Wednesday, 13 May 2020
People ask me what I’ve been missing in #lockdown and I have to say that, of course the main things I miss are my family and friends. But I know I’m also missing being out and about visiting new places and especially looking at old kitchens in historic buildings. Last summer, on one of those carefree days, I went to Basildon Park, an amazing eighteenth Century Palladian Mansion. It was developed by East India Company nabob Sir Francis Sykes and passed through various owners until the first and second world wars when it was requisitioned for use by the government.
After that, it was left derelict until the Illiffe family lovingly restored the mansion and estate to its former glory in the 1950s. This included the kitchen where I was amazed to see all sorts of old kitchen utensils and cookery books. I could have spent hours marvelling over the intriguing assortment of equipment and a cornucopia of books.
So it set me thinking of what’s the most useful kitchen utensil in your kitchen? I couldn’t be without Grandma’s cake tester which helps decide whether a cake is ready to take out of the oven. This is especially useful for a cake like this one.
Date and walnut loaf
½lb/225g dates (chopped)
1 cup boiling water
2 oz/50g margarine or butter
1 cup sugar (about 4oz/110g)
2 cups plain flour (about 8oz/225g)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
2 oz/50g shelled walnuts
Cover the dates with the boiling water and leave until cool. Cream the margarine (or butter) and sugar. Add the egg (well beaten) and other ingredients (flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, cloves and walnuts). Finally, drain the dates and add to the mixture. Put in a bread tin ( well greased). Leave to stand for 20 minutes. Bake in a slow oven for 1 hour. (300F, Mark 2, 150 C)
Meryl says : This recipe came from Mrs Robson, one of Grandma’s closest friends and this was one of her signature recipes. The combination of date and walnuts gives a slightly crunchy flavour to the loaf. One to enjoy and easy to bake!
Saturday, 18 April 2020
St. George’s Hall Cake
When I was sorting through Grandma’s recipes, I was intrigued to find she had an old recipe in her collection for a St George’s Hall Cake so this is a perfect cake to celebrate St George’s Day on 23 April. It’s been a popular cake at my talks and events. It’s also a very easy cake to bake and fits any shape of tin, square, round and loaf.
St. George’s Hall Cake
½lb/225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
A little salt
2oz/50g candid peel
½ cupful milk
Work the butter to a cream. Add the sugar and beat well together. Add the eggs (well beaten), flour, baking powder, salt, currants, candid peel and milk. Beat well for 5 minutes. Bake in a warm oven for 1¼ - 1½ hours. (325F, Mark 3, 170C)
So where is the link to St George’s Hall? Being a collector of old cookery books, I found the same recipe in ‘The Glasgow School of Cookery Book’ 1910. The Glasgow School of Cookery was established in 1875. Initially, it hoped to educate young working-class women in culinary skills and later promoted culinary education within board schools. Alongside similar schools from Edinburgh, Liverpool and Leeds, it formed an alliance to institute uniform standards and common examinations for teachers of cookery. The link to Liverpool and St George’s Hall, a major listed building on St George’s Place which was opened in 1854,, becomes evident as a version of the recipe was featured in the Liverpool School of Cookery 1911.
There are numerous myths and legends around the story of St George, the patron of England. St George's Day is celebrated on 23 April in a tradition established during Tudor times. It’s also the feast day of several other countries and cities where he is the patron saint, including regions of Portugal and Spain. St George is thought to have been born in Cappodocia (modern day Turkey) and to have died in the Roman province of Palestine in AD 303.
We have another celebration on 23 April as this day is widely recognised as William Shakespeare's traditional date of birth and commemorated every year in Stratford on Avon and throughout the world.
Get ready to bake St George's Hall Cake and celebrate!
Saturday, 21 March 2020
I asked the question 'Is Baking a skill or Science' at the ‘Science on Your Doorstep’ event at Cusworth Hall Doncaster recently. We chatted about the usual ingredients for a cake and how each one has a key chemical role to play.
What do the ingredients do?
Butter or oil (diary free) makes a cake tender
Sugar binds a cake and adds sweetness
Eggs act like glue, prevent crumbling and give a tinge of colour (or diary free alternative such as oat milk, vinegar or cornflour)
Flour gives structure
(but don’t over mix otherwise it’s too heavy and dense)
Baking powder adds air bubbles
Milk or water add moisture
Mix, melt or rub in
‘Creaming’ incorporates air to make it light and fluffy
‘Melting’ butter releases water content to mix with flour and form gluten so biscuits are chewy
‘Rubbing in’ is good for pastry or scones
Add the heat
When the ‘leavening agent’, usually baking powder (self raising flour has it already), is heated, it releases carbon dioxide into the mixture. As the temperature rises, a vapour forms from the water in the butter and eggs. Gluten forms with the flour and holds everything together so the mixture can set and achieve a permanent shape and colour.
What can go wrong in baking cakes?
– Mixture is too soft.
– Oven temperature is too cool so mixture does not rise evenly.
– Oven temperature is too hot so mixture does not cook evenly.
– Oven temperature is too hot.
– Cake is placed too near hottest part of oven.
– Mixture is too stiff.
– Too much liquid is added.
– Mixture curdles when eggs added (NB add 1 tablespoon of flour to each addition of egg to reduce the risk of curdling).
Fruit (dried) sunk to the bottom
– Dried fruit is too damp.
– Glacé cherries are sticky (NB always wash and dry glacé cherries before use).
It’s good to follow a recipe but traditional cooks would often tweak their recipes to get the best results. Time to get testing!
In the end, we all agreed that Baking was a bit of both.
Monday, 24 February 2020
Every time I make Coconut Macaroons for an event or a talk, they are often the first to be snaffled up. I never realised there were so many coconut lovers out there. This traditional recipe comes from Grandma’s youngest sister, Ivy who continued the family tradition in home baking. If you love coconut, they are a delight. They should be crisp and golden on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
What you need ....
Whites of 2 eggs
1oz/25g ground almonds or
1 tbsp self raising flour
How to bake ...
Preheat the oven to 350F, Mark 4, 180 C. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Mix the other ingredients together. Fold in the dry ingredients into the egg whites. Place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on rice or greaseproof paper. Bake on a tray for 20 minutes.
Coconut Macaroons ready for the oven
Meryl says : Make sure the egg whites are really stiff to ensure a sticky texture once cooked. Topped with a cherry or almond, they are perfect for those coconut aficionados.
Why not try some of these other Coconut delights?
Tuesday, 14 January 2020
Dating back to the 1700s, a pound cake is named because it contained a pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. It therefore has a denser texture and a more buttery taste than the lighter Victoria Sandwich cake created a century later. Since then smaller versions of the cake have evolved but the ratio of the main ingredients has tended to remain the same. Other variations include the addition of baking powder to lighten the density and different flavours such as Lemon and Orange. I've made half the quantities of an original pound cake and it makes a good size cake
What you need
225g/8oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
Zest & juice of 2 lemons
For the glaze
Lemon juice to mix
How to bake …
Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F, Mark 4. Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Gradually beat in the eggs. Mix in the flour and lemon juice to soften the mixture so it drops off the spoon. Grease a 1kg/2lb loaf tin or 8"/20cms shaped cake tin. Bake for 45 minutes until firm on top. Prepare the glaze by mixing icing sugar and lemon juice. Once the cake is out of the oven and cool, make a glaze by mixing icing sugar with lemon juice until runny. Then drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.
Meryl says : I love this version of Lemon Pound Cake from a 1920s recipe when it was popular in all the best hotels and serve with fruit and cream. Feedback so far is looking good so I’m sure I’ll be making this cake in 2020 to celebrate its 100 years' anniversary!
Thursday, 19 December 2019
Cranberry, Lemon and Pistachio Shortbread
Cranberries and pistachios are my favourite seasonal fruit and nuts and they make a great combination with the tangy taste of lemon to show off Christmas colours and flavours.
What you need
50g/2oz icing sugar
300g/11oz plain flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g/2oz cranberries (dried)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
How to bake
Line a 20cm/8 inch square tin with baking paper. Using a food processor or mixer, mix together the butter, sugar and flour until it comes together. Add the vanilla, cranberries, pistachios and lemon zest and mix slowly to distribute evenly. Add the lemon juice and mix briefly to combine all the ingredients. Press the mixture into the tin and chill for 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C/150(Fan)/Mark 3 and bake for around 30-35 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and cut into fingers whilst still in the tin. Then allow to cool.
Meryl says : These delicious shortbreads make an excellent homemade gift and are very easy to make. Enjoy a Christmas treat with friends and family!
Tuesday, 19 November 2019
One of my favourite sweet tastes is Butterscotch and Doncaster is the place where it originates. Samuel Parkinson used local places such as the church and the racecourse to market this delicacy. Originally, it was described as ‘medicinal’ and acquired a ‘royal’ label after Queen Victoria visited the town in 1851 and tasted the ‘sweetmeat’ which was sold as ‘an emollient for the chest in the winter season’.
Food historians are divided over the name ‘scotched’ meaning ‘cut’ or ‘scored’ as Butterscotch needs to be cut into pieces before hardening. Others are divided over whether the buttery treacle ball is a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ crack as toffee. I was privileged to be shown a copy of the original recipe from Doncaster’s Archives and made the recipe as near to the original for a Georgian baking event at Cusworth Hall. It was a great success!
Meryl says : Here are some more recipes using Doncaster Butterscotch you might like to try. I’m not promising any medicinal cures but they are certainly tasty!
Friday, 11 October 2019
Grandma lived through WW1 and 2 and I’ve often thought about how this affected her approach to food and baking. I’ve been doing talks about wartime baking and rationing and meeting some interesting people who have memories of the difficulties of preparing food in WW2 so it’s been fascinating to try out some of the recipes from that period.
I've been given a recipe for Beetroot cake. As with many ingredients in short supply or on the rationing list, alternatives had to be found and, in this case, beetroot replaced most of the cocoa powder. You might have used dried eggs, different fats and most certainly wholemeal flour.
2 eggs (beaten)
250g/9oz beetroot (cooked)
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
160ml/5 fl oz milk
2-3 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tsps baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan), mark 4. Line a 21cm/8 inch round or square cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs. Blend the beetroot to a puree and add the vinegar and milk and add this to the mixture. Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and fold this in. Pour this mixture into the tin and bake for around 45 minutes.
Meryl says : Another wartime recipe is Vinegar cake which has found some fans but suffers from its sour name. But Beetroot cake is now popular with modern cooks and has certainly reinvented itself. Whether you like beetroot or not, this cake must have been a real treat during those dark wartime days; I should cocoa. See what you think!
Thursday, 19 September 2019
I was delighted to support a Doncaster Heritage Skills baking session earlier in the year and demonstrate a few recipes. Grandma’s mantra was ‘Waste not want not’ and when there were gluts of produce, nothing ever went to waste. This year has been a good one for Rhubarb, but there are only so many Rhubarb Crumbles to eat so I made this spicy Rhubarb and Ginger Chutney. It got thumbs up all round!
What you need …
300ml/½ pint white wine or cider vinegar
2 onions (chopped)
10g lump root ginger peeled and finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt
350g brown sugar
How to prepare …
Trim and wash the rhubarb, slice it into fairly fine chunks. Heat the chopped onions, vinegar, ginger, sugar and salt in a wide based non aluminium pan. Bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, then add the rhubarb. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Put into sterilised jars and leave to cool.
Meryl says : It needs a bit more boiling than other chutneys but well worth the effort and especially if you like a milder chutney it will go well with cheese and meats throughout the year.
Try more Rhubarb recipes
Rhubarb Tutti-frutti Crumble
or Chutney Recipes
or Chutney Recipes
Meryl says : Whatever you bake this month, enjoy it!