#428 Sweetheart Cake

St Valentine had nothing to do with romance, but he did die on 14 February in the 3rd Century. His association with love didn’t occur until the fourteenth century. In the mediaeval age, people thought that birds mated mid-February, a certain Geoffrey Chaucer spotted that St Valentine’s Day coincided with this event, and brought them together in one of his stories, Parlement of Foules, cementing the two forever more.

Unlike St Valentine, I have no idea why this dessert is linked with love: jam, almonds and meringue don’t seem particularly romantic to me, and all Jane says about the recipe is that it’s ‘for St Valentine’s Day, to eat at the end of a meal rather than at teatime.’
I suggest using a normal flan tin and baking it any day of the year.
I’ve been meaning to do this straight-forward recipe for a long time but kept forgetting to make it in time for Valentine’s Day. Well this year I remembered. I also remembered to buy the heart-shaped flan tin required; something else I kept forgetting to do.

Begin by lining a heart-shaped flan tin with puff pastry (I made my own, following the recipe for #384 Quick Foolproof Puff Pastry) making sure you stud the base well with fork marks. I popped it in the freezer whilst I got on with making the filling. I used a 9-inch heart-shaped tin.

Begin by melting two ounces of butter in a saucepan. As it cools, beat the yolks of four eggs (keep the whites, you’ll need them) along with four ounces of caster sugar, the zest and juice of a lemon, two ounces of ground almonds and the cooled, melted butter, then fold in 2 ounces of slivered almonds.

Take the lined tin and spread over the base two to three tablespoons of raspberry jam. For these sorts of puddings, it’s a good idea stop spreading half an inch from the edges of the tin, as it makes the next step much easier.

Take the filling and spoon it into your tin – don’t aim for the centre, place smallish blobs all around the outside edge first. Now spread the filling evenly, edges first then moving inwards. This ensures the jam doesn’t ride up the edges of the pudding.

Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and the filling set and golden brown.

Toward the end of the cooking time, prepare the meringue. Put your reserved egg whites, along with a pinch of salt, and beat with an electric whisk until you have whites that will form still peaks. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar and keep beating until you have a nice glossy meringue that holds its shape well.

Spread or pipe the meringue over the top going right to the pastry edges, sprinkle another tablespoon of caster sugar evenly over the top and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the meringue is an appetising golden brown.
Serve warm.
#428 Sweetheart Cake. Well it was certainly sweet, and it was definitely a heart, not I’m not sure if it was a cake. This pudding, a cross between a Bakewell tart and a lemon meringue pie, I enjoyed but the filling was extremely sweet. At least the meringue wasn’t too sugary, otherwise it would have been too sweet to eat, the lemon also helped take the edge off. I ate some the next day cold, and it tasted less sweet. Next time, I will half the sugar. 6/10

#318 Baked Almond Pudding I

I made this almond pudding because I found that I just happened to have all the ingredients for it, so I thought why not? I had bought a load of baking ingredients for the Thanksgiving desserts for which I was in charge, you see.
This is the second of two almond puddings (I did Baked Almond Pudding II a while back) that have absolutely no introduction from Griggers. It is strange that a recipe she obviously thought so good and so English that it had to have two recipes devoted to it should be basically unknown. However, a quick bit of research later, I found that these puddings were popular from the eighteenth century. The recipe closest to this one in English Food, appears in Mrs Rundell’s Domestic Cookery from 1859.

The almond tree drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell 1737

This recipe requires bitter almond essence – it is quite easy to find online these days – and it is quite important to add some. The essence really gives any almond-based dessert a hit of almond aroma that the subtly-flavoured domesticated almond cannot provide. The bitter flavour is provided by benzaldehyde and cyanide – in time past, any king eating anything that tasted of bitter almonds, would have had good reason to start panicking! The essence just contains the benzaldehyde, so don’t worry, you won’t cark-it from using it. It is very difficult to get hold of bitter almonds themselves, but a good substitute is the nut inside the kernel of an apricot.

To make Almond Pudding I, begin by mixing together 4 ounces of melted butter, 8 ounces of ground almonds, 5 bitter almonds or a few drops of bitter almond essence, 2 tablespoons of double cream, a tablespoon of brandy, 4 or 5 heaped tablespoons of sugar, 2 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs. The mixture can then be turned into a greased shallow pie dish. Grigger says – as does Mrs Rundell – that you can line the pie dish with some sweet shortcrust pastry to make it go further. I had some left-over pastry and seeing as this dessert was for the Thanksgiving meal, I took their advice. Bake the pudding for around 45 minutes at 190C (375F) until there is a nice golden crust on the pudding.

Serve with some more sugar, butter and brandy, she also says.

#318 Baked Almond Pudding I. Much more cakey than the previous almond pudding, and as nice. It seemed rather bland – there wasn’t enough sugar and it would have been improved greatly if the pastry hah had a thin layer of raspberry jam. That said, it did get more moist and flavourful as it got older. An okay pudding that could be made very good with some minor alterations. 5/10.

#236 Baked Almond Pudding II

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.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup)

Yes, another soup…

This recipe is the very first one that appears in English Food. Although it may seem rather odd nowadays, it is one of the most historical recipes there is. Almond soup, or almond milk as it was originally called goes right back to the Middle Ages. It was made with almonds, onions, wine and spices. More recently, it diverged into two completely separate dishes: almond soup and blancmange.

Griggers reckons that one of the reasons (apart from it tasting good) that it’s remained popular is because the ingredients are easy to come by; most being found about the house. Well, it is popular no longer – I’d heard of it, but only vaguely. Not all the ingredients are easy to come by these days either – the main reason I’ve only got round to making this now is that I managed to finally get hold of the veal knuckle required for the stock.

I always really enjoy making these sorts of recipes in the book – I don’t even mind if they’re not that nice – it’s just interesting cooking and tasting these old, old recipes. I’ve said it before, but it is great that such books like English Food exist, it’s also great to see that many of these unfashionably historical recipes are tasty and interesting. Does this one fit into that category though..?

To make the soup, you need to start the day before and get on with the task of stock-making. Start off by placing a small gammon hock (I made one myself in the brine tub!) and a good meaty veal knuckle that has been cut into three pieces in a large pan or stockpot. Add four pints of cold water and slowly bring to the boil; the slower you do this, the clearer the stock will be. When it does come to the boil, skim away any scum and add a quartered onion, a quartered carrot, four chopped celery sticks, a teaspoon of lightly-crushed peppercorns, two blades of mace, a bay leaf and a tablespoon – no, I didn’t misread the book, tablespoon – of salt. Bring back to the boil and then turn the heat right down so that the stock simmers gently away for four hours. Strain and chill overnight and skim the fat off the top. Bring back to the boil and reduce the stock until there is around 2 ½ pints remaining. Alternatively, if you simply cannot be arsed with all of that, use a light beef stock!

For the soup, place 2 ounces of blanched almonds and an ounce of white bread (crusts removed) into a blender along with a couple of ladlefuls of stock and liquidise the lot. Push the gloop through a sieve into the reduced stock. Turn the heat off under the pan. Next, beat an egg yolk into ¼ each of double cream and soured cream and whisk it into the soup, reheat, making sure the stock is not boiling, to prevent the egg from cooking and curdling. Now season with white pepper, salt (!), Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Serve with fried croutons or fried almonds.

#194 Almond Soup (White Soup). Certainly not one for those on a low salt or low fat diet. It was very salty and rich. I assume that the tablespoon of salt listed in the ingredients is a typo since a ham hock is also used for the stock. I’m not convinced that I actually liked this soup, it was certainly nicer the next day when the flavours had time to develop. It’s certainly a posh soup, but I think it could’ve been improved by using a less salty stock. Perhaps after all this time-biding, it would have been better if I’d simply used a light beef stock as suggested in the recipe. 4.5/10.

#139 Bakewell Pudding

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got quite a lot on at the minute – the main ball-ache being that I’ve been in work almost everyday over the last few weeks including weekends. Therefore, on Saturday after a big lab sesh, I really felt the need to do some baking, so for pudding on Saturday evening I plumped for the Bakewell Pudding. Don’t be getting this confused with a Bakewell tart – they are similar, but with important differences: Bakewell tarts have a pastry base, a thin layer of cherry jam, frangipane, and then a covering of icing with a cherry on top. A Bakewell pudding, pastry, raspberry jam, then a layer of egg custard mixed with ground almonds (in fact, in days of yore, there would have been no almonds at all, so the emphasis is definitely on the egg custard). These may not seem like important differences, and they are not, but just pointing them out for any pernickety people out there who like their factoids.

Anyways, have a go at this pudding – serve it warm or cold. Griggers doesn’t mention cream when serving it or anything like that, but I can’t imagine it would do any harm!

Start by making a sweet shortcrust pastry – I made mine from 6 ounces of plain flour, 2 ounces of icing sugar, 4 ounces of butter and a little milk. Griggers says to line an 8 inch tart tin with the pastry, but I found that there was mixture left over, so make it in a 9 inch tin if you have one – alternatively make additional mini ones as I did! Once lined, spread over a thin layer of raspberry jam – not too much, a good dessert spoonful will do it.

Now make the main filling: gently melt 4 ounces of unsalted butter in a pan and leave to cool. Then beat or whisk together 4 eggs with 4 ounces of caster sugar until creamy and frothed up (use an electric whisk/beater, unless you like doing it by hand). Slowly pour in the butter and mix gently before folding in 4 ounces of ground almonds with a metal spoon. Pour the mixture into the case and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling has set, at 200-220⁰C.

#139 Bakewell Pudding – 7/10. A real homely comforting pudding/tart, very sweet and moist. It reminded me of the cakes my mum used to make when I was little – I think hers was coconut rather than almonds, but the effect is pretty much the same. Really nice with a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

#83 Almond Fingers

The almond finger. A Mr Kipling favourite I think. I recently decided, since there is no such thing as a bad cake, that if I am to avoid a severe sugar and carbohydrate addiction that I should never buy a cake again; if I want one, I’ll just have to bloody-well bake one meself. I remember liking these as a student, and my Mum used to make them when I was little, so I thought I’d give Grigger’s recipe a go. Griggers reckons that the difference between the flavour of the commercial ones and the home-made. Also, I was off to my mate Stuarty’s flat, and thought it would be nice to bring round something home-baked. People don’t do that kind of thing these days do they? We had a grand old night playing Guitar Hero and getting sloshed.

The recipe is in two stages: First of all you need to make a sweet pastry for the base. Cream together 4 ounces of softened butter and 3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar. Next, beat in an egg, then a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 8 ounces of plain flour. Wrap the pastry in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for an hour, or the freezer for 20 minutes if rushed for time, as I was. Roll out the pastry into a lined 7 x 11 inch Swiss roll tin. Don’t worry if it breaks up – sugary pastry always does – just fill in any holes with spare bits. Lastly, spread a thin layer of apricot jam over the pastry and phase one is complete!

Now make the filling: Cream together 5 ounces of softened butter with the same weight of vanilla sugar (make your own), beat in 2 eggs, then a heaped tablespoon of flour, 4 ounces of ground almonds and lastly, 2 tablespoons of dark rum. Spread this evenly over the sweet pastry and sprinkle over 2 ounces of slivered almonds. Bake at 180ºC for 35-40 minutes.

#83 Almond Fingers. 7.5/10. Jane was right; much better than any bought nonsense. The whole remains very moist, almost like a cookie. I feel that I was a bit too tipsy to appreciate it, I hear Stuart was still eating them a couple of days after, so they can’t have been bad.

#58 Apricot and Almond Crumble

Other than asparagus, the fruit and veg stall had some lovely ripe apricots, at only a quid for 6. So It thought I had to make use of them. Consulting the book, there’s a crumble and a pie. I couldn’t be bothered making pastry, so I went for the crumble. However, I seem to have a mental block when it comes to making crumbles – they are meant to be the easiest pud in the world to make, but when I do them, they end up as mush, as the floury topping gets soaked into the fruits beneath. However, I trusted Grigson to guide me through the crumble-making process. I also used top tips from my Mum. The exciting thing about this dish is that you use the kernels from the apricot stones – a new one on me. They taste like very aromatic, but bitter, almonds. Crack then with a hammer – it worked for me, and the flavour they give to the crumble is beautiful and I shall always take the trouble to do it in the future.

Start by poring boiling water over 18 apricots. After a couple of minutes peel the apricots and slice them. Put them in a shallow baking dish along with the kernels from the stones, 1 ½ ounces of blanched sliced almonds and 2 or 3 ounces of sugar. I like my fruit tart.

For the topping rub together using your hands or a mixer 3 ounces of flour, 2 ½ ounces sugar, 3 ounces of ground almonds and 4 ½ ounces of chilled butter. Pour the mixture over the apricots and bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C, and then for a further 20 at 180 degrees. Make sure the top is browned, but not in any way burned. Don’t serve straight away – a warm crumble is better than a scolding hot one. Softly whipped cream is the best accompaniment to this summery dessert.

TOP TIP: My Mum says that for a good crumble topping, don’t rub in your butter too finely; some small lumps of butter make it richer and crunchier, which is good news as this also mean less work!

#58 Apricot and Almond Crumble: 8.5/10. A lovely sweet topping and tart fruit resulted in a substantial but light and perfumed marzipan wonder. The addition of apricot kernels was the genius touch. Plus the crumble topping wasn’t mush. I now have to conquer my other food nemesis Hollandaise sauce.

#56 Stuffed Monkey

Well I do have some catching up to do! I’ve been cooking loads – not all Grigson dishes, but a few. Trouble is, life keeps getting in the way, and I can’t find time to write everything up. Also, I’m knackered. And lazy.

A good excuse to do a recipe is cake day at work – every Wednesday – so I thought I’d look through the book to find something to make where I’d got all the ingredients in the store cupboard, and came across (#56) Stuffed Monkey; a favourite of Jane Grigson’s. She lifted it herself from a book of Jewish Cookery, but has no idea what makes it particularly Jewish, or indeed what it has to do with monkeys. If anyone knows please tell me. Although Jewish, it does have an English feel to it – it’s basically an almond and candied peel filling sandwiched between two rounds of very sweet pastry that’s almost shortbread in texture and flavour. When baking, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s ready or not, so add an extra 5 to 8 minutes to the cooking time I’ve given if you think you would prefer your Stuffed Monkey more biscuity. Don’t worry, no monkeys were harmed in the making of this sweetmeat.

Here’s how to stuff your very own monkey:

Make a sweet-spiced pastry by mixing together 6 ounces of flour and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Rub in 4 ounces of chilled butter that has been cubes until fine breadcrumbs are formed. I always to this with a mixer set on a slow speed these days as it stops the butter softening and turning it to a paste too early. If you don’t have a mixer, use your fingertips. Mix in 4 ounces of soft brown sugar and an egg yolk, and bring the mixture together with your hands to form a dough. If it is too dry to come together add a teaspoon or two of milk. Allow this to rest in the fridge for half an hour, or the freezer for half that time.

Whilst you wait for this, make the filling by beating together 1 ½ ounces of melted butter, 2 ounces each of chopped peel and ground almonds, 1 ounce of caster sugar and an egg yolk.

Roll out half the pastry so it fits in the bottom of an 8 inch cake tin, spread the filling over the top, then roll out the other half and place on top. Brush with egg white and bake for 30 minutes at 190 degrees C. Cool in tin.

TOP TIP: Sweet pastry is a tricky bugger to roll and lift without it braking apart, so roll it on cling film that’s been floured. You can pick it all up at once without tearing.

#56 Stuffed Monkey – 5.5/10. It was an unusual sweet biscuity with a wonderful chewy citrus and marzipan flavored centre. I found it a little dry, however I think I may have overcooked it a little (I added an extra few minutes to the cooking time). That said, it got polished off pretty quickly and many people went for seconds, so what do I know!?

#54 Yorkshire Almond Tart

They say that you are what you eat, and being from Pudsey in Leeds, I suppose that makes me a Yorkshire tart, or something. One of my favourite puds is Yorkshire curd tart, but I’d not heard of a Yorkshire almond tart (if you’ve not heard of a curd tart, go and hunt one down), I had Greg, Joff and my mate from way, way, way back, Lee over for a curry, I had most of the ingredients in, so I thought I’d give it a crack. Have a go; it’s a piece of piss!

Roll out some puff pastry (I bought mine, but there is a recipe for it in English Food; I haven’t plucked up the courage, nor had the spare 5 days or whatever to put aside in order to make it) and line a deep plate, or a pie plate. Whisk up 2 egg yolks, 2 ounces of sugar and the rind and juice of half a lemon in a basin or bowl until creamy. This is not as arduous as it sounds, it happens quickly, I assume because of the citric acid in the lemons stabilising the egg proteins. Add an ounce each of ground almonds and melted butter, and whisk the mixture over simmering water for 8 to 10 minutes, I reckon, until it becomes thicker. Pour the mixture onto the pastry and spread the mixture leaving a good gap at the edges and bake at 190 degrees C for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Whilst your waiting for that whisk two egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff, when the pie is done, spread the egg whites over the top and sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar and return it to the oven for 10 minutes. Eat warm. Foolishly, I forgot to buy cream.

#54 Yorkshire almond tart – 7.5/10. Very sweet, sticky and yummy! This comes as no surprise being a Yorkshire dish. The filling and eggs collapsed rather, and I’m not sure if it meant to – perhaps next time I’ll add the tablespoon of sugar to the eggs to make a meringue that shouldn’t sink. That said, the pastry was crisp, the almond insides were soft in the centre, but caramelised on top, the eggs were light-ish, and the sugar had formed a very pleasing crust. The only other way it could’ve been improved would be to have a dollop of vanilla ice cream with it.