It is approaching Eastertime and that means it is the perfect excuse to fill your face with hot cross buns. There are few things as delicious. Grigson says that the bought buns simply don’t live up to proper old-fashioned, home-made ones on account of the omission of the butter, egg and milk and the reduction of spices. I was, therefore, quite excited about the prospect of eating my first real bona fide hot cross bun.
To make them start with a quantity of the basic bun dough that has had spices mixed in with flour. You’ll need one level teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and mixed spice, plus half a teaspoon of ground mace. Once you knock back the dough, knead in 3 ounces of raisins and 2 ounces of candied chopped peel. Roll and stretch out the dough into a long sausage and cut it into 18 discs. Roll them into balls and place on baking sheets that have been lined with greaseproof paper. Make sure you leave space enough for them to rise. Brush with beaten egg. Now roll out three ounces of either marzipan or shortcrust pastry and cut strips for the crosses, gluing them onto the buns with beaten egg. Cover the buns and let them prove for about 30 or 40 minutes. Bake at 230⁰C for 10 to 15 minutes. Toward the end of cooking, make a bun wash by boiling together 2 ounces of sugar with 5 tablespoons of water until syrupy. Brush the buns with this whilst they’re still hot and sprinkle over some crushed sugar lumps.
FYI: hot cross buns have nothing to do with Christianity. They are traditionally eaten on Good Friday and many people think that the cross symbolises the crucifix upon Jesus was crucified. Not so. The buns were eaten by Saxons to honour the goddess Eostre – the real reason why Easter exists. The cross itself symbolised the four quarters of the lunar cycle.
#237 Hot Cross Buns. These were very delicious indeed. The dough was very light, yet rich at the same time and the marzipan cross really added to the indulgence. The truly were better than a bought bun – in fact, a totally different creature. Have a go at making them yourself over Easter; they may not be the most pretty-looking hot cross buns you’ve ever seen, but they will be the tastiest! 9/10.
The eagle-eyed among you will realise that I haven’t done Baked Almond Pudding I
. It was a toss-up between the two. Almond puddings are not something I think of as English and yet there are two in here. This is one custardy in consistency and other is cakey. We were in a custard mood.
What is good about the recipe is that I get to use a new ingredient – bitter almond extract. Not something you can get hold of that easily, and I got mine from an internet site, though cake decorating shops will sell it too, I expect. This pudding is very easy to make, simply a case of mixing some ingredients in a bowl:
Mix together 4 ounces of melted butter, 4 ounces of ground almonds, a few drops of bitter almond essence, 4 large eggs, the zest and juice of half a lemon, a glass of sweet sherry, 4 ounces of sugar and a pint of single cream. Pour the whole thing into an ovenproof dish – the shape doesn’t matter, but you need to make sure the mixture is around 1 ½ inches in depth. Bake at 190⁰C for around 45 minutes so that the centre is still wobbly.
#236 Baked Almond Pudding II. “A marvellous pudding” says the Grigson, and I very much agree. It was very light in flavour and texture bearing in mind the rich ingredients. The almond essence gave it a lovely aromatic hit. It was really good cold the next day – the slightly crumbly texture of the almonds made it very similar to the filling in a Yorkshire curd tart (one of my own personal favourite desserts, though I’ve not done the recipe from the book yet). Yep, marvellous, 8.5/10.
We don’t know who Lisanne was/is, other than she was a mate of Griggers and that she made this recipe up on a whim whilst in France. The reason that it appears in English Food is that it is rather reminiscent of the old English recipes of cooking oysters with chicken. I have already done the steak, kidney and oyster pudding with great success, but the thought of a eating a chicken stuffed with mussels a little odd – and don’t forget the last mussel recipe I did was very odd. However, as we have discovered along the way, this damn book is full of surprises, so we shall see…
You need to get hold of a chicken that weighs around four or five pounds as well as a nice bag of fresh, live mussels that weighs around three or four pounds.
Begin by browning the chicken all over in some olive oil along with a large chopped onion and a chopped carrot in a flame-proof casserole. Add a bouquet garni (see here for some suggestions as to what you should put in it) and a quarter of a pint of dry white wine. Bring to a steady simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, open around two-thirds of the mussels in a very hot pan using another quarter pint of wine. Any mussels that remain closed should be discarded, Griggers says.* Pluck the mussels from their shells and carefully stuff them into the cavity of the now half-cooked chicken. Strain the cooking liquor from the mussels into the dish and tuck the remainder of the mussels all around the chicken. Season and cook for a further 30-45 minutes.
When the chicken is ready, remove it to a serving dish, scatter the mussels around it, and scatter chopped parsley all over it. Skim and strain the sauce into a sauceboat and eat with good bread – no vegetables required says Giggers, just a green salad to follow.
#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels. I must say I was very dubious about this one and continued to be dubious a few mouthfuls later. However, I put that down to the novel flavour combination because I soon realised it was very good! The chicken was beautifully succulent and the mussels tender, though cooking them this was gives the eater a real strong mussel-hit, but if you like your seafood, then certainly give this a go. The sauce made by the cooking liquor was divine. 7.5/10
*FYI: According to the telly programme QI, this is absolute nonsense and it is Jane Grigson who is to blame for this myth. The first mention of chucking out your un-opened mussels appears in Jane Grigson’s Fish Book and people have followed this advice evermore. However, there is actually no evidence that unopened mussels will poison you – in fact, you just as likely to be poisoned by a live mussel than a dead one. That said, I still chucked out my unopened ones!
If you have a nice little independent butcher or fishmonger it’s always worth having a quick nosey to see if they have anything different in. I did this at Out of the Blue
– probably the best fishmonger in the North-West, at least when it comes to getting hold of weird and wonderful ingredients like the freshwater eel from a few months ago
. Well, this time there was freshwater eel on the shelves in abundance, at least in its smoked form.
There are a few smokehouses that smoke eels in Britain, though the eels themselves are usually brought over from Holland and the surrounding countries due to the fact that are fewer of the beasties to found in British rivers.
This is not a recipe, but really a suggestion by Griggers as to the best way to appreciate smoked eel. As a starter, give each person a three inch section of eel fillet along with some good brown or rye bread and butter, a lemon wedge and perhaps some horseradish sauce. That’s it. Enjoy.
#234 Smoked Eel. A true delicacy; and the best way to treat a delicacy is to eat it in the simplest way possible. The flesh was sweet, succulent and firm, not the soft and slightly gelatinous consistency of smoked salmon which I can find rather off-putting. Don’t be squeamish and get it down yer. Fab stuff 8/10.
Here’s a slightly odd recipe, as a many from Devonshire appear to be. This squab pie contains no squabs (i.e. baby pigeons), but lamb instead. It is a mystery how it got its name – Griggers suggests that the meat has changed over the years, but the name has stuck. That’ll do for me. This is a simple enough pie to make, though the ingredients are odd: lamb, apples, prunes, spices all topped off with a dollop of clotted cream. Hmmm.
This is easy to make; a simple case of layering up ingredients in a deep pie dish. Start off by removing the meat from a whole best end of neck of lamb. If this seems too much of a chore, just buy about 1 ½ pounds of neck fillet from the butcher instead. Now peel, core and slice two pounds of dessert apples – Cox’s pippins are Jane’s suggestion, but russets and braeburns to well in these sorts of things too – slice two medium onions thinly and chop around 16 prunes. Next, mix a level teaspoon of ground allspice and cinnamon along with half a grated nutmeg in a ramekin or small cup. Layer up the meat, onions, apples and prunes, seasoning the layers with the spices and salt and black pepper as you go. Now pour over a quarter of a pint of lamb stock (use the bones from the best end of neck to make it, otherwise a stock cube!). Cover with a nice thick layer of shortcrust pastry, brush with egg and bake for 30 minutes at 200⁰C, and then turn down the oven to 160⁰C and bake for a further 45 minutes. Serve with clotted cream.
#233 Devonshire Squab Pie. This pie did not turn out to be as weird as expected. You could identify each ingredient in it, and they all stood out whilst complimenting each other very well. However, I think the pie would have been much improved had the lamb been coated in flour and browned a little first so that the flavour was more intense and a thick gravy produced. Several of these pies seem to have very runny sauces. Obviously tastes have changed. The big surprise was that the clotted cream went very well. Although it did make me feel like I was eating my main and pudding all at the same time. A good recipe that could be very easily improved. 6/10.
Ah, the pickled egg, one of England’s most traditional and bizarre delicacies; and they are certainly not to everyone’s tastes. Usually to be found in the fish and chip shop or the pub, they are strange creatures; like little biological specimens bobbing about in their brown malt vinegar jars. I reckon that people automatically expect to dislike them, and they probably would do; however, this recipe in English Food seems very good. The main reason why a pub pickled egg is snubbed that they are pickled in pure malt vinegar which makes them far too harsh. This recipe uses white wine vinegar and quail’s eggs over hen’s eggs, which means they are tiny and bite-sized rather than a great big chore. You can use hen’s eggs for this recipe though as the spiced vinegar seems so much more subtle and sweet. In fact if you ever do get a load of hen’s eggs, this would be a good way to store them. They take two weeks to pickle, so I don’t actually know what they taste like yet; we shall have to wait and see (see here
how they were).
First of all, you need to make your pickling vinegar and the amount you required will depend upon the number of eggs you want to pickle. I had dozen quail’s eggs and so only needed half a pint to fill one large jar. I’ll give you the amounts for two pints of pickling vinegar as provide by Griggers herself, you can alter amount as required. Pour two pints of white wine vinegar into a pan along with half an ounce each of fresh peeled ginger, mustard seeds and white peppercorns plus three small dried chillies. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Strain the vinegar and allow to cool. Meanwhile, place the eggs in another pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for two minutes for quail’s eggs and ten minutes for hen’s eggs. You would do well to time the simmering, you don’t want to guess the times and have over-cooked black-ringed yolks. Let the eggs cool also. Shell the eggs and arrange them tightly in a sterilised jar – if hen’s eggs arrange them upright; if quail’s don’t bother as they are far too fiddly. Pour over the spiced vinegar, tuck in the dried chillies and seal tightly. Make sure you use non-metal lids as the metal will be corroded by the acidic vinegar. Leave for two weeks before using in salads or as an hors d’oeuvre, says the Grigson. I might use them as an excuse to have fish and chips.
In my humble opinion, one of the most therapeutic things one can do is spend a few hours baking in the kitchen. Last Saturday I definitely needed therapy – stupid Microsoft wiped a load of my work; I shall not go into the boring details. Baking this cake helped me a bit; though in all honesty, getting completely pissed later on that night helped rather more.
This recipe is a variation on the basic pound cake (see here) and there have been a few of these baked by yours truly (see here). Pound cakes are very easy to make – they’re an all-in-one batter recipe, so not technique is atually required. I would advise you to use a hand mixer over any other type of mixer, which produces a better, lighter cake. Follow the recipe for the pound cake and just add a dessertspoon of caraway seeds. Easy.
#231 Seed Cake. The best of the pound cakes thus far. Not necessarily because it’s the best recipe, but because I think I’m getting better at making cakes. This was deliciously moist and didn’t need any buttercream or anything. The caraway seeds went very crispy inside. To ensure a good cake, I should say again that you should use a hand mixer and that you should also put a dish of water in the bottom of your oven if it is a fan-assisted one to prevent the cake drying out. Anyways, a great cake 7/10.