proverbs, and popular superstitions · 1st edition, 1787.

² A general history of the stage; (more particularly the Irish theatre) from its origin in Greece down to the present time. (1749), by William Rufus Chetwood, printed by E. Rider, for the author, and sold by Messrs. Ewing, Wilson, Esdall, and James, in Dublin, and Mr. Sullivan in Cork, Dublin, p183.

³  Sidebar: Hannah Glasse’s 1747 book The Art of Cookery contains a recipe for Pigeons In A Hole³, which is definitely a related dish:

The art of cookery, made plain and easy; which far exceeds any thing of the kind ever yet published. (1747), Hannah Glasse, printed for the author; and sold at Mrs. Ashburn’s, a China-Shop, London, p46.

Marble Cake

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.1: 1 batch of Silver Cake, divided, half coloured pink, half left white, 1 batch Spice Cake, 2 batches Gold Cake.
  • 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.

4 slices of Fred Vine's four-colour marble cake

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.

Marble Cake

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)

60ml whole milk
raspberry flavouring
claret/raspberry colouring

  • 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.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Hot Cross Buns

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.

crossbunsrecipe

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

Pre-bake Glaze
30ml beaten egg(from above)
30ml milk

Post-Bake Glaze
1 sheet gelatine (or vegetarian equivalent)
100ml cold water
2tbs caster sugar
1tsp treacle

  • 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.

Chestnut Apple Pie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you should make this pie

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

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

Chestnut and Apple Pie

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

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

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

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

Base Pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
ice cold water

  • Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth.
  • Roll out the pastry to the desired thickness (5mm) and line a greased, 20cm pie tin. Ease the pastry into the corners of the tin, rather than stretch it, and allow the excess to hang over the edges of the tin.
  • Place in the fridge to chill until required.

To scald the apples

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

To scald the chestnuts

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

To assemble the pie.

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

Querkles

These biscuits are great to have to hand in the cupboard for enjoying with cheese or jam, with butter, or serve them completely unadorned with drinks for toothsome and low-fat snacking – they may look plain, but they’re very moreish.

When I was writing last week’s post about Almacks, I thought to myself: I can add a link to those nice cracker biscuits – and then I couldn’t find them on the blog at all. The pictures eventually turned up in a folder on my laptop almost two years old, because it appears that I’d taken the photos but forgotten to actually write the post ! And so here we are.

These unusually-named biscuits come from the classic Victorian “Biscuits for Bakers” (1896) by Frederick T. Vine. Mr Vine has no idea where the name came from but assures us that “As the above seems rather catchy and the biscuits are something of a novelty, we will let it stand.”

Making your own savoury biscuits might seem a bit of a chore, especially when opening a packet is so much easier, but it’s always good to have a recipe to hand for short notice situations.

OK, now I think on it, I must confess I’m at a bit of a loss as to what kind of situation might warrant being deemed a biscuit emergency, so ANYHOO….

Another reason for making your own, of course, is because you have complete control over size, shape, texture and flavour of your biscuits. For crackers this is extremely simple, for it takes no more than the addition of a spoonful of dried herbs or a sprinkling of sea salt flakes to make a batch individual. The size is only limited by what biscuit cutters you possess. I’ve used a set of mini cutters to make the crackers in the picture above, each roughly the same size, but with differing shapes, which, in my opinion adds to the appeal. I’ll admit the biscuits shown in the picture are very small, about 3cm in diameter, but this means they can be popped into your mouth whole, thereby avoiding the danger lurking in larger biscuits, of shattering into pieces and dropping crumbs all down your front; I’m looking at you, Carr’s Water Biscuits and Bath Olivers.

The method for these biscuits is unusual in that, once baked, they are split open and returned to the oven so that the insides may dry and bcome toasted. Again, it is up to you how long you leave them and at what temperature, so the texture and colour can be suited to your needs.

SHOPS CLOSED ON EASTER SUNDAY! Finally thought of a biscuit memergency.

Querkles

225g wholemeal brown flour
7g butter
15g sugar
1tsp cream of tartar*
½tsp bicarbonate of soda*
½tsp salt

milk to mix

  • Heat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Put all of the dry ingredients into a food processor and blitz until well mixed.
  • Slowly add milk to mix until the mixture comes together in a paste.
  • Tip out onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
  • Roll out as for pastry, to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Cut your biscuits with whatever cutters you prefer. The top of a small glass can also serve.
  • Lay the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 10-12 minutes if small, 15-18 minutes if larger, until the surface is cooked, but not brown. NB If making small biscuits, work in small batches to help reduce breakage when splitting – see below.
  • Remove from the oven and with the point of a sharp knife, cut around the edges of the biscuits and split them in two. NB You should work quickly, because if the biscuits cool, then they will break rather than split apart.
  • Lay the biscuit halves insides-upwards and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes until crisp and browned to your taste.
  • Allow to cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

TOP TIP If, when cooled, your biscuits aren’t crisp, just put them back into the oven until they are. I suggest a much lower heat (100°C, 80°C Fan) for longer (20-30 minutes) in order to really dry them out. Fun Fact: Victorian bakers used drying ovens or provers to get that crispness to their biscuits without having to brown them further in the heat of the main ovens.

* Or instead of these two, 2 tsp baking powder.

Fruit Puffs

This recipe appears in the 17th century manuscript book of Lady Anne Fanshawe (MS.7113 at the Wellcome Collection), and is attributed to Lady Scarborough. What might appear, from the name, at first to be something pastry-based, is in fact a form of meringue.

Unsweetened fruit (I used apples) pulp is mixed with sugar and eggwhites and whisked until stiff and white. The recipe calls for this to be dropped in spoonfuls onto glass and dried in the oven, although I made adaptations for the modern kitchen. After a couple of practice runs, the result is, to all intents and purposes, an apple-flavoured meringue. Not as sweet as regular meringues, with the pleasantly tart flavour of sharp apples.

It is from the same recipe family as Apple Snow, with a slight alteration in porportions and a spell in the oven, and to my mind would be delightful served alongside that ethereal confection.

The main challenge with this recipe was the missing details. Apple and sugar quantities are given, but the instruction to beat them ‘with white of egg’ is open to interpretation. Additionally, “dry it in a stove” is hardly suffering from an over-abundance of detail. Hence the trial runs.

One of the batches I made whilst juggling baking times and temperatures turned a light caramel colour, which I suspect is not how the finished puffs should look, but proved to be absolutely delicious – crisp, delicate with a whisper of toffee apple. I’m counting that particular error as a win!

Apple and Caramel Apple Puffs

Fruit Puffs

Although I have only used apple here, the recipe does state that any fruit pulp can be used. My advice would be to choose pulp that has some bulk to it. Berries might prove too moist. Stone fruit, rhubarb and gooseberries would all be suitable, especially if tart, as the sugar content is quite high, and it would ‘cut through’ it nicely.

340g cooked cooking apples
225g caster sugar
2 large egg-whites (about 80g)

  • Puree the apple smooth with a stick blender. Sieve the puree if liked (I didn’t, but I was very thorough with the blender).
  • Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until light, white and stiff. I used a stand mixer on High and this took 10 minutes.
  • Heat the oven to 100°C, 80°C Fan. This temperature will be for the white puffs, for caramel puffs, increase the temperature to 140°C, 120°C Fan after 2 hours.
  • Add a decorative nozzle to a piping bag and spoon in some of the mixture. Pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. There will be some shrinkage as the puffs dry out, so pipe them on the large side. For example, the white puffs in the top photo were 5cm tall when first piped. When dried, they are about 3cm tall.
  • Dry in the oven for 5-6 hours, depending on the size and how moist they are. Prop the oven door ajar by inserting the handle of a wooden spoon, for the first hour or so, to help dispel the moisture, (otherwise it stays trapped in the oven and slows down drying time).
  • After about 4 hours, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. The puffs should be firm enough by this stage to gently peel off from the parchment. Turn the puffs upside down and lay them back on the parchment, so that the bases can dry (about an hour). If you don’t let the puffs cool down first, you will squish them as you try to remove them from the paper. If the puffs aren’t firm even when cooled down, put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes and try again.
  • For Caramel Puffs, bake as above for 2 hours, then increase the heat to 140°C, 120°C Fan and bake for 1 hour. Check the colour/dryness and bake a little longer if still sticky.
  • Once the puffs are dried to your liking, store them in an airtight container. They will absorb moisture and become sticky if left in the open air for any length of time.

Soda Bread

I was surprised to read recently that Soda Bread is considered to have migrated from the US, based on a notion that the early settlers used potash to improve their baking. Amelia Simmons (1796) uses potash in some of her gingerbread recipes and Mary Randolph includes a recipe for Soda Cake in her 1824 book The Virginia Housewife.

These notwithstanding, the earliest Soda Bread recipe that I have been able to find in print is a letter published in the Newry Telegraph, dated September 2nd 1836. The correspondant, who signs him/herself “M.D.” gives the following recipe:

Soda Bread recipe

Having tried a fair few soda bread recipes over the years, I was struck by how minimalistic this recipe is – literally four ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, buttermilk. Over the years, modern recipes have managed to sneak in  a myriad of embellishments – white flour, sugar, honey, egg, butter, cream of tartar…. but this, this appears to be soda bread in its earliest and purest form. I had to try it. And I was not disappointed.

I followed MD’s recipe as written as closely as possible, and the first batch was fine, but not, in my opinion, the best it could be. The mixing of the soda in water was, for the time, an acceptable way to remove lumps, but it meant for an uneven distribution of soda throughout the flour, which resulted in blotches of yellow crumb amongst the wholemeal. Sieving the soda into the flour with the salt was a much better approach. In addition, buttermilk is not as freely available nowadays as it once was, so my solution was to mix equal quantities of whole milk and low-fat, plain yogurt. Lastly, as the recipe stated that the buttermilk should be very sour (which is what reacts with the soda to give the rise), I stirred in two teaspoons of vinegar.

Halving the batch made two mini loaves of dimensions 14cm x 8cm, which took, rather surprisingly, almost an hour to bake. If you wish to make the full batch, or bake in larger tins, you will need to increase the baking time accordingly.

The result is delicious. The crust bakes to a browned, knobbly crispness and the crumb inside is close-textured, but not claggy. Just warm from the oven and lightly spread with, as MD suggests, some fresh, salted butter, it is delicious with no further adornment. If, like me, you have occasionally read accounts of 19th century afternoon teas where guests are served ‘brown bread and butter’ and been rather puzzled at the plainness of the fare, having tasted this bread with butter, it all makes sense now.

If you’re a fan of modern soda bread recipes, this might not be to your tastes, but I would urge you to try it just once to enjoy the simple pleasure of this diamond in the rough, craggy crust.

Soda Bread

These litte loaves will almost double their size during baking, but only if you get them into the oven promptly. The soda will start reacting as soon as the liquids are added, so be sure the oven is at temperature before mixing wet and dry together.

340g stoneground wholemeal flour
1 level teaspoon of salt
1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
150ml whole milk
150ml low-fat, plain yogurt
2tsp white wine vinegar

a little milk (maybe)

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Grease and line two mini loaf tins (14cm x 8cm) with baking parchment. Grease the parchment.
  • Sieve the flour, salt and soda together twice (to spread the soda evenly).
  • Mix the milk, yogurt and vinegar until smooth.
  • When the oven is hot, add the liquids to the flour mixture and mix into a soft dough. You may need a little extra milk.
  • Put half of the dough into each prepared loaf tin and smooth over.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut a deep slit down the centre of each loaf.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Turn the tins around and bake for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove the loaves from the tins and place them back in the oven on a rack to crisp up the crust – a final 5-10 minutes.
  • Set to cool on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy just warm on the day of baking, or toast the following day for breakfast.

Chelsea Buns

Back in  2013 I wrote an article on the history of Chelsea Buns, ultimately included in my book Great British Bakes which culminated in a recipe suggestion for the original Chelsea Buns.

I based the recipe on anecdotes that appeared in various publications on the borough of Chelsea and its surroundings, mostly written in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Before me appeared the shops so famed for Chelsea buns, which, for above thirty years, I have never passed without filling my pockets…. …….These buns have afforded a competency, and even wealth; to four generations of the same family; and it is singular, that their delicate flavour, lightness and richness, have never been successfully imitated.”i

To be good, it should be made with a good deal of butter, be very light and eat hotii

“The old Chelsea Buns were greatly in demand and were a superior kind to our common buns, more like Bath Buns. Old people say they were very rich and seemed full of butter. They were square in form and were made with eggs, with the kind of sugar, lemon and spice but without fruit.”iii

“Note that the true Chelsea Bun of the Hands family was by no means the darksome and dismal lump which is now sold us as a hot cross bun. On the contrary, it was specially famous for its flaky lightness and delicate flavour.”iv

“It was not round, but square in shape, and it came into the world in batches, the several individuals crammed as close together as the cells of a honeycomb…..Excellent they were—light, sweet, glistening as to their crowns in a sort of sugary varnish, and easy of digestion.”v

There was no mention of the fruit which adorns the modern version of the bun, neither was there mention of the spiral. The recipe I came up with was therefore fruitless and a regular bun shape. I couldn’t quite let go of the iconic spiral shape, though, so baked a version in this shape, too. Below is one of the original photographs taken for the book.

Chelsea Buns

Fast forward to 2020 and last week I discovered a recipe for Chelsea Buns in a manuscript (MS10979) held by the National Library of Scotland. This was very exciting, because the manuscript was dated circa 1827, which is a time when the original Chelsea Bun House was still in business. (It was eventually torn down in 1839). Prior to this, the earliest recipe available had been the one published in 1854 in George Read’s The Complete Biscuit and Gingerbread Baker’s Assistant (p103).

Recipe for Chelsea Buns from a c1827 anonymous manuscript (MS10979) at the National Library of Scotland.

The recipe itself is rather challenging to read, but there are a couple of details that I think deserve pointing out. The recipe title “Chelsea Bunds for shops” suggests that the recipe was for an independant baker, who sold his/her wares wholesale. Perhaps s/he only had a baking premises and not a shopfront. The other detail is the tiny diagram  on the bottom left of the page, showing how the buns are to be laid out: laying the buns like this will ensure the characteristic square shape once the dough has risen.

As luck would have it, and paraphrasing the well-known bus analogy, you wait seven years for a recipe, and then two come along at once. Also last week I spotted another early Chelsea Bun recipe, which had heretofore hidden from my internet searching by the cunning ruse of calling itself Chelsea Bunns. It appears in A Treatise on Confectionary, in all its branches, with practical notes, etc (1817) by Joseph BELL (p36, see below).

Chelsea Bunns

The previous recipe referred to is one for London Buns – flour, sugar, butter, yeast, and no spice. The shaping of the buns in this recipe is also unusual: I’ve never heard of Chelsea Buns being diamond-shaped, and it makes me wonder whether the author was confusing them with another bun, and if so, which?

I used to be rather evangelical about recipes for things being the PROPER recipe. Seven years ago, I was very firm in my conviction that a fruitless Chelsea Bun was the PROPER recipe and the fruit-filled, overblown, too-heavily-glazed monstrosities on sale in bakeries were borderline abominations. Now I’m much more laid back, having come to understand that, just like us, recipes have a lifespan, some longer than others, over the course of which changes happen. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the light and gently-spiced Chelsea Buns were extremely popular. Over time, personal taste, or possibly economics (costs of dried fruit & sugar) saw a change to fruit-filled buns being favourite. It is absolutely possible to like one style of Chelsea Bun over another, and liking one style doesn’t invalidate the other in the slightest.

So enjoy whatever floats your boat – or in this instance, fills your bun.

Chelsea Buns

This recipe doesn’t contain any lemon, as mentioned in one of the anecdotes. Since it was the only reference I found that did mention lemon, I’m reserving judgement on whether it was a regular ingredient in the original. However, if you’d like to include some, I suggest the zest of one lemon, and just one teaspoon of spice.

1 sachet fast-action yeast
150ml hot water
150ml milk
500g strong bread flour
75g unsalted butter
110g soft brown sugar
2tsp mixed spice

150g melted butter for glazing

1 large egg
50ml milk

3-4tbs icing sugar

  • Mix the milk and water together, then add the yeast, 1tsp of sugar (from the listed amount) and 3-4tbs of flour (again from the given amount).
  • Whisk all together thoroughly, and stand aside for 15 minutes until the mixture starts to froth.
  • Put the rest of the flour, sugar, butter and spice in a food processor and blitz until thoroughly mixed.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients and knead for 10 minutes. Add more flour if the mixture seems a little too soft. If using a machine with a dough hook, make the last 2 minutes maximum speed, to pull the dough together.
  • Tip out the dough and roll into a thin (5-10mm) sheet on a floured surface.
  • Cover the whole surface with melted butter, using a pastry brush.
  • Roll up the dough from the long side, keeping it tight. This will be a little tricky to start, on account of the butter making it slippery.
  • Brush the outside of the roll with more melted butter.
  • Grease a 24cm square tin.
  • Starting from the centre of the roll, slice off 4cm rounds and place them cut-side upwards in the tin. You should get 16 well-shaped slices. The smaller end pieces can be placed in cupcake tins to bake.
  • Whisk the egg and the milk together to make a glaze and paint the cut surfaces of the buns.
  • Cover the glazed buns lightly with greased clingfilm and allow to prove for 45minutes or until doubled in size.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Glaze the buns again just before going into the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. The smaller bun offcuts will only need 20 minutes
  • As the buns are baking, mix the sugar into the remainder of the glaze, and brush over the cooked buns as they come out of the oven. The heat of the buns will set the glaze and the sugar will make them extra shiny.
  • Cool in the tin to keep the sides soft. Cover with a clean cloth to cool if you like the tops soft as well.
  • Enjoy warm.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

i“A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew”, p22, Sir Richard Phillips, J Adlard, London 1817

iiGentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Volume 11, 1839, p466.

iiiThe Village of Palaces (1880) Vol II, p191

iv“By Chelsea Reach: some riverside records” Blunt, R. 1921. London. p55

v“Some Savoury Reminiscences”, The People’s magazine, May 4th, 1867, p331

 

Barm Bread

Here is a basic barm bread recipe for you to use with your home-made potato barm.

I am still experimenting with recipes other than loaves of bread, and will hopefully be able to post some other uses in due course, but in the meantime, I present to you a basic recipe, and some suggestions of how you can use it to adapt to what you have to hand. If you have multiple loaf tins, feel free to double or even triple this recipe.

Both breads on this page, and the two white loaves on the previous page, were made according to this recipe. The above image is a cross-section of a loaf made with Stoneground Wholemeal Flour. The image below is from a loaf made with Stoneground Wholemeal Flour and Buckwheat Flour in a 50:50 ratio.

Buckwheat Wholemeal Barm Bread

 

Simple Barm Bread

350g bread flour(s)
150ml room-temperature barm¹
150ml warm water
1tsp salt

  • Mix 50g of the flour with the barm and the warm water. Set aside to work for 30 minutes. This is not strictly necessary with fresh barm, as it is full of life, but it is good to get into the habit for the future, be it weeks or months later, in order to check whether your barm is still lively. If there are no bubbles visible after 30 minutes, you can try and jump-start it by stirring in 1tsp brown sugar and waiting another 15 minutes.
  • When bubbles are visible, add the rest of the flour and the salt and mix thoroughly. Knead by hand for 10 minutes. If you’re using a mixer and a dough hook, set it to the lowest possible speed for 10 minutes, then the highest speed for two minutes. You want the dough to be elastic, but probably a little more moist than regular dough – the long rise time is very drying and if the dough is too stiff to begin with, it will restrict the rise.
  • Grease a large loaf tin well.
  • Tip out the dough and knead it into a loaf shape. I usually pat it flat(ish), then fold the ends in, then the sides in, then turn it over so the seal is on the bottom.
  • Lay the dough in your loaf tin. Brush the top of the dough lightly with a little oil or spray with water and/or scatter flour over the surface. This will help keep the dough from drying out.
  • If you have a plastic bag large enough, you could put your tin inside and ‘inflate’ it around the loaf to keep off any drafts. I usually just put it in the oven.
  • Set aside to rise. The rising time will depend on the age of the barm, the type of flour used and the temperature of the room.
    • I recently made white bread with a fresh batch of barm, and it took 5½ hours to rise during the day (warmer).
    • Stoneground wholemeal flour bread with some month-old barm took 10 hours overnight (cooler).
    • Enriched (with sugar and butter) dough with fresh barm (for hot cross buns) 9 hours overnight.
  • When the dough has risen sufficiently,² bake in a hot oven, 200°C, 180°C Fan for 50 minutes, turning the loaf around half way through the baking time to even the colouring.
  • For an extra crispy crust, remove the loaf from the tin and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.

 

¹ Be sure to shake/whisk your barm up well before taking your measure out.

² This should be when it has doubled in size. For this amount of flour, in a large loaf tin, it will be when the dough almost ¾ fills the tin. The last bit of rise should be in reaction to the heat of the oven (oven spring). Don’t worry if you mis-judge it and let it go a little too long, bake the loaf anyway – it will be delicious, just with a rather flattened top.