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.

Batalia Fish Pie

Battalia Pie is a classic, double-crust pie from times past, the filling for which filling could be made from any of a number of ingredients. It’s origins are thought to come from the French béatilles, meaning titbits, and originally comprised of all the little odds and ends that are too small to use by themselves: cockscombs, lamb stones, sweetbreads, ox palates, etc.

By the 18th century, the spelling had settled onto Battalia, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a much more ad hoc affair (beatille, beatilla, beatilia), although the French origin can still be seen. To the ear, however, it sounded closer to ‘battle’ and William Rabisha embraced this interpretation with gusto, styling his fish pie in a pastry castle, complete with crenellated battlements, which I think is a fabulous concept as well as being visually stunning for a special occasion or centrepiece.

This design works especially well with the mixture of ingredients called
for in his filling, as he suggests that each tower hold a different kind of fish and sauce. Then again, he also suggests that the decapitated heads of the various fish and seafood creatures be stuffed and propped on the battlements like some macabre seafood re-enactment of the siege in Beau Geste, thus illustrating the importance of being selective when choosing which aspects of historical recipes to revive.

bataliafishpie
From The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661) William Rabisha

Another presentation idea is to utilize the castle and battlement elements for a cold, seafood buffet, as in the picture above. Each tower is filled with a different seafood, and the main body of the ‘castle’ can incorporate garnishes, salads and seafood items better suited to being laid out, such as smoked salmon and/or trout and oysters on the half shell.

Instructions are given below for how to construct and bake your crenellated pastry castle. Do not be constrained by the picture – only by the dimensions of the tin that will fit inside your oven: a large roasting tin will give you ample space in which to lay out your centrpiece.

Neither should you think only in terms of rectangular shapes for your ‘castle’. Use whatever baking tins you have to hand and create your own fortified masterpiece. A variety of heights will add interest as well as flexibility to your display.

Happy castling!

Batalia Fish Pie

William Rabisha, 1661

Game Pie Pastry made with wholemeal flour instead of white
2 large eggs for glazing.

To make the castle pie shell

  • Select a pie tin suitable for serving; round of rectangular, either is fine. It should be at least 10cm deep in order to form the walls and crenellations.
  • Select tins to shape your towers. These can be ordinary tins from soup or vegetables; remove the labels by soaking, and cut off both ends, leaving a tube. Cover all of the tins with foil or baking parchment, leaving one end open on each of the smaller ‘tower’ tins. The pastry will be baked on the outsides of the tins, to ensure a neat appearance.
  • Turn all of your tins upside down. Grease well.
  • Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Roll out the pastry to about 1cm and use to cover all of the tins with a smooth layer. Trim any excess pastry.
  • Re-roll the scraps of pastry and cut into 3cm strips. Brush the top edges – which are currently the bases of the tins – with beaten egg and attach the strips of pastry. Press firmly.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut out the crenellations on the towers and the castle. Make them 1.5cm deep and 1.5cm wide.
  • Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  • Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry into a brickwork pattern.
  • Set your tins, still upside-down, onto a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and firm.
  • Remove from the oven and CAREFULLY turn the tins the right way up.
  • Ease the foil/parchment away from the tins and lift out. Remove the foil/parchment, leaving the pastry shell. Brush the insides of the pastry with beaten egg and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until fully cooked.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Raised Pie

Traditional

There’s a 200-year-old tradition in Oldbury-on-Severn of making gooseberry pies with a sweetened hot water crust pastry as part of the Whitsun celebrations. Jane Grigson mentions them in several of her writings on English food. Due to the age of the recipe, it was some time before I managed to find a picture of these iconic tarts, and for a long time had to rely solely on my imagination. Consequently, what I pictured in my mind was the pie you see above, and was just a little disappointed to eventually learn that the pies were small, hand-sized, shallow, round pies with a single layer of gooseberries and a lot of sweet/sharp juice.

The use of a hot water crust for a fruit pie is unusual, and can be tricky to work with. Some recipes even recommend that once the tart shell has been formed, the pastry is chilled overnight in order to make a firm casing for the gooseberries, but this then makes it difficult to attach the lid firmly once the paste is cold.

In my searching, I also found accounts that seemed to agree on two things: everyone seemed to like these tarts, even if they didn’t like gooseberries, and that they were extremely juicy when bitten into. I decided to make a large, consumer-friendly variation of this classic dessert pie by setting the juice with gelatine, so that it could be sliced and each slice would hold its shape.

Elderflower is a classic flavour pairing with gooseberries, and this pie combines a jelly made from the gooseberry juice syrup and elderflower cordial with fresh gooseberries and a sweetened hot water crust. The jelly is sweet and delicately flavoured and the gooseberries are so sharp, the contrast between the two is both delicious and refreshing. To make everything much easier, it is baked in a loaf tin.

Sweet Hot Water Crust
600g plain white flour
400ml water
100g butter
100g lard
60g caster sugar

  • Put the fats, sugar and water into a pan and warm over a low heat just until the fat has melted.
  • Put the flour into a bowl and pour on the warmed liquid. Stir well.
  • The paste will be very soft when it comes together, and you can roll it out if you like, but it can also just be flattened and pressed into the tin by hand.

1kg fresh gooseberries
1kg caster sugar
2-3 tablespoons of elderflower cordial

beaten egg to glaze.

3-4 sheets of leaf gelatine

  • Use a sharp knife to top-and-tail the gooseberries, removing the stalk and the calyx.
  • Generously grease a large loaf tin. You can, of course, make this in any shaped tin, but a rectangular loaf tin does produce pretty and regular slices. In order to decide what size of tin to use just tip in your prepared gooseberries. The best fit will be from the tin the gooseberries only just fill.
  • If liked, line the tin with baking parchment in order to help with the removal of the pie once it has cooled.
  • Make the pastry and divide into two. Roll out one piece and cut a lid for your pie. Use the empty tin to mark out its size, then cut the pastry 3cm larger all the way round. Set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings and the rest of the pastry together and roll out to about 1cm. Line your greased loaf tin and allow the excess pastry to drape over the sides for now. Make sure any cracks are well patched, so that the juice stays inside the pie.
  • Layer the gooseberries in the lined tin with the sugar.
  • Moisten the edges of the pastry with water and place the pastry lid on top of the pie. Press the edges together and trim the excess. Crimp the edges in a decorative manner.
  • Cut three circular vent holes in the lid at least 2cm in diameter.
  • Use the pastry trimmings to make additional decorations if liked.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour to firm up.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Brush the lid of the pie with beaten egg and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is crisp and golden and the sides are well-baked. It is better to cook the pie a little longer than for the pie to be under-baked, so if the top is becoming too dark, cover with some foil.
  • When you’re happy with the done-ness of the pastry, remove the pie from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Tricky Part: You need to drain the juice from the pie in order to mix in the elderflower cordial and the gelatine that will make it set. After much experimentation, I recommend the following method:
    • Put your pie onto a wire cooling rack.
    • Put a second rack upside-down on top of your pie.
    • Place a large bowl on your work surface. If you think it necessary, place a damp teatowel underneath to prevent slippage.
    • With your thumbs uppermost, pick up your pie tin, sandwiched between the wire racks.
    • Holding the pie tin over the bowl, flip it towards you and let all of the juice drain out of the pie through the vent holes. Once the juice has topped dripping, turn your pie the right way up and set aside.
  • Taste the syrup and add sufficient elderflower cordial to flavour. Since the pie will be eaten cold, you can make the flavouring slightly stronger than usual, since the flavours will be somewhat muted when served.
  • When you’re happy with the taste, measure the volume of syrup. For every 150ml, you need to bloom (soak in water) 1 leaf (sheet) of gelatine. Once bloomed, drain and add the gelatine to the syrup and warm gently until melted.
  • Pour the syrup/gelatine mixture back into the pie. You want enough syrup in the pie to make the cooked gooseberries float.
  • Leave your pie to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the fridge.
  • Allow to come to room temperature before removing from the tin and cutting in slices to serve.

Traditional Stuffing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stuffing

Makes 12 portions

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

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

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