#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

 

#376 Eliza Acton’s Sole Stewed in Cream

Eliza Acton (1799-1859) was a cook and poet. She was the first person write a cook book for normal folk like you and I, all the previous ones were written for the housekeepers and kitchen staff that ran houses and stately homes. Eliza was also the first to include cooking times and ingredients lists in her recipes. Years later Mrs Beeton based her much more popular book on Acton’s writings. Cheeky!

This recipe comes from her famous book Modern Cookery, for Modern Families published in 1860. Old that it is, its simplicity seems quite modern to me; there are very few ingredients, just sole, salt, cream, mace, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice, and it was designed to show off the excellent flavour of a delicate fish.

If you can’t get hold of sole, use any other flat or white fish like brill, turbot, cod, haddock, pollack etc., though they will need to be cooked for longer.

Her recipe starts: Prepare some very fresh middling soles with exceeding nicety…

Ask the butcher to gut and scale a nice sole. At home, prepare it by trimming off the fins and place it in a close-fitting dish or pan. Pour around it boiling water that almost covers it, plus a teaspoon of salt, then let it simmer for just two minutes. Carefully pour away the water and pour in some cream so that it goes half way up the fish. Bring to a simmer and baste the fish with the hot cream until cooked through. This takes only four or five minutes, but if the cream thickens too much, let it down with some of the cooking liquid or some water.

Remove the sole to a serving dish and finish the cream sauce by adding some saltand a little ground mace and Cayenne pepper. Lift the sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice – a little under half a lemon did for me.

Pour the sauce over the fish and serve with boiled potatoes and some blanched and buttered cucumber dice, says Jane, though I expect it would work very well with a green salad or some quickly-steamed asparagus spears.
#376 Eliza Acton’s Sole Stewed in Cream. I loved this. The fish was lovely and moist and it flaked away from the bone very easily. The sauce was not as rich as you might expect, and its mild creaminess complemented the fish very well. There was also the added bonus of finding a large and handsome roe within the sole which also ate very well. Very good and very simple 8/10

#291 Burnt Cream or Crème Brulée

Often considered a French dessert, Crème Brulée was thought to have come out if the kitchens of Trinity College, Cambridge via the sister of a librarian there, others think from an Undergraduate from Aberdeenshire in the 1860s. When the student graduated, so did the pudding and it became a favourite of the college. This is all nonsense because a recipe can be found in The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld which was published in 1769 (I have a facsimile of it). Grigson gives three recipes for it – the first, from the librarian who called it a Crème Brulée, the second and third – both dating earlier – called it Burnt Cream. Jane Grigson got a bee in her bonnet about whether the dessert had French or English origins. Where did Raffauld get her recipe from? It is a question that cannot answered, it seems, as the two nations’ cuisines are overlapped and interwoven so much since the Norman conquest of 1066. She did find a sixteenth century English manuscript with a recipe for burnt cream though, which was written around the time that Charles II came back to England after returning from exile in France.

I did this pudding whilst I was in England to go after the roast pork. I’d been wanting to do it for a while, as it is a pud I really enjoy, but mainly I just wanted to get the blowtorch out and melt the sugar. I’d never done it and it has always looked such a satisfying thing to do. None of the receipts ask for a blowtorch, but rather a very hot grill or ‘salamander’, as overhead grills were called in days of yore.

There are three recipes given by Jane, I went with the first, which was also her favourite, from a 1909 book called The Ocklye Cookery Book by Eleanor L. Jenkinson:

Place the yolks of six eggs in a bowl and bring a pint of double cream to the boil and let it boil for a full half-minute. Quickly whisk the hot cream into the eggs and return the mixture to the pan. Cook on the very low heat until the cream thickens somewhat – it should coat the back of your wooden spoon. I then sweetened it with a little sugar and added some extra flavor with some orange-flower water (lifted from Raffauld’s recipe). Don’t cook for too long or on too high a heat, as the eggs will scramble. If you think the eggs have scrambled, pass the whole lot through a sieve. Pour the custard into a shallow dish and let it chill in the fridge for as long as possible – overnight, if possible. If not possible (as it wasn’t for me), place it in the freezer as soon as it has cooled down to set. To burn the cream, scatter it with a thin, even layer of caster sugar and pop it under a very hot grill until it turn to a lovely melted caramel. Or use a blowtorch. Put it back in the fridge to harden.

For the sake of completion, here are the other two recipes:

From Domestic Cookery by a lady (Maria Rundell), 1848

Boil a pint of cream with a stick of cinnamon, and some lemon peel; take it off the fire, and pour it very slowly into the yolks of four eggs, stirring until half cold; sweeten, and take out the spice, etc.; pour it into the dish; when cold, strew white powdered sugar over, and brown it with a salamander.

From The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld, 1769

Boil a pint of cream with sugar, and a little lemon peel shred fine, then beat the yolks of six and whites of four eggs separately; when your cream is cooled, put in your eggs, with a spoonful of orange-flower water, and one of fine flour, set it over the fire, keep stirring it till it is thick, put it into a dish; when it is cold sift a quarter of a pound of sugar all over, hold a hot salamander over it till it is very brown, and looks like a glass plate put over your cream.

#291 Burnt Cream or Crème Brulée. ‘The best of all English puddings‘ says Griggers. Well I’m not sure of that, but it was pretty good. The cream tasted very light due to the heady perfume of the orange-flower water and the crackling caramel was satisfying to smash and delicious to eat. It wasn’t quite as thick as I expected to be. We all dug in with spoons, not bothering with bowls. I expect several of us now have herpes. Overall, a pretty good recipe – I think I will try it again with the lemon and cinnamon flavourings from the 1848 recipe. 6.5/10

#285 Creamed Parsnips

Parsnips don’t seem to be that popular in America, at least compared to Britain. In the USA, carrots and sweet potatoes are much more favoured as a sweet-starchy vegetable. In Europe, parsnips have been cultivated since Roman times, and although in the UK, the wild parsnip is quite a common plant, it has rather pathetic roots,and isn’t worthwhile eating. The parsnips eaten in Britain are therefore not indigenous. They were probably brought over around AD55 during the Roman invasion. The Romans used parsnips in desserts because of their sweet and chestnutty flavour, weirdly, parsnips are used in a cake in English Food that is based upon the recipe for an American carrot cake. Ah, the circle of life.
The European wild parsnip

Creamed parsnips can be served alongside some roast meat, or on their own with toast or in pastry cases as a supper dish, says Griggers. I had them for supper.
Peel, top, tail and quarter a pound and-a-half of parsnips. Remove any woody parts, if the parsnips are large and cut them into batons. Plunge them into boiling, salted water and allow to cook until tender – between five and ten minutes, depending upon the size of you batons. Drain and return to the heat. Stir in a quarter of a pint of double cream (or half-and half double and single). Heat through, season with salt and pepper and stir in some finely chopped parsley. Serve hot.
#285 Creamed Parsnips. Ah the simple things are the best, innit? These were delicious and not at all heavy – the parsley lifted the whole thing, preventing the dish becoming sickly. The creamy sauce and the carby parsnips themselves made the supper feel quite substantial. A hidden, simple gem. 8/10.


#269 Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub

I made this syllabub to end to the little meal Hugh and I cooked for Maartin and Ninja. I’d had a feeling no one had tried one before as they have gone out of fashion rather. I’d only had one in my life before.
Syllabubs were very popular up until recently. Originally they were simply a mixture of ales or cider mixed with milk or cream, which was probably like a boozy curds-and-whey. The more solid, whipped and ever-lasting syllabubs first appeared in the seventeenth century, according to Griggers, although both were kinds were obviously eaten because recipes for both appear in the Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffauld from 1769 (I have recently got hold of a copy of it).
The recipe in English Food, is from a pamphlet called Syllabubs and Fruit Fools, written by the great Elizabeth David, but I thought I’d give this one from Elizabeth Raffauld too, you know, for those of you who want to keep it real. And have your own cow….
“To make a Syllabub under the cow
Put a bottle of strong beer and a pint of cider into a punch bowl, grate in a small nutmeg and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk as much milk from the cow as will make a strong froth and the ale look clear. Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.
Brilliant. Sounds awful.
Anyway, here the recipe from Ms David:
This serves four to six. Bear in mind that you have to start this one the day before you want to serve it.
To a small bowl, add 4 fluid ounces of white wine or sherry (I went with wine, as sherry seemed a bit too rich), 2 tablespoons of brandy and the pared rind and juice of a lemon. Cover the bowl and let the flavours infuse together overnight. Strain everything into a large bowl and dissolve into the liquor two ounces of caster sugar. Next slowly mix in half a pint of double cream and grate in some nutmeg. Whisk the syllabub until it almost reaches the stiff peak stage so it is still a little floppy. Don’t over-whip it. There’s nothing worse than over-whipped cream; it goes all weird and cloying. You have been warned. Spoon onto glasses or ramekins and cover with foil or cling film. Leave them somewhere cool. Sir Kenelm Digby in 1669 recommends ‘[a] tiny sprig of rosemary or a little twist of lemon peel’, so I pared some thin pieces of lemon peel and let those stand in sugar overnight too as a traditional garnish. I served them with those little caramelised biscuits you get with coffee, I forget their name.
#269 Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub. Quite a boozy affair, this dessert, and I have never really got used to alcoholic puds, we just do eat them these days. However, as far as those kinds of desserts go, this was a good one, and nothing like the awfulness that was the Whim-Wham. The lemon and the fact it was a whipped dessert made it feel lighter than it was. Hugh ended up scoffing loads of them and made himself sick. Oh dear. I can’t scoff, cos I did exactly the same with the Whim-Wham. 6/10.

#245 Coconut Cream with Strawberry Sauce

This is a dessert that I had been looking forward to making for a while – I was just waiting for strawberry season. What could possibly not be delicious about strawberries, coconuts and cream?? Griggers doesn’t say anything about where it comes from; whether it was modern at the time of writing or if it has a good stoic history in the annals of English cookery. Scroll down to the picture, though, and you have to assume it’s probably from the Fanny Craddock School rather than the Alexis Soyer School.

It’s a little bit of a faff this one and the coconut cream needs to be made well in advance because it contains gelatine and that needs to set. To make it, bring ¼ pint of single and soured cream slowly to a boil along with a split vanilla pod and 4 ounces of desiccated coconut and 7 fluid ounces of water. Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes and let it cool down until ‘tepid’. Pass through a sieve and add either powdered or leaf gelatine dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water; follow the instructions in the packet and make enough for a pint of liquid in total. Also add a good tablespoon of grated creamed coconut and add sugar and lime juice to taste. Griggers says: “the citrus juice is an enhancer, it should not be identifiable”. Pop the cream in the fridge and allow to cool and reach an ‘egg white consistency’. At this point, fold in ½ pint of whipping cream that had been whipped stiffly. Pour the whole mixture into a lightly-oiled decorative jelly mould and allow to set. To turn it out, dip the mould in hot water briefly before upturning it.

The strawberry sauce is much easier. Hull a pound of strawberries, keeping the nicest ones behind for decoration, and liquidise the rest with the addition of some icing sugar to sweeten. Pour the sauce around the coconut cream and “dispose of the strawberry halves in a decorative manner”. Or else.

#245 Coconut Cream with Strawberry Sauce. Oh, I had looked forward to this one for so long; I should have learned by now that some of these desserts are just plain rubbish. And this one definitely fits into that category. The coconut cream was pretty tasteless bearing in mind the number of what should be delicious ingredients that made it up. Next time, strawberries and cream will be served. 3/10.

#157 Gooseberry Fool

Technically the first of the British soft summer fruits, the gooseberry is one of my all-time favourites. It seems to have gone out of favour these days and quite tricky to track down. I suppose it’s because you have to top and tail them and cook them before you eat then. It’s big shame though. It seems that some people don’t even know what gooseberries are, seeing as one woman in the greengrocers told the lady on the till that there was “something wrong with your grapes, ‘cos they’re all hairy”. I despair sometimes, I really do. Oh well, if you come across some and don’t know what to do with them, start of by making a fool. If you don’t find any, you can substitute any soft fruit for the gooseberries and still have something delicious.

This was enough for three:

Top and tail 8 ounces of gooseberries, place them in a pan with an ounce of butter, cover and cook them gently. Once the gooseberries turn a yellow-ish colour and have softened – around 5 minutes – crush then with a wooden spoon and/or a fork. Try to avoid making them too pureed and mushy; you still want a bit of bite. Now add sugar, not too much as the fruit is supposed to remain a little tart, however, this is all down to personal preference. Allow to cool. Now whip ¼ pint of double cream and fold in the gooseberries and spoon into serving dishes. Grigson suggests serving with an almond biscuit (I didn’t)


#157 Gooseberry Fool – 8/10. This is my kind of pudding; small, yet perfectly-formed, I love stewed fruit and cream (or custard) of any type, but gooseberries especially and they are such a short-lived treat that you need to show them off as best – and as simply – as you can.