Book Review: A Cook’s Year

I’ve been putting off writing this review for so long! Honestly, it’s a beautiful book; gorgeous pictures, engaging prose that makes you want to ditch everything and move to a remote country farmhouse…but for some reason I just get a mental block when it comes to using it. It’s time to let it go and move on.

First I had to rule out recipes where awkward members of the family would refuse to eat it (goodbye everything with mushrooms), then the ones with hard to get or expensive ingredients (venison, squirrel, etc), then finally everything that my ADHD brain classified as too much bother. It didn’t leave much.

Another issue, fairly common with books written by “posh” people (yes, I’m looking at you, Nigella) is a lack of serving suggestions. It not always obvious what vegetables or carby side dishes will go well. I’m sure that white bean and foraged herb salad, for example, is delicious, but not by itself. Posh person food often seems to me to be a little unbalanced nutritionally.

But, it is a beautiful book, and worth keeping just for the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly – a wonderful mix of wild autumn fruits. Maybe one day I won’t have to worry about who I’m cooking for, and will be able to make the things that appeal to me?

A Cook’s Year in a Welsh Farmhouse by Elizabeth Luard. Bloomsbury, 2011.

Why did you buy it?

Good question. It’s pretty, and I’d been following the author in her articles in Country Living magazine, which is where I discovered the recipe for Hedgerow Jelly.

Judge a book by it’s cover…

I am supremely jealous of the author’s lifestyle.

Do you use it?

Next question please.

What did you make?

It’s been so long since starting this one that I can’t remember! Only apple bread and lemon liqueur spring to mind. They were nice enough, but not remarkable.

Is it still in print?

I don’t think so, but is easy to get second hand.

Is it worth buying?

That’s a tricky one. If you like reading cookbooks, or you have ready access to fancy ingredients (and plenty of cash), or you enjoy foraging, then yes. If you want simpler, easy to cook meals that won’t scare off picky eaters, then probably not.

Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts

Ok, before we go any further lets clear something up. SWEETMEATS are articles of confectionery; not to be confused with SWEETBREADS which are gross bits of an animal (some kind of gland, I believe). Meat comes from the Old English ‘mete’, which basically means any kind of food. Right! Let’s get on.

You’ve probably noticed that I’m really into vintage cookbooks. As well as being fun to read, they’re a great source of inspiration. The recipes can be a little bit hard to interpret though.

Take, for example, this recipe for Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts; found in the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The list of ingredients is a little bizarre from the point of view of a modern reader.

There’s 1lb of treacle, 1lb sugar, 4 ounces of melted butter etc. But no quantity is given for the flour, just the tenuous direction to add as much as “may be necessary”.

Believe it or not, accurate lists of ingredients weren’t even a thing until Eliza Acton’s groundbreaking Modern Cookery for Modern Families was published in 1845. A book which was liberally plagiarised by Mrs Beeton.

Flour aside, that’s a lot of treacle. Like, A LOT. And it’s pretty powerful stuff. I knew I’d made these before for a Victorian tea party, and found them a bit strong (even though I’d cut the amount right down). The trouble is, I really can’t remember what I did with the recipe, so it was back to square one. Using a recipe for Cornish Fairings as a base, and interpreting the original quite loosely, I think the end result has turned out rather well.

While homemade candied peel will give the best results, use shop bought if you need to. The same goes for angelica, which can usually be found at this time of year, in those shops that specialise in gigantic bags of prunes and stuff. They could also be left out entirely if you’re not keen on that sort of thing.

Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts makes 12-14

Ingredients:

  • 180g Plain flour
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 90g butter
  • 1tsp caraway seeds
  • 30g candied peel
  • 30g candied angelica
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1tsp treacle

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200c/180 fan/gas mark 4. Grease a couple of baking trays.

Sift the flour and ground spices into a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Chop the peel and angelica into small pieces. Add to the bowl. Stir in the caraway seeds.

Gently warm the syrup and treacle in a saucepan or microwave until they are runny. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together till it forms a stiff dough. If it seems a bit dry you can drizzle in a bit more syrup.

Divide into pieces about the size of a walnut, or just divide into the number of biscuits you want. Roll into balls, put on the baking trays, flatten slightly with your hand, and pop in the oven.

Bake for around 15 minutes, or until a rich golden brown. If you want a decorative effect on top, once the biscuits have puffed up and are starting to brown, squash them down the middle with a fork. This is purely optional.

They will still be soft when they come out the oven. Allow to firm up a little before transferring to a wire rack. Once cool, they should be crispy on the outside and delightfully chewy in the middle.

Cake of the Month: Raspberry Butterscotch

I’m always impressed when people can decide on favourites. Favourite album, favorite film and so on. In a world so full of amazing stuff, how do they do that? For example, if you asked me what my favourite book was; I could perhaps break it down by genre and time period, and give you a list from each one. But an overall best book ever? No chance.

Which of course, brings us to cake. Oh, yes it does. So many great cakes to choose from, how could you possibly choose one?

You may or may not know that I spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter. You meet some interesting people, it’s not all crazy trolls. One of these interesting people suggested raspberry and butterscotch as a flavour combination. I wasn’t sure to begin with but it really worked. After a couple of ice-cream experiments it was time to try a cake, and oh boy! It must be one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Definitely in the top five, at least…

While raspberries aren’t a very autumnal fruit, there are some in the shops still, and you could always use frozen berries.

Butterscotch is basically caramel made with brown instead of white sugar. If you feel confident making your own caramel then do, but remember it’s harder to tell when it’s ready because it’s brown already. You can make an educated guess, or use a sugar thermometer. Otherwise, buy a jar of butterscotch sauce.

Raspberry and Butterscotch Cake serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 180g soft butter
  • 120g brown sugar
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 240g Plain flour
  • 1 tsp each of baking powder and bicarbonate of soda
  • 140ml buttermilk
  • 100g raspberries

For the butterscotch sauce:

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 30g butter
  • 150ml double cream
  • (Or a jar from the shop)

For the filling:

  • 1/2 jar of good quality raspberry jam
  • 90g butter
  • 180g icing sugar
  • 3 tbsp butterscotch sauce

Method:

Grease and line two round sandwich cake tins. Preheat the oven to 180c/160 fan/gas mark 3

1. Beat together the butter, brown, and golden sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl and mix well. Beat in the butter milk and raspberries, it doesn’t matter if the raspberries break into small pieces.

3. Divide the mixture between the cake tins and bake for around 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then remove from the tins and finish cooling on a wire rack.

4. In the meantime, make the butterscotch sauce. Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until dissolved.

5. Turn up the heat to medium. DO NOT STIR AFTER THIS POINT. Allow the butterscotch to come to the boil, and let it simmer for 2 minutes until it becomes caramel (it may take slightly more or less time than this, I’m afraid you’ll just have to use your judgement).

6. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the butter and cream. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally.

7. Make the buttercream. It’s easiest to do this with an electric whisk or small hand blender, if you have one. Sieve the icing sugar to remove lumps. Add the butter and butterscotch sauce and blend till smooth.

8. Assemble the cake. Spread the top of one of the cakes with raspberry jam. Spread the underside of the other cake with the buttercream, and sandwich them together.

9. Liberally spread the top of the cake with butterscotch sauce.

10. Enjoy!

Crumbles

When Buttered Crumbs left home at the tender age of 17, the first recipe I had to call home and ask Old Mother Crumb for was apple crumble.

There’s nothing like a good crumble to invoke feelings of nostalgia, home and comfort. Even better, it’s hard to make a bad crumble (though it does happen) because they’re so wonderfully easy, no fancy equipment or special ingredients required. In fact, it really gets on my nerves when food writers try to add “cheffy” touches to a pudding whose best feature is it’s humbleness.

It’s easy to give in to the “curse of knowledge” and assume that somehow everyone instinctivly knows how to make something so simple. But, of course, they don’t. We all have to start somewhere. Does the world need another crumble recipe? Probably not, but I’m going to give you the benefit of my (quickly counts on fingers) twenty-six years of crumble-making, recipe-tweaking experience; and give you the recipe for the best crumble I, at least, have ever tasted.

It might seem strange and a lot of bother to use a mixture of butter and margarine, but you get a crispier crumble that still has plenty of flavour. All butter can give you a dry crumble that tastes too rich, all margarine and it lacks flavour and sets quite hard. Obviously you can use one or the other if you prefer.

Quinces are quite hard to find these days. Check your local farmers market, ethnic supermarket (they’re much more popular in Eastern Europe), or maybe someone you know has a tree in their garden. You could replace the quince with a large pear if you like.

Apple and Quince Crumble Serves 4-6

  • 3 cooking apples
  • 1 quince (or a large pear)
  • 90g golden granulated sugar
  • 150g (5oz) plain flour
  • 30g (1oz) rolled oats
  • 45g butter
  • 45g margarine (you can use 90g of butter or 90g of marg if you need to)
  • 2tbsp sugar

You’ll also need a casserole dish that holds at least 1lt. Mine measures 25x15x6cm.

Method:

Peel, core and slice the apples. Slice them fairly thin so they cook at the same rate as the crumble, too thick and they might still be hard when the topping is cooked.

Cover the base of the casserole dish with half of the sliced apple. Sprinkle one third of the sugar over the fruit.

Thinly slice the quince (or pear) and layer it over the apple. Sprinkle another third of the sugar over the fruit.

Finish with another layer of apple and the rest of the sugar. Set aside while you make the crumble topping.

To make the crumble:

Combine the flour, oats and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and margarine.

Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips, until it resembles bread crumbs. Seriously. If you can’t imagine what that looks like, see the picture below.

Spread the crumble mix over the fruit. Bake in the oven at 180/160 fan/gas mark 3, for 40 minutes to an hour. The crumble should be golden brown, and you will be able to see the soft fruit bubbling around the edges.

You can serve straight away, but it will be VERY HOT! It’s better to let it cool for 15 mins, or while you make the custard. This amount of crumble will need a pint (600ml) of custard.

It’s generally accepted that crumbles were invented during WW2, when rationing made it difficult get enough ingredients to make a traditional pie.

Small Comforts

It’s been a tough year, huh?

In a world of uncertainty, sadness, and chaos, we need small comforts more than ever. Crafts, hobbies, and cooking help to keep us grounded and occupy uncomfortably long and empty hours.

This October, Buttered Crumbs will be bringing you a month of warm, cosy, autumnal escapism. Expect sugar and spice and all things nice; revisiting old favourites, trying new twists, and rediscovering forgotten treats from the past.

So pop the kettle on, wrap yourself in a blanket, and we’ll begin…

Remember Buttered Crumbs is also available in Twitter and Instagram flavours. It would be lovely to hear about your favourite autumn and/or comfort foods, so don’t forget to comment!

Nice and slow

I never used to see the point in slow cookers. Occasionally someone would offer me one they didn’t want anymore, but I figured I’d rarely, if ever, remember to set it going in the morning. However, when I  was buying my super fancy all singing & dancing ice-cream machine it was on special offer; buy it and get a  nice shiny slow cooker for free! Not a bad bargain really.

It turns out that a slow cooker is great for those days when you know you’ll be too tired or busy to cook later, and is the best way for cooking cheaper cuts of meat to tender perfection.

I rarely, if ever, remember to put it on early enough.

GoodFood Slow Cooker Favourites Edited by Sarah Cook. BBC  Books, 2011.

A collection of recipes first published in the BBC Good Food magazine, most of which seem to have been adapted for a slow cooker, rather than having been written for one.

Why did you buy it?

Because I had a brand new, shiny slow cooker. I also trust BBC Good Food recipes because they are thoroughly tested, unlike many other recipe books.

Do you use it?

Yes. A few of the recipes are family favourites, though to be fair I saw them in the magazine first.

Judge a book by its cover…

Meh, it’s fine.

So, what did you make?

I tried to do something from each section, starting with breakfast:

Honey crunch granola. Nice enough, but not wildly exciting. Certainly not worth the hassle of making in a slow cooker when it would have taken a fraction of the time done the usual way. It was taking forever to crisp up; eventually I got bored and finished it off in the oven.

Apple spice tea loaf. I like a nice tea loaf, spread with butter, yummy. You were supposed to put the loaf tin INSIDE the cooker. Nope, didn’t fit. Who has a slow cooker that big anyway? Decided to cook it in the main ‘bowl’ (?). To cut a long story short, it was not a tea loaf, it was a pudding. We ate it with custard.

Duck and pineapple red curry was very good, well suited to slow cooking, as was the sticky spiced lamb.

The easy kedgeree was horribly stodgy; that, and the haddock with chorizo (which was nice but not cooked properly) would both have been better off being cooked in a pan.

For dessert we had hot chocolate mousse and banana rice pudding. Rice pudding is fine done in the slow cooker, but you can’t walk off and leave it; there’s a very fine line between al dente and overcooked, you need to be there to support it during it’s transition.

Is it worth buying?

There are several excellent recipes in this book, but they tend to be the ones that cook slowly in the first place, rather than those that have been adapted. There are certainly worse books on the market.

Is it still in print?

It’s still available second hand or via kindle, though I believe the books were rebranded a while back so might be available under a different name.

Feeding Friends

Let me tell you the story of why the microwave permanently smells of burnt garlic. Once upon a time I thought it would be a good idea to test ALL of my recipe books…

How to feed your friends with relish aims to take the fear and stress out of cooking for friends; whether it’s a full on dinner party or helping out during a difficult time by popping round with something nice. There are plenty of helpful tips on what to cook, how to create the right atmosphere etc. Definitely one of those books that leaves you hankering after a particular lifestyle. However, I’m wondering how rigorously the recipes were tested.

A quick pea soup with ‘blasted’ garlic (perfect for feeding unexpected guests), asks you to microwave a bulb of garlic for 5 minutes until ‘soft and mellowed’. After 1.5 mins the kitchen was filled with acrid smoke as the papery outer skin did its best to burst into flames. The garlic itself was burnt and hard. And to this very day, the microwave stinks of burning garlic.

How to Feed Your Friends with Relish by Joanna Weinberg. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007.

A pea-souper

Why did you buy it?

Can’t remember. Probably because it has menus in it, I’m a sucker for menus.

Judge a book by its cover…

Classy. Nice size, nice illustrations, lovely thick paper. Very middle-class-younger-person-with-taste, which I’m assuming is the target audience.

Do you use it?

Not a great deal. The parts about entertaining are great, in reality the recipes often disregard her own advice and are more fussy and time consuming than necessary. A lot of the time there will be ingredients that at least one member of the family will veto, and after the fiasco with the microwaved garlic I’m treating other recipes with extreme caution.

What did you make?

Well. Pea soup… actually there were other issues with the recipe, there is no way that 500ml of stock is going to make enough soup for four. Other than that, it was nice. Then we tried a cottage pie, tarted up with the addition of chorizo. Not bad, but nothing special.

Sausage meat and cabbage casserole was really nice, but again there were issues with the amount of fluids, this time way too much. There were also some flapjacks, which were pretty good. Oh yeah! I forgot about the steak sandwiches, they were lovely.

Is it still in print?

Not sure, but copies are available in print or via Kindle.

Is it worth buying?

Hmm. It’s a nice book. I would recommend it to experienced cooks, who know when and where to make adjustments, and who want to entertain more; otherwise not really. I will be keeping my copy though.

Egg Free Cakes – Part 2: Vinegar cake

Vinegar seems like a strange ingredient in a cake, doesn’t it? One of the many roles of egg as an addition to cake batter is to help the cake rise properly, giving a lighter texture than an eggless cake. Here the vinegar combines with the bicarbonate of soda to give the batter enough oomph to rise.

You honestly can’t taste the vinegar, there’s just a slight malty flavour to the crumb. Trust me!

Vinegar Cake

  • 225g (8oz) butter
  • 450g (1lb) plain flour
  • 225g mixed dried fruit (sultanas and raisins work well)
  • 225g (8oz) light soft brown sugar
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
  • 3 tbsp malt vinegar

Preheat oven to 200/ 180 fan/ gas mark 4. Grease and line a round or square 9″ (23cm) cake tin.

Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the fruit and sugar.

Sprinkle the soda into the milk, then add the vinegar. It will froth up. While it’s still frothing, add to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Turn into the cake tin and bake for 30 mins. Then reduce the temperature to 170/ 150 fan/ gas mark 3. Continue cooking until the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. If the top starts to burn before the cake is done, cover with a piece of baking paper (not foil).

Cool in the tin for 30 mins, finish cooling on a wire rack.

Malt vinegar is made from ale whch is allowed to become vinegar.

Egg Free Cakes – Part 1: Honey Cake

Lockdown. It could have been worse; though, I daresay for many of us It coud have been better. Still, plenty of time for baking right? IF you can get the ingredients of course. A combination of panic buying, and people having nothing better to do than make banana bread, has left the shelves a little bare. I mean, I’m all for people discovering the joys of homebaking, though there is a slight feeling of “hey, I liked baking before it was cool!”

Supposing you have managed to grab the last bag of flour, but what’s this? No eggs! Who is panic buying eggs anyway? If you look online there are various suggestions, often on vegan sites, for alternatives to eggs. Try them if you want, but I always find that recipes that never used ‘X’ ingredient in the first place always turn out (and taste) much better than adapting an existing recipe with alternatives.

So I’m going to share my two favourite egg-free cake recipes: Victorian Honey Cake – also low fat (but not low sugar, you can’t have everything) – and Vinegar Fruit Cake, which is a lot nicer than it sounds, the vinegar just adds a pleasant maltiness.

The honey cake is an adaptation of a recipe found in the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. We like to have it for breakfast. The original recipe calls for cream rather than buttermilk, I have tried it this way, but it’s very dry. Milk also works, if you can’t get hold of buttermilk, both give a nice chewy texture. Use any kind of honey; I like to use a mild honey for the cake, then while it’s still warm from the oven, brush liberally with a stronger tasting honey (Greek, for example). Cut the cake into squares, fingers, or use a cutter to stamp out fancy shapes (keep those lovely trimmings to eat sneakily while no one’s looking).

Victorian Honey cake

  • 4oz (120g) caster sugar
  • 8floz (230ml) buttermilk
  • 10oz (300g) plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbinate of soda
  • 4tbsp honey
  • More honey for glazing

Grease and line a square 9″ cake tin. Preheat oven to 190/ 170 fan/ gas mark 4.

Mix the sugar and cream together in a large bowl. Sift in the flour and soda and fold into the mixture.

Mix in the honey, and scrape the mixture into the tin.

Bake for around 30 mins (but check after 20), or until the top is a light golden brown and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Spread the top generously with more honey while still warm.

Honey bees typically produce 2-3 times more honey than they actually need.

Yorkshire Mint Pasty

Most of us are familiar with Eccles cakes – dried fruit (mainly currants) encased in circles of pastry. If you’re interested in regional cookery you may have heard of the similar Chorley cake and Coventry God cakes. I had never heard of the Yorkshire pasty before, though a quick Google shows that many from the Yorkshire area remember their mothers and grandmothers making these treats from carefully handed down family recipes.

What stood out and made me want to try them was the addition of fresh mint to the usual currant and spice combo. The recipe isn’t terribly helpful, so I had to improvise a bit. Also I’m not keen on currants, so I used raisins and sultanas. Candied peel from supermarkets can be hard and bitter, if you can make your own that would be best, otherwise the best you can afford. If you hate the stuff, use grated orange zest instead.

As for the shape, there doesn’t seem to be any strict rules; you could go for any of these:

Quite honestly, although I could happily have eaten several, each bite was such a taste surprise it was hard to say if I actually liked them. I guess I must have!

Yorkshire Mint Pasty

  • 1 sheet of shortcrust pastry or homemade pastry made with 120g plain flour and 60g fat ( this could be butter, vegetable fat, margarine or lard)
  • 7 tbsp Mixed dried fruit, or your own blend of raisins, currants, sultanas and candied peel (I used 3 tbsp raisins, 3 tbsp sultanas and 1 tbsp candied peel
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 30g butter
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1 or 2 tbsp Chopped fresh mint leaves

1. Mix the fruit, peel, sugar, mint and spice in a bowl.

2. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Cut into shapes if you want, though you can just sprinkle the filling over half of the pastry, fold it over, and cut into rectangles (a bit like a Garibaldi biscuit).

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3. Divide the mixture between the pastry shapes. Dot with little blobs of butter. Seal the pasties with a little water. If you like they can be glazed with egg and sprinkled with sugar.

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4. Bake at 180/160 fan/gas mark 4 until golden brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack.

Coventry God cakes were traditionally given to Godchildren by their Godparents at the start of the new year.