A spiced persimmon tart for autumn

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There’s so much more to the food of the American south than barbecue, cornbread and bourbon and this tart, topped with luscious persimmons which are one of the signature fruits of the region, deserves its time in the [autumnal] sun, and to be more widely eaten in the UK.

In the USA, persimmons are usually left to fall from the tree and if you travel around the south in the autumn, it’s not unusual to see mattresses and tarpaulins scattered around the base of each trunk , ready to catch these readily-bruised fruits. They split easily, spilling out soft flesh which attracts all kinds of critters so you have to be swift.

The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) can give you a nasty, mouth-puckering shock if you eat it before the first frost because the fruits needs that cold snap to convert their tart soluble tannins  into a sweet jelly-like mass. Because of this, there’s a Japanese variety of persimmon called ‘Fuyu’ whose fruits are sweet from the start which stores in Britain are starting to stock around now. It’s pretty hard to find American persimmons over here because they do not travel easily.

Fuyu doesn’t have much of a core and its skin is edible making it easy to prep and even easier to eat on the go. And the flavour? There’s some papaya notes, a lot of floral and a little tomato, a honeyed sweetness and something unique that defies description. It’s a fruit with flavour that deepens after cooking, becoming more than the sum of its parts and possessed of tender flesh easily incorporated into cakes, breads and puddings, made from recipes that are centuries old. Southerners still make a  persimmon bread pudding with a burnt sugar syrup which is the descendant of a recipe learned from the Delaware and Cree tribes of Native Americans who showed the pioneers who crossed the Appalachians into the Mississippi valley how to use the fruit.

For this tart, I’ve added a sliced layer of persimmon to a base I use often, made from a soft pressed-in dough, flavoured with spices. The persimmon cooks down into a soft and wobbly jelly, each slice collapsing as you spoon it up. It’s this quality that makes persimmon so useful as a filling because it creates its own juicy setting and all you need to do is add a little spice, some crunchy sweetness in the form of brown sugar and you’ll soon have autumn on your plate.

It’s vital to let the tart cool before slicing to allow the cooked persimmons to meld with the sugar and ginger syrup to produce that semi-set jelly (or jam to us Brits). So don’t worry if there seems to be a lot of liquid sloshing around the fruits as it cooks.

*Caveat* I usually test recipes at least six times. This one has only been made twice but it turned out well each time.

Spiced Persimmon Tart

  • 8 oz plain flour (all-purpose in the USA)
  • 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar and a further 6 tablespoons of demerara sugar
  • 3 oz cold butter, cut into little chunks
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
  • 3 ripe small to medium Fuyu persimmons
  • tbsp ginger syrup from stem ginger jar

  1. Switch oven to 180C .

  2. Make the pastry base using a processor or by hand: combine the flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, the mixed spice and the butter until fine crumbs form or pulse in a processor until you have that fine crumb. Add the egg yolk and whirl or stir by hand until the dough comes together in a soft ball. Press the dough over the bottom and the sides of a 4- by 14-inch tart pan with a removable base (or use a 9-inch round tart pan).

  3. Combine the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, the lemon juice and brandy in a wide bowl.

  4.  Slice persimmons into slim rounds and check for seeds, removing if they are there. Slice the rounds in half and muddle them into the brandied sugar mixture, ensuring they are thoroughly coated then arrange fruit in 2 overlapping rows on top of the dough (or arrange in circles if using a round pan). Plaster any leftover sugar mixture from bowl over the fruit then ladle over the ginger syrup, ensuring it coats the slices.

  5. Bake the tart until the crust is golden which will take around 25-30 minutes. Check the persimmon slices for doneness and if they are still a little hard, cover the tart loosely with foil and bake until they are tender when pierced. (Another 10- 15 minutes but this really does depend upon the ripeness of your persimmons.)

  6. Remove tart from oven and allow to cool completely. Don’t worry if it seems to have some liquid sloshing around the persimmon slices. As it cools, this will set to a light jelly (jammy) consistency. When it has thickened and set, its time to slice the tart. Serve with creme fraiche, mascarpone or ice-cream if you like it even sweeter!

Some thoughts on baking with citrus

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The space
between the leaves
is full of sunlight.

At the sharp edge,
no longer crowded
with past and future,

fruits ripen on the lemon tree
in the silence
rising
from the morning air.
–   Ok-Koo Kand Grosjean, Garden

That sunlit space is where all citrus fruits reside, a place of sharp, bright awakening and the way we use them in cooking is a tale of cultural derring-do: even the simplest of recipes can possess multiple cultural references, reflecting the complex culinary genealogy of these fruits. Although I use them frequently in savoury meals, today I want to gather together some of my favourite citrus recipes. And if a pudding course redolent with lemon and its citrus cousins is not enough, then precede it with chicken, spaghetti and circles of calamarata pasta dressed with lemon, garlic, parsley and clams, turnip tops and roasted cauliflower .

 One of my favourites is a recipe for a grapefruit yoghurt cake which possesses a convoluted culinary genealogy by way of Ina Garten and Deb Perelman and it is Deb who tinkers with Ina’s original lemon pound cake — and tries to lighten it up. Butter and buttermilk are replaced by oil -and the aforementioned yoghurt – in a nod to the sainted lighter living and not something I usually subscribe to, being of the school of eat a little of whatever the hell you fancy. Anyway, butter is not bad for you. This is not substitution in order to reduce calories or fat but to adjust texture:  the yoghurt adds flavour whilst the oil ensures the crumb retains dampness even when the cake is a few days old.

When we bake with citrus fruits, their sharp, grassy, rimey and clear flavours cut through the melding tendencies of eggs, butter and other oils like Flashman. Grapefruit lends a more rounded, burnished flavour than the lemon and is further rounded-out by the yoghurt which produces a springy, moist crumb with a lactic tang. A grapefruit’s flavour is warm amber compared to the clear jewel-like citrine taste of a lemon.

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Classic lemon bundt cake

Adding the zest to the cake mix results in a drizzle cake in all but name: the grapefruit juices are poured over the cooling cake and then used in an icing sugar-based glaze and this method clearly lends itself to all kinds of free-styling. The Southern Girls Kitchen has a newly published recipe for grapefruit pound cake which would make a great starting-block for experimentation using different glazes and adding in fruit to the batter: the cream cheese in the mixture and the filling also adds moistness and flavour. I have baked madeleines flavoured with bergamot and lime accompanied by a coconut dipping sauce and sharp lemon and lime loaf cakes where a sprinkle of sumach adds a rounded tangy flavour: Nigella’s lemon and polenta cake would also work well with sumach. I like the idea of friands scented with mandorla and Earl Grey tea or made with a blend of pomelo and Lady Grey. There’s other tea blends which sound intriguing too: try Adagio teas who sell a blend called crema di mandorle di albicocca (described as marzipan meets apricot in black tea with a splash of cream) which I think would be amazing in a cake on its own as well.

I’m currently testing a cake-riff on a breakfast grapefruit where we can take the grapefruit halves usual sprinkling of grilled brown sugar and transform this into a brown-sugar and butter icing for a brown-butter and grapefruit loaf cake, perfect for the colder months ahead.  In winter, try incorporating rosy quinces into a damp-crumbed fruity cake spiced with star anise; drench griddled brioche or madeira cake with blood-orange curd for breakfast; or tuck poached kumquats and lychees inside a friand so each bite of cake is enlivened by a heart of fruit. Keep an eye on this site and on my newspaper food column for the recipes.

Rachel Roddy has written about her own baking template- the yoghurt pot cake- which can be adapted as the seasons change and, as she finds, is terribly good-tempered about this. Here, she flavours it with lemon and persimmon which we sometimes refer to as Sharon fruit in the UK. The hachiya variety rewards the wait for ripeness as Rousseau explains: ‘patience is bitter but fruit is sweet,’ maturing to a sweet-jellied voluptuousness. Sponges made with it are beautifully damp. Add in a few slivers of stem ginger to deepen its sweetness into something more dustily mysterious and don’t be too fussy about shaking off the beads of syrup which cling to the little balls of ginger when you spoon them out of their jar and stir them into the batter.

Kerstin Rodgers (aka Ms MarmiteLover) has published a recipe for a boiled-orange upside-down cake which also happens to be gluten-free. Made for one of her secret tea parties, the original idea came via Diana Henry on Saturday Kitchen and the recipe caught my attention because I remember my mother saying that the worst thing she ever had to eat as a child was boiled oranges in post-war Britain. After years of citrus fruit shortages, all she wanted to do was eat one fresh and as un-mucked about with as possible. I don’t think that boiled oranges are disagreeable at all, especially when the caramelised orange juices from Kerstin’s cake (which are fortified by Triple Sec or Cointreau) seep into the base of the almond-enriched crumb. Use Seville Oranges and after you’ve poured the orangey juices over the cake, dust it with more brown sugar and give it a blast under the grill: I think a Seville orange-flavoured cake needs this extra sugar, you, however, may not.

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Blood orange

I’m partial to  Diana Henry’s pomegranate and blood-orange cake which is, she says, ‘for those lunatics who don’t like Christmas pudding’ although I am not one of them. The photo alone sold it to me before I even looked at the recipe as it’s the loveliest thing; basically John Masefield’s Box of Delights in cake form. Pomegranates are such a Christmassy fruit and a heap of fruits on the table and windowsills allows their ruby peel to absorb and reflect back winter light. They glow softly in the corner of the room keeping company with piles of nuts and those long cardboard boxes stuffed with glistening gooey dates. Mead always seems Christmassy to me and I have been testing cakes flavoured with it, either as a soak for the sponge layers, combined with a light hit of orange or lemon in the cake mix or added to the whipped cream, mascarpone or creme fraiche served with each slice. There’s also a quince honey and mead stack cake in the style of the Appalachian apple stack which I made for a friend’s birthday. Watch this space.

Then there’s pies. I have eaten raspberry pies and used the leaves to flavour the cream which is poured over each slice. (Disclaimer: don’t give raspberry leaf cream to women who are pregnant and not at full-term just in case it does what it is reputed to do and primes their uteri for labour by triggering small contractions.) The North American Shakers created a lemon pie made from whole lemons, rind and all, and it is topped with bright wheels of sliced lemon. For all its summer sunniness, it is also the perfect pie for a cold winters day. Claire Ptak from Violet Bakery recently discovered this pie and published her recipe on Guardian Cook . It is pretty much the same recipe as the classic Shaker one.

Tommi Myers uses Tarocco blood-oranges in her pie, here. These oranges are the result of a random mutation of the common sweet orange (citrus sinensis) in a fifteenth century Sicilian orange orchard grove although there is evidence that one blood orange variety arose independently in China. The levels of anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment commonly found in many types of red, purple and blue plants are elevated in the blood-orange and will only develop if the fruit is exposed to cold conditions during its development or post-harvest.Whilst we’re talking orange pigments, did you know that some oranges grown in some African countries might not develop the characteristic orange-hued peel, remaining green?

Clementines, tangerines and satsumas are a good alternative in the winter or the loose-skinned minneola (a tangerine crossed with a grapefruit), tangelo (bred by crossing the tangerine, grapefruit and orange and also known as the ugli fruit) in the warmer months: these all have aromatic peel and are incredibly juicy. If you have frozen raspberries left over from the previous summer or one of those bags of frozen berries, tip them in too because they add a lovely floral depth and give a pie the shade of a Turner sunset. I have eaten (and want to recreate) a cranberry-tangerine tart with a walnut crust whilst away at Christmas-time on Florida’s Gulf Coast and Nancy Capelloni’s Cranberry Cooking for All Seasons has a lovely-sounding recipe for a cranberry-orange loaf cake which again, is Christmas and Thanksgiving appropriate. I’d probably knock up a sugar-syrup flavoured with quatre-epices to pour over the finished cake to mitigate any overly-tart tendencies these fruits might possess.

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The Meyer lemon

I’ll finish on a high note in the form of Fran Gage’s Meyer Lemon Pound Cake recipe, taken from her book Bread & Chocolate. Gage once owned and baked in a well-known San Francisco patisserie and is equally as talented at writing in this, her first book, and its sequel, A Sweet Quartet. Each chapter begins with a brief essay linked to a recipe and in the chapter devoted to citrus she tells us of the elderly woman who strode into her bakery one day with a brown paper bag full of citrons which became marmalade and of her own Meyer lemon tree. After patiently waiting for it to mature and bear fruit, Gage’s pleasure in her precious harvest of floral-scented fruit which comes via its lemon and mandarin-orange parents is palpable. This cake is my absolute favourite. Gage recommends we soak the lemon zest overnight in sugar-syrup (Neruda reminds us that the freshness of a lemon lives on in the sweet-smelling house of the rind) and, alongside the couple of ounces of  lemon juice which goes into the batter, this produces a cake of such tender dampness that it melts in the mouth. This is a cake to eat whilst you sit outside on a sunny day and read Helena Attlee’s  book, The Land Where Lemons Grow, which journeys through Italian history in order to trace the story of the lemons which were brought there by Arabs and now grow so prolifically in Italy.

Meyer Lemon Pound Cake

lemon soaking syrup:
4 lemons
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

Zest the lemons and put in small pot with the sugar and water, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or up to a week). Juice the zested lemons to make 1/3 cup juice, and reserve for the cake.

To make the cake:

1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
10 TB (5 oz) butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup lemon juice
prepared lemon zest, drained (syrup reserved)

Preheat oven to 350F / 180C. Mix flour and baking soda and set aside. Cream butter with the sugar until fluffy then add the eggs a little at a time. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the lemon juice then stir in the zest. Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour. While the cake is still warm, poke holes all over its surface with a skewer and drizzle it with the reserved lemon syrup. Cool, then remove from pan.

 

 

 

Fennel cream cheese and tomato tart

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Like the French, I am not ashamed to buy and use ready-made puff pastry. The quality is generally good and it can save precious time when tiredness stands between you and a freshly baked tart.  I’m a big fan of open tarts because they can exert powers of resurrection over the tired stuff at the bottom of the fridge if you need to use it up. As always though, this will taste and look even better if your tomatoes are taut, herbs fresh and the cheese is the best you can afford. The fennel, herbs and cheese are whipped into a soft creamy bed for the tomatoes and smoothed over the uncooked pastry. If you don’t have access to fennel leaves (fronds) from a garden then many of the bagged salads in supermarkets contain it. Or look for an entire fennel root with a decent amount of fronds attached. The rest of the bulb can be sliced and added to salads, cooked down into summery tomato-based pasta sauces or roasted in its entirety so it won’t go to waste.

This tart takes minutes to prepare and they are good minutes too: by the time you slide the tart into the oven, the air will be scented with the aniseed notes of the fennel and the sharp grass and fruit of tomatoes at the height of their season.

Ingredients

320g ready-made puff pastry

2 very large tomatoes (around 750g)

150g Le Roule soft herbed cheese (or similar brand: Rosary garlic and herb goats cheese is good, too)

2 cloves garlic

sea salt and pepper

sprigs of thyme, lemon thyme, marjoram (chopped, about 3 level tsp), keep a few more sprigs whole for garnishing

chopped fennel fronds (about 2 tsp) or fennel seed (1 tsp)

2 spring onions, cut into thin slices along their length

Shaved parmiggiano to finish (a handful)

olive oil

Method

Heat oven to 190c / 375f and grease a flat baking tray with oil. Put tray in oven to get good and hot. This gives a good baked finish to the pastry base- no soggy bottoms.

Unwrap the pastry and place it on the baking tray then, using a sharp knife, score a line on the pastry, about ½ in (1 cm) in from the edge, all the way around without cutting all the way through. This will ensure that when the pastry bakes, a natural lip will form around the topping.

Crush the garlic with a flat blade and finely chop it. Then chop the fennel and herbs finely too, keeping a few stems of thyme and marjoram intact for the garnish.

Place the soft cheese into a  bowl, add the crushed garlic, fennel (fronds or seeds), chopped herbs and a goodly amount of salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Whip it together with a fork until it is creamy and well combined then using a small palette or other round-bladed knife, spread the cheese mixture evenly all over the surface of the pastry, right up to the line you scored earlier.

Now, thinly slice the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the cheese in whatever pattern pleases you. Sometimes I overlap, sometimes (as in the photo above) I just dot them about.  Arrange the spring onions over them. Brush the edges of the pastry with olive oil, and drizzle some of the oil over the tomatoes and onions then season them  with a little more salt. Scatter the herb sprigs on top.

Bake in the pre-heated oven on the middle shelf for 40-50 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and the tomatoes are soft, slightly charred at the edges and perfectly roasted. Keep an eye on it during the last ten minutes because seconds can lie between a perfect charred edge and black smoking ruin. I always throw on some shaved parmesan to serve, too.

 

Pride and Pudding by Regula Ysewijn: a review

 

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Some might say that pride and pudding are two things my own life has shown a surfeit of but I would argue that in the case of the latter, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. And if I sound a little proud of that, then so be it.

Enter the newly published Pride and Pudding: the history of British puddings by Regula Ysewijn where the authors in-depth exploration of historical cooking texts has led to a rather splendid and faithful recreation of over eighty puddings, both sweet and savoury. By referencing each pudding’s original recipe against an updated version, Regula provides a contextual revival, helping us understand how and why recipes change over time. The bibliography and reference section are manna from heaven, providing the reader with a fine culinary and gastronomic genealogy and I wish more cookbooks did this, even if it invariably results my spending some eleventy billion pounds on yet more books (although my lack of fiscal self-control is hardly Regula’s fault).

The word ‘pudding’ sounds peculiarly English despite an etymological origin ranging from the West Germanic stem *pud- “to swell” which cognates with the Old English puduc ‘a wen’, or its possible origins in the Old French boudin “sausage,” which itself came from the Latin botellus ‘sausage’ and Regula explores this in her introduction. In the modern sense, the word ‘pudding’ had emerged by 1670, as an extension to the method of cooking foods by boiling or steaming them in a bag or sack. The German pudding, French pouding, Swedish pudding and Irish putog all derive from the word and as Regula points out in her foreword, in the eighteenth century when English food was developing its identity once more, pudding was central to its gastronomy and represented a solid challenge to the tyranny of French food which had developed itself as shorthand for all that was refined at table.

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Pudding has moved on from the stuffed vegetable recipe outlined in a Book of Cookrye in 1584 and the medieval technique of preparing fish, game birds and other beasts with a large pudding stuffed inside their belly although it took a Frenchman called Francois Maximilian Misson to declare “Blessed be he that invented pudding for it is a manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people…ah what an excellent thing is an English pudding.” Regula takes his lyrical tribute and runs with it, having amassed five years of blogging experience in the subject prior to writing her book.

Pride and Pudding begins with a handy guide to the different types of pudding (bread, baked, milk, boiled etc) then launches into a historical account of puddings through the ages, from their first mention in Homer’s The Odyssey where black pudding was prepared for Penelope’s suitors to feast upon as they competed for her hand, through to the Romans, Vikings, Normans and onto the court cooking that was documented in the years following the Hundred Years War when plague, taxes and harvest failures led to widespread famine. Moving onto the Medieval period, Regula tells us about surviving manuscripts which recorded the food of the elite: there’s a jelly made in the shape of a devil, a castle and a priest surrounded by a moat of custard and the first record of a pudding-cloth replacing animal intestines to cook puddings in. The Reformation wrought changes in the kitchen too with elaborate Catholic-associated feasts being replaced by ‘proper, honest cooking’ (the eternal cycle of fashion in food, perhaps) whilst Elizabeth the First’s sweet tooth led to a total lack of patent teeth in her later years. The introduction of refined white sugar  during her reign led to a sea-change in its use as sugar was transformed into the highly decorative sweetmeats which graced wealthy tables, and thousands of patissières must have cursed as they nursed burns from sputtering hot pans of sugar.

Moving onto the seventeenth-century, Regula tells us that French food gained dominance in Britain yet despite the prominence of this male chef-dominated cuisine more cookbooks were written by British women than ever before, kicking off with Hannah Wolley’s book, The Queen-Like Closet, published in 1670. Traditional white and black puddings continued to be popular whilst new puddings began to emerge such as Sussex Pond Pudding (1672, by Hannah), the first printed recipe for a Quaking Pudding was published as was the first recorded mention of the Christmas Pudding via Colonel Norwood’s diary record in 1645. As we move into the eighteenth to nineteenth-century and Georgian and Victorian cooking, the focus remains on spectacle with innovation in glassware permitting delicate milk puddings, syllabubs and jellies to be displayed beautifully and if you thought Heston Blumenthal popularised food made to resemble something else, you’d be wrong; the Georgians delighted in creating flummeries that resembled bacon and eggs.

Cabinet Pudding
Cabinet Pudding

We read of Parson Woodforde’s plum puddings, pease puddings and a pike with a pudding in its belly whilst Hannah Glasse makes the first print mention of the iconic Yorkshire Pud. The Georgian table was pudding heaven and the Victorian street-traders made them available to the lower-classes, selling plum duff and meat puds from steaming-hot baskets. Bookshops sold cookbooks entirely devoted to the pudding alongside Eliza Acton’s tome, Modern Cookery for Private Families, firmly locating the Angel of the Home back inside her kitchen unless she could afford staff.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries saw the growth of cooking as a leisure activity as an end in itself and the gradual move away from staffed kitchens in all but the grandest of houses. Two World Wars, the easy access to convenience foods and ingredients, the movement of women into the paid workplace, immigration, easy access to foreign travel and the decline in school cookery lessons has led to a period of turbulence in British food as it redefines itself. And our attitude to puddings very much reflects this. There’s our fetish for nursery-school puddings in a search for comfort and identity through shared nostalgia, the regained pride in our culinary past, the rise of chefs as superstars, and the constant need for new recipes to fill acres of space in cookbooks, magazines, online food sites and the many food-related TV programmes. And part of this necessarily involves looking back at where we-and the pudding- has come from.

This is where Regula’s solid research-based approach holds especial good, providing us cooks with context for ingredients and techniques. (The short section on what suet, rennet, gelatine and bone marrow is and what they are used for is both historically grounded and useful.) It is important, as a cook, to know why suet creates lightness in certain puddings and that vegetarian rennet substitutes go back to the time of Homer and are not newfangled. Once you start to take the why on board, you will soon be able to improvise and devise your own recipes as well as cooking your way through Pride and Pudding.

So…what about the pudding recipes? They are categorised into six sections: boiled and steamed; baked and batter puddings; bread puddings, jellies, milk puddings and ices; and lastly, a section for master recipes where you’ll find how to make clotted cream and custard-based sauces alongside various pastries, biscuits and flavoured vinegars. Regula incorporates notes  at the base of some of the pages, annotated with a sweet illustration of a pudding spoon. For example, her tort de moy, which is made with bone-marrow, double cream, candied peel, and rosewater among other things, has a suggestion of adding almonds to the infusion used to flavour the custard and her Devonshire white-pot can be cooked using a Dutch oven over a fire with its lid covered in hot coals instead of being placed inside an oven. There’s serving suggestions too.

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I’m particularly intrigued by her white-Pot recipe because a few weeks ago, I tweeted about a local bread and butter pudding recipe called Newmarket pudding (basically wailing for help) and Regula replied to me as did another culinary historian, Dr Annie Gray. The white-pot originated in Devon and consists of buttery layers of bread, set with custard and layered with sweet, plump dried fruits. Unlike our modern-day version where slices of bread are sogged in a mixture of sweetened-cream, the white-pot is sogged with a proper cooked custard made from egg-yolk, cream and sugar. It is an extremely luxurious-sounding meal although centuries ago, if you had access to your own cow, the incorporation of cream and butter would not have felt so indulgent and the pudding would have been a good way of using up stale bread. What might have been more of a luxury item would be the dried fruits which feel more prosaic to us, nowadays. Interestingly, the Newmarket pudding of which I mentioned was most likely the same pudding given a local name for no specific historical reason other than someone seeking to re-brand a generic national recipe for their own. The better historical question to ask is not who ‘invented’ Newmarket Pudding but why someone might seek to rename an existing recipe?

There’s in-depth recipes for haggis and black puddings with photographic depictions of their construction and the option of baking the latter in a tray instead of sausage casings. A white pudding sounds especially beautiful baked with saffron, pinhead oats, egg-yolks, dates and currants then served in a single burnished coil with honey, golden or maple syrup which would surely please James Joyce who saw the simple beauty in such a meal. A delicate castle pudding is similar to a pound cake in its ingredient proportions, lightly spiked with citrus from curd, juice or thinly sliced orange rounds. The sambocade, a cheese curd tart flavoured with elderflowers and the daryols, a flower-pot shaped custard tart, both made from hot-water pastry are somewhat sturdier, even rustic in appearance which belies the delicacy of their flavourings. I was particularly keen to make the prune tart whose genealogy includes their being made in Regula’s hometown of Antwerp on Ash Wednesday and it turned out beautifully despite my being unable to obtain’ the fairest Damask prunes’ as specified by Gervaise Markham in The English Housewife. I love prunes and the tablespoon of dark brown sugar added to them really intensifies their sticky dark flavour. If that doesn’t satisfy you then maybe try General Satisfaction, a pudding from Mary Jewry’s Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book, 1868. Topped with a froth of beaten egg-white which covers a base containing a layer of raspberry, sponge fingers and cream, this is a mad confection which seems to take the best from many traditional British puddings. Hence the name, maybe?

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Ypocras Jellies

The batter section has another recipe I have never encountered before, Jersey Wonders, little twists of dough which are browned in lard and look for all the world like tiny pairs of female labia. (I may or may not be selling these to you, based upon that description!) Regula has chosen to not fiddle with the original recipe too much, keeping the sugar proportions roughly the same apart from a dusting of icing sugar. These are next on my list to try alongside the Ypocras jellies whose name comes from the original name for mulled wine back in the Middle Ages although, as she says, mulled wine has been around since Roman times. Mentioned by Chaucer when the first written British recipe appeared, these jellies contain all manner of spices, ‘bruised’ using a pestle and mortar and they look richly festive, perfect for Autumn and Winter feasts when their cardomom, bay, nutmeg, clementine and sloe gin flavours naturally shine (and are in season here in the UK). If you want to inspect a recipe for the mulled wine used in the jelly (also called Hippocras), this website has reprinted a manuscript from 1530 with permission of the British Library and it contains some unusual ingredients such galingale, grains of paradise, cubebs and long pepper (and should you wish to buy long-pepper, Barts Spices sell a decent one). I suspect that Nigella Lawson, no slouch in the alcohol-infused jelly stakes herself will adore this part of the book. In the same section (jellies, milk puddings, ices) you will find all the indulgent flummeries, syllabubs, trifles, possets and bombes you could ever need. Perfect party food all of them, naturally possessed of a comforting glamour, and something that chefs like Heston Blumenthal and the jelly company Bombas & Parr have clearly been inspired by. This is a book whose art direction is as meticulous as its academic research yet at no point does the reader feel overwhelmed by style over substance. The images are Old Masterly in style and cleverly compliment the contemporary twist Regula affords her pudding recipes.

If, like me, you crave a return to a more thoughtful kind of cookbook that entertains while it educates, Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings is out now, published by Murdoch Books in Britain, Australia and New Zealand and Regula’s website also has details of some specially commissioned Pride and Pudding bowls. It’s a wonderful and  timeless book and one hell of an achievement.

Regula’s website: Pride and Pudding

Photographs used here with kind permission of Regula Ysewijn.

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Little roasted pineapple and banana cakes

 

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Despite its sunny, bright and tropical image, I am perverse in seeing pineapple as an autumnal fruit especially when it is roasted to bring out those darker, more complex flavours. The sharp bite of the uncooked flesh is mellowed by the oven and if you are one of those folks who cannot eat it in its raw state (because the enzymes start to digest the buccal membranes), this method should render the fruit tamed, a nicely domesticated beast fit for the tenderest of palates.

If you yearn for the pleasure a small dose of heat gives you, then go ahead and add a tiny tiny pinch of chile to the pineapple before you roast it. But keep it minimal. You won’t need to use a whole pineapple either; in fact this recipe only requires a scant two rings of it BUT you will have the glorious leftovers to chop up and add to vanilla ice cream or serve an extra piece alongside one of these cakes with a dollop of cream, ice cream or creme fraiche. Your call.

The recipe is basically my best ever banana muffin method, slightly amended. I tried it with larger chunks of pineapple but concluded that a messy shredded pile of fruit works best and prevents the fruit sinking to the bottom of the cake. Just to add to the joyousness, the fruit moistens an already damp cake crumb in a manner reminiscent of that seventies delight- pineapple upside down cake.

Makes about eight medium sized cupcake portions.

Preparation time 15 mins + chilling. Cooking time 18-20 mins. Preheat oven to 375F / 190c / Gas mark 5

Ingredients

For the muffins-

175g softened butter / 120g caster sugar / 4 oz soft brown sugar / 1 beaten egg / 3 ripe medium size bananas, mashed / 1 tsp Vanilla extract / 250g plain flour / 1 tsp baking powder /

For the pineapple preparation-

1 small pineapple sliced into rings about 1 cm thick / nugget of butter for greasing the baking tray / 1 and a half tbsp dark rum / 1 tbsp demerara sugar / a tiny pinch of chile (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 200C. Grease the baking tray with butter and peel and slice the pineapple into rings. Place on the tray and pour over the rum. Then scatter the demerara sugar over, the chile if using and dab a little dot of butter onto each pineapple ring. Roast in the oven for ten minutes or until the pineapple has started to brown and catch around the edges and the sugar has melted. Take out and leave to cool. and turn the oven to 190C / C375F. Then when the pineapple is cool, cube two decent sized rings (leaving the rest for another meal) and then shred them into small pieces – don’t worry about it looking pretty.

Place butter and sugars into a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the egg until it is well incorporated then stir in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract. Sift the flour and baking powder together then sift into the mixture and incorporate, making sure you don’t over mix. Lastly, add the shredded pineapple and incorporate well.

Grease a muffin pan with butter or baking spray or use paper muffin cases inside a muffin pan (we do this). Take spoons of the mixture and add to the muffin cases/pan, filling them 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until done; they can vary a little in their cooking times depending upon the size of the muffins made. Keep an eye on them and remove when golden and a tester stick comes out clean when inserted into their middle. Allow to cool for as long as you can stand to wait then eat!

Apologies for the Warholian photo editing. I just could not resist!

Lavender Flower Shortbread

10314546_654301108016473_6590393387550468511_n Sometimes the everyday and the romantic meet and become something more than the sum of their parts and this recipe, for lavender-infused shortbread, definitely qualifies.

Nobody would deny that a typical shortbread recipe with its short list of ingredients- butter, semolina, sugar, flour- is anything other then neat and practical, seemingly an embodiment of its homeland, north of the English border. Yet the Scottish heart is also a deeply romantic and sentimental one, proud of its history and a slow burn of a cuisine, now gaining its rightful place as a great one (and far removed from the lazy stereotypes of deep fried this and that).

Shortbread’s inception came from this place of practicality and economic necessity-no food was wasted and leftovers were often turned into something new to make them more palatable or to render them suitable to pop into a pocket and take to work. Said to originate from the medieval ‘biscuit bread,’ leftover dough from bread-making was dried out in a cool oven until it hardened into a rusk, somewhat similar to the Italian biscotti as the word ‘biscuit’ means twice cooked. The leaven in the bread was replaced by butter, and this biscuit bread became shortbread.

Historically an expensive luxury reserved just for special occasions such as weddings, Christmas and New Year for many, customs grew alongside its popularity and this is particularly apropos for me seeing as this recipe for lavender shortbread was served to arriving guests at our own wedding reception. In Shetland it was traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride as she crossed the threshold to her new home. The Pagan ‘Yule Cakes,’ symbolising the sun, begat the new custom of eating shortbread at the dawn of each New Year and is traditionally offered to First Footers– the first people to enter a house after midnight in Scotland. In the middle of the sixteenth-century, Mary Queen of Scots was said to be rather partial to petticoat tails, the thin, crisp, buttery shortbread originally flavoured with caraway seeds. although they are often made without this spice these days.  Scored with a knife whilst still warm and soft from the oven, the shortbread is cut into triangles that fit together into a circle, echoing the shape of the pieces of fabric used to make a gored under skirt or petticoat during Elizabeth the First’s reign. The name for the dressmakers pattern was tally and so the biscuits became known as petticoat tallis.

In my version, fresh lavender petals are mixed into the shortbread dough, resulting in an evocation of summer; delicate in fragrance and buttery. The semolina adds snap and crunch but the shortbread still keeps its rich, damp crumb. Romantic in taste and appearance with a scattering of flowers baked into the crust, this shortbread was delicious served with a glass of asti or prosecco and was scarfed down by guests in five minutes flat. Don’t be tempted to add more lavender and do make sure you reduce the quantities if using dried lavender instead of fresh or it’ll taste more like Jane Austen’s laundry.

Recipe-

60g of caster sugar plus extra for sprinkling over the baked shortbread 120g plain flour 60g semolina 120g cubed unsalted cold butter 2 tsp chopped fresh lavender flowers- remove stalks and seeds

Method- 

Butter and flour a 22-25cm springform cake tin or tart tin. Preheat oven to 180C / Gas mark 4. Place all the ingredients in a mixer and using a paddle, mix until they form a sticky and fine crumb. Or you can add all the ingredients to a bowl and rub in by hand. Tip the dough into the tart tin and press out lightly with fingers or the back of a spoon until even and flattened out. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just turning a light golden brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a little caster sugar and cut into wedges whilst it is still warm and in the tin. Let cool completely then remove wedges.

The cutest little macarons- honey & lavender.

10356201_10154225043515386_9005479957984793109_nPerfect little local mouthfuls these. Scented with East Anglian Lavender and flavoured with local honey, the two ingredients in these macarons go together perfectly, giving you a plate of the prettiest little cakes. So pretty you will want to name them and take them home as pets.

A light hand with the lavender is needed so you don’t end up with something reminiscent of Miss Havisham’s knicker drawer and don’t worry about a few cracks or imperfections- their charm is in that homespun look. They are a lovely match for afternoon or high tea, weddings and christenings or kids birthdays- children do love these because little children love little food! Can you imagine how great these would look in an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party too?

Should you wish to explore the wonders of local Lavender some more, we can highly recommend a visit to Norfolk Lavender, near Heacham with its patchworked fields of blue, children’s playground and cafe for visitors.

This recipe is by Adam Coleby and Laura Wheeler @purpleted_88

Ingredients-

To make the macarons– 110g egg white /  55g caster sugar  / Natural food colouring in light lavender or violet / 110g ground almonds / 200g icing sugar /  1 Tsp lavender flowers

To make the butter icing– 75g butter /  250g icing sugar  / 10-15ml milk (add more if too firm) /  1tbsp honey

Method-

Pick the Lavender flowers and check over them for bugs if you are using fresh. If using dried, halve the quantity otherwise you’ll get too much of a floral hit. Sun dried lavender is intensified in flavour, you see.

Infuse the ground almonds and icing sugar with the lavender flowers for a minimum of 1 hour in a covered bowl left in a warm spot- aim for at least an hours infusion. Whisk the egg whites, sugar and natural colour to the consistency of shaving foam but do not over mix! Sieve the icing sugar/almond mix to remove any lavender seeds and ensure there’s no clumps.

Fold the dry ingredients into the meringue mix and keep turning until the correct consistency is achieved (shaving foam) and it is beautifully incorporated. Draw a ribbon of meringue on top of the mixture and it should settle back into the mix after a short time- that’s your test.

Pipe into a baking mat with a small plain nozzle, leave to stand for a minimum of 25-30 mins, they should form a skin on top the doesn’t stick to your finger when you touch it.

Bake at 150c for 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool and pair up on the cooling tray, ready for sandwiching together.

Honey buttercream method –

Soften butter by beating well in a bowl and then add in the rest of the ingredients, beating well until you have a soft honey scented cream. You may need to add in more milk, tiny drip by tiny drip to slacken the consistency if its too stiff to spread inside the macaron. But don’t let it get too sloppy, it needs to hold the two halves together.

Pipe a small blob of the honey buttercream into the inside of the macaroon and sandwich together. When you’ve done them all, you should have some leftover filling. Add a couple more drops of milk to this until it is runny enough to drizzle decoratively over the top of each macaron.

 

A Step Back in Time – Boiled Fruit Cake

Being lucky enough to be blessed with a good set of grandparents meant I also learned to cook and bake at their elbows- timeless, stick to your-ribs, homely cooking based upon what they grew in their garden and bought locally (alongside M&S apricot roll cake- a particular weakness of my grandmother). Evening meals were strictly rotated- the Sunday roast provided a mini roast on Mondays and Wednesdays with meat leftovers being added to freshly cooked vegetables. Tuesdays and Thursdays were beans or cheese on toast and Fridays were the day for fish and chips in the evening, eaten at home in the winter and in the summer, on our laps in a nearby beauty spot, Rodbridge Corner.

Ducks from the nearby river crowded around our feet as we threw the odd chip at them and licked our salt-encrusted fingers before getting back into the car, chip wrappers neatly stored away in one of the many plastic bags stored in the glove compartment. In those days, Getting The Car Out was a big deal and woe betide any greasy fingerprints smudged onto the Ultrasuede seat covers but the day came when the car met its end at the hands of a long drive after two strawberry ice creams and a bout of travel sickness. No amount of valeting eliminated the lingering perfume.

Doctor Who dictated Saturdays- we ate around the TV with our salads balanced precariously on our knees or we’d move the table into the sitting room. Daleks rained death and destruction upon the good Doctor and his sidekick as I peered through my fingers or around the cluster of bottles on the tabletop- salad cream, Branston Pickle and great grandmothers picalilli. The crowning glory of these meals were what I found in the cake tin; a retro Bakelite beauty stored in the highest wall cupboard, or inside the fridge-freezer. Great slabs of home made pastry were baked off and frozen on a weekly basis to be thawed out later and popped back into the oven until they were golden and crisp. They were served with stewed fruit (or in today’s middle class terminology, a compote) or a scoop of macerated strawberries in the summer and my grandfather liked his berries liberally dusted with black pepper.

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The glories of the Be Ro Baking Book gave grandmother the inspiration for her boiled fruit cake and this slim narrow volume with time-torn, food-stained pages was THE cookbook of the sixties, packed with day-go bright drawings of battenburg cake, rock Cakes, victoria sponge and other ageless British cakes and breads. I have no idea what happened to the original copy although the Bakelite cake tin and child-sized knife with pale green bakelite handle are safely stored away. Boiled fruit cake recipes are thankfully not hard to find in other cookery books either; I have tried Julie Duff’s version and it is a decent replacement for the recipe of my childhood, giving a cake that is slightly smaller and not so moist. If you like a drier fruit cake then it will suit you.

This is THE Uber recipe though, the one used by my grandmother and provider of a darkly tanned and rich sugared crumb and retaining its juiciness via a generous hand with the dried fruit. It is large enough to keep a family fed for several days.

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Boiled Fruit Cake

Ingredients

225g / 8oz sultanas

225g / 8oz currants

225g / 8oz raisins

50g / 2oz  mixed peel

175g / 6oz butter

175g / 6oz soft brown sugar

350g / 120z self raising flour

Generous teaspoon of mixed spice

pinch salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 150c/300f/Gas mark 2. Place the peel, fruit, butter, sugar and spice into a large saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Boil very gently for two minutes and keep an eye on it then remove from heat, stir and let it cool down.

Sift flour and salt into another bowl and making a well in the centre, pour the lightly beaten eggs into the well of flour. Now pour the fruit mixture onto the flour and eggs then beat them with a wooden spoon until this mixture is thoroughly combined.

Spoon into a greased and lined 18cm/7 inch round cake tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 2- 2 and a half hours or until the cake is firm to touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out cleanly.

Cover with a clean cloth and allow to cool in the tin.


Lovely with Wensleydale cheese and an apple.

If you want to soak the dried fruit overnight in rum or brandy don’t let me stop you. The cake tastes great with that hit but it isn’t the cake that I made as a child and it is this which I wanted to celebrate.

 

 

Woodbridge Tide Mill and The Cake Shop Launch Collaborative Cookbook

Woodbridge’s iconic working Tide Mill has collaborated with the town’s much loved bakery, The Cake Shop, to create an informative book filled with delicious recipes and fascinating facts.

The book will launch at The Local Seasonal Food Market: What’s Tasty in Woodbridge on Market Hill in Woodbridge on Saturday 24th May from 10am.  The recipes have been created by Christine Wright from The Cake Shop and Anne Barratt from the Tide Mill – who will be signing copies of the book at the market between 12 noon and 1.00pm.

The book uses interesting recipes and facts to dispel the myths around wholemeal flour.   Not only does it explain why wholemeal flour is the healthiest option, but it also demonstrates the remarkable versatility of wholemeal flour through the variety of tasty recipes.

Nigel Barratt, Miller and Trustee of the Tide Mill Living Museum said; “Many people may think that that all you can really do with wholemeal flour is bake heavy, stodgy bread, but it’s far more versatile.

“Most flour produced in modern roller mills has all the bran and most of the nutrients in the wheat germ removed in the process.  Our stone ground wholemeal flour uses 100% of the whole grain. The slow and gentle milling process leaves all the goodness in the flour and makes it the healthiest and most natural of all wheat flours. It’s tasty too, with a characteristic nutty flavour that works really well in bread, cakes, pastry and biscuits!”

We have been able to see a sneak preview of the recipes and they appear accessible, family friendly and clearly explained. Tide Mill Wholemeal Onion & Herb Bread, Chapatti’s and Paratha’s are all accompanied by bakers tips to help you trouble shoot any problem areas and teach you some of the tricks of the trade too. In the meal section, Stuffed Mushrooms on Tide Mill Croutons offers what looks like a delicious and sensible way of using up any stale bread. Unlike supermarket bread which is stuffed with preservatives which tends to make it get soggy and mouldy as it ages, home baked bread merely dries out. This offers great scope for further cooking, an important consideration in these times of austerity and furthermore ingredients are in the main, accessible and affordable.

Bread can also make great puddings and it won’t be long before we are into the fruit season and able to make the delicious sounding Blueberry & Nectarine Crumble with its lime spiked fruit base and almond enriched crumble topping. Cakes also celebrate fruit from the recipe for Christines fruit cake through all manner of banana breads, Date Slices and the Tide Mill Carrot Cake. Sections for recipes suitable for children- pizza bases for one and even a dog biscuit recipe round off this useful and local cook book.