Archive | January, 2013

Kensington Palace Recipes 3 – Colin’s fig and white chocolate biscuits

29 Jan


An early concept model for Enchanted Palace, combining fashion and palace grandeur, ideas which then had to be costed up by Colin, note the magically pouring teapot to the left.

This week’s Kensington Palace recipe comes courtesy of Colin, Head of Quantity Surveying at Historic Royal Palaces.  Throughout my work on exhibition projects at HRP Colin had a remarkable ability to remain totally unfazed by any of the unexpected and sometimes surreal ideas we’d suggest for our exhibition design.  Colin’s calm and wise assessment of our proposals was particularly valuable for the exhibition adventure that was Enchanted Palace.  Whatever we came up with, from magic pouring tea pots to flying dresses, real birch forests to 14ft tall puppets, Colin would be able to quantify it and cost it up, producing budgets that allowed our creative ideas to move beyond sketches on a page.

  IMG_4049  chopped figs and white chocolate, courtesy of Bulk Barn

A similar mixture of creativity tempered by the restraint of experience is found in Colin’s fig and white biscuit recipe.  The recipe is photocopied from a newspaper but has been helpfully annotated with Colin’s modifications; he suggests using rice flour instead of the original plain flour for example and warns not to chop up the chocolate too small, other ‘it will disappear’.  Locating the ingredients for this recipe was much more straight forward than last time.  A quick trip to Bulk Barn provided me with the dried figs, white chocolate and flour.  I was going to get white chocolate chips but Bulk Barn only had these in one, small size and bearing in mind Colin’s advice I decided to buy a bar of chocolate instead to chop up.


The recipe was wonderfully straightforward; creaming the butter and sugar, adding the vanilla and egg, then the figs and chocolate and then finally the flour.  The recipe suggests that you’ll get 15 biscuits; I managed 16, all fitting neatly on one baking sheet.


All ready for the oven

For 20 minutes or so there was a beautiful smell wafting out of the oven.  I had to resist sampling them straight away but was glad to have waited; the crunchy outside forms a great contrast with the soft and chewy centre.  I don’t think that I’ve ever experimented with fig and white chocolate in a biscuit before but the two make a delicious flavour combination and the creamy white chocolate works beautifully with the squidgy seeded texture of the figs.  Perfect with a cup of coffee.

Thanks very much for the recipe Colin!


The finished biscuits, golden, chewy and crunchy


The power of a rolling pin

26 Jan

I’ve just finished a great book called A Museum Called Canada.  It’s like a Canadian specific A History of the World in 100 Objects, with a rich and often surprising collection of objects with which to tell Canada’s story from trace fossils 2 billion years old to a Sun Photometer from the 1980s.  Its sub title is 25 Rooms of Wonder and indeed the book is laid out like a museum, with each chapter taking on the function of a museum space, bringing together sometimes seemingly disparate objects to tell a episode in the story of Canada.  I like the sense of discovery and unexpectedness that the word ‘wonder’ suggests and the way in which the book reinforces the amazing stories which can be told by using objects.  That’s not to say that this book doesn’t have great text; the concept and choice of the objects came from Sara Angel and the twenty five essays in the book were written by Charlotte Gray, who is author of a range of books on Canadian history including another I read recently, Sisters in the Wilderness about the two Canadian authors and sisters Catherine Parr Trail and Susanna Moodie.  But like the rest of the book, the essays privilege the objects, each essay focused on the engrossing and fascinating tale which a single object has to tell.  These rich, intriguing and thought provoking essays rely 25 powerful stories all highlighting the way in which an object can act as a springboard for a much wider narrative.


I especially enjoyed Charlotte’s obvious empathy for objects, highlighted a tale she tells in the book’s introduction ‘No matter how commonplace, obsolete, or insignificant, an object can permit our empathy and imagination to vault the gulf of time and recapture vanished experiences.  When I pick up old glass rolling pins or chipped 1950s Melaware bowls at a local flea market, I am transported into the kitchens of other, earlier women.  I can almost feel flour on my fingertips and smell the pie baking in the oven as I reflect on how different the owners’ lives were from mine.’  For anyone coming from a museum background this clear feeling for the power of objects will ring true.

It’s perhaps not surprising that in the wide ranging assembly of objects there are few items of food, given the difficulties of keeping food over a long time (though having said this I’m always amazed by how long some foodstuffs can last, even in museum collections; pieces of royal wedding or christening cake from the 19th century spring to mind, or the tiny jars of jam in Queen Mary’s 1930s dollshouse).  Nevertheless, given the importance of food to the story of human survival and development there are a number of food related objects scattered throughout the ‘rooms’ of this Canadian museum. The earliest are the Paleoindian stone tools unearthed by archaeologists in Nova Scotia and evidence of the hunting habits of Canada’s earliest humans, moving forwards to a Huron wooden bowl, used in festivals celebrating the growing of corn, an early example of tinned food which probably helped to poison men on Franklin’s 1840s attempt to discover the Northwest Passage (the food inside would have been contaminated by the lead solder and probably was full of bacteria too) to a post Second World War advertisement for baby products, including a jar of the bestselling food for infants, Pablum.


Pablum page


The advertisement featuring Pablum comes from the Fall/Winter 1948-9 catalogue of one of Canada’s best known retail companies, Eaton’s and is the subject of one of Charlotte’s essays.  She uses the uninvitingly named baby food to chart explore the post war baby boom and the rise of consumerism but as she relates while the world of the 1950s is one often portrayed as a riot of bright plastic colours and pastel enamels, behind the excitement of the new products of this consumerism was much tedium and blandness for the housewives of Canada … all neatly represented by the jar of Pablum.  Her description of Pablum is enough to put off any self respecting baby ‘stone-cold mush tasting of soggy paper’ made from ‘a flaky grey powder consisting of wheatmeal, oatmeal, cornmeal, wheat germ, bone meal, dried brewers’ yeast, and alfalfa’.  It doesn’t exactly set your taste buds racing and little wonder that it has come in Canadian lexicons to refer to any writing bland and insipid!  And yet, the impetus behind the conception of Pablum was the altruistic, pioneering work of Dr Fred Tisdall of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children who wanted to produce an easily digested food, perfectly suited to the growing needs of babies, with the aim of significantly reducing infant mortality from digestive complications.  For 25 years the Toronto hospital received a royalty for each jar of Pablum sold (the brand name was sold to Heinz in 2005 and seems no longer to be used).  Thus encapsulated in one simple advertisement from a retail catalogue is a story that encompasses Canadian invention, radical social changes and the evolution of language.  Just one of the many ways in which this book, jam packed with incredible tales and poignant narratives, illuminates the power that even well worn rolling pins and melaware bowls have to connect us with our past and the people who lived there.

Back to Bread

23 Jan


Mr Kim’s first Toronto loaf; there was a 2nd but we broke into this before I was clever enough to take a photograph

Over the weekend Mr Kim baked his first bread in Toronto.  He was a little miffed that I didn’t immediately think to photograph his creation for my blog, so this post is an attempt to remedy my oversight.

The more I think about the more I realise what a mistake I made.  Anyone who knows Mr Kim is aware of his commitment to the production and consumption of fine food, especially when it comes to meat.  Whether it be homemade sausages, own caught crayfish from the Oxford Thames or his specially created deconstructed Tiramisu there is a broad ranging culinary connoisseurship and scientific enthusiasm which characterises Mr Kim’s cooking and which of course is more than worthy of mention on my blog.

Mr Kim’s bread baking is no exception.  He’s been baking bread ever since I’ve known him and his early loaves were delicious French style breads with a definite Gallic molecular structure and a great walnut bread, enriched with walnut oil.  Then he expanded his wheaten repertoire to best olive bread I’ve ever had, no tiny slivers if shrivelled olives here, but whole, succulent olives nestled in a rich bread beneath a crunchy crust.  And then a light, encrusted sesame loaf, to be enjoyed with Mr Kim’s homemade tzatsiki and taramasalata.

Mr Kim’s job load over the past few years, whether in Oxford or with the new Toronto job has seriously curtailed the amount of time for bread making.   On Sunday however we had lunch with friends and they had made a tasty walnut loaf.  It reminded Mr Kim of his love of bread making and on our way back he set off to locate a few necessary bread making ingredients, yeast etc and came back eager to get to work.  Since he couldn’t find walnut oil he opted for a classic white loaf, with a good, crunch to the crust and an airy, firm texture to the bread.   One of the elements I especially like with Mr Kim’s bread is his shaping of the loaves; this time it had a sturdy baton shape with two pointed ends.  It was delicately flavoured with thyme and tasted delicious with our evening meal of homemade pasta sauce and fresh pasta from St Lawrence market.

This initial revival of Mr Kim’s breadmaking means that I hope for two things; that my husband will continue to feel inspired to make his great bread and in doing so provide me with more culinary material for maplesyrupandcastersugar.

Kensington Palace Recipes 2 – Jo’s Welsh cakes

19 Jan


After a little bit of investigation and improvisation I had all the ingredients I needed to make Jo’s Welsh cakes, as the next of the recipes from my Kensington Palace custom cook book.  After asking Elizabeth at Fort York it turns out that lard in Canadian supermarkets is found in the baking section, ie. it isn’t refrigerated.  The other ingredient which wasn’t easy to come by was mixed spice, not being a regular baking addition in Canada.  In the end I bought spices and made my own mixed spice; two parts ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon to one part cloves.  I’ve never mixed up my own mixed spice before so if anyone has comments on the spices and proportions I used I’m open to improvements.


mixed spice mixed by Mrs Kim


Canadian lard; I needed a little help to find in the supermarket, nestled as it was alongside flour and yeast, rather than chilled with the butter and margarine

Jo is the assistant curator for Historic Royal Palaces and is one of the most organised and super efficient people I know.  Throughout the preparation for our exhibition Jubilee – A View from the Crowd last year, which had a vast range of loan objects from museums and private lenders, Jo kept them and all their accompanying information in meticulous order, as well as charming our lenders, overseeing installation and generally being an indispensible part of the team.  She also discovered a hidden talent as a hand model; during the photography of the exhibition objects Jo’s hands were extensively used to hold and frame the objects and all the white glove shots you see have Jo’s talented hands beneath them.

 hand and cupA Victorian Diamond Jubilee mug, beautifully framed by Jo’s hands

Jo hails from Wales so it’s perhaps not surprising that the recipe she contributed was Welsh cakes.  These sweet cakes, usually containing currants and spices, are actually more like a thin scone and would have been baked on a griddle or bakestone over the hearth.  As I’ve never had Welsh cakes before I went online to find out what type of texture they should have and a little more about their history.  Something I was keen to try and find out was how old Welsh cakes were.  One on-line writer suggests that as they contain an added raising agent they probably are little older than mid-19th century.  However, cooking on the hearth is such a long tradition that I’m sure that Welsh cakes existed in some form before this, whatever the raising agent.  The Laura Secord Canadian cookbook which I was given for Christmas has a Welsh cake recipe which it introduces by commenting that these were the cakes which King Alfred traditionally burnt.  The name might be wrong but the technology of using a bakestone, a thin stone or slate, to cook cakes near a fire, seems a little more plausible for any cakes King Alfred might have had a hand in burning.


St Fagans, the National Museum of Wales, rightly point out that there’s no definitive recipe for Welsh cakes; each family would have had their own particular traditions and touches. One of the earliest published recipes for Welsh cakes however seems to appear in the cookbook written by Lady Llanover, a staunch supporter of Welsh customs and traditions who championed the Welsh language and music and is credited with ‘designing’ the Welsh national costume.  Her book Good cookery illustrated: And recipes communicated by the Welsh hermit of the cell of St. Gover, with various remarks on many things past and present  was published in 1867.  However, according to the OED’s quotations for Welsh cake a recipe also appeared in a January 1867 edition of the periodical Young Englishwoman ‘Welsh Cakes.—One pound of butter beaten to a cream, add by degrees an equal quantity of flour, a tablespoonful of yeast, and three eggs.’  If anyone can find an earlier recipe do let me know.

The size and texture of a Welsh cake is key – they should be fairly thin, or as Jo helpfully describes, rolled out to the width of your little finger – as they need to cook quickly over the heat of the fire or hob.  Ann Romney (her grandfather was a Welsh miner), wife of the Republican contender for the American presidency, seems to have raised some sceptical Welsh eyebrows with her much thicker Welsh cakes which she baked last year on Good Morning America, a recent article pointed out.


flour, salt, mixed spice, sugar, lard and butter, all ready to mix by hand


after rolling out the dough to the width of my little finger I cut it into rounds

With these tips and warnings to guide me I took the plunge with Jo’s Welsh cake recipe, in a sense literally, since I mixed the ingredients by hand.  Volunteering in the Fort York kitchen has reminded me of the enjoyment of mixing ingredients by hand and the benefits of being able to judge each stage in the process of combining much more directly than using an electric mixer.  Since our hyper-modern apartment is without both bakestone and hearth these were cooked on a hob in a frying pan.  After burning the first batch I allowed the heat to cool and had much more successful results for the remaining cakes.  And as all the recipes suggest they were delicious sprinkled with sugar and eaten warm.  Thanks very much for the recipe Jo!


Following in the footsteps of King Alfred; burning my Welsh cakes…..

       IMG_3936 …but they weren’t all bad; some more palatable Welsh cakes, sprinkled with sugar

Worth its weight….

17 Jan

This week at Fort York I was making a pound cake.


Some of the pound cake ingredients; the grated rind of a lemon, just under 1/4 cup of sherry and eight eggs, all combined with a pound of flour, sugar and butter

The OED defines a pound cake as   ‘A large rich cake, originally one in which one pound of each of the principal ingredients is used’ and uses Hannah Glasse’s 1747 Art of Cookery recipe as a demonstration of the principle; ‘Take a pound of butter, beat it in an earthen pan with your hand one way, till it is like a fine thick cream, then have ready twelve eggs, but half the whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the butter, a pound of flour beat in it, a pound of sugar, and a few carraways. Beat it all well together for an hour with your hand, or a great wooden spoon, butter a pan and put it in, and then bake it an hour in a quick oven. For change, you may put in a pound of currants, clean washed and picked.’  The pound cake was a staple of 18th and 19th century cookbook; the one I was making came from the 1753 Lady’s Companion.  An element which has really struck me with these historic recipes is the great flavour the cakes have, even without many of the flavourings, like vanilla, that we consider essential.  The finely pounded sugar gives the cake a lovely light texture and the sherry, just under 1/4 of a cup, gave it just the right level of flavour.



Beating up the eggs. Despite the fact that this cake has no other raising agent the eggs weren’t separated, just beaten together


 The pound cake in a Kugelhopf style tin, often known in the 19th century as a Turk’s cap, because of it’s turban like appearance (cf. the OED 1859 quote F. S. Cooper Ironmongers’ Catal. 178   Jelly and Cake Moulds… Turk’s Cap.)


The cake out of the oven; it was baked at 325  degrees F for almost two hours.


The end result; the cake was being used for an event at the Fort so we couldn’t try it fully but a little piece that fell off the base allowed us to get a glimpse of what it might be like.  

Baci in Bulk

15 Jan

Baci and Baci Bianco

A bowlful of Baci – classic Baci (silver) and Baci Bianco (navy)

Bulk Barn is fast becoming one of my favourite stores in Canada, simply because it has such an amazing range of ingredients and cake making supplies.  For example, I was pretty sceptical that I’d be able to find the chopped apricots I like with my cereal in the morning but there they were at Bulk Barn.  It has endless types of dried fruit, nuts and grains and just about every type of baking tin and cookie cutter you could imagine.  Coupled with the fact that you can buy just the amount of an ingredient you need for whatever culinary project you’re undertaking and my only sadness is that there aren’t more in downtown Toronto (although I do think that the addition of some weighing scales so that you could check how much you had of any one ingredient before taking it to the till would be fantastic)

Baci in Bulk Barn

Baci in bulk at Bulk Barn

My latest discovery is that Bulk Barn stock Baci, the chocolates made by the Italian firm Perugina.  These chocolates, literally ‘little kisses’ in Italian, have long been some of my favourite; many a trip to Italy has seen me return with a few bagfuls.  Wrapped in an elegant silver foil wrapper with their name amidst a pattern of stars printed in navy blue, a big part of the appeal is that they’re a hazelnut flavoured chocolate; they have a nocchiatella centre, topped by a whole roasted hazelnut and then enveloped in dark chocolate.  But it’s the inclusion of the charming mottos, or love notes, as the Baci webpage calls them, which makes them so special.  Each motto is a famous quotation on the subject of love, translated into about four different languages; perfect for practising sweet nothings to take you around the globe, or at least Europe.


I hadn’t really thought about the history of Baci but it turns out that were created in 1922 when Luisa Spagnoli of Perugina (the company was founded some 15 years earlier) needed to find a way of using hazlenuts that had been left over from producing another product.  The love notes made their appearance in the 1930s, designed to encourage people to give Baci as a romantic gift.  You can read more of the love notes fascinating history on the Baci web page.  The distinctive packaging was created in the same decade, inspired by Francesco Hayez’s 1859 painting Il Bacio (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan).


Francesco Hayez’s 1859 painting Il Bacio.  It was a given a bit of a 20th century make over for the Baci image, to appeal to a cinema going consumer


The Baci website also includes a recipe for a heart shape Baci cake, which uses hazelnut flour and plenty of chocolate, before decorating with Baci.  Baci make great cake decorations, especially for a silver wedding anniversary when you can decorate the cake with 25 silver wrapped kisses!  We also added a Bacio to each of our wedding favours, in amongst the sugar almonds (I’m not sure Mr Kim noticed this but it pleased me) But you can also get white Baci (also stocked by Bulk Barn) which are wrapped in navy foil with silver stars, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner maybe I need to try out my own version of the Baci heart cake.      bacioperugina  perugina-4

Kensington Palace Recipes 1 – Rebecca’s Lemon Drizzle Cake

13 Jan


mixing up a lemon drizzle cake

When I left Kensington Palace in the summer before coming to Canada one of the gifts my lovely HRP colleagues gave me was a cookery book where they’d all contributed a recipe.  They all knew how much I enjoyed baking and cooking and I couldn’t think of a more personal and perfect way of remembering my time at Kensington.  I’ve been woefully slow in trying the tempting and intriguing culinary delights which they selected.  Now that we’ve reached the new year I’ve determined to work my way through the book, with at least a recipe a week.


My book of ‘Historic Royal Recipes’, carefully prepared by Meg

I was going to start with the first in the book, Jo Ewin’s Welsh cakes.  However, I was thwarted by the ready lack of lard in Toronto grocery stores.  So Jo’s recipe is going to have to wait while I locate the lard.  This week instead I’m baking Rebecca Morrison’s Lemon Drizzle Cake.  I’m a big fan of lemon drizzle cake; often I’m so eager to try it as it comes out of the oven doesn’t even get its topping before I’ve begun to sample the freshly baked sponge with its tangy lemon taste.    The MacCulloch family recipe for lemon drizzle cake has been supplemented with Mr Kim’s addition of poppy seeds, so I was keen to try out Rebecca’s recipe and see how it compared.  As I’m writing there’s a delicious lemon scent drifting from the oven.


The ingredients for the lemon drizzle cake (minus the eggs which were loitering to the side); in comparison to the MacCulloch LDC which uses demerara sugar Rebecca’s recipe uses caster sugar, giving it a much finer texture.  Self-raising flour isn’t as common in Canada but Brodie’s do make a version which you can buy in small packets as shown here. 

I first met Rebecca when she came to volunteer at Kensington and was instantly impressed by her utter unfazability and willingness to take on just about any task. As well as researching royal wedding dresses and elements of the palace’s history for our new presentation of the State Apartments her skills as a costume designer and dressmaker were well used in her creation of a wonderful interpretation of Prince Albert’s wedding outfit.  She also kept us on the straight and narrow when creating 1897 silhouettes for our filming of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee crowd which we used in the exhibition Jubilee – A View from the Crowd.  Now she’s mother to the delightful Dulcie, who came along to lend her own small and perfectly small hand to the task of choosing the right costumes for our 1897 crowd.


Rebecca putting the finishing touches to her Prince Albert wedding uniform, as shown in the Independent feature about the newly presented Kensington, March 2012.

So now Rebecca’s lemon drizzle cake is out of the oven, looking very fine and covered with its glaze of lemon juice and sugar.   So far I’ve resisted temptation to dig in but I think it’s time to sample it, even though it’s a bit too early for the lemon drizzle to have set.  My loaf tins are still in storage so I had to use a 9” tin to bake my lemon drizzle.  It doesn’t seem to have done the cake any harm; the sponge is lovely and fluffy, and the drizzle forms a great sharp contrast; now I just have to wait and try it when the topping’s gone all crunchy.    Thanks very much for the recipe Rebecca!


   IMG_3903 The cake just after it’s been drenched in lemon drizzle, it might take a little bit of time to cool and harden to a crunchy topping but …….


…… I just couldn’t wait and had to try a slice – delicious!