Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Waiting for Twelfth Night Cake

Christmas celebrations in Georgian times featured this rich fruit cake which was eaten on the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. But visitors to the Georgian Christmas at Cusworth Hall Doncaster didn’t seem too keen to wait till January to taste this scrumptious cake, so we had an early taste in the Great Kitchen, along with other Georgian Christmas Baking treats. I’d adapted a recipe from John Mollard’s 1803 edition of ‘The Art of Cookery’ .
Twelfth Night Cake

225g/8oz butter
225g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
1 tablespoon black treacle
4 eggs
225g/8oz plain flour
1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, cinnamon and ground nutmeg
225g/8oz each of raisins, currants and sultanas
50g/2oz chopped mixed peel
50g/2oz glacé cherries
50g/2oz ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 160/325F/Gas 3. Line a 20 cm/8 inch round cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and mix in the treacle. Whisk the eggs lightly and then add them gently to the creamed mixture, followed by the flour and spices. Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel, cherries and ground almonds and mix well. Then place the mixture into the cake tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 1½ hours until the cake is firm and a cake skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake in the tin until cool then turn out and cover with foil until ready to decorate. The cake can be decorated with marzipan and royal icing or left plain as desired.
It looks and tastes a lot like Christmas Cake but there’s an important difference. It was the custom to bake a dried bean and pea in each side of the cake and serve the cake in two halves one for ladies and the other for the gentlemen. Whoever found the bean and the pea became King and Queen for the night. 
We had some visitors from Spain who told us they had the same tradition with the bean in their splendid ‘Roscon de Reyes’.
I’ve tasted the magnificent ‘Galette des Rois’ which is an almond cake made with puff pastry which also has a (ceramic) bean baked inside. 

It was thumbs up all round for the Georgian Twelfth Night Cake. I think the Georgians had the right idea just like our Spanish and French friends to round off the Christmas celebrations with this great tradition. Once the wrapping is recycled, the decorations taken down, and the Christmas lights switched off, throw off the gloom of January with a piece of Twelfth Night Cake. Good luck -you could be a King or Queen for the day! 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Rock on, Tommy with Emma’s Rock Buns

Rock Buns or Cakes are that curious relative of scones, similar in appearance and sharing the key ingredient of dried fruit. Originally designed as a teatime treat, they proved popular because the ingredients were fairly cheap to buy. The ‘rock’ refers to their rough surface rather than the texture.
They were loved by soldiers in World War 1  amongst other recipes from the Home Front  and promoted by the Ministry of Food in World War 2 days of rationing, as they could be made with reduced sugar and fewer eggs than other bakes. 

Many families had their own Rock Buns or Rock Cakes recipe and ours was no exception. It was my Grandma’s sister, Emma who provided the trusted family recipe for Rock Buns. It was her signature bake!
Emma, Jim, cousin baby Elaine and me
My great aunt Emma, seen here with her husband, Jim in their garden had a recipe for Coconut Rock Buns where 4oz/110g desiccated coconut replaced the dried fruit. I remember eating these and Rock Buns during the 1950s when we stayed with at her home in Manchester every summer holiday.

Rock Buns
12oz/340g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
4oz/110g butter or lard
Pinch of salt
4oz/110g sugar
4oz/110g currants or raisins
2 eggs
1 teacupful of milk

Sieve the baking powder with the flour. Rub the fat into flour and salt then add the sugar and the fruit. Beat the eggs and add these to the mixture with the milk. Mix well. Put on a greased tin or on greased baking sheets and shape into small rocky heaps with two forks. Bake for 20 minutes in a fairly hot oven.  (400F, Mark 6, 200C)

Rock Buns been around since at least Victorian times. They feature in Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery and Housekeeping book 1861 and The Best Way cookery book 1907, not forgetting their starring role in the station tearoom in the 1945 film 'Brief Encounter''. 
Back in World War 1, Rock on, Tommy - but is it a bun or a cake? 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Grandmother Gingerbread does it for me

Grandmother Gingerbread
This recipe came from one of those cherished family handwritten folders. Peggy Burton lived in Mansfield and her ‘Grandmother Gingerbread’ was a popular treat for family, neighbours and friends dropping by. I did wonder how the recipe would turn out with so much black treacle but it proved a trusted formula for Gingerbread Cake. I used half the sugar and omitted the salt in Peggy's original version.
 Peggy Burton’s Grandmother Gingerbread
10oz/275g self-raising flour
3 level tsps ground ginger
1 level tsp cinnamon
40z/110g soft brown sugar
6oz/175g black treacle
6 tbsps vegetable oil
2 eggs
150ml/¼ pint milk
2oz/50g chopped walnuts
2oz/50g raisins
Pre heat the oven to 180C/ Mark 4/350C. Mix all the ingredients together (Peggy says for not less than 2 minutes!). Bake in a greased or lined cake tin (I used a cake tin measuring 8 inch x 10 inch (21cms x 25 cms ) for between 1 and half to 2 hours.
 Meryl says : This is a lovely traditional recipe which ticks all the boxes for me – easy to bake, keeps well and full of taste. The heat of the ginger is perfect to warm up those autumn days which herald the approach of the darker winter months ahead. Thanks, Peggy for a fabulous recipe!

What's your favourite autumn recipe? 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Orange Cake says ‘We still do’

We were invited to a Renewal of wedding vows ceremony recently. The venue was the in a room I know well, The Great Kitchen in The Mansion House Doncaster  which now serves as Doncaster's Registry Office.  
I did some filming with a group of university students studying for their media degrees so I was pleased to see the Kitchen Range still proudly in place alongside display cabinets in its reconfiguration as a wedding venue.
Renewing your vows has been around in Italy for some time and is a way to celebrate marriage after any length of time 2, 5, 10, 25 or 50 years together. You want the world to know you’d do it all over again. So, it called for a suitable cake at the ‘We still do’ party afterwards. C and J left it to me to choose so I baked one of my favourites, Grandma’s Orange Cake. It’s such a versatile cake and fits any occasion. 
Orange Cake
12 oz (175g) butter
12 oz (175g) caster sugar
6 eggs
12 oz (175g) self raising flour (sieved)
Grated zest of 2 oranges
Strained juice of 2 orange 
To decorate
Orange Slices
Icing Sugar 

Preheat the oven to 180°C, Mark 4, 350F. Line the base of 2 x 25 cms /10 inch cake tins with non-stick baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat the eggs and add a little at a time, adding a dessertspoonful of flour with each egg. Fold in the remaining flour, orange zest and orange juice. Divide the mixture between the cake tins and bake for about 25-30 minutes until it starts to shrink from the sides and a cake skewer inserted into the centre comes away clean. Place on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto the rack and leave until cool. Spread butter cream on the top of one cake and place the other cake on top. Decorate the top with orange slices or sprinkle with icing sugar. I made initials of their names cut out from stiff card to use as templates for the icing for a simple but effective decoration.

It was brilliant to see The Great Kitchen being put into use once again for such a lovely occasion. And everyone likes a piece of cake to celebrate!

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!
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.

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.

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?