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.

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:
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. 
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
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? 

Monday, 30 January 2017

Goin’ Courting Cake

Courting Cake
This recipe came from Edith, who was a member of a group in Barnsley where I did a talk about Grandma's baking. ‘Courting’ in the North of England means ‘dating’ or ‘going out’ with a partner. Courting Cake is a traditional cake given as a gift to your ‘intended’ or ‘betrothed’ or whoever you had ‘got your eye on’ as a potential partner! The texture of the cake is denser than a Victoria Sandwich but lighter than Shortbread. It's usually filled and topped with lightly bruised strawberries but I’m hoping the baker’s heart doesn’t get bruised along the way…!

Courting Cake
6oz/175g butter
6oz/75g caster sugar
2 large eggs (beaten)
8oz/225g plain flour
1½ tsps baking powder
pinch bicarbonate of soda
Milk to mix

Grease and line 2 x 8 inch (21 cm) sandwich tins with baking paper.  Pre heat the oven to 180C (Fan 160c)/Mark 4/350F. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and add the beaten eggs gradually. Sift in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and bake for 25 - 30 minutes until well baked. Allow to cool before turning out onto a wire rack.

For the decoration :
8oz/225g strawberries
Double or whipping cream or butter cream
Icing sugar

Whip the cream or prepare the butter cream and spread on one cake. Slice the strawberries and put on top of the cream, reserving some for decorating the top of the cake. Put the remaining cake on top. Either dredge the top with icing sugar or cover with cream or butter cream and decorate with the reserved strawberries.

Meryl says : It’s a good way to use those luscious strawberries which we get all year round now in the markets and grocery stores and makes a gorgeous cake or dessert for Valentine’s Day. What will you bake for your Valentine? 
Try more Valentine Biscuit Recipes from Grandma’s collection :

Monday, 9 January 2017

Warm up with Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding

I’ve just made this year’s batch of marmalade with the new crop of Seville Oranges and I can’t wait to start baking all my favourite marmalade recipes. Here’s an easy Grandma recipe for Marmalade Bread and Butter pudding which will warm us up as well as making us think of the lovely area of Spain where the super Seville Oranges come from.

Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding
50g/2oz butter
8 slices slightly stale (e.g. 1 day old) bread
150g/6oz Marmalade
50g/2oz sultanas
2 tsp cinnamon
Zest of 1 orange  
350ml/12fl oz milk
50ml/2fl oz double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 (large) eggs
50g/2oz caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C/355F/ Gas 4. Grease a 1 litre/2 pint pie dish with butter. Spread butter and marmalade on each slice with. Arrange a layer of bread, buttered-side up, in the dish, then add half the sultanas. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and orange zest, then add another layer of bread, sultanas and cinnamon. Warm the milk and cream with the vanilla extract gently in a pan over a low heat. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the sugar. Add the warm milk and cream mixture and stir well. Pour this over the bread layers and sprinkle nutmeg on top. Leave to stand for 30 minutes. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the custard has set and the top is golden-brown. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Meryl says :  Don’t let the milk and cream mixture  boil - just heat gently until warm before you add it to the eggs and sugar. Serve with crème fraiche, cream or ice cream as you wish. Delicious start to the New Year!
Here’s Grandma’s easy foolproof method of making Marmalade

You may also like Grandma’s very popular 

all with a kick of ginger to enhance the taste. Let me know which you like best. Enjoy!