Tuesday 1 December 2020

Get Christmassy with Oat Ginger Biscuits

Oat Ginger Biscuits

Christmas baking is all about the fragrant spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The warmth, aroma and seductive flavour of ginger means this spice is one of the most popular to get us into the Christmas mood. Grandma’s recipe for Oat Ginger Biscuits my favourite biscuit and it’s an easy treat to make.

What you need :

110g/4oz butter

1 tbsp golden syrup

50g/2oz soft brown sugar

110g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

110g/4oz rolled oats

1 tsp ginger (or more to taste)

2 tbsps water

How to bake :

Pre heat the oven to 375F, Mark 5, 190C. Melt the butter with the golden syrup and sugar in a pan over a low heat. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, bicarbonate of soda, oats and ginger) and add to the melted mixture. Mix well and add the water. Form into a dough. Leave to chill for 30 minutes. Roll into rounds on a well-greased baking tray. Bake in a quick oven for 15 - 20 minutes. Remove from the baking tray while warm. 

Meryl says : These delicious biscuits make fantastic Christmas presents. Dip in melted chocolate, drizzle water icing or decorate with silver balls. Let your Christmas creative spirit run wild. For decorations, make a small hole with a skewer in the top of each biscuits prior to baking at the top of each biscuit.

Monday 5 October 2020

‘Please, good missus, a soul cake …’


Soul Cake

This was the song which children sang, as they went knocking on their neighbours’ doors in the hope of winning a Soul Cake. It was most likely an early trick or treat custom from medieval times onwards and the tradition exists today in some corners of Yorkshire. As a thank you for the Soul Cakes, the children made a promise to pray for the souls of deceased relatives on All Souls Day, which falls on the day after All Saints Day (1 November) and Halloween (31 October).

So, what are these ‘Soul Cakes?’ I was given one to try when I went to do a talk to a group in Sheffield during November last year. The ‘cakes’ are really like biscuits, baked with currants and spices and decorated with the mark of a cross to show they were alms. Here’s the recipe :

What you need to make 12 to 15 Soul Cakes

175g/7oz butter

175g/7oz caster sugar

3 egg yolks

450g/1lb self-raising flour

2 tsps mixed spice

1 tsp nutmeg

110g/4oz currants

How to bake

Preheat the oven to 190C/Mark 5. Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one by one. Mix the flour and spices in a separate bowl and add the creamed mixture and currants, keeping enough back for decoration. Mix together and add the milk until it becomes a fairly stiff dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1 cm (just less than ½ inch) and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter. Make a cross on the top of each one and decorate the lines with a row of currants. Place the biscuits on a greased or lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

Meryl says : You can recite or sing the Soul Cakes song before you taste these scrumptious biscuits. It goes like this :

A soul, a soul, a soul cake,

Please, good missus, a soul cake,

An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,

Any good thing to make us a merry

One for Peter, two for Paul,

Three for Him that made us all.

I’ve got a little pocket, I can put a penny in.

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,

If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.

I love finding these old traditions. In today's challenging times, Soul Cakes fit the bill perfectly for ‘any good thing to make us all merry.’ Enjoy!

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Back to the Bero book

I’ve always enjoyed meeting people who have been kind enough to share their treasured family recipes. Both Sheila’s Cut & Come Again Cake and Faith’s Chantilly Cake  have proved especially popular.
Often people will tell me about their cherished copy of the Bero cook book. In fact, there were many versions. It was first published in 1923 around the time that self raising flour started to become more popular. The Bero company staged exhibitions where they sold freshly baked scones and cakes and the recipes were much in demand. It’s now in its forty-first edition.
Recently, I looked through Grandma’s collection of Bero books – she had several ones from different eras and they are all well thumbed. I picked out this recipe to try from the twenty first edition in 1958.
Bero Parkins
As always with the trusty Bero recipe books, they turned out a very tasty accompaniment to a coffee or tea break at home. 
Some time ago time, Barrie sent me a photo of the famous Yorkshire Brack from his late wife’s Bero book. He was working his way through all the recipes and this was his favourite. So back to the Bero book for some traditional baking!

Saturday 25 July 2020

Making the most of garden beans and peas

Bean, Pea and Bacon Tart

I’ve been spending some time recently looking through all the cook books I’ve collected over the years. I came across my copy of Castleford Born and Bred : Recipes from Queens Mill from my visit there last year. I’ve already made a few recipes from the book, including Yorkshire Mint Pasties, which the volunteers put together to tempt visitors to try out their special Castleford stoneground flour. 

I’d been wondering what to cook with the sudden glut of broad beans and peas in my garden this week, so I was delighted to see a recipe for Bean, Pea and Bacon Tart which fitted the bill perfectly.

Whole-wheat Shortcrust Pastry

400g/1lb Castleford Whole-wheat flour
110g/4oz butter (cut into small pieces)
110g/4oz lard

Water to mix

Rub the butter into the flour to the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Mix with water to form a ball. Leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.

What you need

400g/1lb whole-wheat pastry

150g/6oz podded broad beans

150g/6oz podded peas

150g/6oz smoked lardons or bacon

300ml/10 fl oz double cream

100ml/4 fl oz milk

12 basil leaves with extra for decoration

4 large eggs

50g/2oz parmesan

How to cook

Heat the oven to 200C/ Gas 6. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until large enough to line a 280mm/10 tart tin or flan dish. Press the pastry snugly into the tin. Line the pastry case with baking paper and dried peas and chill for 30 minutes. Place in the oven and bake blind for 25 minutes. Remove the paper and return to the oven for 5 minutes to dry out the pastry on the base.

During this time, boil the peas and broad beans for 5 minutes until tender, Drain and rinse off any forth. Tip into a bowl with the basil, 3 tbsps double cream and seasoning, Puree in a food processor or blender until smooth,

Dry fry the lardons/bacon until golden.

Beat the remaining cream with eggs, milk, parmesan and seasoning. Smooth the pea and bean puree over the base of the tart case and scatter with the bacon. Carefully pour the egg mixture over this. Turn the oven down to 180C/gas 4 and bake for 35 minutes until set and golden. Cool slightly and trim any overhanging pastry with a sharp knife. Scatter with the extra basil.

Serve with salad for a picnic or summer buffet or have a slice for lunch while it’s still warm. Omit the bacon for a vegetarian option. I think I’ll add a few olives for a Mediterranean summer feel. Perfect  picnic food. Formidable!

Friday 3 July 2020

Dreaming of Cake

Dream Cake

I have to say that baking in #lockdown has been a bit strange.   I’ve heard more people talk about baking than ever before and the quest for easy recipes is a constant theme. 

Grandma’s recipe for Dream Cake has been a firm favourite when I’ve made it for events in the past so I’ve been dreaming about baking it in #lockdown. Grandma had some bizarre names for cakes and the reason for the name of this one is lost in the mists of time – but it’s a dream if you like cherries and walnuts.

Dream Cake

5oz/150g butter

5oz/150g sugar

Vanilla extract

3 eggs

8oz/225g self-raising flour

1 level tsp baking powder

3oz/75g cherries

3oz/75g walnuts

Pre heat the oven to 350F, Mark 4, 180 C. Line a square or round cake tin approximately 21-22cms with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar. Drop in the eggs and beat thoroughly. Add a few drops of vanilla extract. Add the flour, adding the baking powder last of all. Fold in the walnuts and cherries, which have been rolled in flour, saving a few for the top of the cake. Bake in a moderate oven for about 1 hour. 

Meryl says : Don’t forget to wash and dry the cherries before you add them to the mixture so they don’t fall to the bottom of the cake.

Make a dream come true with Dream Cake!

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Bring on the Butterscotch

Butterscotch Blondies

Given my fondness for Butterscotch, it’s no surprise that during lockdown, I’ve been enjoying this delectable sweet. I’ve had a go at my own Butterscotch based on an old Doncaster recipe and created a range of recipes using Butterscotch.

I’ve not made Blondies very often. They are a lesser known version of the Chocolate Brownies but in fact they predate their chocolate cousins as they were popular from the mid nineteenth century. Brownies are said to have appeared around the early twentieth century in 1906.

What you need : 

250g butter

230g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp sea salt

175g light brown sugar

125g milk chocolate, roughly chopped

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

75g butterscotch pieces or shards

How to bake :  

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Mark 6. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium-low heat. Leave to cool slightly. Line a 30cms x 20cms baking tray with greaseproof paper. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a mixing bowl, then stir the sugar into the cooled melted butter. Stir in the eggs and vanilla into this mixture, then gently fold this into the flour, with the chocolate and butterscotch. Take care not to overmix. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 22-25 minutes, until set on top.  Leave to cool and then cut into 12 squares.

Meryl says : You can save some Butterscotch pieces to decorate the top of the Butterscotch Blondies if you wish. Enjoy a taste of Doncaster!

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Lost and found in lockdown

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)
1 egg
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 and the cake

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

¼lb/110g butter
¼lb/110g sugar
2 eggs
½lb/225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
A little salt
¼lb/110g currants
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

Is Baking a skill or Science?

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? S

Sunk in
the middle

– 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 close

– 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.
– GlacĂ© cherries are sticky (NB always wash and dry glacĂ© 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. 
Happy baking!