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!

7.2 Cakes & Tarts – Completed!

#431 Murrumbidgee Cake

The Cakes and Tarts section of the mammoth Teatimechapter is now complete. There have been some great recipes in this part of the book, many of which have become standards.
The Teatimechapter is so big that I had to split it, rather arbitrarily, into four parts; because of this there are some grey areas and some of the Breadrecipes should technically be part of this section. When we think of cakes, we tend think of light sponges made with flour containing a raising agent. These chemical aids to cookery, only appeared in late Georgian times, and only really caught on in the Victorian era; before then, cakes had to be raised with yeast. These days we would call these sorts of cakes ‘enriched breads’, so that’s why I have included them in the Breadsection. Likewise, there is a continuum between cake into tart with a cut-off point that was more difficult to separate and so for that reason, I kept them together.
#49 Orange Cake 


There were very few disasters in the book, with the only bad recipes being the extremely dry and boring (#160) Rice Cake, and the super-sweet (#248) Mazarines; avoid those ones for sure. However, everything else was pretty good, I think I got better at baking cakes and pastry as I worked though the book, so some earlier efforts got unfairly marked down. Like all baking, it takes a little practise to improve. I also cooked many of these recipes very early on and barely remember cooking some of them!

#135 Butterscotch Cake

Inside this section are some simple classics as well as some great discoveries. The two tea loaves really are excellent, and it turns out the parsnip beats the carrot hands down in a cake. (#429) Cumberland Currant Cake and (#431) Murrumbidgee Cake (though the former is not a cake, but a tart) were excellent latter day discoveries, and Jane’s (#226) Eccles Cake filling is delicious, especially when used with her recipe for (#384) Fool-Proof Puff Pastry.
The biggest successes of all must be the Christmas recipes. Jane’s (#15) Christmas Cake is simply excellent, it is the only recipe to achieve full-marks and it is the one I use professionally. Likewise, the two mincemeatrecipes are part of my Yuletide repertoire, though I inexplicably scored them quite low. Must have had a bad day.
#429 Cumberland Currant Cake

This recipe had 35 recipes in all, and I think pretty comprehensive; usually I have list of glaring omissions, but this time I can’t really think of any. I suppose there are cakes that didn’t exist, or were not yet popular at the time of writing English Food, like lemon drizzle cake or American muffins. If you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know and leave a comment!
#56 Stuffed Monkey

All the recipes from this section are listed below with links plus the scores they were awarded. It scored a mean mark of 7.3 (or if you’d prefer, both a median and mode of 7), making it a rather average chapter; the average mean score for a chapter at the time of writing is 7.28, so it couldn’t be much more average!
Finishing this section, means I have completed the behemoth that was the Teatimechapter, so I’ll be writing a little round up of that soon.
#206 Orange MincemeatPart 1 and Part 2 6.5/10

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake


Jane Grigson was brought up in the far north of England, and this currant cake was very popular there when she was a child. At the end of winter, when there was nothing fresh left in store aside from a few apples and jars of dried fruit, this cake – more a tart really – would be baked. Everywhere in the north has a similar sweetmeat: Eccles cakes, Chorley cakes and currant squares, and of course mince pies. Children usually called them squashed fly cakes or fly cemeteries. ‘We loved it’, she says, ‘and giggled in a corner, while the family talked. No one realised that they were eating a cake with a history, and medieval ancestors.’

In these days of seasonless, year-round fresh fruit and vegetables flown in from all four corners of the globe, many turn their noses up at these dried-fruit based treats. Well not me! I could eat them all year round, though they do taste most delicious when it’s cold and bracing outside.


To make the currant cake, first make a rich shortcrust pastry by rubbing in 5 ounces of butter and 5 ounces of lard into a pound of plain flour along with a pinch of salt. Form a dough with a little cold water, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge to rest for around 30 minutes.

Use half the pastry to line a tin with approximate dimensions of 7” x 11” x 1”. My tin wasn’t quite the size as in Jane’s recipe, but it still worked very well.

Now it’s time to layer up the filling ingredients. Start with a good covering of raisins or currants (10 ounces) and then 4 ounces of candied mixed peel. Peel, core and grate a medium-sized cooking apple and scatter that over the mixed fruit. Next, melt 5 ounces ofbutter in a saucepan, remove from the heat and add 4 ounces of pale or dark soft brown sugar (when given the choice, I always go for the latter), 5 tablespoons of rum, a teaspoon of ground allspice and half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and mace. Beat them all together and pour evenly over the fruit.

Now roll out the remainder of the dough so that you can cover it – don’t forget to brush the edges with milk or beaten eggbefore you cover. Press down on the edges, then trim and crimp the pastry. Now brush the lid and scatter over some granulatedor Demerara sugar.

Bake at 200°C for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

Jane suggests either eating hot as a dessert with cream, custard or #211 Cumberland Rum Butter, or cold cut into squares for teatime.

#429 Cumberland Currant Cake. Well I ate this oblong of deliciousness both hot and cold, and it was delicious. The pastry was very rich and the filling sweet yet still tart from the cooking apples; not unlike a giant, square mince pie; and seeing as I’m a mince pie fan, it’s getting a very good mark. When I return to trade at Levenshulme Market later this month, I shall be bringing some of this to sell. Delicious! 9.5/10.

#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

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

#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns

The Roman Baths

The great thing about Bath is that it has such history; you cannot help but find something to be amazed by at the turn of every street corner.

The famous spa at Bath has attracted people for millennia – there is archaeological evidence of human settlement going back 10,000 years. Bath was founded in 863BC by a chap called Bladud. Suffering from leprosy, he had been ostracised from society and found that bathing in the warm, muddy springs, after seeing pigs doing the same, cured him. It must have put him in fine fettle because he later went on to become the ninth King of the Britons and to father King Lear.

Of course it was the Romans that really transformed the place, creating the town Aqua Sulis with the baths that are there today in fine working order.

From the point of view of food, however, Bath really came into its own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was deluged by the holidaying  middle classes. The Roman Baths and Pump Room were restored to their former glories after centuries of neglect, making Bath the best and most popular of all the spa towns. This wasn’t just because of its locality to London, or that it was in a lovely part of England; it was because Bath simply had the best of everything. It was a trade epicentre: excellent salt marsh lamb from Wales, a seemingly endless supply of fruit and vegetables from Tewkesbury, cider from Glastonbury, apricots, cherries and plums from the Cotswolds, cream and junkets from Devon and Somerset, excellent freshwater fish – especially elvers – from the Severn Valley as well as sea fish from the ports of Cornwall, all came to one place. And that was just British produce! I haven’t mentioned the French brandy, the Spanish wine or the exotic spices from further afield.

All this has made Bath what it is today. Its food heritage, however, seems to have been boiled down into two things: Bath buns and Sally Lunns.

I’ve never seen either Bath buns or Sally Lunns anywhere other than Bath itself, which just goes to show that we still have regional cooking in an age of a swirling population. I like that you don’t see them everywhere; it makes eating one a rare treat to be relished. There are, of course, stories attached to the invention of these enriched breads which should be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

A bath bun is a large fruit bun, made with dough similar to that of a Chelsea bun or hot cross bun. The bread dough is enriched with eggs, sugar and currants. At the bottom of each bun is a lump of sugar and the freshly-baked bun is finished with a sticky wash, extra currants and crushed loaf sugar or sugar nibs.

The Bath bun is said to have been invented by a doctor called William Oliver in the 18th century. After his patients visited the Roman baths he would give them a nourishing Bath bun. It was soon apparent that his plan was not working as he expected when he realised his patients were getting somewhat portly. He withdrew the buns and replaced them with hard, dry water biscuits.

I must say that I would have become a hypochondriac if I was one of Oliver’s patients! I would have used any excuse to get my hands on one. They are so delicious – sweet and sticky and very bad for you. I can’t put the attractiveness of the Bath bun better than W Chambers, writing in his Edinburgh Journal of 1855:

The Bath-bun is a sturdy and gorgeous usurper – a new potentiate, whose blandishments have won away a great many children, we regret to say, from their lawful allegiance to the plum-bun. The Bath-bun is not only a toothsome dainty, but showy and alluring withal. It was easier for ancient mariners to resist the temptations of the Sirens, than it is for a modern child to turn away from a Bath-bun…Large, solid, and imposing, it challenges attention, and fascinates its little purchasers.

We can see from this quote that the Bath bun was popular, not just in Bath, but England and Scotland, so what happened to it? Enriched breads are still pretty popular in Britain, even with the advent of comparatively modern chemically-aerated sponge cakes. Strange.

Here’s the recipe that appears in English food. It contains no currants, which I think are as essential as the sugar lumps:

First of all make the ferment – sometimes called a sponge – a yeasty batter that gets the microbial metabolism underway quick smart. Mash together 1 ½ ounces of fresh yeast with the same weight of granulated sugar in a little water taken from ½ pint of blood-heat water. Add the remainder of the water and leave until the mixture has begun to foam, around 20 minutes. As you wait, weigh out 15 ounces of eggs in their shells and crack them into a bowl. Beat in 5 ounces of strong white bread flour and then add the yeast mixture once foaming. Cover with cling film or a damp tea towel so that it can rise for around an hour.

To make the dough, mix into the ferment the following: 30 ounces of strong white bread flour, 12 ounces of softened butter, 3 ounces of granulated sugar, 12 ounces of broken sugar lumps, a good pinch each of mixed spice and salt and a few drops of lemon juice.

Jane says for us to knead this dough together; good luck with that, the mixture is more a batter than a dough. I did this impossible task in my Kitchen Aid. Cover and leave to prove again until its double the size, which could take 90 minutes or longer with such an enriched dough weighed down with so many goodies.

Knock back the dough (the best part of the bread-making process) and ‘shape the dough into pieces the size of a small Cox’s orange pippin’. Good luck with that, too.
Somehow place the pieces of dough on baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper, cover with plastic bags and allow to rise again.

Bake at 200⁰C for around 20 minutes, swapping trays half way though to achieve an even bake.

When almost baked, make the bun wash by boiling together 2 ounces of sugarwith 5 tablespoons of water. As soon as the buns come out of the oven, place on racks and brush with the syrupy mixture. Lastly, crumble over more broken sugar lumps.
#419 Cobb’s Bath Buns. As with many of Jane’s recipes from theBread section of the book I didn’t get on very well with this recipe. The dough was tricky to handle and I couldn’t achieve the proud, round shape I expect from a Bath bun. They also seemed to stale almost immediately. Bit of a damp squib for the last recipe in this section. 3.5/10.

#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