Chapter 7: Teatime – Completed!

When I started this project, baking wasn’t the seemingly national pastime as it is now since the rise of the behemoth that is The Great British Bake Off, but it was something I liked to do and was okay at, but certainly had a very narrow baking repertoire. I certainly never baked bread or biscuits, my cake-making was average, but I did make a passable shortcrust pastry. After baking my way through the recipes in this chapter, my world was opened up to a vast array of sticky, spicy, sweet and sometimes stodgy treats, many of which are now standards in my own cooking.

Baking #429 Cumberland Currant Cake
People are sick of mass-produced cakes and biscuits devoid of real flavours, covered in single-use plastic wrapping. Many of the recipes were quite obscure then and I wouldn’t have bothered with them normally, they seem less so now as people all over the country are looking to tradition in their home baking. That said, some recipes in the book are still obscure and old fashioned: you still don’t see #227 Wigs, #62 Seed Cake, #274 Saffron Cake or #431 Murrumbidgee Cake. All these recipes can be found within the pages of English Food.

#113 Muffins
The Teatime chapter was a whopper; so big  I had to split it into four parts, otherwise it would have felt like a never-ending task as there were 72 recipes!
I split them into:
·       7.1: Bread (15 recipes)
·       7.2: Cakes & Tarts (35 recipes)
·       7.3: Pancakes & Griddle Cakes (13 recipes)
·       7.4: Biscuits (9 recipes)

Click on the hyper-links to see my reviews of the four sections.

The chapter scored an overall mean score of 7.0, which seems pretty average for the book so far. For those who care (and I know none of you do), here’s a little bar chart showing the mean scores for the chapter as a whole and then the separate subchapters. There are even error bars, don’t say I don’t treat you.

One important thing I learnt was that Teatime treats are not always sweet cakes and biscuits, but sandwiches made with a variety of breads, toast, muffins and crumpets.


There are blurred lines between my distinctions too; cakes used to be leavened with yeast before the advent of chemical raising agents so there is a continuum between bread and cake, cake and tart, tart and biscuit, biscuit and cake.

#186 Cheese and Oat Biscuits


But where does our obsession with teatime come from?

Well, tea had been drunk in Britain from around 1660; Charles II enjoyed a cuppa char every now and again, that’s for sure. However, it was extremely expensive and only the richest of folk could afford this exotic Chinese drink. It only really started to catch on when Assam tea plants were discovered to be growing in India in the 1820s. Prior to this, the Chinese had held the whole process of tea growing and drying under a shroud of secrecy. The British could buy their tea much more cheaply – it was also the catalyst for the British occupation of India, but that’s a story for another day. It was still expensive at this point, but the upper and middle-upper classes starting drinking it with gusto.

Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford
The idea of teatime as we know it originates in the mid-19thcentury when the 7th Duchess of Bedford started asking for tea and bread and butter to be served to her in her room at 4 o’clock. The reason she did this was to quash her hunger pangs as she waited for dinner at 9 o’clock. Then, the only other meal of the day was breakfast. She started inviting her lady friends to enjoy her, and soon her lady friends began their own teatimes and invite other ladies to attend. The Duchess was very prominent in society and was good friends with Queen Victoria, so when her Royal Highness decided to start taking tea in afternoon too, the country went nuts.
The Queen had elaborate teas, and whatever she was doing, and wherever she might have been, she stopped for tea at around 4 o’clock. It would be very common for an en routequeen to stop her carriage and entourage, for a fire to be lit at the roadside, and for her to sup tea and eat the associated treats. She loved travelling and eating but found it much less exciting once her travel occurred mainly by train and there was no need to stop for tea anymore!

Making dough
Ladies had to be seen hosting teatimes and attending teatimes, one must have needed quite some stamina to trawl across the town or village several times so that one could be noticed.
Some disapproved of teatime, Sir Henry Thompson in 1891 said it was an undesirable habit as it was too generous and spoiled the coming dinner. He may well have been right, those poor ladies must have eaten and drank their fill when doing their rounds.
A truly traditional teatime is made up of sandwiches of cold meats and watercress. Cucumber was not originally popular as people regarded it with distain thinking raw cucumber was poisonous. It was also a rigmarole to prepare the sandwiches in advance; just using sliced cucumber made sandwiches soggy, so the slices had be salted overnight to draw out moisture, then rinsed and individually patted dry.

#270 Mereworth Biscuits
Joining the sandwiches were crumpets, muffins, wigs and seed cakes. Seed cakes were very popular because the caraway seeds that went into them were one of the very few spices that could be grown in Europe. There would be lashings of butter, honey and jam too of course.
Sweet sponge cakes like Victoria sponges were not generally eaten by the grown-ups, but instead made up the bulk of the nursery tea, though I’m sure there are many adults today who would prefer it!
I spotted a great reference to a Victorian book called Walsh’s Manual of Domestic Economy, which recommended, as part of a child’s teatime, a wineglass of homebrew to ‘restore health to the most delicate children’. Get that top tip on Mum’s Net!
Personally, I am very glad that home baking and teatime have regained popularity in Britain. I hope it’s not a fad and we all start buying Mr Kipling’s Fondant Fancies again in 18 months’ time or whatever.
Long may it continue!

7.1 Bread – Completed!

So with the baking of #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns I’ve completed the Breadsection of the Teatime chapter, and it has been a mixed bag. Looking back over the posts, very few have stuck in my mind; in fact I don’t even remember cooking some of them! I have no recollection of #81 Northumbrian Wholemeal Scones, for example. What is strange is that I seem to score the recipes quite highly. I think it was just the novelty of baking bread creating bias; for the first time my house was being filled with the smell of freshly-baked bread, and I was getting to taste real bread made with fresh yeast. Even if it was a slightly stodgy, under kneaded doorstop.
The totally forgettable Wholemeal Scones

Jane doesn’t give much advice to the total novice and assumes we have an idea of the bread-making process. When she does give advice, it is wrong; for #53 Electric Dough Hook Bread, she advises us to mix the dough only briefly. This does not create a good, fluffy loaf, though I was impressed at the time.
Electric Dough Hook Bread
 

 However, it is Jane’s writing that provides such detail about the history of the recipes, one cannot resist getting interested, so I bought Elizabeth David’s tome, English Bread & Yeast Cookery, which again, got me hooked even more so. After baking many of her recipes, I was still finding the bread I was making not quite up to scratch. It was simply practise that got me there – trial and error, and getting used to the feel of dough that had been kneaded sufficiently to produce a good, light loaf. The penny dropped for me whilst I was living in Saint Louis. Only then, did I realise that some of the recipes work very well, but others really do not.

The real star of the chapter is the #224 Basic Bun Dough recipe which can be used to make #370 Chelsea Buns and (my personal favourite) #370 Chelsea Buns. #104 Wiltshire Lardy Cake piqued my interest and I worked on Jane’s recipe to produce one that works well for me, appearing on a pop-up restaurant menu as part of a dessert. I feel I really need to revisit others of the same ilk such as #227 Wigs and #274 Saffron Cake from Cornwall.

The winning recipe – Chelsea Buns
Recipes that simply do not work are #401 Plum Bread and #419 Cobb’s Bath Buns.

Now you may think I am being critical – perhaps over critical – of my food goddess, but over and above what I think of the recipes within this part of the book, the end result is a chap who can now bake bread, knows what good bread is, and who will never, ever, buy a plastic-wrapped Chorleywood supermarket loaf ever again. Surely this is the point?

Wiltshire Lardy Cake
Here’s the full list of recipes as they appear in the book with their scores. The Bread recipes averaged out with a mean score of 6.9.

#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns

The Roman Baths

The great thing about Bath is that it has such history; you cannot help but find something to be amazed by at the turn of every street corner.

The famous spa at Bath has attracted people for millennia – there is archaeological evidence of human settlement going back 10,000 years. Bath was founded in 863BC by a chap called Bladud. Suffering from leprosy, he had been ostracised from society and found that bathing in the warm, muddy springs, after seeing pigs doing the same, cured him. It must have put him in fine fettle because he later went on to become the ninth King of the Britons and to father King Lear.

Of course it was the Romans that really transformed the place, creating the town Aqua Sulis with the baths that are there today in fine working order.

From the point of view of food, however, Bath really came into its own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was deluged by the holidaying  middle classes. The Roman Baths and Pump Room were restored to their former glories after centuries of neglect, making Bath the best and most popular of all the spa towns. This wasn’t just because of its locality to London, or that it was in a lovely part of England; it was because Bath simply had the best of everything. It was a trade epicentre: excellent salt marsh lamb from Wales, a seemingly endless supply of fruit and vegetables from Tewkesbury, cider from Glastonbury, apricots, cherries and plums from the Cotswolds, cream and junkets from Devon and Somerset, excellent freshwater fish – especially elvers – from the Severn Valley as well as sea fish from the ports of Cornwall, all came to one place. And that was just British produce! I haven’t mentioned the French brandy, the Spanish wine or the exotic spices from further afield.

All this has made Bath what it is today. Its food heritage, however, seems to have been boiled down into two things: Bath buns and Sally Lunns.

I’ve never seen either Bath buns or Sally Lunns anywhere other than Bath itself, which just goes to show that we still have regional cooking in an age of a swirling population. I like that you don’t see them everywhere; it makes eating one a rare treat to be relished. There are, of course, stories attached to the invention of these enriched breads which should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

A bath bun is a large fruit bun, made with dough similar to that of a Chelsea bun or hot cross bun. The bread dough is enriched with eggs, sugar and currants. At the bottom of each bun is a lump of sugar and the freshly-baked bun is finished with a sticky wash, extra currants and crushed loaf sugar or sugar nibs.

The Bath bun is said to have been invented by a doctor called William Oliver in the 18th century. After his patients visited the Roman baths he would give them a nourishing Bath bun. It was soon apparent that his plan was not working as he expected when he realised his patients were getting somewhat portly. He withdrew the buns and replaced them with hard, dry water biscuits.

I must say that I would have become a hypochondriac if I was one of Oliver’s patients! I would have used any excuse to get my hands on one. They are so delicious – sweet and sticky and very bad for you. I can’t put the attractiveness of the Bath bun better than W Chambers, writing in his Edinburgh Journal of 1855:

The Bath-bun is a sturdy and gorgeous usurper – a new potentiate, whose blandishments have won away a great many children, we regret to say, from their lawful allegiance to the plum-bun. The Bath-bun is not only a toothsome dainty, but showy and alluring withal. It was easier for ancient mariners to resist the temptations of the Sirens, than it is for a modern child to turn away from a Bath-bun…Large, solid, and imposing, it challenges attention, and fascinates its little purchasers.

We can see from this quote that the Bath bun was popular, not just in Bath, but England and Scotland, so what happened to it? Enriched breads are still pretty popular in Britain, even with the advent of comparatively modern chemically-aerated sponge cakes. Strange.

Here’s the recipe that appears in English food. It contains no currants, which I think are as essential as the sugar lumps:

First of all make the ferment – sometimes called a sponge – a yeasty batter that gets the microbial metabolism underway quick smart. Mash together 1 ½ ounces of fresh yeast with the same weight of granulated sugar in a little water taken from ½ pint of blood-heat water. Add the remainder of the water and leave until the mixture has begun to foam, around 20 minutes. As you wait, weigh out 15 ounces of eggs in their shells and crack them into a bowl. Beat in 5 ounces of strong white bread flour and then add the yeast mixture once foaming. Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel so that it can rise for around an hour.

To make the dough, mix into the ferment the following: 30 ounces of strong white bread flour, 12 ounces of softened butter, 3 ounces of granulated sugar, 12 ounces of broken sugar lumps, a good pinch each of mixed spice and salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

Jane says for us to knead this dough together; good luck with that, the mixture is more a batter than a dough. I did this impossible task in my Kitchen Aid. Cover and leave to prove again until its double the size, which could take 90 minutes or longer with such an enriched dough weighed down with so many goodies.

Knock back the dough (the best part of the bread-making process) and ‘shape the dough into pieces the size of a small Cox’s orange pippin’. Good luck with that, too.
Somehow place the pieces of dough on baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper, cover with plastic bags and allow to rise again.

Bake at 200⁰C for around 20 minutes, swapping trays half way though to achieve an even bake.

When almost baked, make the bun wash by boiling together 2 ounces of sugarwith 5 tablespoons of water. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, place on racks and brush with the syrupy mixture. Lastly, crumble over more broken sugar lumps.
#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns. As with many of Jane’s recipes from theBread section of the book I didn’t get on very well with this recipe. The dough was tricky to handle and I couldn’t achieve the proud, round shape I expect from a Bath bun. They also seemed to stale almost immediately. Bit of a damp squib for the last recipe in this section. 3.5/10.

#401 Plum Bread

I made this bread (the penultimate recipe in the Breadpart of the Teatime chapter) all the way back last autumn when plums were in season. It has taken me only four months to pull my finger out and tell you about it.

This is a recipe from a book called British Cooking by Theodora Fitzgibbon published all the way back in 1965. I just a quick search of her back catalogue and she has written a huge series of books on British and Irish cookery. (I ordered a load off that evil website that rhymes with Schlamzon, don’t judge me.)

Jane points out that raisins can replace plums out of season. Here’s what to do:

This is an old school recipe and so it starts with an ounce of fresh yeastcreamed in 3 tablespoons of warm milk. Leave it to do its stuff for 10 minutes and in the meantime mix together 8 ounces of strong white flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the grated zest of a lemon in a bowl.

Make a well in the centre and plop in a large beaten egg, 2 ounces of melted, but tepid, butter and the yeast. Now mix to form the dough. What Jane does not mention is that this dough is so stiff it couldn’t possibly make a decent loaf of bread. Nevertheless, once the dough is (somehow) kneaded to make a smooth dough, place it in an oiled bowl with some clingfilm over it.

Next stone and chop enough plums to make 8 ounces and knead these into the bread. This was quite simply an impossible task, the dough was so stiff that the plums just squashed and made a pulpy mess. This required the food mixer.

“Mix in the plums, this makes the dough sticky”, says Jane. Well the Kitchen Aid made it into a big old sloppy mess, and I was not feeling hopeful.

Pour this mixture into a buttered and lined 9 inch loaf tin and leave it prove until the dough comes to the top of the tin. Bake for an hour at 190⁰C, remove and see if it sounds hollow, if not, pop it back in for another 15 minutes.

#401 Plum Bread. Of all the hundreds of bread recipes in England, why did Jane pick this one? It was so difficult to make and really was not worth the effort. Although the plums were delicious and sweet, the final bread had a strange sour taste. Its texture was very close and cakey. I am wondering if there was a typo or something somewhere in the recipe (I have spotted quite a few in other recipes). Disappointing and took up far too much of my time. 3/10.


#370 Chelsea Buns

‘The best of all buns, on account of their buttery melting sweetness, and the fun of uncoiling them as you eat them’
Jane Grigson

Chelsea buns are indeed delicious, and I think I may agree with Ms Grigson that they are indeed the best. Things are often a far cry away from their best when one makes them ourselves. And after all, what is the point of making something at home if it isn’t as good or better than what you can get in the shops?

The Chelsea bun is an 18thcentury invention, created in the Old Chelsea Bun House, situated between Chelsea and Pimlico. Curiously, noone is absolutely sure of its exact location, but it is known that Kings George II and III visited often. It finally closed in 1839.
The Old Chelsea Bun House
For those of you not in the know, Chelsea buns are made from coils enriched bread dough filled with butter, dark brown sugar and dried fruit and brushed in a sticky sweet glaze.
To make your own Chelsea buns you will need to prepare a batch of #224 Basic Bun Dough, which I first made many moons ago and is also used to make #237 Hot Cross Buns.
Knock back the dough, stretch and roll it into a rectangle of approximately 12 inches by 18 inches so that it is set out before you like a landscape and not a portrait painting.
 
Melt 2 ounces of butter and brush the dough with it, then sprinkle 3 ounces of dark brown sugar evenly over that. Finally, scatter with 3 ounces of raisins and 2 ounces of candied orange peel. Make sure everything goes right up to the edges of your dough. Now start to roll it up; start at one far corner and carefully fold the dough over along the long side.
When you get to the end, go back to the start and start rolling up one section of a time. It needs to be quite a tight roll, so lift the rolled up dough a little to stretch it as you coil it up. Keeps going until it’s all rolled up – it’s quite easy to develop the knack.

Using a good serrated knife or a dough scraper, neaten the roll by taking off the two ends (these can be rolled up to make little teacakes). Now cut the dough into 18 equal pieces. This is easier than it sounds – first cut it into thirds, then cut those thirds into halves to make 6 pieces, and then cut those small bits into thirds again! Breaking it down like that ensures you get even-sized buns.

Grease one large or two medium tins and arrange the buns inside, leaving a gap of about half an inch between them and the sides of the tin. Brush with some beaten egg, then cover with a damp cloth so that they can prove for 20 to 30 minutes until the coils are just touching. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 230⁰C (450⁰F). While the buns are baking, make a bun wash by boiling together 5 tablespoons of water and 2 ounces of sugar until syrupy. When the buns are ready, the edges will be well-joined and the tops nicely browned. Brush over with the bun wash and sprinkle over some crushed up sugar cubes if liked.

It might be tempting to dive straight into the buns while they are hot, but they do eat better if cold or barely warm.

#370 Chelsea Buns. These were brilliant and better than any you can buy – the dough was light and fluffy, the fruit soft and darkly sweet. Excellent with a cup of tea. Definitely the best bread recipe from the Breadsection so far, and not as tricky to make as you’d think. Go and make some! 10/10.

#274 Saffron Cake from Cornwall

A man who is stingy with saffron is capable of seducing his own grandmother.” Norman Douglas, 1848-1952
It goes without saying that saffron is a wee bit pricey. Only three tiny stigmas are plucked from each autumn crocus which means that a pound of saffron strands requires up to 75 000 flowers and can cost up to £2500 per pound in the UK and $5000 per pound in the USA. Lucky for us it is very pungent and is only needed in very small amounts. I bought a small packet for about $10 which I have used in a few dishes already like the Fifteenth Century Apple Fritters and the Coronation Doucet. In days of yore, if you wanted to impress your guests and flash your cash a bit, you couldn’t go far wrong by sprinkling some saffron your pottage or whatever. The long-distance trade in saffron goes all the way back to the second millennium BC at least and there has even been a war over it. It was also thought to cure the black plague. For this recipe it takes centre stage, and so it should, I love the stuff though it wouldn’t necessarily lead me to fisticuffs…

The saffron flower
For some reason saffron isn’t used that often in English cuisine – I only really see it pop up in Asian food and in fishy things like paella. However, it has hung on in the form of this bread from Cornwall. I’d not heard of it myself, but it is interesting in that this recipe predates the invention of raising agents such as baking powder, so to make it light, yeast is used. Because it’s fermented, it appears in the bread section of the book rather than the cake section.
The evening before you want to make the cake (actually cakes, as this recipe makes two) put a generous pinch of saffron strands into a few tablespoons of warm water. It will steep and infuse to make a stunning orange-coloured scented water.
Weigh out two pounds of plain flour and eight ounces of sugar then make the leaven. For the leaven, crumble an ounce of fresh yeast into a small bowl. Pour over a quarter of a pint of warm water along with 2 heaped tablespoons from the flour and a heaped teaspoon from the sugar. Whisk everything together and leave to rise and froth up for around half an hour. Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl and place it in the warming oven for 10 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and mix in half a teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Now rub in six ounces each of lard and butter. This is quite easy as the flour is warm.
By now the yeast should be metabolising like a crazy thing, so make a well in the centre of the flour and pour it in alongside the saffron liquid and strands plus half a pint of warmed milk. Using your hands, mix everything together to form a dough. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and allow to rise and double in bulk. The time this takes depends on the temperature of your kitchen.
Knock-back the dough and mix in 8 ounces of mixed dried fruit and 2 ounces of chopped, candied lemon peel and place in two greased loaf tins. Cover again and allow to prove until they have puffed up. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 220°C (425°F). Let them cool for a few minutes before taking them out of the tins and placing them on a wire rack.
Jane doesn’t suggest a way to eat the cake but I ate it with some cream cheese and honey.
#274 Saffron Cake From Cornwall – this was rather unusual. The cake was leavened with yeast (was that a tautology?) rather than baking powder which made it rather dense; more a cross between a tea loaf and a scone than a cake. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but it grew on me rather. The saffron flavour came through and I thought it gave the cake slightly anaesthetic properties. I expect if you ate enough you could have a root canal without wincing no problem. I brought it into work where it seemed to go down quite well, which is always nice. People scored it quite highly, but I’m a right stingy marker – 5.5/10.



#257 Cinnamon Toast

Sorry for the lax attitude towards the blog everyone, but I have an excuse! I have now moved into my apartment in Midtown Houston, and I have been getting it filled with furniture. Unfortunately I have no table and chairs yet, so I can’t really get people round for dinner parties just yet. Plus I have pretty basic kitchen equipment at the minute – though everyone at work has been brilliant giving me kitchen stuff, so hopefully all will be up and running as normal pretty soon.



There are still several easy recipes to do in the meantime and this one couldn’t be simpler and is another recipe from Robert May (see this post). Cinnamon toast has been a staple sweet snack in England for a good few hundred years and the recipe hasn’t really changed much, and makes a very good substitute for cinnamon Danish pastry, should you get a midnight craving, as they are actually very similar – especially if May’s method is used because it uses a paste of sugar, cinnamon and claret.

I managed to get a bottle of Texan claret from the most amazing off-license (liquor store) called Spec’s, which is apparently the largest one in the whole of the United States and I actually got lost in the red wine section! It deserves an entry to itself. It is just a good job I don’t have alcoholic tendencies. Anyways, for those of you who know nothing about wine (this includes me, by the way), claret is usually red wine made in the Bordeaux region of France, so technically there’s no such thing as Texan Claret. Funnily enough, the Frenchies don’t recognise claret as a term itself; it’s a very British term used generally from May’s time to describe deep red wines such as Bordeaux and before that in medieval times for spiced wines, such as hippocras. As an aside, there is no recipe for hippocras or even mulled wine in English Food, so I shall try and hunt one out for the blog closer to Christmas.

Anyway, enough of my blabbering, here’s the old recipe that is not simply buttered toast sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar like these days:


Begin by making the topping by simply making a paste from sugar and cinnamon in the proportions of one tablespoon of sugar to one teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Use the claret to make a nice spreadable paste. Butter some slices of toast, lay them on a baking sheet and spread the paste over them. Warm through briefly in a hot oven for about 5 minutes and serve it forth!

#257 Cinnamon Toast. Forever an English Classic that is much improved by going back to the original way of doing things, although I can’t imagine people going out and buying claret just for the recipe (myself excluded, natch). However, I’m sure if you ever have any red wine knocking around you can use it to make this very simple and delectable sweetmeat. The important thing is to make a paste – it melds together and forms a slight crust, so if you have no wine, use anything else, even water or milk would do, I reckon. I ate four slices, what a pig. 7/10.