Although I’m now one of the judges on our very own Bake Off in Belgium, I still miss the Great British Bake Off on my television screen every week around this time. As we can only get BBC 1&2, Bake Off has been off-limits to us since its move to Channel 4. GBBO has less viewing figures than when it aired on BBC, that’s partly because they lost viewers from outside of the UK. It seems however that our ‘series one’ of Bake Off Vlaanderen came at the right moment, everyone who misses GBBO in Belgium can soothe their Bake Off hunger by watching us! (if you want to watch it online, you can by going to this page – go to the films with the word ‘Aflevering’ (episode) and there you need to be filling out some details to count viewing figures, the system asks to create a password an to leave your address, just enter 2000 Antwerp)
Luckily there is social media to keep me informed of the happenings on GBBO and this morning I heard from the lovely Lia of the Lemon & Vanilla blog that tonights episode will feature pudding week! The bakers task is to make a steamed pudding and because I’ve published a whole tome on pudding – savoury and sweet – (in my book Pride and Pudding) I thought I’d share with you one of my favourite sweet steamed puddings: the sticky toffee pudding.
When going for a nice long walk in the British countryside there’s only one thing I long for and that is a pub meal ended with a sticky toffee pud accompanied by a Whisky. It’s the ultimate pudding to have after good outdoor exercise. This is definitely an occasion where I leave room for pudding. A delightfully light yet heavy steamed bit of cake batter, always in a pudding basin, never in the shape of a log please, drowned in custard or with a side of vanilla ice cream which is essentially frozen custard anyway.
Many puddings are surrounded by legends and this is one of them. It is said that the sticky toffee pudding was invented in the 1960s by Francis Coulson of the Sharrow Bay Hotel by the majestic Ullswater lake in the Lake District. He called it an ‘icky sticky toffee sponge’….
There’s a lot going on in life but I wanted to share this recipe with you because I find when things get too busy or too complicated, an easy yet satisfying pudding can work like a drink of ice cold water on a scorching hot day. What also prompted me was something my friend Sarah (you might remember her from the pies she made for my launch) showed me online, a link to the making of a summer pudding which created outrage and disgust in the comments section. Foreigners (non-Brits) didn’t understand why you would eat soggy bread with fruit, and the video that came with it made even my stomach turn…
But the fact is that Summer Pudding is one of life’s great things. Bread soaked in fruit juice takes me right back to my childhood. I was a very picky eater but you could always feed me bread topped with mashed up strawberries, the deep red juices seeping into the bread making it hard to get it to your mouth in one piece. It was messy eating but really the only thing I enjoyed to eat.
But what is this heavenly thing you ask if you aren’t British or a pudding nut like I am?
A summer pudding is a delightfully light pudding which is made by lining a pudding basin or charlotte mould with stale white bread slices, then filling it up with lightly stewed summer fruits and topping it off with a juice-soaked bread lid. I always enjoy unmoulding this pudding, to see how the white slices of bread have been tinted by the deep crimson juice. It looks like a fresh red wine stain on a crisp white tablecloth. When ready to indulge, serve with cream, or ice cream, whichever you prefer….
It has been a busy few months, flying from photography assignments and meetings in London to Latvia for research, London again, then to New York, two days after to Milan, then London again, then Milan again a few days ago. I have been spreading myself too thin, so over the Easter weekend, my first weekend home since somewhere in februari, I barricaded myself onto the sofa between stacks of pillows and two sleepy cats.
We are talking Jumbles today and I don’t mean gibberish.
I was following ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’, a fun free online course from the University of reading and Historic Royal Palaces with a lot of interesting historical information about food. A lot of the information I already knew but I did manage to learn a few things, plus it was just great fun to do and force myself to take some rest while still being productive. One of the dishes that were recommended to try on the course were Jumbles, a biscuit I had been meaning to bake but haven’t had the time in my mad schedule. When the Learning and Engagement department got in touch to check if I wanted to get involved to spread the word about the course I of course said yes because I enjoyed it. So Jumbles it was!
Jumbles were knot shaped biscuits that first appeared in the wonderful book The good Huswifes Jewell by Thomas Dawson, dating to 1585. But legend places this biscuit right at the heart of The War of the Roses a century before Dawson’s recipe.
For those who are unfamiliar with English history The Wars of the Roses were a series of battles fought in the period of 1455 to 1485 between two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet, the House of York and the house of Lancaster – both sporting a rose in their heraldic emblem. Both made a claim for the throne of England. They were a result from the social and financial problems following the Hundred Years’ War. The Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor defeated the last king of the House of York, Richard III at Bosworth Field, near Market Bosworth, a market town in Leicestershire. He then married Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, to unite the two houses.
And it is precisely on this last battlefield that a new legend was born, at least a few centuries later……
Although spring is in the air at times and daffodils are showing their sunny faces hear and there, some days are still reminding us it is still winter. On cold grey days like these the central heating never seems to give enough warmth although the thermometer says otherwise. Baking seems to be the only antidote to dreary weather and puddings might just be the most fitting with their warming and filling character.
Puddings it is and although I have just published a 378 page book on the history of pudding… which was recently shortlisted for a prestigious André Simon Award (still pinching myself, and although I didn’t win, I am still chuffed to bits!), there are still so many pudding recipes left to boil, bake, steam, fry or freeze. Today I’m taking you to the Victorian era, when puddings were at the height of their splendour.
During Queen Victoria’s reign Britain was going through a period of industrial evolution and urbanisation. It was also a period of peace and stability. The 19th century saw the birth of the rail network with the steam locomotive as the greatest invention. This made for an enormous change in farming as food could now be transported to the towns more quickly and efficiently. On the land a lot of jobs had been replaced by new farming machines, techniques changed, unemployment and poverty rose as the population almost doubled. With more people moving to cities in search for work, demand for produce was high.
The contrast between the lives of the working class and the splendour in which the Queen lived was enormous. Victoria became queen in 1837 at the age of 18 but before that she lived in Kensington Palace which was at that time in quite a state of disrepair.
We know her mostly from her iconic photograph, in profile, dressed in black mourning clothes, looking stern and cold. She is the matriarch, the embodiment of a strong and powerful woman. But in reality she mourned the death of Prince Albert for the rest of her life and found it hard without him.
To know the story behind the portrait, the story of the woman, the queen and the widow, we were treated to an historical drama titled simply ‘Victoria’ recently. And this is the reason for this posting today. ‘Victoria’ is airing in America in March and that is why for the launch TV station KCTS9 and author Laurel Nattress asked me to recreate a pudding for Victoria and her husband Albert from a recipe by the queen’s then chef Charles Elmé Francatelli….
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 sweet desserts after mains, I prefer an afternoon tea where the 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 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. 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 and 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 is made of Quince. Quince are usually cooked and conserved. They look like otherworldly lanterns, large yellow pears with a strange downy covering. Raw they are considered quite unpalatable because of their tartness, but 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.
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….