Monday, 4 September 2017

Whisk away Georgian Macaroons and Syllabub

Georgian Macaroons
This is the 4th Georgian baking recipe to mark 300 years following the birth of James Paine, architect of The Mansion House in Doncaster. Macaroons or Ratafia Drops were a popular form of sweet in 18th century households. They would be served with tea or a glass of ratafia. 
Here’s the recipe from The Cook and Housewife’s Manual: A practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by Mistress Margaret Dods

Macaroons or Ratafia Drops
Blanch and beat, with an ounce of fine sugar and a little water, four ounces of bitter, and two ounces of sweet almonds. Add to the paste a pound of sugar, the whites of two eggs, and a little noyeau. Beat the whole well, and when light drop the batter from a biscuit funnel on paper, of the size of pigeons’ eggs, and bake the drops on tins.

There is a reference to bitter and sweet almonds. Sweet almonds are frequently used in cooking. Bitter almonds should not be eaten raw as they contain a toxic chemical which is dangerous to humans and animals. It is quite safe to use Almond extract or Almond essence, other than for anyone who has a nut allergy. I’ve used ground almonds and almond extract to bring this recipe up to date.

Macaroons or Ratafia biscuits
2 medium egg whites
175g /¾ cup caster sugar
175g /¾ cup ground almonds
½ teaspoon of almond extract
A few drops of rosewater

Pre-heat the oven to 325F / 170C / 150C fan. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. In a separate bowl mix together the ground almonds and sugar, then fold into the egg whites, together with the almond essence. The mixture needs to firm enough to roll into small balls (about the size of a walnut). If it’s too wet, add more ground almonds. Place the balls onto a baking parchment, and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden-brown. You can top with a sliver of almond. They should be crisp and crunchy on the outside, and soft and chewy in the middle.
To accompany the Macaroons, Hannah Glasse’s recipe for Syllabub from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy 1747 may prove interesting to make at home …first milk your cow!
Syllabub
To make a fine syllabub from the cow: Make your syllabub of either Cyder or Wine, sweeten it pretty sweet, and grate nutmeg in, then milk the Milk into the Liquor; when this is done, pour over the Top half a pint or pint of Cream, according to the Quantity of Syllabub you make.  You may make this syllabub at Home, only have new milk; make it as hot as milk from the Cow, and out of a tea pot or any such thing, pour it in, holding your Hand very high.
Here’s my updated version. It’s one of the easiest desserts to serve.

Syllabub
½ pint/10fl oz/300ml double cream
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
¼ pint/5fl oz/150ml white wine or a mixture of sherry and white wine
2 oz. caster sugar
Slices of lemon peel

Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Whisk until light but not too thick.  Place the mixture into small glasses and refrigerate until required. Decorate with slices of lemon peel before serving.
The visitors lapped it all up at the Georgian celebrations at Cusworth Hall in Doncaster!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Shrewsbury Biscuits are a 21st century hit

This is the 3rd recipe in the series of Georgian baking to mark 300 years following the birth of James Paine, architect of The Mansion House in Doncaster. Shrewsbury Biscuits or Cakes which are named after the town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire UK are very familiar today. In Shrewsbury Castle Foregate there is a plaque referring to Mr Palin’s unique recipe in 1760, although some early recipes date back to the 1500s and throughout its history, nutmeg, caraway and coriander seeds have featured amongst the ingredients. These spices and others, such as cardamom, cloves and ginger were used extensively in traditional baking to enhance the flavour of cakes and biscuits (and reduce the need for sugar!).

I’ve adapted a recipe for these biscuits from the 1826 The Cook and Housewife’s Manual: A practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by Mistress Margaret Dods. 

She writes : Beat half a of cold butter to a cream, and mix with it six ounces of sifted sugar, eight ounces of flour, some pounded cinnamon, two eggs beat, add a little rose water. Roll out the paste a quarter of an inch in thickness, adding a little more flour if necessary, and stamp out the cakes of any shape or size that is liked.

Here’s my updated version for a modern oven :
110g/ 4oz butter
75g/3oz sugar
200g/7oz flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg beaten 1 tsp rosewater
50g/2oz currants

Pre heat the oven to 180C or 160C fan. Rub the flour and butter together to resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, rosewater and the beaten egg. (Add the currants to the mixture at this point). Mix to a dough, and leave to chill for half an hour. Roll out to ¼ inch thick, and cut out the biscuits. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden-brown.

I find it fascinating that we still enjoy these recipes from the past. Shrewsbury Biscuits certainly proved to be a 21st century hit with the visitors!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Georgian Seed Cake stands the test of time

Georgian celebration events continue at Cusworth Hall with a Georgian Family day with activities for everyone to enjoy. In the Great Kitchen, I prepared favourite baking recipes from the Georgian and Regency era for visitors to sample. Seed Cake proved as popular as then. This recipe from The Universal Cook written in 1806 by Francis Collingwood & John Woollams, who were principal cooks at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand, proves that good recipes can stand the test of time.
I’ve adapted the old recipe for modern ovens. The Georgian baker would use a Hoop which is a round metal band without a top or a bottom but nowadays, an ordinary cake or loaf tin would be fine.

Seed Cake
225g/8 oz butter
225g/8 oz sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
225g/8oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tsps caraway seed
1 tbsp ground almonds
Pinch of salt
A little milk to mix 
1 tbsp demerara sugar for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to Mark 3, 170C. Grease and line an 21cm/8 inch cake tin. Cream the butter and fat with the sugar. Add the eggs gradually. Mix the flours, baking powder, mixed spice, salt and caraway seed together. Fold these into the creamed mixture. Add a little milk to give a soft consistency. Pour into the cake tin and sprinkle demerara sugar on the top if desired. Bake in a slow oven for about one and a half hours. 

It’s the caraway seed with its distinctive anise taste which divides everyone on taste. Where do you stand on caraway seed – love it or hate it? 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Come to tea ...


I can’t resist this invitation to 'Come to Tea' from one of Sheila’s old recipe books. It’s an interesting teabread recipe for Orange Walnut Bread. The old recipe refers to cupfuls for most of the ingredients so I’ve suggested metric and imperial weights and measures where necessary.  It’s a lighter teabread than the usual ones with dried fruit so I think it would have been a popular summer recipe.
Orange Walnut Bread
5 cupfuls flour (550g/1lb 4oz)
1 cupful wheatmeal (110g/4oz)
6 tsps baking powder
1 cupful sugar (110g/40z)
½ cupful mixed peel (50g/2oz)
½ cupful chopped walnuts (50g/20z)
2 cupfuls milk (300ml/½ pint)
1 egg

Pre the oven to 170C/Mark 3/325F Sift the flour, wheatmeal, baking powder and sugar together. Stir in the mixed peel and walnuts. Mix thoroughly, then lightly beat in the milk and egg. Turn into 2 greased or lined loaf tins. Bake for 45 minutes in a moderate oven.
 Meryl says : This recipe works very well as a teabread especially when spread with lashings of butter. It’s a perfect addition to Grandma Abson's Afternoon tea repertoire!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Georgian Gingerbread takes the biscuit

This year marks 300 years following the birth of James Paine, architect of The Mansion House Doncaster. A number of events are being held to commemorate this occasion and it was a great delight to be able to try out some Georgian/Regency baking recipes at an event earlier this month.

I adapted a recipe from the 1826 The Cook and Housewife’s Manual: A practical System of Modern Domestic Cookery and Family Management by Mistress Margaret Dods.

Gingerbread
Two pounds of flour, a half pound of brown sugar, a half pound of orange peel cut into bits, an ounce of ground ginger, half an ounce of caraway seeds, cloves, mace, and some allspice. Mix with these a pound and a half of treacle, and a half pound of melted butter. Mix the ingredients well together, and let them stand for some hours before rolling out the cakes. The paste will require a little additional flour in rolling out. Cut the cakes, mark, the top in diamonds with a knife, and bake them on tin plates.
 

Georgian Gingerbread proved popular with visitors today as well as in the Georgian era. Here’s my version for a modern oven:
Gingerbread
175g/6oz black treacle or molasses
50g/20z butter
50g/2oz light brown sugar
250g/9oz plain flour
50g/2oz orange peel/mixed peel
1-2 teaspoonsful ground ginger
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice

Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C fan oven. Warm the sugar, butter and black treacle/molasses in a pan until melted. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the sugar/butter/molasses mix. Mix well, then leave in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1 cm, then cut into diamond shapes. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes.


The black treacle made for a more intense flavour and a heavier texture than the lighter Gingerbread we are more used to nowadays. What's your take on Georgian era baking? 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Looks as good as it tastes

Grandma Abson’s recipes have always had fantastic feedback about their taste, texture and simplicity but capturing all that in a simple photo has proved more of a challenge for me than baking her recipes.

I only have one photo of Grandma with a cake and that's the one on her ninetieth birthday but, since starting to write Grandma Abson’s blog, I’ve amassed a wealth of photos of her wonderful baking at talks and events to celebrate her legacy.
I’ve also learnt some tips and tricks about what works and what doesn’t in food photography by seeing what professional photographers do and looking at food photos in magazines, cookbooks and websites to try to make Grandma’s baking look just as inviting as the taste. My early attempts didn’t do justice to her recipes but I’d like to think that, although I’m not a photographic genius, I’ve made some progress. Most of all, the advent of the smart phone camera has made it much more accessible for me. Developments in cameras such as the ones that Light is coming up with for its new compact camera show see how far camera technology has come and what the future holds. So, here are my 5 ideas for perfect Food-tography:
Make the food look tempting You don’t need to use the tricks of the professional food stylists but it’s worth cutting into a Paradise Cake so it looks as if you are inviting the viewer to take a slice.
Balance the shot Arrange the ingredients for Parkin so you are showing exactly what’s needed. You may need to move the items around the board to draw the eye to a different angle.
Check the lighting Try to use natural light and not flash unless necessary. It’s about creating the right ambiance for these Flakemeal Biscuits so it’s not too harsh or dull.
Crop the first attempt This can work if you are focussing down on a key element of these Yorkshire Puddings and may have included too much detail in your first attempt.
Check the camera tools It’s well worth checking out the other tools to edit your photos as they can turn an acceptable photo into an exceptional one with the Easter chicks loving this Simnel Cake.
Grandma would have found it quite amazing to see how far taking photos of her mouth-watering recipes has come. So just as we can’t resist the aromas and tastes of home baking straight out of the oven, the same applies to making sure it looks as good it tastes! Have you got more camera tips to snap that taste?

Monday, 29 May 2017

A safe pair of hands

Grandma Abson was never too explicit about baking temperatures. The oldest recipes in her collection were not precise with ‘cool, slow, fast, warm, moderate, fairly hot, hot and very hot’ being common descriptors. Her early years cooking on Yorkshire black leaded ranges had equipped her with that mysterious knowledge of what was just the right heat for 
In fact, much of her expertise in baking was based on practice she thought was common sense such as making sure the oven was heated up and getting the ingredients to room temperature before starting to mix. 
Modern ovens have good temperature regulators and controls so we can preheat our oven and know when it’s ready to put in our bakes. Oven mitts and gloves provide essential protection for our hands to take things in and out of the oven.
Back in Grandma’s early days as a below stairs cook for  her employer, Mrs. Hick and her family, Grandma had been told to put her hand in the oven to check the temperature. Thankfully, we don’t do have to do this now. Although Grandma never said she hurt her hands, the chances of a serious burn must have been high. Don’t do what Grandma did but instead wear oven gloves or mitts at all times when putting bakes in and taking them out of the oven to protect your hands from burns.
Grandma worked with coal, gas and electric ovens during her life and was always keen to keep the oven clean. Fortunately, we don’t have to ‘black lead’ now but we do need to keep our ovens and microwaves clean as grease is a major source of fire in the home and half of all house fires start in the kitchen. Electrical Safety First has more tips and advice. 
Take care and follow these simple rules to stay safe in the kitchen. Grandma wouldn’t want us to take safety in the kitchen for granted. It’s a piece of cake really! 
Have you got a tip or a story to share for a safe pair of hands? 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Dutch Apple Pie is the pick of the crop

This has to be one of the best Apple Pie recipes I’ve ever tasted - in fact it’s the pick of the crop! It’s even better using the Dutch Speculaas spice from The Speculaas Spice Company for the cinnamon and nutmeg spices.

For the pastry base
8oz/225g Shortcrust pastry 
For the filling
3 large Bramley apples (or 2 Bramley + 2 Braeburn apples)
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsps plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
For the topping
3 oz/75g butter
4oz/110g plain flour
2oz/50g demerara sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Pre heat the oven to 180C (Fan 160c)/Mark 4/350F. Line a 9 inch/23 cm flan or pie dish with the pastry and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Chop the peeled apples into slices and chunks, place in a pan on the hob and add the lemon zest and juice. Simmer for 3-5 minutes and allow to cool. Mix in the cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour the filling into the flan case. Prepare the topping; in a bowl rub the butter into the flour, add the sugar and cinnamon and mix until coarsely crumbled. Spread this mixture on top of the apple filling. Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes until the top of the pie is golden brown. Serve with crème fraiche, cream or ice cream.
You can make small Dutch Apple Pie tartlets in the same way. Cut circles (approx 4-5 inch/10-12 cm) of shortcrust pastry. Place in a deep bun tin.  Add 1-3 tbsps of the filling and 1 tbsp of the topping. Bake for 20 minutes.


Meryl says : Bramley apples on their own will make a soft filling as in a British Apple Pie. Using a hard dessert apple such as Braeburn will add crisp chunks of apple. A Dutch friend, Eva tells me that 
using a mixture of soft and hard apples will fit well with the Dutch tradition. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ginger up the shortbread

 
Ginger and Orange Shortbread biscuits
I’m a great fan of using ginger in baking so enjoy adapting Grandma’s traditional recipes with this distinctive spice, long known for its medicinal benefits. Dotted with ginger pieces, Grandma’s shortbread biscuits were ideal as they are buttery and work well in the original recipe. I’ve added orange zest and citrus peel since these complement the ginger taste. 
Ingredients
150g/5oz butter
225g/8oz plain flour
75g/3oz sugar
Zest of an orange
50g/2oz mixed peel
2 tsps powdered ginger
50g/2oz stem ginger or ginger pieces (with a few more pieces for decoration)
1 yolk of egg
Rub the butter into the flour and add the sugar, orange zest, mixed peel, ginger and stem ginger. Then add the egg yolk and work into the flour as quickly as possible, making a dry dough. The mixture must be kept dry. Roll out thinly and cut into rounds. Top with more ginger pieces as a decoration before baking. Bake for 25 minutes in a slow oven. (300F, Mark 2, 150C)

Enjoy Shortbread biscuits at any time of year with.... . 
and these ginger Easter chicks and bunnies
I’m always on the lookout for more ideas so let me know if you have another flavour to try with Shortbread. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Carrot Cake stands proud

Carrot Cake
Carrot Cake has been around since medieval days but in more recent times became popular during the 1940s when food was rationed and everyone grew carrots in their gardens. So because there were gluts of carrots, the Ministry of Food distributed lots of recipes to use them up in cakes and puddings.  Carrot Cake has a ‘healthy’ cake tag and also appears in the top ranks of favourite traditional tea time treats. Here's Grandma's recipe for a perfect carrot cake!

Carrot Cake
6oz/175g self raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
4oz/110g butter
4oz/110g soft brown sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
4oz /110g carrots grated
1 tbsp honey
grated zest and juice of ½ orange

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Mark 4. Grease and line a 7inch/18cms cake tin. Sift the baking powder and cinnamon into the flour. Add the grated carrot and mix well. Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the eggs gradually. Fold in the flour mixture together with the carrots, honey, orange zest and juice.  Place the mixture in the cake tin. Bake for 45 minutes approximately. Leave to cool then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the topping
4oz/110g icing sugar
2oz/50g butter
zest and juice of ½ orange
walnuts
Beat the icing sugar and butter together then add the orange zest and juice. Cover the top of the cake with the mixture and arrange the walnuts on top.  Or top with a glace icing or cream cheese instead if you prefer.

Meryl says : Carrot Cake is a moist cake and keeps well for a few days in an airtight container. Could a small slice of this be one of our 5 day a day?😋

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Abernethy biscuits and a quick digestion fix

 Abernethy biscuits
Looking through some old recipe books which Sheila from Eckington kindly sent me, I came across a recipe for the famous Abernethy biscuits. These biscuits were named after Dr John Abernethy, an 18th century Scottish doctor who baked biscuits with caraway seeds which were thought to be beneficial to digestion. They are really an early digestive biscuit and are still popular today in Scotland. I’ve added some oven temperatures to the original recipe. 

 Abernethy biscuits
8ozs/225g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
3ozs/75g butter
3ozs/75g sugar
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 egg (beaten)
1 tbsp milk

Pre heat the oven to 375F/190C/Mark 5 Sift the flour and baking powder into a basin. Rub in the butter.  Add the sugar and caraway seeds and moisten with the beaten egg and milk until the mixture forms a stiff dough. Turn onto a floured board and roll out thinly. Cut into rounds. Place on a greased baking tray and prick each one with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes in the oven.

Meryl says : Whether they fix your digestion or not, these biscuits are very tasty. They'll keep for a week in an airtight tin – that’s unless they are snapped up for a morning coffee treat! 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

French Rhubarb Flan isn’t just rhubarb, rhubarb!


French Rhubarb Flan 
The annual Rhubarb Festival of Food and Drink in Wakefield is almost upon us and forced rhubarb is appearing in the markets and grocery stores across the country. I love the tender sweetness of the young rhubarb which is grown in dark sheds in the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire. It makes delicious  rhubarb crumbles and tartes to savour. Looking through an old recipe book which Sheila from Chesterfield sent me, I came across French Rhubarb Flan. I’ve brought the recipe up to date and added a few more suggestions. It looks impressive but is easy to bake.
 French Rhubarb Flan
250g/9oz Rhubarb
1 tbsp Demerara sugar
175g/6oz shortcrust pastry
50g/2oz butter
50g/2oz (golden) caster sugar
2 eggs – yolks and whites separated
1 tbsp milk
50g/2oz plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
25g/1oz ground almonds
½ tsp ground ginger
50g/2oz (white) caster sugar

Pre heat the oven to 325F, Mark 3, 160C, 140C Fan.
Prepare the Rhubarb
Wash and cut the rhubarb into 2cms/1 inch chunks. Place on a baking tray and sprinkle the sugar over them. Then cook the pieces in the oven for about 15 minutes until tender but so they still hold their shape. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Line a 21 cm/8 inch flan dish with the pastry, wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Prepare the Filling
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the yolks of eggs and mix with the milk. Then mix the flour, ground almonds, ginger and baking powder together. Add the flour and egg mixtures alternately to the creamed butter and sugar, mixing well. Place the cooked rhubarb pieces in the flan dish over the pastry and then spoon the mixture over the rhubarb. Bake for 30 minutes and remove from the oven to add the meringue topping.

Prepare the meringue topping
Whisk the whites of the eggs in a bowl until stiff. Add the sugar a little at a time and continue to whisk. Spoon the meringue on the top of the tart and make a pattern of swirls. Cook in a slow oven for about 20-25 minutes until the meringue is slightly brown.

Meryl says : Serve hot or cold with crème fraiche, yoghurt, ice cream or custard. It will keep well for a couple of days. What your favourite Rhubarb recipe?