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’….
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….
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. …
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 can clearly remember the first time my brain registered the juiciness of a nectarine and its heavenly scent. It was summer and unusually hot. I was about 3 or 4 years old and me and my mother, the lady next door and her son Sam who had the same age, had walked quite a distance to a park where we could play. After we had played a while, Sam and I were each given an unusually large nectarine – mostly because our hands were very small. They came out of a brown paper bag, and I can still recall the sound of the bag, and the scent that came next when it was presented to me to pick my fruit. I remember that I smelled the skin of the fruit, looked at it, turned it around and was then handed a piece of white kitchen paper to catch the juice that was about to drip from my chin and hands. I investigated the skin between my fingers, the texture of the fruit. I recall the bitterness of the magenta red stone as I was trying to get the last of the flesh from it….