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

#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

 

#371 Oatcakes

I love an oatcake – in fact I love oats in general, they are my favourite of the cereals.

You may think that Jane Grigson is taking liberties (and she has done this many times already) by including a Scottish recipe in a book of English Food, but you would be mistaken. Oats were the main cereal crop for the most of northern England as well as parts of Wales too; wheat was for the rich and oats and barley for the poor. In Scotland, oats were the only cereal that would grow, so oats have become more synonymous there than in England or Wales.

The best thing I found out was that an oatfield fell victim  to a crop circle in 1676 – the first ever recording of one! The woodcut below shows that people assumed it was the work of the devil, rather than men from outer space.

 

To make true Scottish oatcakes, you need some specialist equipment (the recipes themselves hardly differ); a spurtle, which is a wooden stick used to for stirring and mixing and it looks a bit like Harry Potter’s wand; a special rolling pin called a bannock-stick that leaves a criss-cross pattern on the rolled out dough; a spathe, a special piece of equipment that is used to move the oatcakes from board to girdle that is heart-shaped with a long handle; then there is the banna-rack, a toaster used to dry the oatcakes.  I do own a spurtle, but the other pieces of equipment are rather more tricky to get hold of.
You can make oatcakes large or small, leave them whole (bannocks) or cut into quarters (farls). Here endeth today’s Scottish vocab lesson. I found this wealth of information in a great book that I picked up in a second-hand bookshop in Inverness last year. It is called The Scots Kitchen: Its Lore & Recipes by F. Marian McNeill and it’s well worth getting hold of a copy.

Oatcakes are somewhere between a pancake and a biscuit, but appear in the Pancakes & Griddle/Girdlecakes  section of the Teatimechapter and not the Biscuitspart. I think I would classify them as a biscuit even though they are cooked on a girdle because they’re so crisp; after their initial cooking , they would be dried out in front of the fire and then stored in a meal-chest or girnel covered in oats. We use Tupperware today of course.

I made these oatcakes to take up with me on a visit to my friend Frances who lives in an amazing 17th century house in the Lake District. In her instructions, Jane says to ‘toast lightly before the fire before serving them’, and Frances’s house is not short on proper roaring fires as you can see by the photo below.

Mix together 4 ounces of medium oatmeal with 4 ounces of plain flour and a level teaspoon of salt, then rub in 2 ounces of lard, dripping or poultry fat(vegetarians can, of course, use hard vegetable fat, but be careful to buy some not made from hydrogenated fats). Mix in enough cold water to make a soft dough. Roll out thinly on a ‘oatmeal-strewn board’ and cut out circles using a scone cutter.
 
To attain really thin oatcakes, Jane suggests slapping them ‘between your oatmealy hands. I tried this but it was difficult. I found it much easier to roll and cut out circles, then rolling the circles separately on the board. They weren’t perfectly circular, but they were very thin and crisp. The mixture made me 16 good-sized oatcakes.
 
Before you griddle to oatcakes make a glaze by beating together an egg with a tablespoon of milk and a teaspoon of sugar.

Heat up an ungreased griddle or other suitable heavy-based pan. When hot, place the oatcakes on the griddle and paint them immediately with the glaze. Let them cook through – you know this is happening because the glaze dries and goes shiny when they’re done. There is no need to turn them.
 
Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container and toast them dry in front of a lovely fire, or failing that back on the griddle or in the oven.

We ate them fresh from the fire with butter spread on them.

#371 Oatcakes. These were very good indeed, they were good and salty and the slightly sweet glaze counteracted it perefectly. Most importantly the almost too-heavy seasoning brought out the lovely toasted oatiness – I think it is important to say that I used organic oats, and I am sure that this made a difference because it really was a hit of oat flavour. I loved how they all curved and curled as they cooked too. Very good 8/10
 

#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.

#248 Mazarines

I had made a savoury snack for the party and so I thought I’d make something sweet. These are strange little biscuits, or perhaps cakes. I’m not sure which. They appear in the Cakes and Tarts section, but look like biscuits. For some reason, this is important. Anyways, the name of these sweetmeats are a mystery, probably invented in honour of either the Duchesse de Mazarin who lived in Chelsea for a bit, or Cardinal Mazarin of France.

First, the pastry: Cream together 2 ounces of butter with a tablespoon of caster sugar, then beat in an egg yolk, before mixing in 4 ounces of flour and an ounce of ground almonds (use your hands to bring it all together). Roll it out into strips about 2 inches wide, lay on greaseproof paper turning up the edges ready for the filling.

For the filling: Start by spreading some apricot jam down the lengths of the strips. Next, beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold in 4 ounces of caster sugar, 2 ounces of flaked almonds and a tablespoon of grated plain chocolate. Pour into a saucepan and boil, stirring as you go so that it doesn’t catch. Spoon the mixture onto the strips – a tricky endeavour. Bake at 180⁰C for 45 minutes, allow to cool and then cut on the diagonal.


#247 Mazarines. These were also a disappointment. The pastry was very dry and crumbly and the filling was so unbelievably sweet. Annoyingly, they were nigh on impossible to cut without them breaking up. Not impressed. If were Cardinal Mazarin or the Duchesse de Mazarin, I’d be well pissed-off that these efforts were created in my honour! 2.5/10