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.
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
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.
#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.
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.