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!

7.4: Biscuits – completed!

So, I have completed another section of English Food! The Biscuits section of the Teatime chapter was quite short with only nine relatively easy recipes; yet it has taken me all this time to bake them!
That said, it’s a surprise that it is so short, as there is a great tradition of biscuit-making with many diverse regional recipes. Jane reckoned that biscuits are one of the few successes of the manufacturing industry, meaning folk are more reluctant to bake them today. She’s probably right, and I expect it is why the section is so short.

Grasmere Gingerbread II
Biscuits come in essentially two forms in Britain: sweet and savoury, the latter more often called crackers. They all have a common ancestor: the ship’s biscuit. A hard, dry rusk that could survive long journeys at sea without spoiling. They were boring, but provided sustenance, often crumbled into broth or hot drinks; our love today for dunking our biscuits into tea and coffee is a throwback to this.
The original biscuits were made from breadcrumbs, reformed and baked in cooling bread ovens (biscuit literally means ‘twice-baked’). Biscuits began to get rather more interesting during the times of the Crusades where the laying down of the spice trading routes, brought not only spices but also sugar (then considered a spice) to Britain. More upmarket biscuits were a mixture of honey and fresh breadcrumbs and were highly-spiced – a Mediæval recipe is included in the book and very good it is too.
But it is descendants of the hard and dry ship’s biscuits that have survived  – Grasmere gingerbread, shortbread, digestives, Rich Tea, Hob Nobs, cream crackers, Ritz crackers, Nice biscuits are all based on them! The list is almost endless.

Cheese and Oat Biscuits
Perhaps it is not the most exciting part of the book, but I there are some real gems in here. I have used  Jane’s recipes for Shortcakesand Grasmere Gingerbread since I first started The Buttery, and the excellent Brandy Snaps were used as part of the dessert in my very first pop-up restaurant. I’ve not found better recipes to this day.
Biscuits are much easier to make than cakes or breads, so if you haven’t done much baking, they are probably a good place to start – though they do have to be watched as they do catch easily.

Making Brandy Snaps
All the recipes in the section are listed below as they appear in the book with hyperlinks and the score I gave them out of ten. The section scores an average of 7.6, the second best mean score so far; the recipes were perhaps not particularly exciting but they were reliable

#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread

Here’s a recipe from English Food I have been meaning to make for a while but never have gotten around to until now. I love nothing more than having a go at making these very old recipes – a true window into the past. I can think of no other way than experiencing history. It doesn’t even matter if it tastes good! Quite often some of them have become part of our repertoire at The Buttery, but will this one?
This is an interesting case – mediaeval gingerbread doesn’t resemble modern gingerbreads (like #174 Grasmere Gingerbread I) or even ginger cakes like parkin or Jane’s Ginger Cake (#53). It’s literally ginger and bread mixed with honey and some other spices, so it turns out that this gingerbread is the predecessor of treacle tart too! (I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could produce some kind of family tree of food.)

Mediaeval woodcut, c. 1485
Jane doesn’t give the original recipe, though I have managed to track it down; it’s from an undated medical manuscript known catchily as BL MS Sloane 121, thought to be late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. Many of these Early and Middle English recipes are difficult to decipher, but this one isn’t too tricky:
To make gingerbrede. Take goode honye & clarefie it on the fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastel brede & grate it, & caste it into the boylenge hony, & stere it well togyderfast with a sklyse that it bren not to the vessel. & then take it doun and put therin ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it up with thin hands; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe theron suger, & pick therin clowes rounde aboute by the egge and in the mydes, yf it plece you, &c.
Today there is no need to clarify honey, so that step can be missed out, but then it is simply a case of heating up honey and adding some spices; ginger, long pepper (a very common spice then, which has been superseded these days by peppercorns) and sanders (heated and powdered sandalwood) for colour. Stir these in making sure nothing gets burnt, then shape onto a flat tray. Extra sugar can be scattered over and it can be decorated around the edge and middle with cloves. Often gingerbread would be decorated with gold leaf. Other spices used include saffron, cinnamon, galangal, nutmeg, mace and cardamom.
Oddly, Jane found some recipes for gingerbread that do not contain ginger! This could be a mistake by the scribe (these manuscripts predate the printing press so were all handwritten) or it could be that gingerbread became a word for any spiced honey-bread mixture. Jane flags up the point the point that in some European countries the gingerbread used to make gingerbread houses don’t contain ginger!
Jane’s method:
I made some gingerbread…and found you needed about 1 oz of breadcrumbs to one heaped dessertspoonful of honey…Some kind of colouring was needed, because the mixture would have been too pale without it: I used powdered saffron. By stirring the crumbs into the very hot honey, I made a thick paste which could easily be handled and moulded into shape, like almond paste. When the cake was cool, we ate it in slices…
She doesn’t actually say which spices she used, but it seems she used ground ginger, cinnamon and black pepper as in the original recipe. She doesn’t give any proportions of spice either.
My method:
I used the fact that this mediaeval gingerbread was the precursor to the treacle tart, and made a honey-ginger tart.

900g honey

1 tbs ground ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cardamom
pinch saffron
zest and juice of 1 lemon (optional, see below)
325g stale breadcrumbs
a 10-inch blind-baked sweet pastry case
To save yourself from a horrible sticky mess, measure the honey straight into your saucepan and warm it gently. Add the spices, crumbling in the saffron and stir in with a wooden spoon. 


Give the mixture a taste, if you want to add more spice, you can; if it tastes far too sweet add the juice and zest of a lemon. Pour in the breadcrumbs and stir thouroughly.

If you want, you can pour this mixture into a lined tin, even better pour it into the pastry case. Either way, bake the mixture for around 20 minutes in a low oven, around 150C to help it firm up. You can then let it cool and cut up appropriately. If the top looks a bit pale and boring – as mine did – quickly brown it with a blowtorch.

We were quite impressed with the result and put it on the menu with a nicely-placed blob of Frangelico flavoured sweet cream.

#423 Mediaeval Gingerbread. It’s always good to find these excellent ancient recipes, especially when it produces something delicious. For our modern tastes, it definitely needed a bit of lemon, and only really needed the ginger, ground mixed spice and black pepper; the saffron and cardamom were a bit unnecessary. Anyway, a lovely peek into our mediaeval past, 8/10.

#377 Brandy Snaps

An English classic, one of which I have never made; I’ve eaten plenty of them of course, but never really bothered about going the whole hog and piping cream into them. Fearing I was a becoming a biscuit heathen I did a little research and found that in many parts of England, especially the south and London, people ate them on their own as large rounds, rather than the familiar cigarette shapes where they called them ‘jumbles’. Phew.

Don’t fear the brandy snap, it turns out they are not as difficult to make as people say, though a little patience is required for the first few before you get into your stride: too hot and they tear (and burn!), too cool and they cannot be shaped and break. Do them one at a time and if the others get too cool, pop them back in the oven for a few seconds to soften again. No probs!

This recipe makes up to 36 brandy snaps – that seems a lot, but they keep for weeks in an air-tight box.

To begin, melt together 4 ounces each of butter, golden syrup and granulated sugar in a saucepan. Mix until everything has melted and is smooth, but be careful not to let it boil. Take off the heat and when ‘barely tepid’ mix in 4 ounces of plain flour, a pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger, a teaspoon of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of brandy. This seems like a paltry amount of brandy but it really does make a difference to the flavour.

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C (400⁰F) whilst you get on with spooning out the mixture onto baking sheets. The best thing to do here is to cover two large baking sheets with greaseproof paper and to spoon out sparsely teaspoons of the mixture; these things really spread so you’ll only want 4 or 6 spoonsful per sheet. Make sure your spoons are small, equal in size and neat; I found that using a melon-baller helped here.

Bake them for about 8 minutes until they have spread, darkened and bubbled up. Remove from the oven and let them cool a little before shaping. For the classic cigarette shape lift one of the paper using a palette knife – if it tears then it is too hot – and lie it across the handle of a wooden spoon and fold it over. Slip it off and do the next one; if too cool pop back in the oven. To make basket shapes, lie the brandy snap over the base of a jam jar.

If you want to fill the brandy snaps, whip up ½ a pint of double cream and pipe the cream inside. There’s no need to sweeten the cream here as the snaps themselves are so sweet.

#377 Brandy Snaps. These were absolutely delicious – crisp, slightly spiced caramels that cracked satisfyingly into bland cream (Bland is not always bad!). Lovely, and so much better than bought. Go make some! 9/10

 

#308 Walnut Biscuits

The blog has been a little quiet of late because of a combination of business and broken car. This means that I’ve not been able to explore St Louis’s butcher’s shops, markets et cetera anywhere near as much as I’d hoped this month. However, there are still a few simp recipes to do in the book and this is one of them. I had hoped to not do any recipes from the Teatime chapter of the book because I have done so many and there are so many under-represented chapters. However, beggars cannot be choosers, so I made these walnut biscuits that are very similar to the sugar thins I made ages ago. Don’t feel guity about eating a load of these either; walnuts have more antioxidants than any other nut. You might end up a fat little piggy, but you’ll have none of those pesky free radicals aging the skin of your three chins.

Start off by creaming together seven ounces of softened butter with five ounces of caster sugar. Next, beat in a large egg and then eight ounces of self-raising flour and three ounces of chopped walnuts.

Spoon a third of the mixture onto a rolled out piece of cling film and roll it up tightly to form a sausage shape that is about 2 inches in diameter.

Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Put the sausages of dough in the fridge to harden up over-night. You can freeze them like this too.

Next day, peel away the cling film and slice up the dough thinly and place on baking sheets. Bake for no more than ten minutes 190°C (375°F).

Griggers reckon they go well with coffee, and I am sure they do, but as I am not allowed to drink coffee anymore (Doc’s orders), it’ll have to be a tea.

#308 Walnut Biscuits. A nice, crisp biscuit that is sweet and crumbly; it certainly would go with unsweetened coffee or tea. The only problem with them is that there weren’t enough walnuts. I would go to four or maybe five ounces of walnuts. 7/10

#270 Mereworth Biscuits

The move back to Houston after almost a month back in England has left me very homesick indeed and definitely in need of some therapy of some kind, especially when Sunday came around. Personally, I find nothing more therapeutic that having a good baking session. Unfortunately, I could not arsed to leave my flat and buy ingredients.  The Teatime chapter of the book has received the most attention out of all the chapters, and I assumed that all the remaining recipes required either ingredients or equipment that I have not yet acquired.  Not so, these little savory biscuits; they are made up of just plain flour, butter, milk and a pinch of salt.
I’d not heard of these before, but they are supposed to be served with butter and cream cheese and that sort of thing. I don’t like to quote big chunks of Jane Grigson’s writings on the blog, but I think this post requires it – her little introduction to this recipe is so evocative that I can’t resist. Enjoy:
We once looked down on the perfect Greek cross of Mereworth Castle through young beech leaves, not long after we had visited the Villa Capra at Vicenza, which stands right up on a dusty hill surrounded by long grass. And here in the spring countryside of Kent was this perfect replica, with the same collected elegance, far below the valley. I should like to see the kitchens of Mereworth, where these biscuits were made in the nineteenth century.”
God, she is good. It’s a shame she is no longer with us. She goes on to tells us that the recipe comes from a book called Choice Recipes by a certain Lady Sarah Lindsay.
Mereworth Castle
This recipe make quite a large number of biscuits, I imagine that the dough will freeze perfectly well like most biscuit doughs do. It’s also a very easy dough to make, so if you’ve never baked before, this could be a good initiation!
Begin by rubbing one ounce of butter into eight ounces of plain flour along with a pinch of salt. Make a well and add some hot milk, bring the dough together adding more hot milk until it becomes firm but soft. Give it a knead. There’s quite a lot of lee-way here, unlike pastry, the hot milk and kneading is supposed to make the dough stretchy and it can take quite a bit of liquid. If it is a little too wet, sprinkle with some more flour. The dough can now be rolled out extremely thinly – make it as thin as possible, so thin you can see the work surface beneath. Cut out two inch circles with a plain biscuit cutter and bake for no more than five minutes at 220°C (450°F) until slightly golden. Some will produce giant bubbles others will not, but they will look beautifully home-made! Keep somewhere airtight as they do go soft very easily.
#270 Mereworth Biscuits. These were quite nice and went well with whatever bit and bobs I found in the fridge to eat with them. I do like cheese and biscuits but rarely ever think to buy them, apart from at Christmastime. These were good, but there are more English savory bikkies that I personally think are better, so I’m going to give them a safe 5/10.

#244 Grasmere Gingerbread II

Ah, the Lake District. Hugh and I were not far from Grasmere only last weekend on a little break so I thought I’d make the second of the Grasmere Gingerbreads. You can just imagine William Wordsworth tucking into these after his daffodil sandwiches of an afternoon or whatever. It’s what we would have done if it HADN’T PISSED IT DOWN all weekend. Hey-ho.

This is a bit different to Grasmere Gingerbread I in that it is made with wholemeal flour. Usually wholemeal flour based biscuits and cakes are found in the vegan health food shop and taste awful, but don’t let that put you off; these are delicious and easy to make too:

Start by sieving 8 ounces of flour along with ½ teaspoon each of cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda and 3 decent teaspoons of dried ground ginger (don’t be scanty, it can take it). Rub in 6 ounces of butter and then mix in 5 ounces of soft dark brown sugar and a dessertspoon of golden syrup. You should end up with a dark rubble. Line a roasting tin or oblong pan with greaseproof paper and pour the mixture in, pressing it down firmly. Bake for 45 minutes at 160⁰C. Remove and cut into rectangles whilst still hot and cool on a rack.


#244 Grasmere Gingerbread II. Really good this one. The wholemeal flour and treacly taste combine well here to make a rich crumbly, though very slightly chewy bittersweet biscuit. I shall definitely be making these again. I reckon if crushed, they would make a very good crumble topping. Tres bon. 7/10