Bread and butter pudding

Bread and butter pudding
Bread and butter pudding

English food gets a bad rap in a lot of areas, but there’s one thing we’re world-class at: nursery puddings. A good bread and butter pudding is a joyous thing; a layer of spongey, custard-dense bread at the bottom, sweetness and flavour from a careful sprinkling of preserved fruit (I like juicy, tea-soaked sultanas and little cubes of stem ginger), and golden, caramelised points of crisp bread decorating the surface.

It’s unfortunate that so many of us were exposed to disastrous variations on the bread pudding theme when we were children. School dinners and rushed grandmothers are responsible for plenty of adult nightmares about gloppy flat puddings, studded with bits of wobbly egg, a nasty rubbery skin stretched over a sheer surface. There are a few things you need to do to ensure you avoid these problems when you’re making your own bread and butter pudding.

Firstly, and all-importantly, the bread shouldn’t be submerged in the custard. Don’t drown everything in custard, and construct your pudding so that points of buttered bread, moistened with the egg and milk and brushed with a little syrup and sugar, caramelise and crisp in the heat of the oven.  And when you make that custard, beat the hell out of the egg. Nothing is more squick-inducing than a gelatinous chunk of eggwhite in the middle of your dessert plate.

For an entirely non-squicky pudding to serve between four and six, depending on greed, you’ll need:

8 slices good white bread, crusts left on
30g softened, salted butter, plus extra to grease the dish
30g caster sugar, plus one tablespoonful
3 large eggs
500ml milk
50g sultanas
50g stem ginger chunks – reserve the syrup
1 strong cup of your favourite tea
Nutmeg to grate over

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Make a very strong cup of hot tea without milk (make another for yourself) and soak the sultanas in it until you’ve finished buttering the bread and arranging it in the dish.

Cut the slices of bread into quarters diagonally, and butter them on both sides. This is an excellent way to use up stale bread – in fact, you’ll find the stiffer slices of slightly stale bread easier to handle than soft, fresh bread.

Arrange the buttered slices of bread fish-scale style in a buttered rectangular dish measuring about 20x30cm, the crust sides touching the base of the dish and the soft points pointing upwards. The bread triangles should be snug in the dish, but need a little space between them; overlapping three per row works well.

Drain the sultanas and chop the pieces of ginger into sultana-sized dice. Sprinkle them over and between the points of bread.

Beat the egg thoroughly with 30g of sugar in a jug. Use a whisk rather than a fork, to make sure the egg is properly beaten. Pour the milk over the egg and sugar and whisk it thoroughly to make sure everything is properly mixed.

Pour the custard (because that’s what it is now) carefully over the bread, being sure to moisten all of the points with the mixture. Brush the syrup from the ginger pieces over the exposed surfaces of the bread, and sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar. Finish with a generous grating of nutmeg.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes. The bread points should be golden brown and crisp – if you think they could do with a little more colour, leave in the oven for another 5 minutes before checking again. Serve hot or warm with plenty of cream. This pudding is best on the evening it’s made, when the top will be deliciously crisp.

Blogger’s lunch at Roast with Chapel Down Wines

If you were on Twitter yesterday at lunchtime…and for much of the afternoon…you’ll have noticed that four food and wine bloggers and I were furiously live-tweeting a lunch from Roast in London’s Borough Market, where wi-fi had been laid on to encourage us to look like total nerds as we ate. It’s a restaurant perfectly placed to make the most of the fresh produce from the market – the emphasis here is on seasonality and wonderfully British things like haggis, pork belly and black pudding. Matching wines were provided, at a rate of two with each of the five courses along with a beer and a welcoming glass of fizz, by Chapel Down Winery. I’ll recap my tweets and pictures from the meal below for those not on Twitter – as noted on the day, I’m afraid the quality of prose and photography drops as I work my way through the wine. And read down to the bottom, because the restaurant is offering blog readers a special menu with wines if you can make it to Roast on November 24, and Chapel Down have very generously provided a special offer on a case of wine for you as well.

Something of an experimental post, this – it’s the first meal I’ve live-tweeted. Let me know what you think. (It’s likely to remain a rare event: eating with a laptop on my knee is something I’d only do at a restaurant’s request or suggestion, ‘cos it made me feel geek-tacular.) You can read more of my daily ramblings on food if you follow me @liz_upton.

  • Ensconced at Roast, gargling Chapel Down fizz. Expect quality of tweets to worsten as the lunch progresses – 2 pairings/course. 1:14pm, Nov 10
  • See @wine_scribbler, @foodguardian, @thewinesleuth, @eatlikeagirl and @msgourmetchick for more on this lunch 1:16pm, Nov 10
  • Smoked, dry-cured Loch Etive trout w crab cakes at Roast – trout outstanding. @wine_scribbler says shallots overpowering the wine – I like ’em! 1:33pm, Nov 10

  • @wine_scribbler I’m actually preferring the Pinot Reserve – and I’m not sure why I’m tweeting this, given we’re sitting next to each other. 1.36pm, Nov 10
  • The smoked trout *was* a tricky thing to match wines with – next up, some haggis. 1:41pm, Nov 10
  • A bottle of Chapel Down porter has just appeared in front of me – currently 5 glasses on table…getting confused. 1:42pm, Nov 10
  • Bloody hell, this porter is good. Oak chips in barrel apparently – a winemaking tech and very splendidly spicy and tannic. 1:44pm, Nov 10
  • We’re all making Black Velvets with the Chapel Down Vint Res Brut and the CD Porter. Delicious and also slightly shaming. 1:53pm, Nov 10
  • Haggis and oxtail on celeriac/spud mash. Heaven, especially w a Black Velvet!

  • Just been given an obscenely good slice of grilled black pud to sample. Ramsey of Carluke in Lanarkshire – superb. 1:58pm, Nov 10
  • Leaving the red undrunk. This is *highly* unusual for me. 1:59pm, Nov 10
  • …and we pause briefly while we collect ourselves. Jealously guarding my glass of Black Velvet from the v attentive wine waiters. 2:02pm, Nov 10
  • @foodguardian is having trouble liveblogging because of his “Fisher Price phone”. I have no sympathy. 2:04pm, Nov 10
  • A wine made with the Bacchus grape (English) has just arrived. Rather excited. 2:09pm, Nov 10
  • I’m getting tuberose and rubber off this wine – Bacchus not a grape I know well, but v intriguing. 2:10pm, Nov 10
  • I lie – that was an 06 Pinot Blanc in an ident. glass. The Bacchus is actually weirdly sweet and unacidic – and v nice. 2:12pm, Nov 10
  • BTW, I think we should open a book on precisely when we are all going to be too pissed to continue tweeting. I say by course 4. 2:13pm, Nov 10
  • Roast’s signature dish – pork belly w mash spuds and apple sauce. Hubba – look at that crackling. 2:23pm, Nov 10
  • Pork belly outstanding – soft, tender meat, killer crackling. And there’s almost as much butter in this mash as at Robuchon. 2:25pm, Nov 10
  • Chatting to restaurant owner about these spuds, which I could happily *live* in. King Eds at the mo, but only because seasonal. 2:33pm, Nov 10 (On speaking to the chef later, I discovered that actually they’re Maris Piper year round. Damn good, anyway.)
  • Christ almighty. Apparently, portions usually x2 this size – that pic was just the *tasting* portion (of which I ate ½). 2:36pm, Nov 10
  • Winemaker a bit unconfident about what’s up next – UK dessert wines a bit difficult. This is pretty good, but more aperitif-y. 2:45pm, Nov 10
  • Spiced clementine custard w anise biscuits – pud like Grandma used to make. Chapel D Nectar gorgeous, but questionable match! 2:51pm, Nov 10

  • So I *really* like this Chapel Down Nectar, but not necessarily with food. The pannacotta underneath is fabboo. 2:54pm, Nov 10
  • You might notice that at this point in proceedings the quality of writing and photography is descending *fast*. Sorry. 🙂 3:01pm, Nov 10
  • And an 08 varietal English Pinot Noir. Chocolatey, dry, unoaked. Prolly my favourite of the Chapel Down wines so far. 3:07pm, Nov 10
  • Warm chestnut & pear cake w hot choc sauce. Melting, so excuse me while I eat. 3:18pm, Nov 10
  • Chef has emerged, with a light coating of sauce. 3:25pm, Nov 10
  • Chef’s belly tips – Stanley knife, rub salt & lemon, C230 for 30 mins, then down to 165 for 3 hours. 3:31pm, Nov 10
  • …And I’m shutting the computer down now. Feedback’s very welcome – how do you lot feel about live-tweeted lunches?

Roast and Chapel Down are offering a special menu with wine pairings for blog readers on November 24. They asked for our help in selecting three of these courses to point you at, and we ended up going for the menu below (with pairings selected by the folks at Chapel Down).

  • On arrival, a glass of Chapel Down Brut Rose
  • Ramsey of Carluke haggis with celeriac and oxtail sauce, with a glass of Chapel Down Rondo Regent Pinot Noir NV
  • Slow-roast Wicks Manor pork belly with mashed potatoes and Bramley apple sauce, served with a glass of Roast Bacchus Reserve 2007 (NB this will be the full sized portion, not the tasting portion from the pics above)
  • Spiced clementine custard with anise biscuits, served with a glass of Chapel Down Nectar 2007
  • Tea or coffee

With the wines, the menu will cost £44.50. If you want to book, call the restaurant on 0845 034 7300 and mention that you are booking for the Chapel Down Roast Bloggers’ Dinner on November 24.

Chapel Down are also offering readers a case of their Pinot Reserve 2004 for £99 for a case of six, including delivery to any UK mainland adddress. (A case usually retails at £150 plus delivery.) All you need to do is call the vineyard on 01580 763033, ask for Lizzie or Wendy and quote Blogger Offer.

Ambrose Heath’s Anchovy Biscuits

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed a few references to Edwardian savouries and a writer called Ambrose Heath this week. The savoury used to be a course served at the end of a formal English meal. Salty, umami and often highly spiced, the savoury was packed in by English gentlemen after dessert while they discussed hats and feudalism. A salty nibble was meant to cleanse the palate of whatever gelatinous pudding you’d just eaten so you could happily assault it with a cigar and too much port.

The savoury didn’t survive the period of rationing during and after the Second World War (a period which rendered English food completely joyless – it’s only started to recover recently). A grave shame, especially for those, like me, who lack a particularly sweet tooth; I’d far sooner eat a bacon sarnie than an ice-cream. Recipes for savouries are, these days, pretty hard to find, but I have several in a pre-war book by Andre Simon, and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found a copy of Ambrose Heath’s Good Savouries in a second-hand book shop last week.

Ambrose Heath was a prolific food writer: there are more than 70 books to his name. One of the first cookery books I owned was his book on sauces, which, along with his other books, appeals to the systematising, cataloguing part of my soul that lives somewhere on the autistic spectrum. His books are exhaustive and meticulous treatments of their subjects – there are multiple recipes with tiny tweaks for many of the dishes, alternative approaches and ingredient substitutions, and a lovely sense of a rather plump, happy man behind the pen. (And isn’t that a gorgeous cover illustration?)

Most of the savouries in this book are based around salty ingredients like ham, bacon, anchovy or bloaters; they’re usually spiced vigorously with curry powder or chutney, and are presented sitting on a fried crisp of bread, a puff of pastry or a hollowed roll buttered and baked crisp. This recipe for anchovy biscuits reads as follows:

To make the pastry for the cheese straws, Heath says you’ll need:

2oz plain flour
2oz grated parmesan
2oz butter
Yolk of 1 egg
A dash of mustard
Salt and pepper

His recipe will have you rubbing the butter into the flour/parmesan/mustard mixture, binding with the egg yolk and a little water, then baking for ten minutes. I changed the method a little, freezing the butter for 15 minutes and shredding it on the coarse side of the grater into the flour/parmesan mixture (to which I’d added a teaspoon of Madras curry powder), stirring everything together with a knife and binding the resulting mixture with the egg yolk and some ice-cold water mixed with four anchovies pounded in the mortar and pestle. I rested the pastry in the fridge for half an hour before rolling it out very thinly, cutting out 48 rounds with my smallest cookie cutter, and baking at 200°C for 12 minutes until golden. Rub the mixture in if you prefer, but grating in hard butter will give you a puffier, crisper result. I left out salt and pepper – the anchovies and curry powder will provide all the salt and spice you need.

To make the paste to spread on top of the biscuits, I pounded four more anchovy fillets, 1 teaspoon of curry powder (Madras again – Bolsts is my favourite curry powder, but you should use your favourite brand/ferocity), 2 tablespoons of parmesan, 1 tablespoon of chopped capers (in wine vinegar, not salt, which would just be too much with the anchovies), 1 tablespoon of oil from the anchovies and 1 teaspoon of smooth Dijon mustard in the mortar and pestle until smooth. This will give you enough to smear each biscuit with the tip of a knife – look to use a very tiny amount of the topping, which is strong and salty. If you are familiar with Marmite or Vegemite, you need to spread in about the proportions you would spread those on toast. Allow the biscuits to cool before spreading them or they will be too fragile to work with.

Pop the biscuits in an oven heated to 180°C for five minutes. The spread will go slightly puffy. Dress with a little parsley before serving warm. Rather than eating your anchovy biscuits at the end of a meal, I’d suggest you use them as nibbles with drinks – a very dry Fino sherry or a Dirty Martini will work beautifully against them.

The Hind’s Head, Bray, Berkshire, UK

Once a very quiet village about four miles from Windsor, Bray suddenly gained a lot of traffic around meal times when Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck (which you have doubtless heard of – it’s regularly voted the very best restaurant in the UK, and fights each year with El Bulli in Spain for the title of best restaurant in the world) opened. Meal-time traffic, composed almost entirely of taxis from nearby train stations packed with salivating diners, has increased even further in the last five years, since Blumenthal bought the pub next door to the Fat Duck.

The Hind’s Head menu is a showcase for what Blumenthal considers the very best of straightforward, traditional British cooking. Blumenthal’s cooking at the Fat Duck (at £130 for the tasting menu without wine, you are going to have to wait until the ads on this site are paying a lot more before you can read about the Fat Duck here, so get clicking) is all crazy-wonderful, experimental, molecular stuff. I wandered over to inspect the menu on the day we visited the Hind’s Head, and there was lots to appeal to the side of me that does the perfume writing as well as my foodie half. Oakmoss used as a flavouring, sprays of aldehydes, violet tarts, pine sherbert fountains – I breathed a heavy sigh and went back to the pub, words like ‘straightforward’, ‘traditional’ and ‘British’ boiling around in my head, convinced that I was bound to spend the evening wishing I was next door.

Sometimes I’m very happy to be proved totally wrong.

I think that the last completely uncritical review of a restaurant I wrote was posted here back in 2007, and I found it very difficult to write; roundly complimentary reviews of food make me sound, as I said back then, an unthinking and uncritical diner, and they are likely to be as boring as hell for you, the reader. (Un?)fortunately, the Hind’s Head turns out to be another of these little bits of restaurant heaven. Even the menu prices were a delight, and the incredibly enthusiastic, very young waiter made our evening a real pleasure. I spent the meal looking for something to get ratty about, and I am proud to be able to give you one piece of fierce criticism. I do not like paper napkins.

Still and all – paper napkins in a pub are probably absolutely right, so you can probably scratch that.

This being a pub, you can grab a beer at the bar before you sit down. There’s a short but good list of beers and a lengthy and very keenly priced wine list. We ended up with a bottle of 06 Bordeaux at £24 – it could have done with being cellared for a few years, but was terrific at the price. There are bar nibbles too – Scotch eggs made from quail’s eggs, devils on horseback (prunes wrapped in bacon, secured with a toothpick and grilled – they’re one of my favourite Edwardian savouries, and Blumenthal is very into his historical foods) and something called a Warwickshire Wizzler, which turned out to be a cocktail sausage which tasted as if it was made from the fatty flanks of angels, spiced heavily with sweet paprika. Our table of four spent a happy few minutes gumming our way through a selection of nibbly bits.

The menu presents you with a mixture of seasonal and traditional dishes. The asparagus is at its sweetest at the moment, and it was listed here with some free-range ham, cress, a dense Hollandaise and a rich, yolky pheasant’s egg. (See the photo at the top of the page.) It was a simple and very generous presentation, which is precisely what you want with asparagus in May.

I ordered potted shrimp. Tiny, sweet, fresh, brown shrimp, peeled and poached in clarified butter with the traditional spike of mace and pepper, then set in a ramekin, were served just above room temperature with slices of brown toast. The butter was dense with flavour – had the shells and heads been used to flavour it? I’ve no idea, but I do know that this was far and away the best example of potted shrimp I’ve ever eaten. (The worst? That’ll be the unseasoned, woolly pre-frozen white prawns in fridge-hard butter at Shepherd’s in Pimlico.) I found myself unconsciously running a finger around the bottom of the ramekin when I’d finished. Dish-scraping was about to become a theme for the evening.

An excellent beef carpaccio, scattered judiciously with capers and shallots and dressed with a little parmesan, olive oil and lemon juice was a really lovely example of a dish that’s often overseasoned; and a guineafowl terrine, gloriously spiced and seasoned, jewelled with pistachios, wrapped tightly in pancetta and served with shaved slivers of fresh apple and an apple compote, left a distressed Dr W scraping his empty plate with the back of a knife, trying to dislodge any remaining molecules of flavour. Starters over, all four of us started drumming at the table with our fingers to try to distract from the unseemly drooling.

The problem with a menu this good is that it’s extraordinarily hard to make a decision. I went for the shut-eyes-and-jab-at-menu-with-finger approach, and ended up selecting a very dull-sounding main course – the T-bone steak – which I stuck with simply in order to try the sauce that came with it. This is a kitchen which has studied its classical French sauces, and the seared steak (a favourite cut, T-bone, with the softer tenderloin on the smaller side, and the tougher but more flavoursome strip loin on the larger) came with a little pot of sauce marchand de vin (butter, wine and dark beef stock), studded generously with little diamonds of rich, beefy bone marrow. Tipped over the steak, the marrow melted a little into the meat, the dense sauce so packed with flavour that thinking about it a few days later is giving me flavour hallucinations. I am alarmed to note that I found the whole thing almost viscerally sexy. Food shouldn’t be this good.

The steak was accompanied with Blumenthal’s famous thrice-cooked chips. (Fries for you Americans.) They’re thick-cut, as pub chips should be, and boiled, chilled, and deep-fried twice. We ordered another bowl for the table – shatteringly crisp on the outside, and fluffy within. A good chip shouldn’t be something to get terribly excited about (after all, Heston’s chip method is very similar indeed to the one my Mum used when I was a kid), but the sad truth is that most English chips are, frankly, rubbish; it’s very good to find some which haven’t been frozen and shipped into the restaurant in giant catering bags.

Shepherd’s pie with lamb shoulder, breast and sweetbreads was joyous. It arrived in a cast-iron cocotte, the top cru
sted with crisp potatoes. Inside was a dense, meaty, almost syrupy filling; the lamb breast gave the sauce a rich, jellied thickness, while the sweetbreads gave the whole an intense richness and a malevolent hint of offaly darkness. Happily, the friend who ordered this wasn’t quite able to finish her very rich and generous portion, so her remaining pie filling was enjoyed by the rest of us, slathered all over those chips. This bowl got scraped clean too.

The serving and cooking temperature of foods, as we saw with the potted shrimp, is something that the kitchen here considers carefully, and salmon with shrimp and peas was cooked and served warm, not hot. The waiter made sure that the person eating it (James, who nearly choked to death on chillies in Montreal last year) was aware that it wouldn’t come piping hot, and explained through one of Berkshire’s biggest smiles that this is to ensure that the flavour is at its absolute best. I really like the service here. Befittingly for a pub, it’s not very formal, but the staff are so enthused by what they’re serving and by what’s going on in the kitchen that their excitement translates to the diners. This was another seasonal triumph; more of those brown shrimp, sweet peas, flakingly moist salmon in a savoury marinade – simply gorgeous.

Chicken and leek pie, sitting in a sea of intensely savoury Mornay sauce thick with whole-grain mustard, was one of those dishes you could happily keep on snuffling down plate after plate of, until hustled out of the restaurant for revolting the other diners. Happily for those other diners, desert beckoned.

Blumenthal’s a history buff, and the Quaking Pudding arrived with a little notecard (which I believe Ros has now pasted into her scrapbook) full of historical detail about wrapping things in guts and so forth. No guts were apparant here; Quaking Pudding was a delightfully wobblesome jellied milk pudding, a little like a panna cotta (and made in the same way, with milk and gelatine), flavoured with sweet spices like nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. Unbelievably good (and far better than you could possibly imagine from looking at this photograph, which has an anticipatory thumb in the background) – I’ve been piling through my collection of old recipe books for a comparable recipe.

I’d seen Heston prepare his treacle tart with milk ice cream on television once (an exercise which ended with him milking a cow into a bowl full of liquid nitrogen). Utterly, unctuously, good stuff, crisp and squidgy all at once, with an intense, caramelised sweetness offset by a tiny sprinkle of fleur du sel. It was perfectly accompanied by the unassuming milk ice. And trifle – well, I wasn’t allowed to try the trifle, which Dr W appeared to be trying to inhale.

All this, alongside a bottle of wine, several beers, a couple of cocktails, three dishes of nibbly bits, extra chips and a bowl of broccoli with anchovy and slivered almonds, still only rocked up at £60 a head. This is unbelievably good value for such exceptional dining, and it’s a total delight to find that there’s at least one restaurant in the country that’s demonstrating that British food isn’t all lung and slurry. All hail Heston – he’s a one-man army changing the face of the British restaurant, and I hope you’ll visit Bray soon to confirm it for yourselves.

Fruit scones for cream tea

One of my sad, sad weekend hobbies is wandering around National Trust properties, buying a sack of books at the inevitable second-hand bookshop and then visiting the tea-room for a handsome cream tea, with fluffy scones, strawberry jam and plenty of clotted cream to slather on top. If you’re in East Anglia, the exquisite Oxburgh Hall, where you’ll find a number of embroideries worked by Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick, a priest hole you can clamber into and a very fine garden, has a really fabulous tearoom. Ickworth House (English wines, fantastic gardens, wonderful collection of fans) and Wimpole Hall (organic farm, hot-dogs made from the pigs you have just fed pig-nuts to in the barn) also do a very good line in cream teas – but to my mind Oxburgh’s intimate tearoom, housed in the hall’s old kitchens, complete with antique bread ovens and blue and white crockery displaying pictures of the hall itself, still takes the…cake. All the same, while it’s nice to visit Oxburgh once or twice a year (those gardens change gorgeously in character over the seasons), I can’t really justify driving an hour just for a cup of tea and a scone more regularly than that. Time to get baking.

I usually choose a pot of Earl Grey to go with my scones. So when, in the absence of a National Trust tearoom, I decided to prepare my own cream tea at home this weekend, I decided to use some very strong Earl Grey to soak the sultanas in before adding them to the dough. With a pot of tea, a jar of good strawberry jam (try Tiptree’s Little Scarlet or Duchy Originals Strawberry) and some clotted cream (increasingly available in supermarkets and delis – if you can’t find any, use extra-thick double cream rather than whipped cream, which has exactly the wrong texture), you’ll find yourself in possession of one of the finest things you can eat in the afternoon.

A quick note on the egg in the dough. I was lucky enough to have a box of bantam eggs a neighbour had given me, and used two – bantam eggs are tiny, very yolky and rich, and two are approximately the same volume as a single large hen’s egg. If you can find bantam eggs, I’d recommend using two in this recipe.

To make about 16 scones, you’ll need:

225g plain flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
50g butter
25g caster sugar
1 large egg OR two bantam eggs
Milk (enough to make up 150ml when added to the beaten egg)
100g sultanas
1 large cup strong Earl Grey tea

Start by brewing the tea (make yourself a cup to drink while you’re at it) and preheating the oven to 220°C (425°F). When the tea is nice and strong, pour it over the sultanas in a bowl and leave them to plump up for half an hour while you prepare the dough for the scones.

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and cut the softened butter into it in little chunks. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.

When the sultanas have had half an hour in the tea, drain them in a seive and add them to the flour mixture. In a measuring jug, beat the egg. Top the beaten egg up with the milk until you have 150ml of liquid, and stir it gradually into the flour mixture (you may not need all of it), mixing all the time with a wooden spoon, until you have a soft dough that holds together but is not sticky. Try not to over-handle the dough so that your scones are light and fluffy. Roll the dough out on a floured surface to a thickness of about 1cm, and cut out rounds with a 5cm circular cutter.

Place the rounds onto greased baking sheets and brush the tops with any remaining milk/egg mixture (if you have none left, plain milk will do). Bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.

These scones are at their very best served as soon as they come out of the oven, split in half, spread with jam and cream. Once cooled, they’ll keep for a couple of days in an airtight tin.

Hot cross buns

I know – hot cross buns are really cheap at the supermarket, so why would you bother making your own at home?

There’s a very easy answer: home-made hot cross buns are unbelievably delicious (unlike the supermarket variety, these are enriched with butter and eggs, and have more in the way of spices and fruit in their dough) – far better than the bought variety. They’re cheap, too. And if you’re interested in cooking something that will make your house smell divine for an afternoon, hot cross buns are just the ticket.

These sweet, yeasty little buns are a treat for Lent. (Pipe a Darwin fish on yours if you do not subscribe to this religious baking stuff.) According to Elizabeth David, the hot cross bun was a cause of great concern among the Protestant monarchs of England – Catholics were rumoured to bake them using communion wafers, and all that doughy symbolism was immensely threatening. The Tudors actually tried to ban them, but the populace would not be fobbed off with toasted teacakes, and eventually Elizabeth I passed a law allowing bakeries to make them at Easter and Christmas.

To make 12 hot cross buns, you’ll need:

7g (1 sachet) easy-blend yeast
1 teaspoon soft brown sugar
100g strong white flour
200ml blood-hot milk

350g white bread flour
1 pinch salt
½ nutmeg, grated
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
Zest of one lemon and one orange
50g salted butter, cut into small pieces
50g light brown soft sugar
90g candied mixed peel
90g sultanas
1 egg

3 tablespoons plain flour
3 tablespoons caster sugar

1 orange
75g caster sugar
100 ml water

Get your yeast going by mixing it with all the starter ingredients in a small bowl, and leave it in a warm place to start working for fifteen minutes while you prepare the rest of the dough for the buns.

Mix the flour for the dough in a large bowl with the spices, pinch of salt and the citrus zests. Rub the butter, cut into small pieces, into the flour and spice mixture as if you are making pastry. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, stir through the sugar, peel and sultanas. Check that the yeasty starter mixture has plenty of large bubbles on the surface, and add it and the beaten egg to the dough mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon, and when everything is amalgamated, start to knead the mixture with your hands.

Knead for ten minutes until you have a soft dough which is no longer sticky, and which stretches easily. (If after five minutes or so of kneading the dough still seems very sticky, add a little more flour – bread doughs will vary enormously in stickiness depending on variables like the humidity outside and the temperature in your kitchen.) Oil a bowl, and put the kneaded dough inside with some oiled cling film or a damp teatowel on top. Leave the dough for about an hour and a half in a warm place until it has risen to double its original size.

Knock the dough down, and make twelve round balls from it. Arrange them evenly in a baking dish, cover again and leave to double in size again in a warm place (between an hour and an hour and a half).

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F). When the buns have risen, make a paste for the crosses from flour and caster sugar, adding water until it is stiff and pipable. Using a piping bag or a freezer bag with a hole snipped in the corner, pipe crosses on each bun.

Bake the buns for 15-20 minutes until they are golden. While the buns are baking, take the zest and juice of the orange for the glaze and simmer it with the water and sugar until you have a light syrup. Brush the hot syrup over the hot buns when they come out of the oven.

You can serve these immediately or cool and toast them. Either way, they’re glorious with a big slab of butter.

Lemon curd

Have you ever had one of those days when you’ve suddenly noticed that you’ve accidentally bought fifteen lemons? I had one of those on Friday, and decided to use the lemons life had given me to make some lemonade. (Dead easy – maple syrup and lemon juice in iced water to taste.) There were still lemons left over. I decided to test one of the heavy pans in the new Le Creuset Satin Black glaze that Dr W (the wonderful, thoughtful Dr W) bought me for my birthday; they promise to be good at distributing a very slow, even heat. Perfect for lemon curd.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to get your hands on American Meyer lemons (a superbly lemonsome lemon) or thick-skinned, aromatic Sicilian lemons, you should immediately drop everything else you’re doing and use them to make curd. It’s a wonderful part of the English nursery tea – try it as a spread on some good, crusty toast, along with a cup of Earl Grey tea. The aromatic lemon zest in the curd and the bergamot in the tea are perfect partners.

You probably have all the ingredients you need to make lemon curd in the house already (although Meyer or Sicilian lemons are best, any unwaxed lemon will make a delicious curd), and it’s very quick – it should only take you about 40 minutes, at most, from the time you start to zest your lemons to the satisfying moment when you ladle the lovely primrose goo into jars. Home-made lemon curd is a million times nicer than the shop-bought stuff, and lasts for about six weeks in the fridge. To make about 1.25 kg of lemon curd, you’ll need:

4 lemons
4 large eggs
350g caster sugar
250g butter
2 teaspoons cornflour

Start by breaking the eggs into a heavy saucepan away from the heat. Beat the eggs thoroughly with a balloon whisk. Tip the grated zest and juice of the lemons over the eggs with the sugar, the butter, cut into tiny cubes, and the cornflour. (Strictly speaking, the cornflour is a cheat’s ingredient – it doesn’t add any flavour, and all the thickening comes from the eggs, but the cornflour provides a guarantee that your curd will not curdle. I’ve never had a lemon curd go wrong with a small addition of cornflour.)

Put the saucepan over a medium/low heat, and start to go at it with a balloon whisk. Whisk constantly until the butter has all melted. After another eight minutes or so of hard whisking, the curd will start to thicken. Turn the heat down to its minimum and keep on whisking, making sure you get into every corner of the pan, for another three minutes or so, until the curd is deliciously thick (it will continue to thicken as it cools down). Ladle immediately into sterilised jars and refrigerate once cool.

English pancakes

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, which much of the world celebrates with colourful parades, loud music and women baring their boobs in return for beads. In the UK, we just eat pancakes.

I don’t hold with this giving-things-up-for-Lent business. Pancake Day is meant to be a way to use up all the good things in your larder before embarking on 40 days of mealy-mouthed asceticism. Having given up giving-things-up for Lent myself, I like to eat pancakes year-round, but if you’re one of those for whom this is a once-a-year treat, here’s a recipe for some lovely, lacy pancakes flavoured with orange flower water, which makes them light and delicately floral. In the picture above, I’ve stuffed them with whipped Chantilly cream (whip the cream as usual, but add a tablespoon of caster sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence to every pint) and blueberries, then drizzled them with maple syrup, but there are plenty of other simple fillings you can try:

  • Lemon juice (or lime juice) and sugar
  • A couple of tablespoons of juice straight from an orange with a sprinkle of sugar and a few more drops of orange flower water
  • Melted butter and caster sugar
  • Sweet chestnut purée
  • Maple syrup and bananas
  • Golden syrup
  • Strawberry jam and cream

To make about 12 pancakes, you’ll need:

220g plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
550ml whole milk
2 tablespoons orange flower water
Shortening or vegetable oil for cooking the pancakes (shortening is best)

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, and make a well in the middle. Break the eggs into the well and whisk with a balloon whisk, pouring the milk in gradually. Eventually, you should have a smooth batter about the same consistency as single cream. Stir the orange flower water into the batter. This batter doesn’t need to stand before you use it.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of shortening in a large pan over a high heat. The pan should be as hot as you can get it if you don’t want your first pancake to be a flabby disaster. Swirl about ⅓ of a ladle of the batter around the pan (adjust the amount for smaller pans). You should have not quite enough batter to make it to the edges of the pan if you want to have a lacy pancake with a delicate frilly, crisp edge. Flip the pancake over after about 45 seconds. I always use a spatula for this operation, having experienced a childhood pancake/ceiling incident – if you are brave and strong in the wrist, toss the pancake in the pan. Cook the raw side for another 45 seconds, and slide out onto a plate.

We usually eat these one by one as quickly as I can cook them, but if you want to make a great heap of pancakes and serve them all at once, you can wrap the pancakes in foil and keep them in a very low oven, although this does some violence to the lovely crisp edges. It’s best to eat them straight from the pan for the best texture.

Christmas stuffing and chipolatas

I mentioned the other day that you’re best off not stuffing the cavity of a turkey or, for that matter, a chicken – it increases the cooking time to an unacceptable length, and quite honestly, stuffing is just nicer prepared outside the bird, where it has a chance to go crispy on the outside. The trimmings are one of the most important parts of a Christmas dinner, but they can be a bit of a faff to prepare, so I like to assemble and cook mine on Christmas Eve, and heat them up at the last minute on Christmas Day – you really can’t tell that the stuffing and chipolatas have been reheated, and they’re absolutely delicious.

Buy the very best chipolatas you can find. I was in Yorkshire for Christmas, and went to Booths, which is a simply fantastic supermarket. Quality and choice here is better than at any of the supermarkets we have here in Cambridgeshire (even Waitrose); I ended up with a pack of chipolatas flavoured with chestnut purée which were as good as any butcher’s sausage. Unfortunately, Booths only operates in Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, so the rest of us are stuck with having to make a trip to the butcher’s for the chipolatas and for the sausage meat which goes in the stuffing, which should be of the best quality you can find.

For Christmas trimmings (or trimmings for any poultry or game you happen to be roasting for a non-Christmas occasion) you’ll need:

85g Paxo sage and onion stuffing mix (I know, I know – bear with me here)
250g good-quality sausage meat
1 Braeburn apple
2 banana shallots
1 pack vacuum-sealed chestnuts
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
75g butter
Boiling water
Salt and pepper

16 chipolata sausages
16 strips pancetta

Paxo stuffing mix? Well, despite the memories you may have of childhood Paxo made up by your grandmother to the packet instructions (dusty, squashy and very little fun), it works really, really well when you combine it with sausage meat. The recipe for Paxo is more than a hundred years old; it was invented by a Manchester butcher in 1901. I’m using it here because the wheat and barley rusk that forms the crumbs contains a bit of raising agent, which will make the texture of your stuffing very light, with a crisp outside – and the dried sage and onion are actually really good against a porky background.

Put the stuffing mix in a large mixing bowl with the butter, and pour over boiling water, according to the packet instructions. Stir well and cover with a teatowel while you chop the apple, shallots and chestnuts into small, even dice, and chop the sage finely. When you’re done, the stuffing mix should be cool enough to handle. Use your fingers to mix the sausage meat very thoroughly with the stuffing mix, then add the chopped apple, shallots and chestnuts and sage with a little salt and some pepper, and mix with your hands until everything is evenly distributed. Form into spheres about the size of a ping-pong ball and lay on well-greased baking trays. (The stuffing balls will almost certainly stick a bit, but you can prise them off relatively easily with a stiff spatula.)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Wrap each sausage in a strip of pancetta. You don’t need to secure these with a toothpick (as well as saving you time, this also avoids any Christmas day toothpick-embedded-in-palate accidents). Arrange the sausages on another well greased tray.

Bake the sausages and stuffing balls for between 35 and 45 minutes (the cooking time will depend on the characteristics of the sausages and sausage meat you have chosen). The stuffing balls should be browning and crisp on the outside, and the pancetta crisp and golden. Remove from the trays when cooled, and move the stuffing balls and wrapped sausages to oven-proof bowls. When you come to serve them, just reheat at 180°C (350°F) for 12 minutes.

Cheese scones

Cheese scones, English, savoury and light, were one of the first things I learnt how to cook in school home economics lessons. The scones we turned out at school were really pretty awful – there was not enough cheese, and they were full of margarine. But a good cheese scone, properly spiced, made with butter and plenty of strong cheese, can be very different, such that Dr W will eat three, buttered, in one go and then make strange contented sighing sounds for the next couple of hours.

This is (as my home economics teacher doubtless realised, despite her margarine/cheese stinginess problems) a great recipe for kids. It’s easy, it introduces them to the rubbing-in method they’ll use when they’re feeling advanced enough to attempt pastry, and it’s hard to mess up. And what child doesn’t get a huge kick out of baking something to go in his own lunchbox?

We ate these as part of a sort of high-tea arrangement late on Sunday afternoon. I like them with lots of butter and a little Marmite, which really makes the parmesan and cheddar in the scones sing. When buying the cheese for these scones, make sure your cheddar is a mature, flavourful variety.

To make 8 cheese scones you’ll need:

225g self-raising flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
50g softened, salted butter
50g cheddar, grated
25g parmesan, grated
150ml whole milk, plus a little to glaze

Preheat the oven to 230° C (450° F).

Sift the flour, salt, mustard and cayenne into a bowl (hold the sieve up high – you’re trying to aerate the mixture as much as you can). Cut the butter into pieces and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until you have a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs. Grate the cheeses and stir them into the flour mixture. Pour all the milk into the bowl with the flour and cheese, and use a knife to bring everything together into a dough.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is 1cm thick, and cut into rounds with a fluted 6.5cm cutter. Arrange on a greased baking sheet and brush the top of each scone with milk. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the scones have risen and are golden. These are fantastic served straight from the oven. If you want to ring the changes, try adding a tablespoon of Herbes de Provence with the cheeses for a cheese and herb scone – really good served with a slice of sharp cheese.