In the late 1980’s when I was just a little girl, my parents and I traveled around Hungary and Czechoslovakia just like so many other Belgians did during that time. It was affordable, it was different and there were Balkan travel clubs with meetings where you could get your information much like we get it from Google today. We had the ‘Balkan Club’ bumper sticker and from time to time would bump into people on the road with the same sticker stuck to their car. Travel advise was then exchanged and we would part saying we might meet each other on one of the Balkan Club slideshow evenings. This was pre-internet socializing, using the sticker meant you were from the same group, it opened the door to a conversation….
Since in the previous years I told you about English Epiphany or Twelfth Day celebrations, I thought I’d share the tradition of my side of the English channel with you today.
Like the Twelfth cake of which I wrote two years ago (see the post here), in my region we also have a cake, or tart with a hidden bean, coin or trinket.
It is called a ‘Three Kings Tart’ or ‘Driekoningentaart’, a puff pastry pie filled with the most satisfying almond filling which is when made well – addictive. If you find the bean or trinket in your piece of tart you are king for the day and the crown is all yours. To my regret I never found a bean in my piece of tart until two years ago. Oh the disappointment when I was a little girl, the frustration that it was always one of the adults who got the crown! I mean, they should have hidden it in my piece, shouldn’t they?? Traditionally the children would go out to sing from door to door for sweets and money, dressed up like the three kings.
We sadly haven’t got a traditional drink like the Lambswool (see that post here) which comes with the beautiful tradition of ‘wassailing’ which means to feast and run around the orchards to chase away evil spirits and wake up the trees.
I can’t tell you how much I adore this tart and the sight of bakery shop windows filled with ‘Galette Des Rois’ all topped with a festive golden paper crown. It reminds me of the stories I read about children gathering outside the bakery’s shop window to see the magnificent Twelfth Cakes over a century ago. The seasonal bakes that appear in bakeries always make my heart skip a beat. I walk passed Antwerp’s oldest bakery just to see the window display: the large speculoos figurines around Saint Nickolas, the chocolate eggs around Easter, the prune tarts when it’s Ash Wednesday and these terrific ‘Three Kings Tarts’ which the French and our French speaking Belgians call ‘Galette Des Rois’. In France the tarts are also known as Pithiviers, named after the town in the Loiret in the south of Paris, where they allegedly originated from….
Two weeks ago on a frosty yet sunny winter morning, we welcomed our workshop attendees at All Hallows Cookery School in Dorset. We started with tea and mini mince pies plus pancakes from the AGA for the early birds. It was hard to get started because we were all having so much fun getting to know each other, or catching up. We made the more delicate puddings from my book, a sweetmeat pudding – otherwise known as the Bakewell pudding, Snake fritters and a quince tart with intricate pastry work. Lunch was beef with prunes, lovingly prepared by our host and owner of the school Lisa Osman. I can’t think of a dish more fitting on a day of English cooking. After all, beef and pudding have been the icon of English food for many centuries. There was a time during the Napoleonic war when eating roast beef and plum pudding would have showed your patriotism. Visitors from all over Europe spoke with high regard about the quality of English meat and beef especially.
After our rather festive lunch in Lisa’s beautiful dining room which made me feel as if I was in a Jane Austen novel, she taught us wreath making which sounds far more easy than it actually was. We struggled and have a huge respect for wreath makers now. We all concluded we now understood why a impressive wreath is so pricy. It takes a ton of work, and will leave you with very painful hands. I finished mine at home and now have it on my front door for all to see….
I’m not the biggest fan of desserts after mains, I prefer an afternoon tea where sweet treats become the star of the show. That way you can enjoy them to the full and they do not become that thing you eat last when you’re actually too full to enjoy it. For an afternoon tea you can dress up, wear a hat, and pretend to be a lady of good breeding. Drinking tea with your pinky in the air, back straight, having polite conversations and enjoying the experience of eating from fine flowery bone china. I’m also a sucker for a multi-tiered cake stand, and for clotted cream – lots of it.
Cheese and biscuits are my choice of afters and with a decent fruit cheese and port this quickly becomes my perfect kind of dessert.
Fruit cheeses are reduced jams or pastes. It makes sense that fruit cheese with cheese is my perfect way to end a meal as in the past – and I mean centuries ago – they were served after dinner as a digestive and they were often prescribed by apothecaries to cure minor ailments. The fruit paste was often pressed in a mould with fancy engravings. They could look rather stunning. Moulds of this sort are rare to come by, I only know one person who has a mould and I believe he even carved it himself.
Although fruit cheeses should be thick and hold their shape, they should still be spreadable. You can make them into small cake trays for a nice shape or just in a large tray, you can then cut squares of the fruit cheese to wrap them and keep them. They are the most delectable accompaniment to blue cheese, but they can also be eaten all on their own, as a sweetie. A nice idea if you want to know what your child puts in its mouth, factory made sweets can contain all sorts of horrible additives. But it’s still sugar, make no mistake, to call it healthy would be wrong, but eaten and treated as a treat it is just fine.
My favourite fruit cheese by far is made of Quince. This strange large yellow fruits of the same Rosaceae family that apples and pears belong to, are usually cooked and conserved. They look like otherworldly large yellow pears with a strange downy covering. Raw they are considered quite unpalatable because of their tartness. They are high in pectin which makes them ideal for making jams, jellies and fruit cheese. The pectin is most strong in the pips of the fruit, often ground up pips would be used to set other jelly like creations. But this is something I would not recommend you do as the seeds contain nitriles which turns poisonous when it comes in contact with your guts enzymes and acid. A few pips from your batch of quince are fine, just don’t chuck in a jar of ground up pips.
Quince and quince cheese was popular all over Europe since Medieval times. In Spain they call it ‘Membrillo’, in Italy ‘cotognata’ from the Italian word for quince ‘mele cotogne’ quince apple, the French call it ‘cotignac’ or ‘paté de coing’ from the French ‘coing’ for quince. Quinces are responsible for the word marmalade as their Portuguese word is ‘marmelo’ and they were made into fruit cheeses named marmalades. …
Let me start with blowing my own trumpet, it’s my blog so I’m allowed! I’m pleased to have tracked down a copy of Delicious Magazine while in Budapest because in it they have elected my book Pride and Pudding as one of the best books of 2016! After the hard work creating this book I am of course flattered and beyond happy to get this kind of news! So thank you again Delicious Magazine UK!!
Now on to the news of the day!
This weekend will mark the last Sunday before advent which is traditionally Stir-up Sunday. According to (rather recent) tradition, plum pudding or Christmas pudding should be made on this day. It is a custom that is believed to date back to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (though it is actually not); where a reading states ‘stir up, we beseech thee’. The words would be read in church on the last Sunday before Advent and so the good people knew it was time to start on their favourite Christmas treat.
It was a family affair: everyone would gather to stir the pudding mixture from east to west, in honour of the Three Kings who came from the east. Sometimes coins or trinkets would be hidden in the dough; finding them on Christmas Day would bring luck and good fortune.
There are a lot of legends and claims made about the origins of the plum pudding. Some say it was King George I who requested plum pudding as a part of the first Christmas feast of his reign, in 1714. George I was christened ‘the Pudding King’ because of this myth but there are no written records prior to the twentieth century to tell us that this king deserved this title.
A week after the launch of Pride And Pudding, exactly one year ago, I started working on a new book, a passion project…
This book ‘Belgian Café Culture / Authentieke Belgische Cafés (in English and Dutch) is a plea to carefully handle the fragile café heritage of Belgium. For too long have we taken these little cafés for granted. Not enough have we stopped to think about their history and their relevance in our culture. They are part of our social and cultural patrimony in Belgium. When I walk the streets, everywhere I look I see forgotten and lost cafés.
When I read in the papers that a much-loved café was going to close down I went to visit it, to talk to the people there who were about to lose their local. I was probably one of the last to document it. Nothing could be done; the owners of the building wanted to renovate the café and there is wind of a more hipster implementation. For this reason alone a lot of authentic cafés have had to go.
Join us at All Hallows Farmhouse in the historic village of Wimborne St.Giles on Friday 25th November 2016 for a celebration of early winter. I will be demonstrating cooking from Pride and Pudding using the AGA in the beautiful farmhouse kitchen and beside the open fire. There will be tastings and plenty of creative conversation. Followed by a seasonal farmhouse lunch, slow cooked in the AGA of course. Then later in the day there will be a wreath making workshop with Lisa Osman, the owner of All Hallows and then the opportunity to relax and enjoy a high tea of English puddings.
The cookery school is only a 2 hour train ride from London, just long enough to enjoy some reading and short enough to have a full day at All Hallows after. We can arrange a car to pick you up from the station, or you can drive yourself.
This house is truly beautiful and Lisa is an excellent host, I can not wait to share this day with you!
Price 150 £ includes all lessons, a delicious lunch and drinks. For more information, get in contact as soon as possible as places are very limited.
It was Bakewell tart on Great British Bake Off
yesterday last week! And when Mary said this is what a Bakewell tart should look like… I had to disagree. Traditionally early Bakewell tarts did not have a topping of icing. Nor do they have that lonesome cherry which we associate with cheap shop bought mini-bakewell tarts. Mary’s Bakewell tart didn’t have the cherry but did have the icing with a fancy pattern. It looked the part, don’t get me wrong, but if you visit the town of Bakewell you will see that proud Bakewell tart bakers clearly state that they do not add icing to their Bakewell tarts as icing is not part of the original recipe… But what is the original recipe? When does it stop or start being original? It’s a tough question.
And then there’s that other Bakewell bake… The Bakewell pudding!
Imagine a pub in a quintessentially English village: you enter with an appetite and the special on the menu is a pudding named after that village. You just have to try it, don’t you? And so the Bakewell pudding rose to fame. Even though Wonders of the Peak, the first travel guide to the Peak District, was written by Charles Cotton in 1681, tourism reached a high in Victorian times, helped by the development of the railway and an increasing interest in geology. Victorians also came to ‘take the waters’ in the spa towns of Buxton, Matlock Bath and Bakewell….
It was batter week on the Great British Bake Off. And many people felt a bit battered after the news came in yesterday that Love Productions have sold the GBBO to Channel 4. The Beeb just didn’t have the amount of cash needed to keep the bun in the oven. Mel and Sue aren’t swallowing the cake and quit with a statement full of buns, I mean puns (I just had to, sorry). And I love them for it, though they will be missed like the icing missing from an iced finger.
We were very shocked and saddened to learn yesterday evening that Bake Off will be moving from its home. We made no secret of our desire for the show to remain where it was.
The BBC nurtured the show from its infancy and helped give it its distinctive warmth and charm, growing it from an audience of two million to nearly 15 million at its peak.
We’ve had the most amazing time on Bake Off, and have loved seeing it rise and rise like a pair of yeasted Latvian baps.
We’re not going with the dough. We wish all the future bakers every success.
Outrage on social media, others are outraged by those who are outraged… life on social media every day.
My opinion? Yeah I’ll give it since it is my blog innit?
When Britain voted to leave the EU, I as a Belgian felt as if half the British population were basically dropping us like a scone.
What has this brexit shizzle got to do with the GBBO you say?
We watch it in Europe!!
Most people can get BBC1 and BBC2, which means I can watch Eastenders every night except wednesday. We hate wednesday because there is no Eastenders on wednesdays. (don’t judge, judging people on how they look, talk, prey or which soap they watch religiously is bad, bad, bad.)
On Channel 4, we will all loose out. I mean, first Brexit, now Bake Off.
As if Britain couldn’t make itself even more unpopular with the rest of Europe!
Luckily there have been rumours that we would maybe get our own Bake Off in Belgium! How great is that, no one can watch Great British Bake Off anymore but we can watch the Great Belgian Bake Off! I’m already excited by the idea of it. Especially since I’ve been asked to be one of the presenters of the program.
So here I am practicing my baking puns. There’s nothing set in shortcrust pastry yet but if it does happen I’ll let you know. …
I’m excited to finally announce what my dear friend Giulia and Sarka and I have been working on for the past few months!
Join us for a creative gathering which will celebrate the seasonal food and the pleasure of getting together in a quiet location in the Tuscan countryside.
*UPDATE*: Be an early bird and get on the waiting list for our Spring Edition, email us for dates!
For five years now we have been growing creatively together and while we struggled to find a work/life balance, especially in the process of writing books! We always managed to find new strength by arranging creative get togethers where we laugh, cook, eat, drink and most importantly learn from each other. We have now joined forces under ‘Three Acres’ to create this get together in beautiful places so you too can join in the conversation, the learning, the cooking and the eating. We will take photo’s though you don’t have to be a professional or even hobby photographer, just capture the moment with whatever camera you got. From a smart phone to a proper shooter, all is welcome.
Three Acres – Creative Gathering
Strands of mist entangled around the branches of the trees on the hilltop. The smell of a fireplace at dusk. A whiff of roast chestnuts around every corner, a chestnut cake with rosemary, pine nuts, raisins and olive oil. Mushrooms and squash. A glug of nocino – a traditional walnut liqueur by the fire. Toasted bread with a drizzle of new olive oil and creamy beans spooned on top.
You can not find a better moment to visit the Tuscan countryside.
October 28 – 30 2016…