Tag Archives: Ivan Day
Image

Bruising Chocolate

4 Sep

image[2]

J Bell’s Chocolate Biscuit recipe from The French Family Cook

Today was a rather quiet and calm kitchen at Fort York.  Mya was keen to try a 1793 recipe for chocolate biscuits from J Bell’s The French Family Cook: Being a Complete System of French Cookery.  This recipe involved no butter so it suggested a biscuit in the French manner, like a Naples or Savoy biscuit.  It also called for the ounce and a half of chocolate to be ‘bruised very fine’.  I was intrigued by this instruction not least because I was sceptical that solid chocolate could be easily ‘bruised very fine’.  What exactly did the instruction mean?  Mya and I decided that it probably meant that the chocolate should be beaten using a pestle and mortar.  I began by cutting up the blocks of Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate    which we were using with a knife.  This chocolate conveniently comes in wrapped ounce blocks which are divided in two so I put one half block in the small brass mortar at a time and began to grind and beat it down.  I was impressed that it did begin to produce something like a powder, fine beads of the dark chocolate.

Having pounded for a good number of minutes I sieved the first round of chocolate to get it as fine as possible.  Back went the larger lumps for another beating.  With each of my three blocks this process was repeated at least three times and I think to create this mere ounce and a half of bruised chocolate took me something like an hour!  Not a technique or recipe I shall contemplate using on a regular basis.

image

All in an hour’s work – my efforts at bruising chocolate very fine

As I say I found the use of the term ‘to bruise’ fascinating.  It conjures up images things being bodily damaged and battered both in the sense of bruising the human skin and the bruising of fruit.  In general the idea of bruising has a less than positive association.  As I was pounding the chocolate I was reminded of a classic example of the negative connotations of bruising, the King James translation of Genesis 3:15, when God tells the serpent after he has tempted Eve

‘And I will put enmitie betweene thee and the woman, and betweene thy seed and her seed: it shal bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heele.’

I decided to see if Dr Johnson could offer a helpful 18th century perspective on a definition of ‘to bruise’ and sure enough his 1755 dictionary gives the following description for the verb:

‘To crush or mangle with the heavy blow of something not edged or pointed; to crush by any weight; to beat into gross powder; to beat together coarsely.’

What interested me was that this definition wasn’t simply ‘to bruise’ as in the sense of smashing and damaging but also in the sense of creating a powder which suggested perhaps a more productive outcome. The OED didn’t provide any further elaboration on this idea of creating a powder by bruising ingredients and merely noted one definition of ‘to bruise’ as ‘To beat small, pound, crush, bray, grind down‘.  However it did add in brackets after its definition of ‘to bruise’ as breaking something down or into pieces (a use it points out is now obsolete) that in this sense it was apparently French.  Perhaps Bell’s description of the way to prepare the chocolate was more French than English.

In my cursory exploration through some 18th and 19th century cookbooks there were few uses of the term ‘to bruise’ for preparing ingredients and when it did occur it either referred to bruising fruit for jam making (Nutt, 1789) or bruising caraway seeds for a cake (MacDonald 1809).  Neither quite as exotic (or time consuming) as bruising chocolate for biscuits.

After I had finally bruised my way through the ounce and a half of chocolate it was time to combine it with the other ingredients. The fine beads of chocolate gave the resulting mixture an appearance almost like a very delicate Stracciatella ice cream mixture.  It was also a very runny and Mya and I were unsure how it might behave once spooned onto the paper.  We went for fairly small penny sized biscuits and baked them in a 325˚F oven for 15 minutes.  The results of this first batch were not bad but we had forgotten to sprinkle the sugar on top and decided that they would benefit from being more crisp.  To help us achieve this we made the next batch slightly smaller in size and left them in for longer  – 20 minutes this time.  The results were definitely improved.  For the third and final batch we gave them 25 minutes and these were even better.  The chocolate taste was subtle but definite and the crispness of the final batch suggested that they would be the perfect accompaniment for an after dinner coffee.

image[1]

The finished biscuits; small, crisp and very tasty!

We didn’t try spooning any of the mixture into a buttered paper case as suggested by the recipe.  Ivan Day has written a great blog post about cakes and paper cases but we didn’t have the right materials to trial this approach for the chocolate biscuits. It’s an experiment that will have to wait for another day.  Mya and I have agreed however, that however noble our attempts historic chocolate bruising, next time we might try the recipe with grated chocolate.  I wonder if anyone would notice the difference?

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).

IMG_4335

flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg

IMG_4336

apricots, peel and ginger

IMG_4337

flour and treacle mixture

IMG_4338

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

IMG_4340

     the gingerbread out of the oven 

IMG_4342

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

Festive teatime favourite

26 Dec

IMG_3783

Christmas baking in glorious technicolour!

Inspired by William Tempest’s photograph on his Facebook page I decided to have a go at his Christmas Battenburg.  As an almond lover Battenburgs are one of my favourite cakes; a light vanilla sponge in bright pink and yellow encased in a cloak of marzipan.  The best history of the Battenburg is given by food historian Ivan Day on his blog, which dispels the myth that the cake was created to celebrate the wedding of Princess Beatrice (youngest daughter of Queen Victoria) to Henry, Prince of Battenburg and has some wonderful images of the most intricate Battenburgs with 25 piece chequerboards from the early 20th century.

Over the past few years there have been a range of variations on the classic Battenburg; Mary Berry’s coffee and walnut Battenburg that was a Great British Bake Off technical challenge and the Union Jack Batternburg produced to celebrate everything from the Royal Wedding of 2011 to this year’s Olympics.

William Tempest’s Christmas version however is unmissable, largely because of its amazing coloured red and green sponge.  Merry Christmas everybody.

IMG_3780

The basic vanilla sponge mixture

IMG_3781 Setting up the baking tin to get two colours – the results of frangipani mince pie baking in the background

  IMG_3784

The baked sponge, ready for assembly

IMG_3785

Creating the layers (cinnamon buns in the background).

IMG_3786

Rolling out the marzipan; in retrospect I think that I made this a little too thin (see results below).  I went for white marzipan which of course is not as white as fondant icing but definitely more traditional and tastes far better.

IMG_3787

The finished cake and its miniature companion created from the off cuts.  I didn’t have a holly cutter so I had to create the leaves by cutting them out with a knife which was particularly easy.  The silver degrees were also difficult to keep in place and all over Christmas I’ve had to endure caustic comments from my mother about the unnatural colouring of the Battenburg sponge but I’m still pleased I gave it a go.