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It has been quite a long time since I did one of the regional recipes. I haven't forgotten about them but I have been very busy recently. My new job keeps me out of the house for 12 hours a day during the week so I have very little time in the evenings. Yesterday I finally managed to make the Isle of Wight Cracknels. They take quite a long time but most of that was between the boiling and baking steps when they were left to dry.
I decided to make Isle of Wight Cracknels because I've never made a traditional biscuit before (i.e. a 'twice cooked' one, which is where the word biscuit actually comes from). There are a lot of historical mentions of the biscuit and a few published recipes but I couldn't find any pictures, so I had no idea what 'form into cracknels' actually means. I decided to just roll them out and cut them into a variety of shapes.
Extract from The Isle of Wight Tourist, and Companion at Cowes by R. Moir, published in 1830.
A mention of Cracknels from a newspaper: New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser from 1st August 1843.
To make the biscuits, I mixed together: 400g of flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp mixed spice and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. I mixed in 200g of softened butter and beat in one egg to form a stiff paste. I rolled out the paste, cut out the biscuits and dropped them a few at a time into a pan of simmering water. When they began to float I fished them out and put them into a bowl of cold water. After they had all been boiled and cooled, I put them on cooling racks to dry out. (As I mention below, I sprinkled sugar and seeds on some of them) When they had dried out I baked them at gas mark 6 for 25-30 minutes, turning them over half way through.
The Cracknel recipe from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery.
The biscuits came out more like pastry disks which, now I look more closely at the ingredients, shouldn't be a surprise really.
Since the recipe I followed doesn't include any sugar, and I didn't want to add any since I was trying to stay faithful to the old 1883 recipe from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery, I didn't add any to the mixture but I did split the mix into three parts and sprinkle sugar on one set, some sugared fennel seeds (leftover from the Bath Buns) on another set and left the final set plain.
(I had found an almost identical recipe in a book called The Canadian Housewife's Manual of Cookery which includes an unspecified amount of sugar but I had forgotten about it until I came to write this up today)
Cracknel recipe from The Canadian Housewife's Manual of Cookery.
Some of the biscuits had puffed up while others had stayed flat. While this didn't affect the taste at all, the puffed up ones had a softer texture and were nicer to eat.
I tried a couple of the biscuits last night, before they had cooled down fully, and the mixed spice flavour came through quite well but the biscuits could do with being a bit sweeter. Even the ones which I sprinkled sugar on didn't really have much of a sweet taste. One of the newer variations, which include quite a lot of sugar, might be more suitable for the modern palate.
Last month we went on a short break to Lincolnshire and brought back some locally made flavoured cheeses (the Lymm Bank cheeses we often get from the Living Heritage country shows we go to).
We have just got back from a week in France and brought back a range of different foods, including some smoked horsemeat sausages. I've probably accidentally eaten horsemeat, especially given how widespread the food contamination problem was last year but this is the first time I have knowingly eaten it.
The pizza has slices of the sausage topped with slices of horserasish cheese so I felt that it should be called a '2 Horse Pizza'.
This post also appears on the Pizza Blog.
We have been making a lot of pancakes recently, mostly variations on the extra-fluffy pancake recipe I discovered a few weeks ago. I went back to the original recipe, which used plain flour instead of self-raising:
- 2 1/2 cups of plain flour
- 1/2 tbs baking powder
- 1/2 tbs sodium bicarbonate
- 2 tbs sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups of milk with a few splashes of lemon juice
- 2 egg yolks
The egg whites are whisked first until they become white and fluffy but I realised that it's possible to over-whisk them. If they become too firm and almost meringue-like, they won't mix into the rest of the batter properly.
The rest of the ingredients are mixed together then the egg whites are folded in. I find it easier to cook the pancakes using two frying pans: start them off in a small pan then lift them onto a plastic turner and flip them over into the larger pan to cook the other side.
My most recent pancake experiment was to make crepes. The recipe was based on one by Nigel Slater:
- 50g butter
- 100g plain flour
- a pinch of salt
- 2 medium eggs
- 350ml milk
Melt the butter then leave it to cool slightly. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, add the eggs then gradually whisk in the milk. Finally mix in the melted butter.
It took a couple of goes to get the technique right. For the first pancake I tried to turn it over in the same pan but it tore and folded over. Eventually I managed to find a way which worked for me, which uses two pans a bit like above.
Put half a ladle of batter into a small 7-8 inch pan, give the pan a gentle swirl so the batter covers the pan. After a minute or so, when the batter has started to set, loosen the edges of the pancake so it moves freely. Hold the second pan over the top then turn the pans over so the crepe falls into the second pan, uncooked side down.
For a first attempt, we were very happy with the results. We had them as sweet pancakes but next time we might do some with a savoury filling, possibly covered with sauce or melted cheese and baked for a few minutes in the oven.
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I can't remember where I first came across this cake but while doing some research I kept finding two different versions of the recipe. One uses egg whites and is baked in a loaf tin whereas the other is a yeast cake and is formed into 'lady' shaped buns.
I started by following the latter recipe but it came out as a very sticky batter instead of the expected dough.
After leaving it to rise overnight I put half in a loaf tin then worked in extra flour until it was a bit easier to handle. I then shaped into the lady shapes as described in the recipe. Unfortunately none of the recipes on the Internet had photos so I don't know if mine looked anything like the originals. One of the cakes looked more like an Owl.
They were probably more like Two Fat Lady Cakes. We tried one and it was a fairly decent light bun with a hint of spice. When we tried a slice from the loaf version. It was light and crumbly and would make a good sponge cake.
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 3 tbs oil or melted butter
- 1 tsp dried yeast
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 2 eggs
- between 3-4 cups of flour
Mix everything together and leave to rise overnight. Knock it back then make into buns.
This version of the recipe from the same site as above has a drier dough and gives better instructions on shaping the cakes:
Divide into 12 equal balls about 2 1/2 inches across. Cut each ball in half. Flatten one of the halves and shape into an oval for the body. Divide the other half of dough in two; make a round ball for head. With remaining dough make pencillike ropes 4 inches long. Cut in half for 2 arms. Press head and arms to body. (There are no legs.) Press raisins or currants deeply in place for the eyes and nose.
I could not find any pictures of the final cakes anywhere so I don't know how authentic mine look. Some web pages have recipes taken from books and refer to illustrations which aren't reproduced on-line.
Update: I've just been sent another version of the recipe which is very similar to the one I followed but mentions crossing over the arms. Like the others, the page contains a history of the cakes copied from a book and again, there is no picture of the finished cakes.
Many years ago, on the way home from a holiday Up North, we stopped at the village of Goosnarg. I think we mainly went there because of the unusual name. I remember that we took a photos in and around the churchyard but don't remember anything of the village itself.
The Goosnarg cake is another variation on the shortbread recipe. At first I thought it was the same as Aberffraw Biscuits with the addition of caraway seeds but upon a closer look the recipes use different proportions of butter, sugar and flour (2:3:6 sugar, butter, flour, whereas the Aberffraw biscuits are the easier to remember 1:2:3).
These biscuits came out crunchier and a bit darker. I may have slightly over-baked them but the colour may have been down to the mixture of regular and dark sugar I used (since one of the recipes I found called for golder caster sugar).
I occasionally have a go at making fluffy american-style pancakes and while they are usually good, they never come out as thick and fluffy as shop bought ones. I decided to look into how to make them softer and thicker and the secret seems to be egg white.
The recipe starts off similar to our old pancake recipe:
- 2 1/2 cups of self raising flour
- 2 tbs sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups of milk
- 2 egg yolks
Mix everything together then take the egg whites and whisk them until they increase in volume and start to become meringue-like. Gently fold the egg white into the batter mix.
The mix made quite a lot of batter so I had enough to try different ways of cooking the pancakes. First I poured some into yorkshire pudding tins and cooked them in the oven at gas mark 4. The pancakes came out a very soft, very fluffy but a bit pale. My next attempt was also in the oven but at a higher temperature. The pancakes had a better colour but they also had a slightly hard crust. Next I tried cooking them in the traditional way, in a frying pan. These came out looking much better, but was slower since I could only cook one at a time.
The next step is to probably try some flavoured pancakes. Chocolate or fruit will probably work well.
This recipe was Emma's idea. She suggested that a chicken Thai green curry might work well in a pie. I made a hot milk pastry, cooked a leek and a red pepper, opened a packet of sauce and chopped up some roast chicken.
It was a very good pie.
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I struggled to find a recipe for the letter F but eventually found the Felton Spice Loaf, which is a quick and easy spiced fruit cake.
Felton is a village in Northumberland, just off the A1 between Morpeth and Alnwick. Many years ago I had a long weekend in Northumberland, which started off with a stay in a hotel in Alnwick. I stopped at a cafe in Morpeth on the way, so while I haven't been to Felton itself and the place has no significance for me, at least I know I have driven past it.
The recipe is another simple 'pound cake', with equal weights of self raising flour, butter, sugar and eggs, with added ground almonds, sultanas and chopped mixed peel. Since I usually find that spiced cake recipes don't have enough spice for my liking, I added the given quantity of mixed spice and then an extra teaspoon of cinnamon.
The cake takes about half an hour to cook at gas mark 5 and is delicious when still warm and spread with a bit of butter. The sugar and dried fruit meant that the cake was a bit sweet so if I make it again I will reduce the amount of sugar slightly, probably to 3/4 of the original amount.
In Victoria Wood's TV series dinnerladies she described Scotland as somewhere where everywhere was spelt Ecclefechan but pronounced Kirkcudbright. I've never been to Ecclefechan but I have been to Kirkcudbright so that's enough of a tenuous link for this recipe
The Ecclefechan tart is a version of the Border Tart, with a filling of dried fruit and chopped nuts. Most of the recipes for the former seem to be walnut based with the latter being almond based although there is some overlap in the recipes.
The version I made was based on this recipe. I made a cross between the two, using chopped mixed nuts and ground almonds. We usually have several bags of dried fruit in the kitchen which we dip into regularly for snacking so I had sultanas, cranberries, apricots and cherries available.
I recently discovered a hot milk pastry, which is similar to the hot water pastry traditionally used in pork pies but with milk instead of water and butter instead of lard. It's easy to mix but needs to cool down slightly before rolling out or pressing into a pie tin.
To make the pastry you'll need:
- 2 cups/450g of flour
- ½ a cup/120ml of milk
- 125g of butter
Bake the pastry blind for 10 minutes
For the filling:
- 125g of butter
- 200g light brown sugar (or 100g each of white and dark brown)
- 2 eggs
- 50g chopped mixed nuts
- 300g mixed fruit
- 1tbs wine vinegar
Bake at gas mark 5 for 25-30 minutes. The filling will look cooked on top but still be a bit soft. It will firm up when it cools.
Many years ago we went to a family holiday to Scotland. We went to Dundee for one day and I remember seeing Captain Scott's ship 'Discovery'.
The Dundee Cake I made was based on a recipe from the BBC website. I topped the cake with a mixture of blanched almonds, hazelnuts and dried cherries.
The cake was quite sweet but had a good texture and flavour.
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I've been living in Coventry for 10 years so it's only appropriate that I chose a local recipe for the letter 'C'. The Coventry Godcake is a triangular pastry filled with mincemeat but it's also a local name for the triangle of grass you get at a road junction.
I first encountered the `grass triangle' version of the godcake in a book a couple of years ago and I've since been noticing them everywhere. There are many in the countryside surrounding the city and beyond, including one well known example outside Kenilworth Castle. I know of one in the city itself, at the junction of Stoke Green and Binley Road.
Getting back to the edible Godcake. My version was made using rough puff pastry and home made mincemeat. It was my first attempt at rough puff pastry and I was happy with the result.
I rolled the pastry out before cutting it into squares then the squares into triangles. I put a teaspoon or so of the mincemeat in the middle of one triangle then brushed the other piece with milk and pressed it down to form a seal. I made 3 cuts in the top, brushed with milk and sprinkled brown sugar on top. They were baked for about 15-20 minutes at gas mark 7.
We used to occasionally go to a Hamster Show just on the edge of Bath. I would take the bus down into the city centre to explore and do a bit of shopping. One time I went around the Cathedral, another time I walked along the river. There are a few things I would always do though: I would go to the fudge shop and buy a few bars, then to the market where I bought a couple of cakes from one stall and some loose tea from another.
I don't remember ever buying a Bath Bun so I can't compare mine to the ones sold in the city but I don't think that will be too much of a problem since the recipe has changed over the years and there are several different versions of the recipe around today.
There is a bit of controversy over the origin of the Bath Buns, with some people claiming they were invented by a physician while the Sally Lunn tea shop people claim their eponymous buns are the originals and were brought over from France by Sally herself. This has been called into dispute though, with claims that Sally Lunn is a corruption of the French 'Soleil et Lune', or Sun and Moon.
While looking for recipe suggestions, I encountered a few vintage recipes such as the one in The Art of Cookery made Easy and Refined by John Mollard and published in 1802. This used equal amounts of flour and butter and would probably result in quite a rich bun.
A version of the recipe published in Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery in 1894 is similar to a modern version published in the Daily Telegraph but with the addition of 4 eggs, which would result in quite a rich cake too.
I decided to concoct a version roughly halfway between Cassell and the Telegraph but also to make only half the quantities since enriched breads don't always keep very well and can dry out quickly. Various recipes mention caraway comfits so I attempted to do something similar and make some sugar coated seeds.
- 250g Flour
- 100ml Milk
- 2 Medium Eggs
- 75g Butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1 tsp yeast
Put the flour, salt and butter in a food processor, add the sugar and a few caraway seeds then process in pulse mode to form breadcrumbs.
Pour into a mixing bowl and add the yeast. Beat the eggs and milk together and add to the bowl. Mix to form a dough, knead for 5-10 minutes (depending on how long you can tolerate handling a rich sticky dough) and leave to rise until doubled in size. Knock back and shape the dough into 6 equal sized balls. Place these on a floured baking tray.
Brush the buns with milk and sprinkle with sugar nibs or the sugared caraway seeds. Leave the buns to rise again then bake at gas mark 5 for 15-20 minutes.
Sugared Caraway Seeds
Put 5 heaped tablespoons of sugar in a pan, adding just enough water to get it to dissolve (about 2 tbs or so) and heat it gently. Add 1 heaped tablespoon of caraway seeds and continue heating while stirring occasionally. After several minutes, the thick syrup will rapidly change from liquid to crystals. Take the pan off the heat and pour the sugared seeds onto a sheet of baking paper to cool.
When I did this, it came out more like a mixture of large crystals and some seeds with sugar attached.
I bought some semolina flour a few weeks ago when I saw a bag on offer in the supermarket. I originally bought it because I had read a few recipes which used it in combination with plain flour but the bag remained unopened until recently when I started using it instead of cornmeal to coat loaves or when rolling out pizzas.
Once I had opened it I intended to try a semolina pudding. I can't remember when I last ate this but back in primary school it was occasionally offered as a hot pudding with tinned prunes.
I started looking up recipes then found that a friend of ours had beaten me to it and had already blogged about it.
Since my 'new thing' is microwave porridge (more of that later) I tried making semolina in the microwave. I took 2 cups of milk, whisked in ⅓ cup of semolina, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a splash of vanilla essence. I cooked it at full power for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. I stirred in a tablespoon of jam to give a marbled effect. Since this makes quite a lot, there's no way I could eat that quantity all at once so I ate some while it was still hot then put the rest in a tub to set.
Getting back to the microwave porridge, since I don't like having to stand in front of the microwave making sure something doesn't boil over, I have started cooking the porridge on medium for 6 minutes. At this setting I can go away and do something else and it will cook on its own, without needing stirring.
Rustic Spanish Bread revisited
I have been baking a lot of bread recently and have been getting through a bag of bread flour in a week, when previously a bag would last for a month or more. My latest loaf was a sourdough version of the Rustic Spanish Bread I made last week. The starter was made using sourdough but the main dough used regular yeast, following their recipe.
I first grew salsify a couple of years ago. The roots were quite small and by the time I had peeled them there wasn't much left to cook. The ones I planted last year did better but I only got around to harvesting them a couple of days ago.
After peeling the roots, I tossed them in olive oil and lemon juice then sprinkled them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. They were roasted at gas mark 6 for about 20 minutes. The thick ends came out ok but the tapered ends were a bit over-cooked and had blackened.
The flavour was quite mild and there was only enough for a snack but I'll probably have another go at growing them this year.
Even though I have challenged myself to baking different 'Regional Cakes', I am still going to be trying various other new recipes including different breads. In the last week I have made two breads based on recipes in the Hairy Biker's Big Book of Baking.
The first was the 'Rustic Spanish Loaf'. I think this may be the first time I have made a loaf using an overnight starter with baking yeast, instead of sourdough wild yeasts. The resulting bread had a soft texture and a crumpet-like flavour.
The second was the 'Breakfast Bread' from the Austrian section of the book. This was an enriched dough with eggs, milk and oil, but was easier to handle than the brioche dough I made last year.
The bread was good and surprisingly quick to make. I left it to prove while we went to the shops and it had risen well by the time we got back.
The flavour wasn't as rich as brioche but it did have fewer eggs and didn't contain butter. It might be worth trying again but with a mixture of butter and oil to see what difference that makes.
Although I prefer to cook most meals more or less from scratch, I do sometimes like the occasional bit of convenience food. We sometimes have packets of flavoured noodles or the macaroni cheese `Pasta-n-Sauce' and various supermarket brands and copies. We usually add extra vegetables and a meat, such as chicken, tuna or prawns, otherwise they aren't big enough for a meal for two.
The Kraft `Mac and Cheese' is often mentioned in American TV programmes so when I was in Chicago 3 years ago (my God is it really that long ago, time has flown!) I bought a packet to bring home to try.
The British macaroni cheese packets are straightforward to cook: the entire pack of pasta and sauce powder is added to a pan of milk and water and boiled until done.
The American version comes in a box with two packets inside. The larger pack contains the pasta which needs to be cooked separately. The smaller pack is the sauce powder. The cooked pasta is drained and then mixed with butter, milk and the packet of sauce mix.
The British version is smaller but makes more sauce with more flavour. The American version ends up with a pan of pasta with practically no sauce, the milk seems to just get absorbed into the pasta leaving a thin coating. The end result is much less satisfying than a bowl of pasta in a cheese-like sauce.
I recently bought a box of `Tropical Sun' macaroni cheese, which is cooked in the same was as the Kraft mac and cheese. It was also similar to the Kraft stuff in that it was disappointing with very little sauce and was fairly tasteless.
A bowl of proper home made macaroni cheese is much better than any of the above. It's very easy to make but takes a bit longer and is a bit more effort. The hardest part of the job is to grate the cheese. Making the roux is easy, whisking in the milk is easy, adding the cheese is easy. The only real disadvantage of making it properly is the extra washing up it generates.