Cake shape and Bristol Fashion

27 Mar

Recipe for Bristol Cakes from The New London Family Cook, by Duncan Macdonald, 1808


‘Mix with the hand, in an earthen pan, six ounces of sifted sugar, six ounces of fresh butter’

‘four whites and two yolks of eggs’


‘and nine ounces of flour;’


‘add three quarters of a pound of picked currants,’



‘drop the mixture with a spoon on tin plates, rubbed with butter, ‘


‘and bake it’


Learning your limes

24 Mar


limes on sale in my local Loblaws grocery store

While we were preparing for the Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus event at Fort York this February I was struck by the fact that none of the recipes that we were testing included any limes.  As a commonplace citrus fruit into today’s kitchen it seemed like either a surprising or deliberate omission.  Bridget, the Heritage Food Programme Officer at the Fort, confirmed that it was the latter.  ‘Well,’ she said, when I asked her why we weren’t making any biscuits or cakes with lime in, the recipe, ‘it’s because they didn’t use limes for cooking cakes or biscuits in the 18th or early 19th century’.

So when do limes start to become part of the baking artillery?  Today it’s impossible to come across an on-trend cookery book without some sort of recipe for a delicate lime sponge or biscuits iced with a lime infused frosting (see for example the recipe for mini lime-syrup sponges in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess – p.242).  In fact it often feels as if limes are the 21st century sophisticated version of lemons, adding zest to sparkling water and gin and tonics, packing a punch in Mexican food or adding a sharp contrast to the sweetness of Vietnamese dishes at smart, upscale restaurants.  But I was interested to try and trace something of the lime’s culinary history.


A gin and tonic with lime – the perfect end to a day

The fruit lime, as the OED defines, is ‘the globular fruit of the tree Citrus Medica, var. acida, smaller than the lemon and of a more acid taste; more explicitly sour lime. Its juice is much used as a beverage. Sweet lime n. Citrus Medica, var. Limetta.’ The OED’s earliest cited mention in English is in 1638 when T. Herbert writes in Some Yeares Trav. ‘The Ile [Mohelia] inricht us with many good things;..Orenges, Lemons, Lymes’.  The lime gets a brief mention in the epic poem The Task, by the 18th century writer William Cowper which talks about ‘The ruddier orange and the paler lime’.  As a cooking ingredient however it seems to get short shrift throughout the 18th and 19th century in England.  The only place where it seems to surface is when the juice is used in a beverage.  For example the London Gazette in 1704 talks about ‘A Parcel of extraordinary good Rum and Lime-juice’.  And in 1774 a P V Fithian records ‘We had after Dinner, Lime Punch and Madaira.’


lime juice in the age of convenience shopping

Of course lime juice wasn’t only good as a mixer for alcoholic drinks.  The importance of lime juice to the British navy in the 19th century as a method of staving off attacks of scurvy for sailors going for long periods without fresh fruits and vegetables was so great that it earned sailors and by extension all Brits the sobriquet of ‘limeys’.  There’s a fascinating account of the complacency and misunderstanding which surrounded the use of lime juice (and that of other citrus fruits) to control scurvy on naval voyages on the Idle Words blog.
Lime takes time to emerge in other British culinary products.  For example it’s not until the 1930s that the reassuringly British Rose’s lime marmalade appeared. Interestingly the strength of the original Mr Rose’s business was built on supplying the British Navy with lime juice but it seems that it took him a number of years to experiment with it as flavour for marmalade.


Rose’s lime marmalade, a nursery staple from the 1930s

In fact until relevantly recently the most likely mention of ‘lime’ in British cook books is likely to refer to the calcium oxide product, for use in cleaning and other household tasks.  Not the lovely vibrant green lime at all.  For example in Mrs Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management she advises that ‘To preserve bright Grates or Fire-irons from Rust’ one should ‘Make a strong paste of fresh lime and water, and with a fine brush smear it as thickly as possible over all the polished surface requiring preservation. By this simple means, all the grates and fire-irons in an empty house may be kept for months free from harm, without further care or attention.’
So back to the issue of limes in baking.  Perhaps the best known dessert recipe using limes is the iconic Key Lime Pie from Key West, Florida (anyone who watched last year’s Great British Bake Off will remember Ryan’s perfect Key Lime Pie that wowed judges Mary and Paul).  It appears that its it exact lineage has been clouded in the mists of time but most stories contain the following suggestion, that the dish originated with the cook of William Curry, the first millionaire of Key West.  The dessert used the distinctive key limes grown in the area (the 1926 storm wiped out most of the local production) and condensed milk.  The comparative isolation of the islands, without cows, meant that the only source of milk was the sweetened condensed milk, first made available by canned condensed milk in mid 19th century before the advent of modern refrigeration.  As many of the websites I looked at suggested, the smaller key limes are very different from the more familiar vibrant green lime variety and a true Key Lime Pie should be tinged a delicate yellow, not a strong green colour.

The difficulty comes when you try and pin down the first written Key Lime Pie recipe.  I’ve been looking for a number of days now without success.  A number of sources suggested that I wouldn’t have any success pre-1930 and so I began looking at a number of American classics from The Joy of Cooking and Fannie Farmer’s Boston cookbook to James Beard’s American cookery.  None of them contains a recipe for Key Lime Pie.  The very helpful woman in the Cookbook Store, Toronto pointed out to me that it might well be that the recipe first appeared on the back of a condensed milk tin.

In fact finding any recipe using limes for much of the 20th century is tricky.  I felt hopeful when I looked at the promisingly titled Zestful recipes for every meal: Pure Gold and Silver Seal oranges, lemons, grapefruit published in California sometime in the 1930s by the Mutual Orange Distributers.  Alas, no lime recipes. When you do fine pre-1950s lime recipes they tend to be for cocktails or for marinating fish. For example The Modern Cook Book for the Busy Woman, by Mabel Claire, published in 1932 contains a recipe for a lime rickey and a non alcoholic lime cocktail.  Mrs Vaughan Moody’s 1931 Cook Book tells you how to make a lime sherbet with 12 limes and a Hawaiian cocktail to marinate fish with limes.  The Patio Cook Book from 1951 includes Joe Tilden’s Garlic Sauce (created we’re told by one of California’s most famous amateur chefs) which incorporates lime to create a sauce perfect for French bread, fish or jacket potatoes.

By this point I was beginning to feel really despondent – where was I going to find any written proof of the beginning of our love affair with lime as a baking ingredient?  Well, my perusing on a local bookshop shelf of American cookbooks did reveal something slightly more helpful.  A reprint of the first Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book from 1950 contained a range of lime recipes; its Lime Meringue Pie recipe was contributed by a member of staff from Florida (could this be a Key Lime Pie in disguise?) and it was accompanied by a Lime Cake Pudding and a Lime Chiffon Pie.  At last, the lime seems to have made its mark on the baking scene!

There’s plenty of gaps in this culinary account of limes, especially in terms of their use in Mexican, Indian and south East Asian cooking (one of my favourite discoveries in Singapore last year was lime juice, refreshingly sharp, with just a hint of sweetness below, the perfect drink for a bakingly hot day).  I would love to be presented with an earlier recipe using limes in the baking of something sweet.  And please, please do let me know if you come across a recipe for Key Lime Pie pre-1950.  For this amateur historic cook there’s plenty more lime learning to do.

Kensington Palace Recipes 4 – Sebastian’s stain remover

10 Mar




Title page from the Compleat Servant-Maid by Hannah Woolley (1677) image from Design your life

Would you turn to Nigella for tips on household cleaning?  Or how about consulting Jamie about how to treat a common cold, or reduce a swelling?  Our modern separation of food from medicine from cleaning products is one which would probably have seemed strange to our ancestors who would have expected to produce a range of all three at home.  Many books which we might now term cookery books were so much more than this; offering the housewife or housekeeper advice on a diversity of household management topics, including the making of herbal remedies and preparations for cleaning clothes, furniture and textiles.  A sample of some of their titles not only underlines this point but also demonstrates the value placed on the skills of good household management:


  • Domestic management, or the art of conducting a family; with instructions to servants in general.  Addressed to young housekeepers, c.1800


  • The Housekeepers Manual of Cookery and Domestic Economy, 1859


  • Housekeeping A Guide to Domestic Management by Mrs Humphry (Madge of Truth) 1893


As Mrs Humphry warned readers in her introduction ‘Good housekeepers are comparatively rare.  To keep house efficiently needs a combination of qualities which Nature seems niggardly in doling out.’  Books of domestic management therefore were needed to guide women in the arts of housekeeping, so that they could be an asset to their husband/employer.


Medicines and cleaning products, just like cakes, soups and preserves, would all be prepared using  what was known as a ‘recipe’ or more commonly before the 19th century a ‘receipt’.  The Oxford English Dictionary etymology shows how the word developed from the Latin verb recipere, to receive, which in its 2nd singular imperative, was written by physicians at the top of their prescriptions.  The earliest use the OED cites for recipe/receipt being used to describe the ingredients and methods for making an edible preparation is 1595 when the Widowes Treasure talks of  ‘A notable receite to make Ipocras.’  And in his 1755 dictionary Dr Johnson defines ‘receipt’ (derived from recipe) as a ‘prescription of ingredients for any composition’.


It’s in this broad context of household management that we find in the lengthily titled The Housewife, being a most useful assistant in all domestic concerns, whether in a town or country situation (1785?) by Laetitia Montague, (Sometime companion to a lady in one of the first families in the Kingdom) the fascinating ‘recipe’ For an earwig gotten into the ear;


‘Get rue, and stamp it in a mortar; then strain off the juice, and put it into the ear; then lie down to rest on the contrary ear, and when you awake the juice will come out and the earwig will be dead.


The juices of wormwood, southernwood, and rue equal quantities, put into the ear will also kill any vermin that is got into it.’


While Mrs Humphry (1893) advises that To Dislodge a Fish Bone from the Throat;


‘Take an emetic compounded of four grains of tartar emetic dissolved in a tumberful of warm water.  Immediately afterwards, drink down the white of four eggs.  This will be efficacious in causing sickness and the bone will probably come away with it’


No-one offered me a medicinal receipt in my Kensington book of Historic Royal Recipes but the contribution from Sebastian was a receipt for the cleaning of household linen.  Sebastian is the softly spoken Deputy Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, full of wise and witty advice and a fount of knowledge on a whole host of subjects including the furniture of royal palaces (look out for his Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber opening at Hampton Court on 27 March!)  He was also responsible for handling the return of one of my favourite portraits to Hampton Court, the wonderful Van Dyck painting of the young Princess Mary (eldest daughter of Charles I) which is believed to have hung in the palace while Charles was living there under house arrest during the English Civil War.


Now, I’m more than prepared to try most of the recipes in my book but this one I have not verified by practical experimentation (not only did I not want to mess about with the necessary ingredients, I didn’t have any ink stained clothing to practise on).  You’ll be even more delighted to hear that this means that there is no photographic evidence to accompany it.  Here is Sebastian’s recipe (courtesy of Hannah Woolley) in full:


To get Spots of Ink out of Linne Cloth


‘Before that you suffer it to be washed, lay it all night in urine as if you were washing it in water; then lay it in more urine another night and then rub it again, and so do till you find they be quite out.’


Hannah Woolley, The Compleat Servant-Maid (1677)


It’s ironic in a way how important urine has been in the preparation of cloth and the care of clothes, given how much time is spent trying to remove human waste from laundry.  Fulling the process of cleansing newly made cloth to remove impurities and make it thicker used urine (or wash as it was known) to soften and whiten the cloth.  The medieval toilet, the garderobe, gained its name because clothing was hung there so that the ammonia rich environment would kill the fleas and other insects.  As Hannah Woolley’s spot remover demonstrates urine continued to be important in the care of clothes and urine from chamber pots and privies was collected for the purpose.


Of course a fabric cleaning recipe is a very appropriate choice for a curator of historic dress (this was not a technique we ever used to try and get rid of ink spots at Kensington) and despite my reluctance to begin testing this within the confines of our modern apartment I am fascinated by the history of keeping clothes clean, not least because a brief trawl through the history of clothes laundering and cleaning quickly reminds you how pain free modern appliances and commercial dry cleaning have made the business of keeping clothes clean.  No longer the messy, arduous and sometimes highly dangerous business of preparing your own soap and urine stain removers, poking clothes through mangles and lifting heavy piles of soaked washing from boiling coppers.  When you next lift your clothes from your user-friendly washing machine or treat the coffee spill on your shirt with a neatly packaged, pre-prepared stain remover you can be glad that you don’t have to think about setting your urine aside for future use!  Thanks for the recipe Sebastian.  See below for a few more clothes cleaning recipes and links to some of my favourite historic laundry pictures.




Housekeeping A Guide to Domestic Management by Mrs Humphry (Madge of Truth,) 1893

‘To take out a wax candle or sperm stains Lay a piece of blotting-paper on the stain.  Put a live coal from the fire into a kitchen spoon, hold the spoon on the blotting paper.  The heat will cause the latter to absorb the grease’


The New England Cook Book, or Young Housekeeper’s Guide, n.d


36. To clean Silk Stockings.

Wash the stockings in mildly warm hard soap suds, rinse them in soap suds and if you wish to have them of a flesh color, put in a little rose, pink or cochineal powder; if you prefer a bluish cast, put in a little indigo. Hang them up to dry without wringing, when nearly dry, iron them on the right side, till perfectly so. If you wish silks of any kind to have a gloss on them, never rinse them without soap in the water.


39. To clean Light Kid Gloves.

Magnesia, moist bread and India Rubber, are all of them good to clean light kid gloves, if rubbed on thoroughly.

The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Isabella Beeton, 1861

Silks, when washed, should be dried in the shade, on a linen-horse, taking care that they are kept smooth and unwrinkled. If black or blue, they will be improved if laid again on the table, when dry, and sponged with gin, or whiskey, or other white spirit.


The Easiest Way In Housekeeping And Cooking. Adapted To Domestic Use Or Study In Classes by Helen Campbell, 1903


‘If any fruit-stains are on napkins or table-cloths, lay the stained part over a bowl, and pour on boiling water till they disappear. Ink can be taken out if the spot is washed while fresh, in cold water, or milk and water; and a little salt will help in taking out wine-stains. Machine-oil must have a little lard or butter rubbed on the spot, which is then to be washed in warm suds. Never rub soap directly on any stain, as it sets it. For iron-rust, spread the garment in the sun, and cover the spot with salt; then squeeze on lemon-juice enough to wet it. This is much safer and quite as sure as the acids sold for this purpose. In bright sunshine the spot will disappear in a few hours.’



The Fortress of Konigstein: Courtyard with the Magdalenenburg by Bernardo Bellotto, 1756-8, which shows on the right hand side women putting the linen out on the grass to dry and bleach in the sun.  (Manchester City Art Galleries)

Manual Labour: An Interior with Three Figures Folding Laundry by Wyn Casbolt, 1943 (UCL Art Gallery)

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Morland, c.1765-82 (Tate Galleries)

Restored Cathedral with Washing on the Drying Green by H Eadie, 1907 (Dunblane Museum)

Y Lein Ddillad (The Washing Line) by Helen Steinthal, 1964-1966 (Bangor University)

Un grande bacio

17 Feb


The monster Baci cake! 


As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m particularly fond of Perugina’s Baci chocolates.  I was delighted when on honeymoon in Sicily around Easter time to find that Baci Easter Eggs are readily found and it was in Italy that I first became acquainted with the Baci cake, a light sponge with pockets of Gianduia filling and covered in chocolate, to imitate the flavour of a Baci chocolate.  However, even though buying one of these would be the easiest way to sample Baci in cake form ever since seeing the Baci cake recipe (scroll to the bottom of the page) on the Baci Canada website I’ve been wanting to test it.  Whereas the shop bought cake is made to look like a giant, unwrapped Baci the recipe suggestion on the website was for a heart shaped cake, topped with Baci in their sparkling silver wrappers. It seemed like the perfect recipe to experiment with on Valentine’s Day – what chocolates are more suited to Valentine’s than Baci with their little love notes and logo inspired by the romantic 19th century painting, The Kiss.    On closer inspection however it was clear that I’d need to give the recipe a bit of a tweak.  There were a few elements which were not clearly explained on the website and the generous quantities of ingredients listed for the sponge would have made a cake to feed an entire Italian wedding.  So I halved the quantities of ingredients for the sponge and added some praline chocolate to the mixture.  Even with this alteration the batter still made three generous heart shaped layers in a tin, c.18cm in width.  Instead of making one batch of ganache and covering the cake in melted chocolate I made a double layer of ganache to cover the whole cake.


Baci cake as you buy it in the shops.  You can see from the profile slice that it’s meant to look like a giant Baci. 


melting the butter and chocolate

It was only once I’d begun the process of putting the cake together that I noticed quite how large it was going to be. I’d already cut down the layers of the cake so that they would stack better; in retrospect I should probably have shaved off a little more.   With its three layers it was beginning to rival the Empire State Building for height. Adding the Baci chocolates on the top was like giving the cake an extra layer.  Even my largest cake tin wasn’t big enough to take the cake.  I had to hold the top in place with sellotape and then work out a way of transporting it.  I’d created a monster Baci cake!  I didn’t make a very job of decorating the cake and a s consequence there are no photos of this stage in the cake’s creation; I was too busy considering whether it would be or wouldn’t be acceptable to show anyone, let alone ask them to taste such an oversized, Frankenstein of a cake.  It didn’t help that  my ganache mixture was a little on the runny side and so didn’t stick to the cake quite as effectively as I had hoped.  If I’d trimmed the sponge layers too, I’d have had a much neater looking cake.


The first two layers of the cake, if only I’d stopped at two!


Too big for the tin; thankfully I could rest the lid on the decorative Bacis and it reached Mr Kim’s office in one piece. 

Once again Mr Kim’s work colleagues graciously agreed to sample my baking experiment.  It turned out that it was the last day for one of Mr Kim’s colleagues so the cake doubled as both a late Valentine’s treat and leaving cake.   Then I was able to find out if its flavour really matched that of a Baci chocolate.  The contrasting layers of light sponge and ganache looked very effective but I’d overcooked the sponge layers and that they were a little on the dry side. The overall taste of the cake though worked really well and despite all the hazelnut flour in the sponge and the praline chocolate the taste of hazelnut wasn’t overpowering. Despite being sampled by the office such was the size of the Baci cake it felt like we’d barely made a dent.  If you need to feed a small army or express to your nearest and dearest the monumentality of your love in cake form, then this is the cake for you.  As it says on one of the Baci love notes ‘Every great love begins with a kiss’ (Anon).  And this cake is definitely one big kiss!


In case anyone is interested in trying this cake below is my altered recipe.


For the cake

Flour 275g (I’d use self raising in the UK)

Potato starch 100g

Hazelnut flour 200g

Melted butter 150g

Egg yolks 50g

Whole eggs 450g

Caster sugar 325g

Praline chocolate 100g


For icing

Whipping cream 200g

Praline chocolate 400g

Dark chocolate 30g

Chopped hazelnuts 70g


To decorate

10 Baci perugina



1. heat the oven to 200˚C (390˚F)

2. mix together the hazelnut flour, the flour and potato starch

3. beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar until well blended

4. melt the butter and chocolate slowly

5.add the melted butter mixture to the eggs and sugar

6. add the flour a ½ cup at a time

7. pour 1/3  of the mixture into a 18cm heart shaped tin and cook for c. 30 mins

8. cook three layers of the cake and leave to cool

To make the ganache

  1. bring the cream to a boil.  Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate in small pieces.
  2. Keep stirring the mixture until all the chocolate has melted
  3. Add the chopped nuts

To finish the cake

  1. sandwich the layers with the ganache
  2. cover the top of the      cake and sides with the remaining ganache
  3. add Baci to the top


Let them eat gingerbread

14 Feb

gingerbread in box



One of the many recipes I’ve meaning to try for some time is one sent to me by my secondary school history teacher, Mrs V.  It’s a Dan Lepard from the Guardian newspaper at about the time of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last year and although it doesn’t give an historical source for the gingerbread recipe its rich, treacly texture and heady mix of spices seem resonant of a past era when such a combination of costly ingredients would have made it a luxurious treat.

Gingerbread, which the OED defines as ‘From the 15th c. onwards: A kind of plain cake, compounded with treacle, and highly flavoured with ginger. Formerly made into shapes of men, animals, letters of the alphabet, etc., which were often gilded’ is a sweetmeat with a long history, appearing in both Chaucer and Shakespeare.  The earliest instance of its use in the OED dates from 1299 when it’s mentioned in the Durham MS. Burs. Roll, ‘In ij Gurdis de Gingebrar’.  And although as its name suggests most gingerbread recipes were flavoured with gingerbread this was not always the case.  Another of the OED quotations dates from 1430 and Two Cookery-bk,s ‘Gyngerbrede. Take a quart of hony..Safroun, pouder Pepir..gratyd Brede’ – no mention of ginger here!

The food historian Ivan Day has an excellent page on his website exploring Lady Barbara Fleming’s recipe for gingerbread from 1673, where the dough is given an intense red colour from sanders, the wood of the sandalwood tree.  Ivan gives a number of different gingerbread recipes and illustrates how it gradually changed from being an almond paste, breadcrumb based recipe to one more commonly made using treacle and flour.  Dan Lepard’s recipe uses both treacle and flour but other ingredients like honey and chopped peel hark back to some of the older, pre-Victorian recipes.

Dr Johnson’s 1755 definition of gingerbread is close to that of the OED ‘A kind of farinaceous sweetmeat made of dough, like that of bread or biscuit, sweetened with treacle, and flavoured with ginger and some other aromatick seeds’.  One of the innovative aspects of Dr Johnson’s dictionary was the vast number of quotations he included, to illustrate how words were used in speech, and as well as quoting from Love’s Labour Lost (‘An’ I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread’) he also quoted Jonathan Swift, ‘Tis a loss you are not here, to partake of three weeks frost, and eat gingerbread in a booth by a fire upon the Thames’.  Swift’s quotation conjures up a vision of crisp winter air, jangling bells and the raucous shouts and laughter of London enjoying a great frost fair, warmed by tankards of hot ale and firey gingerbread.  In a similar suggestion of conviviality Dan Lepard suggests that his gingerbread is ‘ever so good cut into small diamonds to serve with brandy after dinner.’

The regal and showy qualities of gingerbread have deep roots and it was often gilded which W King in his 1708 Art of Cookery poetically describes as ‘The enticing Gold on Ginger-bread’.  Another long gingerbread tradition is that of shaping forming the dough into shapes, often human figures or alphabet letters, with a knife, cutters or elaborate moulds.  In Cowper’s Table Talk, scorning mere showy possessions, he rhetorically suggests ‘As if the poet, purposing to wed, Should carve himself a wife in ginger~bread’.

It’s highly appropriate that Mrs V should pass on a historically based gingerbread recipe to me since I am the student who tortured her history class with the products of my experimentation with a medieval gingerbread.  I always enjoyed Mrs V’s lessons (earlier in my school career she taught me English) and her engaging and thought provoking teaching strengthened and nurtured my love of history and helped to confirm it’s what I wanted to study at university.  From the Frondes of 17th century France to the enlightened despotism of Joseph II (discuss) the lessons swung their way through early modern European history with regular tangential discussions about Mrs V’s exciting birth (in Coventry during the Blitz) to the depressing frequency of greengrocers’ apostrophes.  All of this helped to install in me a belief in the importance of the seemingly insignificant, especially when it came to history.  I was fascinated by the social minutiae of the lives of peoples past, how they did things, what did it sound, taste, feel like?  Given my love of social history and baking it was perhaps unsurprisingly that I used my classmates and Mrs V as guinea pigs for my attempt at this medieval gingerbread recipe.  I remember that its base mixture of breadcrumbs and honey didn’t look particularly appealing as I made it.  This was then flavoured with spices and divided into two, with one half coloured an alarming red.  The idea was to roll it out, cut into squares, bake it and then arrange it in a chequerboard pattern.  Quite how I presented it, or where exactly I found the recipe, I can’t remember but the look of forced enjoyment on the faces of my history class as they struggled to swallow my strange historic creation I will not forget.

Happily I had far more success with Dan Lepard’s recipe; it was a delight to prepare, with wafts of ginger, mace and cinnamon dancing in the air, and the pleasure gained from watching the ingredients combine into a dark, rich dough.  It was also very straightforward; once the dough was formed it’s just pressed into a baking tin and stuffed with almonds (Dan suggested cutting them in half but I just stuck mine in whole).


flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg


apricots, peel and ginger


flour and treacle mixture


gingerbread dough ready to go

Dan explains in the introduction to his gingerbread recipe that you should expect a dense texture, like a paneforte, and as they bake the apricots, candied peel and ginger melt into the honey and molasses.  The resulting gingerbread is intense, chewy and very moreish.  I haven’t any brandy to try it out with yet but I’ve found it difficult to stop myself taking another slice.  In texture and taste it reminds me of the wonderful Grasmere gingerbread from the Lake District.  And while my cutting of the gingerbread was hardly sufficiently well executed to be fit for a queen, a touch of gold dusting powder not only gave it a certain regal air but also offered a contemporary nod to the fabulous tradition of gilded gingerbread


     the gingerbread out of the oven 


not quite the diamond shape Dan Lepard suggested but given a bit of extra sparkle with some gold powder

Seafood and sesame- a Korean take on Shrove Tuesday

12 Feb

I’m a big fan of pretty much every type of pancake from the classic English sugar and lemon drenched pancake to thin and crispy French crepes (a friend has introduced me to a great creperie, Crêpes à GoGo, just opposite Toronto Reference Library).  One of my most vivid memories of living in Germany as a child is eating crepes filled with chocolate and nuts (and managing to end up with chocolate all round my mouth and on my nose too!) in the chill cold and excitement of Aachen’s Christmas market.  And one of my favourite breakfasts is Mr Kim’s light and fluffy American pancakes bursting with blueberries and swirled in maple syrup accompanied by crunchy bacon.  In fact such is my enthusiasm for this breakfast that when we moved to Canada last friends jokingly suggested that we might have been involved in the great Canadian maple syrup heist.   More recently Korean pajeon have been added to my pancake lexicon.  Pajeon are savoury pancakes with spring onion and then a whole range of other ingredients depending on taste.  They’re often made fairly small, 8cm d., and served with soy sauce.


The ingredients for the pajeon; pajeon mix, seafood, sesame leaves and spring onions


The sesame leaves and spring onions are chopped up

Since I’m by myself this Shrove Tuesday I decided that pajeon would be a good choice for marking the occasion (something English or American pancakes don’t work solo – I’m no good at making up batter for just one person).  Pajeon work well being made in advance and then heated up whenever you want to eat them. My Shrove Tuesday pajeon were made with spring onion, sesame leaves (I love the taste of these) and seafood, and the mixing was made particularly easy by using ready to make pajeon mix.  I’d been taught how to make them with my mother-in-law last October so now was a great time to practise.  There might not be any flipping involved but I still wanted to make sure that I got them right.


A cup of water is added to a cup of pajeon mix and the sesame leaves and spring onions are added along with a couple of cups of seafood mix


Using a quarter cup measure the pajeon are placed in a frying pan on a medium heat and given a few minutes on each side, so that they are nicely brown.  It’s worthwhile squashing them down so that the middle is definitely fully cooked.

One of the aspects of Toronto which particularly struck us when we arrived was the size of the Korean population, which means finding and eating Korean food in Toronto is so much easier than in the UK.  Our favourite Korean restaurant in England is Hamgipak in New Malden who make delicious pajeon and if you want to try making pajeon yourself you might be able to find the pajeon mix in a south east Asian grocery store, like Thong Heng in Oxford. Otherwise a straightforward English pancake batter with the addition of spring onions and prawns would make a pretty good equivalent.


The finished pajeon served with some soy sauce

Happy Pancake Day!


The key to good bread

8 Feb


St Peter with his key, watching over his bakery

A cold, wet February morning does nothing to lift the spirits, especially when you’re in Salzburg and have been hoping for a picturesque covering of snow and fine, crisp weather.  What a difference a visit to a bakery can make, especially when the bakery in question has been in existence since 1160 and greets customers with the tempting smell of freshly baked bread well before you’ve stepped inside.

I was in Salzburg as part of an ICOM Costume Committee group working on a project to produce a web based resource for making the most of costume collections in museums.  When you’re going to spend a day deep in discussion and debate over formats and contents an early morning visit to a such bakery provides not only edible sustenance but also a ver welcome psychological boost.  We needed no encouragement from our host Dorothea to take up her suggestion of a pre-meeting visit, especially as she explained to us that often on a cold winter’s morning she would use a loaf of St Peter’s bread as a sort of edible hot water bottle, pressed tightly to her coat as she walked back home.


baked rolls at Stiftsbäckerei

Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter is the monastery bakery, just a little to the west of St Peter’s church in  the heart of Salzburg.  For the past eight hundred years or so it’s been producing bread in its wood fired oven, with the monastery mill powered by a waterwheel, that happily churns and roars at the entrance to the bakery.  The bakery’s current simple interior bears little signs of change since the 1950s; boards of loaves ready for the oven waited on shelves, while the sturdy and dependable looking bread mixer dated from an age before computer technologies.  Bread is baked and sold in the same room, allowing the customer to enjoy not only the aroma of the newly baked bread, but also whole process of bread making from the mixing to baking.


The bakery interior with a range of the different breads and rolls produced and the mixer in the background

The main product of the monastery bakery is a wholemeal sour dough loaf, developed from the bakery’s own sourdough starter and rye flour.  This wholesome and hearty loaf comes in a range of sizes – ½, 1 and 2 kgs and is priced uniformly at 2.95 euros per kg.  Something about its very rustic solidity seems to encapsulate the longevity of bread baking on the site and offers a very edible reminder of the bakery’s history and purpose.  Since I wasn’t in a position to try taking one of these loaves home, however, I went for another of the bakery’s products, a brioche roll, beautifully soft and studded with raisins.


my brioche roll, perfect for elevenses!

St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg was founded in 696 by Saint Rupert (we were staying in buildings belonging to the monastery, now smart visitor accommodation) and the monks probably had some way of producing their own bread early on in the Abbey’s history but it was in 1160 that the monastery mill was established near the Abbey’s cemetery (the abbey church was established in 1147).  The mill survived in the building until 1967 and the wheel was refurbished in 2006, so that once again the bakery uses water power, and generates enough energy to feed it back into the public grid.  It’s great to think that a bakery first established to provide the monastic community of St Peter’s with good, wholesome bread, today not only offers the wider community of Salzburg the fruits of its rich bread making tradition but also gives back all the surplus power generated by its waterwheel.  A heart warming thought for a cold and grey February morning.


The bakery waterwheel in full flow