Thursday, June 9, 2016

7.1 Bread - Completed!


So with the baking of #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns I’ve completed the Bread section of the Teatime chapter, and it has been a mixed bag. Looking back over the posts, very few have stuck in my mind; in fact I don’t even remember cooking some of them! I have no recollection of #81 Northumbrian Wholemeal Scones, for example. What is strange is that I seem to score the recipes quite highly. I think it was just the novelty of baking bread creating bias; for the first time my house was being filled with the smell of freshly-baked bread, and I was getting to taste real bread made with fresh yeast. Even if it was a slightly stodgy, under kneaded doorstop.
The totally forgettable Wholemeal Scones

Jane doesn’t give much advice to the total novice and assumes we have an idea of the bread-making process. When she does give advice, it is wrong; for #53 Electric Dough Hook Bread, she advises us to mix the dough only briefly. This does not create a good, fluffy loaf, though I was impressed at the time.
Electric Dough Hook Bread
 
 However, it is Jane’s writing that provides such detail about the history of the recipes, one cannot resist getting interested, so I bought Elizabeth David’s tome, English Bread & Yeast Cookery, which again, got me hooked even more so. After baking many of her recipes, I was still finding the bread I was making not quite up to scratch. It was simply practise that got me there – trial and error, and getting used to the feel of dough that had been kneaded sufficiently to produce a good, light loaf. The penny dropped for me whilst I was living in Saint Louis. Only then, did I realise that some of the recipes work very well, but others really do not.



The real star of the chapter is the #224 Basic Bun Dough recipe which can be used to make #370 Chelsea Buns and (my personal favourite) #370 Chelsea Buns. #104 Wiltshire Lardy Cake piqued my interest and I worked on Jane’s recipe to produce one that works well for me, appearing on a pop-up restaurant menu as part of a dessert. I feel I really need to revisit others of the same ilk such as #227 Wigs and #274 Saffron Cake from Cornwall.

The winning recipe - Chelsea Buns

Recipes that simply do not work are #401 Plum Bread and #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns.

Now you may think I am being critical – perhaps over critical – of my food goddess, but over and above what I think of the recipes within this part of the book, the end result is a chap who can now bake bread, knows what good bread is, and who will never, ever, buy a plastic-wrapped Chorleywood supermarket loaf ever again. Surely this is the point?

Wiltshire Lardy Cake

Here’s the full list of recipes as they appear in the book with their scores. The Bread recipes averaged out with a mean score of 6.9.












#227 Wigs 6/10



Thursday, March 24, 2016

#419 Cobb's Bath Buns


The Roman Baths

The great thing about Bath is that it has such history; you cannot help but find something to be amazed by at the turn of every street corner.

The famous spa at Bath has attracted people for millennia – there is archaeological evidence of human settlement going back 10,000 years. Bath was founded in 863BC by a chap called Bladud. Suffering from leprosy, he had been ostracised from society and found that bathing in the warm, muddy springs, after seeing pigs doing the same, cured him. It must have put him in fine fettle because he later went on to become the ninth King of the Britons and to father King Lear.

Of course it was the Romans that really transformed the place, creating the town Aqua Sulis with the baths that are there today in fine working order.

From the point of view of food, however, Bath really came into its own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was deluged by the holidaying  middle classes. The Roman Baths and Pump Room were restored to their former glories after centuries of neglect, making Bath the best and most popular of all the spa towns. This wasn’t just because of its locality to London, or that it was in a lovely part of England; it was because Bath simply had the best of everything. It was a trade epicentre: excellent salt marsh lamb from Wales, a seemingly endless supply of fruit and vegetables from Tewkesbury, cider from Glastonbury, apricots, cherries and plums from the Cotswolds, cream and junkets from Devon and Somerset, excellent freshwater fish – especially elvers – from the Severn Valley as well as sea fish from the ports of Cornwall, all came to one place. And that was just British produce! I haven’t mentioned the French brandy, the Spanish wine or the exotic spices from further afield.

All this has made Bath what it is today. Its food heritage, however, seems to have been boiled down into two things: Bath buns and Sally Lunns.

I’ve never seen either Bath buns or Sally Lunns anywhere other than Bath itself, which just goes to show that we still have regional cooking in an age of a swirling population. I like that you don’t see them everywhere; it makes eating one a rare treat to be relished. There are, of course, stories attached to the invention of these enriched breads which should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

A bath bun is a large fruit bun, made with dough similar to that of a Chelsea bun or hot cross bun. The bread dough is enriched with eggs, sugar and currants. At the bottom of each bun is a lump of sugar and the freshly-baked bun is finished with a sticky wash, extra currants and crushed loaf sugar or sugar nibs.

The Bath bun is said to have been invented by a doctor called William Oliver in the 18th century. After his patients visited the Roman baths he would give them a nourishing Bath bun. It was soon apparent that his plan was not working as he expected when he realised his patients were getting somewhat portly. He withdrew the buns and replaced them with hard, dry water biscuits.

I must say that I would have become a hypochondriac if I was one of Oliver’s patients! I would have used any excuse to get my hands on one. They are so delicious - sweet and sticky and very bad for you. I can’t put the attractiveness of the Bath bun better than W Chambers, writing in his Edinburgh Journal of 1855:

The Bath-bun is a sturdy and gorgeous usurper – a new potentiate, whose blandishments have won away a great many children, we regret to say, from their lawful allegiance to the plum-bun. The Bath-bun is not only a toothsome dainty, but showy and alluring withal. It was easier for ancient mariners to resist the temptations of the Sirens, than it is for a modern child to turn away from a Bath-bun…Large, solid, and imposing, it challenges attention, and fascinates its little purchasers.

We can see from this quote that the Bath bun was popular, not just in Bath, but England and Scotland, so what happened to it? Enriched breads are still pretty popular in Britain, even with the advent of comparatively modern chemically-aerated sponge cakes. Strange.

Here’s the recipe that appears in English food. It contains no currants, which I think are as essential as the sugar lumps:

First of all make the ferment – sometimes called a sponge – a yeasty batter that gets the microbial metabolism underway quick smart. Mash together 1 ½ ounces of fresh yeast with the same weight of granulated sugar in a little water taken from ½ pint of blood-heat water. Add the remainder of the water and leave until the mixture has begun to foam, around 20 minutes. As you wait, weigh out 15 ounces of eggs in their shells and crack them into a bowl. Beat in 5 ounces of strong white bread flour and then add the yeast mixture once foaming. Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel so that it can rise for around an hour.


To make the dough, mix into the ferment the following: 30 ounces of strong white bread flour, 12 ounces of softened butter, 3 ounces of granulated sugar, 12 ounces of broken sugar lumps, a good pinch each of mixed spice and salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

Jane says for us to knead this dough together; good luck with that, the mixture is more a batter than a dough. I did this impossible task in my Kitchen Aid. Cover and leave to prove again until its double the size, which could take 90 minutes or longer with such an enriched dough weighed down with so many goodies.

Knock back the dough (the best part of the bread-making process) and ‘shape the dough into pieces the size of a small Cox’s orange pippin’. Good luck with that, too.
Somehow place the pieces of dough on baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper, cover with plastic bags and allow to rise again.

Bake at 200⁰C for around 20 minutes, swapping trays half way though to achieve an even bake.

When almost baked, make the bun wash by boiling together 2 ounces of sugar with 5 tablespoons of water. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, place on racks and brush with the syrupy mixture. Lastly, crumble over more broken sugar lumps.
#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns. As with many of Jane’s recipes from the Bread section of the book I didn’t get on very well with this recipe. The dough was tricky to handle and I couldn’t achieve the proud, round shape I expect from a Bath bun. They also seemed to stale almost immediately. Bit of a damp squib for the last recipe in this section. 3.5/10.

Friday, March 11, 2016

#418 Snipe



Sometimes…walking home across a boggy area where heather gave way to rushes and reed grasses, I would be startled by an eerie throbbing, bleating sound rising to a soft fluting crescendo…I have heard it hundreds of times and it never ceases to make the hairs stir on the back of my neck. This beautiful wind music is a cock snipe ‘drumming’…This hauntingly lovely sound…is the first promise of spring.

Clarissa Dickson Wright & Johnny Scott, The Game Cookbook

The snipe is our smallest game bird, and with its shy and secretive nature and dappled brown plumage, it is probably the most difficult of the game birds to shoot. It is for this reason that you won’t come across many of these unless you are a hunter or you know one very well. It’s a good job that they are difficult to hunt because they are considered the most delicious of the game birds! Conservation is always a priority with these indigenous game species, but their elusiveness is almost self-managing, keeping a highly-fluctuating population safe.

Sorry for the massive gap between posts folks, but I’ve only gone and opened up a restaurant! News of this will follow very soon. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy, but finally I’m writing up some of my recipe backlog.

Jane’s recipe for roast snipe is brief in the extreme:

Snipe

(August 12 – January 31)

roast: 15 minutes, mark 8, 230⁰C (450⁰F)

inside: as woodcock

serve with: fried bread soaked in cooking juices, spread with trail as woodcock. Plus redcurrant jelly, orange salad, game chips; or simply with lemon quarters and watercress.

Recipes for redcurrant jelly can be found here and a recipe for game chips makes up part of #122 Roast Pheasants, cooked many moons ago

Woodcock and snipe are pretty much identical except in size, so snipe too can be cooked with their innards or ‘trail’ intact. This is because they defecate when they take off for flight. The trail can be scooped out at table and spread on the slice of toast the bird was cooked on. You can, of course, remove the innards before you roast your snipe, if this notion is repellent to you. I would encourage you to try it, as it is delicious; like gamey Marmite. The heads are also left on, and sliced lengthways so that the brain can be eaten.

It’s worth mentioning, however, the very short hanging time required for birds eaten in this way – anything over 36 hours I find too gamey. I remember well once wretching over the kitchen sink after eating a far too ripe woodcock; delicious gaminess merging into dead, rotten animal all too quickly in these little birds. It’s a glamourous life I lead.

I managed to find some snipe this year at my favourite butchers shop, WH Frost in Chorlton, Manchester. Unfortunately their trails and heads had been removed so I couldn’t roast them in the traditional manner.

I simply seasoned them inside and out and popped a tiny knob of butter into their cavities and onto their breasts with a sprinkling of smoked paprika and roasted them for just 8 minutes at 230⁰C. I served them with some Morrocan-style buckwheat. Not very English, but there you go.


#418 Snipe. Even though I couldn’t cook them in the traditional manner, they were still very delicious birds. I expected them to be stronger in flavour compared to woodcock, but they were actually more delicate. I can see why so many people prize them above all others. Little did I know that when I cooked these, way back in December, they would appear on my Valentine’s Day menu in February! If you see some in your butcher’s shop, snap some up. 8/10.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

7.3 Griddle Cakes & Pancakes - Completed!



The Griddle Cakes & Pancakes section of the Teatime chapter was somewhat of a mixed bag, containing several disappointments and one of the best, and possibly the most cooked recipe in the whole book. Inside the chapter are  some of the oldest and best-loved recipes in England. Crumpets and Muffins are sole decedents of yeast-leavened griddle cakes, prior to the invention of raising agents in the mid-18th Century, and oatcakes have been made in England for millennia.



#113 Muffins

We usually think of griddle cakes as leavened mixtures and pancakes as unleavened, like a crepe, but really it seems like these  two terms really mean nothing; there are thin batters, thick mixtures with or without raising agents called pancakes it seems.
Wherever they lie on the pancake-griddle cake spectrum, they were typically baked on a thick cast iron skillet, griddle iron (also called a girdle) or bakestone. These days, bakestones are too made of cast iron, but they were once made from smooth flat stones which, once made hot in coals, could retain their heat and cook many cakes evenly and efficiently.

King Alfred burns the cakes
It is these sorts of cakes that in the Dark Ages, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, famously burned when he took shelter after battle in a poor woman’s home. Not knowing who he was, she asked him to watch them as she sent out to collect more wood for the fire.  Distracted working out future strategy, he got a stern telling off when she returned and found them blackened. Full story here.
Although this is a book of English food, there are several Welsh recipes, and they are much superior to the English ones. The highlight of this part of the book is Welsh Light Cakes; lovely frilly griddle cakes made with tangy soured cream. Not recommended however, is the West Yorkshire Riddle Bread, boring, rubbery, bland, and just unpalatable; they were a mystery (a riddle?) to me. I must admit I was not very confident cooking many of the recipes at the beginning of the project and really I should revisit them – the best will be reblogged on the ‘other’ blog at some point. Singin’ Hinnies are first in the queue.



#417 Riddle Bread
Because of me – ahem – misinterpreting some of the early recipes, the recipes in this section score the lowest mean of the completed parts so far, with an average of just 6.4 overall. Below are all of the recipes as they appear in the book with hyperlinks to my posts and their individual scores.



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#417 West Yorkshire Oatcake or Riddle Bread

This is the last recipe in the Griddle Cakes & Pancakes part of the Teatime chapter – and it was one I have been looking forward to; I am from the West Riding of Yorkshire (a place called Pudsey, which is nestled between Leeds and Bradford), but I had never heard of Yorkshire oatcakes or ‘riddle bread’ until I thumbed through English Food. In Jane’s introduction she described a letter from one of her readers who complained of the difficulties of purchasing oats in Liverpool. The reader, who was from Yorkshire originally, really missed her riddle bread and wished she could get hold of some. How odd that in the 1970s people could not buy oats in the North of England!? It’s the one cereal crop that loves bleak and damp climes and was grown in abundance in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the rest of Northern England and Scotland.


Oats are considered a superfood these days and are widely available, though fine oatmeal is required in this recipe, which can be tricky to get hold of. I wonder if this was what Jane’s Liverpool writer was after. You are unlikely to find it in supermarkets, but some health food shops might stock it. I found some online at a reasonable price.




Making oatcakes - picture from the book The Costume of Yorkshire

I am a huge fan of oats in all forms (however, see below) and really love the Derbyshire oatcake: a large soft, slightly rubbery disc that can be eaten like a pancake, rolled up dripping with butter and sugar. I assumed riddle bread would be the same, but no.


Jane gives detailed instructions on how to make the riddle bread, according to her it made from a batter of fine oatmeal, yeast, salt and water which is quickly ladled and flung in strips across a hot bakestone (or bakstone, if you want to use proper dialect). This produces a pancake with a smooth underside and a bumpy upper side ‘riddled’ with holes. The strips would be hung up before the fire in a wickerwork basket called a creel, or in a kitchen so that they could dry out and be sprinkled into soup. As often with these traditional recipes, it is hard to picture what the technique used actually is, so I cross referenced. Jane usually credits her sources, and she found out about this method in a very good book called Good Things in England, written by Florence White in the 1920s, but there was no extra information to be gleaned.


The odd thing is I cannot find another method for making this riddle bread that matches Jane and Florence’s description. All other sources describe a batter that is shaken upon a chequerboard-like griddle to spread it out and hasten the cooking process, similar to the process of riddling corn, hence ‘riddle’ bread. They could be eaten straight away with plenty of butter like a crumpet or pikelet. This seemed a much easier way of doing things, but, alas, I have to follow Jane’s instruction, so here goes:


With a fork, cream half an ounce of fresh yeast in a little just-warm water and allow to froth. As you wait, mix together in a bowl a pound of fine oatmeal and a ‘scant’ teaspoon of salt. When it has attained a decent head, tip into the oatmeal and whisk in enough warm water to make a batter the thickness of double cream.


Get a cast iron bakestone or griddle on the heat and brush with very little oil or lard. Test the heat with a drop of batter; if it puffs up quickly, it is hot enough. Cast a ladleful of the batter across the bakestone in one swift stroke (this may require a few test flings). If you have the heat of the stone right, it will bubble up all around the edges. 



Once the top has lost its rawness, it can be removed and dried out. Jane suggests doing this on string or clothes rails. I found this impossible to do; the lack of gluten in the oats made somewhat brittle pancakes. Instead, I just placed them on drying racks in the oven on a very low heat until dry.
Now the little strips of riddle bread ‘can be used for soups, fish, fowl, cheese, butter, or any other kind of meat in place of any other kind of bread or biscuit.’ My strips were withered sploshes, I’m sure, compared to the foot long ones prepared in bakeries of yore.

#417 West Yorkshire Oatcake or Riddle Bread. ‘The flavour is slightly bitter’, says Jane, ‘and very appetising’. Well I don’t know what I did wrong here, but they were not appetising at all. I tried some fresh from the stone and they were okay, but the dried ones were as dull as dishwater. I tried reheating them and crumbling them into a stew, but however I ate them, they were not appetising. They were not inedible though, so I give them a 2/10.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

#416 Cumbrian Tatie Pot

I recently made to visit to my friends in their 18th century house in Mallerstang, Cumbria and have been meaning to bring the ingredients up with me to make this dish. It’s one of those lamb, onion and potato based meals you find in the North of England such as Lancashire Hot Pot and Lobscouse, or indeed Irish stew and Scotch broth. It mysteriously appears in the Meat Pies & Puddings section of the Meat, Poultry & Game Chapter.

Mallerstang is a beautiful, slightly bleak, hamlet close to Kirkby Stephen. It sits at the foot of Wild Boar Fell, and there are the remains of a mediaeval castle which is flanked by the sparkling River Eden. It’s an amazing place that is seemingly trapped in time; I recommend a visit.

Cumbrian Tatie Pot is one of those rare dishes in England that mixes its meats, something more common on Continental Europe. “The recipe in slightly different form appears in various books of Lakeland cookery”, says Jane, “and often the beef is described as ‘optional’ – which it most definitely is not. It makes the character of the dish. So resist the national tendency to leave it out.” You have been told.  I found several recipes on the Internet, and none of themhad beef on their ingredient lists.

“Tatie Pot”, she goes on to say, “is very much a dish of communal eating, at village get-togethers, or at society beanos…There is always a certain rivalry to see whose version is the best.” Well I was driving up for a get-together and it was Cumbrian and it looked like the perfect dish to cook in a kitchen equipped with an Aga. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing you need to do is get hold of the meat; you’ll need 2 pounds of either scrag end (often called round of lamb/mutton these days) or best end of neck off the bone and 2 pounds of shin of beef. Make sure you ask for the bones as well as some extra ones, if the butcher has some. Whilst you’re in the butcher’s shop get yourself a nice black pudding.

When you get home, use the bones and some stock vegetables and herbs, plus a little wine if you have it, to make a good stock. As I was cooking on an Aga, I could get it simmering on the hot plate before popping it in the cool oven overnight. Here’s a post from the other blog on stock-making, if you’re not used to making them.


Cut the meats into good-sized pieces and coat them in some well-seasoned flour and arrange the pieces in a wide roasting pan. Scatter over the meat six level tablespoons of mixed, dried pulses (e.g. split peas, pearl barley, red lentils). In the original recipe, Jane says to soak them overnight, but with today’s dried pulses there is no need for this step. Chop two large onions and slice the black pudding into half-inch slices and disperse these evenly, tucking the black pudding between pieces of meat. Season.

Next, peel around three pounds of potatoes and quarter them lengthways. Arrange them on top with their rounded sides pointing upwards. Season well.

Skim the stock of fat and warm it up then pour it over so that it comes halfway up the spuds. Bake at 200⁰C for four hours, topping up the stock with more stock or water, so that the potatoes get a good, dark, crunchy top. As I was cooking on an Aga, I put the tatie pot in the hot oven for two hours and then in the cool oven until everything was nicely cooked and unctuous. The hot oven was rather hotter than expected and the potatoes were perhaps a little darker and crunchier than expected, but never mind, this is country cooking.

#416 Cumbrian Tatie Pot. Even though those potatoes were a little on the burnt side, they did not detract from the fact this was an absolutely delicious dish. The long and slow cooked meat was as soft as butter, the pulses gave body and nuttiness and it was a delight to discover a piece of melting black pudding every now and again. This is definitely going to appear on a future menu; simple and excellent food that sticks to your ribs: 9.5/10

Monday, October 12, 2015

#415 Cumberland Sausage


Unlike other sausages, Cumberland sausages are not made into links, but are allowed to form large coils. You can buy whole coils to fry or bake for a family dinner, or buy lengths of it.  In Richard Woodall’s butcher shop in Waberthwaite, he would measure out yards of sausage using two drawing pins stuck on his counter. Amazingly the shop is still going strong over eight generations!

For me, the Cumberland is the quintessential English sausage; highly seasoned with salt, black pepper, herbs and spices. It shouldn’t have much else added to it, other than a little rusk or bread to soak up the fat. They have been made like this for centuries. Indeed, all sausages were made as one long coiled piece, until the addition of links was introduced in the early seventeenth century. The meat should be coarsely chopped or minced, not like your typical bizarre and homogenous cheap supermarket sausages that are ‘a bland, pink disgrace’, as Jane puts it.

A Cumberland ring is fried or baked, often secured in shape with two skewers before cooking.  It is commonly served as part of a breakfast. Jane mentions that at Rothay Manor, it is served with bacon, tomato, fried egg on fried bread, apple, black pudding and mushrooms; surely the breakfast of champions! It can be served with mashed potatoes and peas, or with a stew of green lentils and bacon cooked in red wine.

To make sausages, you need some natural sausage casings, which you can buy very cheaply from any butcher who makes his own sausages. Often he’ll give you them for free. They are very easy to prepare. All you need to do is soak the in cold water for an hour to remove any salt, find an end (this is quite tricky, as they are very long and not too dissimilar to tapeworms!) and carefully fit a funnel into it to rinse out the insides of the skins with more cold water. Once the water as run all the way through, the skins are ready to use, so pop them in the fridge until needed. Any unused skins can be kept in the fridge for four weeks. For these sausages you’ll need hog casings.

First of all, prepare your meat ready for the mincer by cutting the following into strips: one pound of boned shoulder of pork, 6 ounces of pork back fat and half (yes, half!) a rasher of smoked bacon.

Pass all of these through the mincer using the coarse blade, then again using the medium blade. (I have no medium blade, so just used the coarse one again.)

Using your hands, mix all of these together in a bowl along with an ounce of white breadcrumbs and a quarter teaspoon each of ground nutmeg and mace. Season with salt and pepper. I used a teaspoon of salt in all and was pretty heavy on the pepper too. Curiously, Jane does not add any herbs to the mixture, but if you wanted to, dried sage or marjoram are typical.

Now it is time for the fun and games: filling the sausage skins. To do this, I used the sausage stuffer attachment for my Kitchen Aid. The amount of sausagemeat made here easily filled a single hog casing (each one is at least 3 yards/metres long, I reckon).

Prepare the sausage skins as described above. Take one and slide it over the funnel of the stuffer, tying a knot in the end. Now feed the sausagemeat through the machine and into the casings. Here, you need to grasp the sausage as it comes out so that it fills the skin properly making no major air bubbles. This is tricky to do if you are simultaneously feeding the machine with sausagemeat, so an extra pair of hands will come in useful.

As you make more and more sausage, let it land upon a plate to form the characteristic coil. When all the meat has been stuffed into the skin, cut and knot it, leaving some slack for expansion when cooking. Chill the sausage overnight (which I forgot to do, in my eagerness, making it rise up in the centre when in the oven).

Now you can fry the sausage in a pan, turning it over at half time. Alternatively, bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes at 180⁰C, pricking the skin before it goes in. Of course, you don’t have to cook the whole thing at once; you can cut lengths off it and fry those up instead.

#415 Cumberland Sausage. This was absolutely delicious, and quite simply the best sausage I have ever eaten! With something simple like this, it is all in the seasoning and the half-rasher of bacon worked wonders in that department. Who’d have thunk it, a real bona fide secret ingredient!? This, along with the freshly-ground pepper and the warming mace and nutmeg, made such a winning combination, that I have been making vast amounts of sausages, sometimes for frying up, or sometimes for sausage rolls. I cannot gush any more than this: 10/10