Friday, June 30, 2006

Bakewell Pudding/Tart, Derbyshire

Andrew at SpittoonExtra recently posted a rallying cry to all bloggers to go out a bake a Bakewell Pudding/Tart. This in reponse to a recent article in The Grocer magazine and The Independent newspaper that suggests that the dish is falling out of favour. Mr. Kipling's exceedingly sweet and sickly rendition of the same item has seen a 31 per cent decrease in sales over the last year, that would be nice to put down to keen bakers making their own at home, but apparently the drop in popularity reflects the unhealthy ingredients and the fact we are all so damn health conscious. Hmmm. The presence of sugar, butter and eggs doesn't seem to effect the popularity of cakes generally, so I am not sure about this argument. Perhaps the Bakewell Pudding/Tart is seen as a old-fashioned food, and is simply passing out of fashion. Either way, it would be a great shame for a famed regional dish to simply fade away (I will weep no tear for Mr. Kipling however), and therefore I am firmly behind Andrew's suggestion that as many people as possible make and post a Bakewell Pudding/Tart before the end of the month.

But before I weary my fingers and your patience, I should briefly touch on the duality of the name. It is a tart or is it a pudding? The original dish was known as a Bakewell Pudding. The earliest recorded recipe, by Eliza Acton in 1845, indicates a pastry-less sweet; a dish lined with fruit preserves and topped with egg yolks beaten with sugar and butter, into which a small amount of almond flavouring was added (no ground almonds). As for the stories that attribute the origination of the dish to a clumsy cook at a Derbyshire Inn, who muddled up the making of a strawberry tart by putting the fruit mix straight onto the pastry base of a tart, rather than on the top of the butter, egg and sugar 'filling', I am pretty sure that there is no hard proof that this is the fact. Similar dishes to Bakewell Pudding were in existence for several centuries before Ms. Acton penned her recipe, many were variations on the Transparent Pudding. The Transparent Pudding recipes I could find on the internet all come from late 19th century American cookbooks, so the idea obviously travelled across the Atlantic via a pastry loving cook. Somewhere in Kentucky is a bakery that still makes them for sale. Maybe they are much more widely available than this? - do let me know.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Bakewell Pudding came to have a pastry base. Mrs Beeton in 1861 gives a recipe for one with a puff-pastry base. I can see that from then on the Bakewell Pudding could be legitimately be referred to as a tart, for it was baked within a pastry case. Recipes nowadays use either puff or shortcrust pastry, and the title is either for a Pudding or a Tart. In this instance I really don't think it matters too much. The orignal pudding has become a tart, so to my mind either name is valid.

At least two Bakewell-based bakers boast that they recreate the 'original' pudding/tart recipe, and even they can't agree on which name to go by. In Bakewell town there is both a Bakewell Pudding Shop, and aBakewell Tart Shop. If you go to the website of the Bakewell Pudding Shop, you can enter a competition to win one of their renditions of the pudding. Go on, it's worth a shot.

My recipe comes from one of my regular sources, Jane Grigson's 'English Food'. Her recipe is for a Bakewell Pudding, and she mentions that local to Bakewell it is always a pudding and never a tart. Her instructions are for one large pudding, but as I wanted to bake small puddings I have tweaked them a little.

Rich sweet shortcrust pastry (I made enough to line a 12 hole tart tin)
Raspberry/strawberry jam (decent stuff please - I bought raspberry jam but then couldn't get the blooming lid off it, so used strawberry instead)
65g unsalted butter
2 eggs
65g caster sugar
65g ground almonds

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
2. Roll out the pastry, press out circles of suitable size and use to line your tin.
3. Melt the butter and leave to cool.
4. Pop a little jam into the base of each pudding. Don't go mad, but put in enough to cover the base comfortably.
5. Beat the eggs and sugar until they are pale in colour and of a good thick cream consistency.
6. Add the butter and stir in, then fold in the almonds. Spoon mixture onto the jam layer - again don't go too mad or you'll end up with a big Bakewell mess when they cook.
7. My little tarts took approx. 15-20 minutes to cook. I whipped them out as soon as they reached a good colour.

I was rather pleased with my little puddings. They were extremely light and easy to consume. The egg, sugar and almond topping formed quite a thin layer, and I didn't really notice a strong almond flavour. I think that the ground almonds served to bind the mixture as much as anything. I would certainly make these again, and I will have to now that they are all polished off. Thanks Andrew, for your inspiring idea.

P.S. For any keen and inventive icecream makers out there, you may be interested to know that I came across a site for the Bakewell Ice Cream Parlour (opening summer of 2006), which will be selling Bakewell Pudding icecream. A good idea?...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Girdle Scones (Scones Part 2)

So, back to Scotland and my quest to bake the evolutionary forefathers of what we now know as the scone. For my previous posting I baked an oatmeal bannock - bannocks being the great-grandaddy of the scone. To recap: a bannock was originally a loaf of unleavened bread, circular in shape, and baked on the girdle. The name is now applied to all manner of girdle-baked doughs (sweetened, unsweetened, leavened or unleavened), and can refer to a large plate-sized scone. The original of the oatmeal bannock recipe that I used would have produced an unleavened bread. The 'modern' version of the recipe included bicarbonate of soda, although I found that the lift this gave the dough was very limited. Elizabeth David in 'English Bread and Yeast Cookery', comments that the chemical raising agents available to the home-baker from the second half of the 19th century, were first used to introduce some lightness into 'biscuits, girdle scones, oatcakes, and other bakestone products that had previously been made without an aerating agent'. The bannock I cooked was akin to a large doughy oatcake, with a pretty stodgy consistency; and so I wanted to find a recipe that would step closer to producing the type of light scone that goes down so nicely with toppings of cream and jam (particularly in the south-west of England).

I returned to F. Marian McNeill's book 'The Scots Kitchen', and selected a recipe entitled 'White Girdle Scones, or Soda Scones'. The 'white' refers to the fact that these scones are made with wheat flour, rather than oatmeal or barleymeal (these along with rye are Scotland's traditional grains); the secondary title reveals that the scones are leavened in the same way as soda bread is - with baking soda and cream of tartar. They are, naturally, cooked on a metal hot-plate, rather than oven-baked.

450g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
Buttermilk to mix to a dough (I used up a 284ml carton, and had to top up with milk)

1. Preheat your girdle (no need to grease).
2. Sieve flour, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and salt into a bowl.
3. Add the buttermilk and gently mix in to form a very soft dough.
4. Divide dough into four. Take each piece and shape into a circle and then press gently with your hand to flatten to approx. 1/2inch depth (I started off with a rolling pin, but found it easier to work without it). Cut each circle into four quarters.

5. Pop each quarter onto the girdle. Leave to cook until the dough has swollen and risen slightly, and the base of the scone is light brown (about five minutes). Flip and cook other side. The insides should be cooked when the edges of the scone are dry (if your girdle is too hot the outsides will scorch and the inside will remind doughy - this MAY have happened to one or two of mine, but I will never admit it).

Although some of my quartered scones looked a little abstract post-girdling (if that isn't a verb, then it damn well should be), I was pleased with the general appearance of them. I was careful to not overwork the dough by handling it too much or too roughly, and the last scones on the girdle looked as well as those that hit the plate first. Hopefully this bodes well for my next round of scone baking...

What to top my girdle scones with for sampling purposes? Well, I happened to have a jar of Norwegian blueberry jam, given to me by a friend whose sister lives there. Blueberries are the cultivated form of the bilberry or blaeberry that grows wild in Scotland and the north of England. McNeil gives a recipe for blaeberry jam. It seemed an appropriate choice therefore for my scone topping (along with a lick of butter). The scones had a moist bread-like consistency, with a neutral flavour that made them an excellent back-drop to butter and jam (or even butter alone). I also found that they made a reasonable bread roll substitute to accompany our lunch-time soup. A scone for all purposes, and wrapped in a tea-towel they stayed moist all day, eating well even when cold.

This recipe pushed closer to producing the type scone served in such quantity in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset, although the method and ingredients are sufficiently different to ensure that these girdle scones have quite different character. The similarity between these girdle scones and the West Country scones is that they cook to a light, moist dough/crumb. Those 19th century chemists can, I think, take some thanks for their role in the development of the old style unleavened bannock into such good things as these.

My next scone journey will see me descend from the hob to the oven. I am stock-piling clotted cream in anticipation.

I would like to sign off this post by saying hello to all the bloggers (and a couple of partners) that I met yesterday at Johanna and Jeanne's blog party (a joint second birthday). It was great to meet everyone, and I look forward to checking out those sites that are new to me. For those not in attendance, we ate magnificently (inventive canapes, climaxing with a chocolate fountain), and drunk copious amounts of sparkling wine. I didn't take my camera because I knew that the event would be well documented (a gathering of bloggers - how could it not be so!). The weather and setting were fantastic, and Johanna and Jeanne were the perfect hostesses - helped by Carolyn, Johanna's daughter. Thank you ladies!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Oatmeal Bannock (Scones Part 1)

During the course of researching the background to Scotch pancakes, I was surprised to learn that scones are of Scottish invention. I had always assumed that they originated in the South-West of England, hence the popularity of Cornish and Devonshire cream teas, where freshly baked scones are served with lashings of locally produced clotted cream and home-made jams. I was wrong.

In Scotland the girdle has been an essential piece of cooking equipment right through to the late 20th century at least. When English supermarket chains extended into Scotland, they were forced to install girdles in-store so as to be able to provide the Scots with familiar and favoured products (Mason & Brown). This reliance on the girdle, particularly in rural areas, meant that very particular types of food developed north of the border. Breads, for example, were baked on the girdle rather than baked in the oven; the girdle also produced pancakes, oatcakes, thin crumpets, potato and oatmeal scones. The girdle-cooked breads were unleavened, circular in form, and the size of a dinner plate. These loaves were made from barley flour or oatmeal, and were known as bannocks. Over time bannocks began to be made with wheat flour, yeast and were enriched with butter and dried fruit - i.e. the Selkirk Bannock. In present times the name bannock is applied more generally to any baked item of a similar size and shape to the original bannock loaf, and can also be used as a term for a large circular scone which is scored into sections.

So, a bannock can also be a scone. What is a scone? Well, a scone is made from baked dough and a food of many guises - the dough can be sweetened or left plain; the baking can be done on the girdle, or in the oven; the dough can be leavened or chemically raised, or left alone; may be made from various flour types, or have potatoes as a base; oven-baked scones tend to be made of rolled dough, cut into smaller pieces (round or square), whereas girdle-caked scones tend to be left as a large disc. Recipes for scones therefore are very various!

I want to return to oven-baked scones in a future post (and will journey southwards to do so). For this posting I want to girdle-cook an early crossover between what was eaten in Scotland as a bread, and what became more familiar as a scone. For my recipe I used F. Marian McNeil's book 'The Scots Kitchen'. Her recipes for girdle-baked scones, bannocks and pancakes are highly praised in Elizabeth David's 'English Bread and Yeast Cookery'. David advises the baker to make use of McNeil's recipes; she says, 'Her oatcakes and scones have nothing of the tea shop and the tourist board about them. They are the real thing'. Well, Mrs D.'s is a voice to be listened to, so off to the bookshelf I went. McNeill's book is seen as the seminal work on traditional Scottish foods. It was compiled in the 1920s, and is clearly written by an experienced cook. Exact quantities are not always given, and cooking instructions are not of Delia et. al. clarity. McNeill clearly writes for the practised cook, and the baker who has a good feel for the materials she or he is working with. Intimidated, moi?

Scotland had as its staple cereal crops, barley firstly, and then oats. Wheat was difficult to grow and so wheat flour was historically used much less frequently that barleymeal or oatmeal (meal is a less finely ground product than flour). Obviously today wheat flour is widely available in Scotland, but it is still an imported product, and to get a more authentic flavour to your Scottish baking one should really use barley or oats. As barleymeal is hard to come by, I bought some fine oatmeal and used this in McNeil's recipe for Bere or Barley Bannocks, replacing the beremeal/barley with the oat equivalent. She gives two methods, one 'old' and one 'modern'. The old method has no rising agent, uses butter and sweet milk rather than buttermilk. The modern method has no fat added, uses bicarbonate of soda and buttermilk. It is this presence of a chemical rising agent is that makes the recipe a step toward that of the scone. I halved the quantities of ingredients suggested by McNeill.

225g fine oatmeal
55g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 pint of buttermilk (in the recipe this measurement was given in teacupfuls, but this volume seemed to give a good consistency to the mixture)

1. Preheat your girdle. It is hot enough to cook on when flour sprinkled on it takes a few seconds to brown.
2. Put the oatmeal, flour and salt into a large bowl and mix well.
3. Put the buttermilk into a small bowl, add the teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and mix briskly. McNeill writes that it will fizz up, but mine didn't.
4. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and bring together into a soft dough. Be careful not to overwork the mixture. The key thing is to work quickly as the bicarbonate of soda will be kicked into action by the buttermilk.
5. Roll mixture out on a lightly floured surface, to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Cut into a round (cut around a suitable size plate).
6. Dust girdle with a small amount of flour and put on the round of dough to cook. Turn the bannock over when the underside starts to brown.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the appearance of my bannock. It only swelled the smallest of amounts during cooking. I wasn't sure whether it should rise more or not, bannocks were originally unleavened breads after all; but I did think that the point of using the bicarbonate of soda was to get a rise, even if this were only very slight. Maybe I needed a bit more bicarbonate of soda; or maybe the oatmeal is too sturdy to get much rise from? (Update - I have since learnt that oatmeal has a very low gluten content so will never make a dough with 'lift'. Flat bread/scones are what you get!)

In the end I decided that my oatmeal bannock was not far removed from a giant oatcake. The oatcake recipe that McNeil gives a few pages after her instructions for bannock, comprises of oatmeal, a pinch of salt and a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, mixed with a bit of fat and hot water. The oatcakes are rolled out thinly and then cooked on the girdle. The bannock is moister and softer than these oatcakes would be, but is closer in substance to them than the savoury scone I had imagined it would appear to resemble. It was very dense and a little chewy. I avoided drinking too much water after sampling in case my stomach swelled like a haggis.

Flavour-wise the bannock was fairly bland. I do like oats, so for me this wasn't a problem, but I did find that a slice was best consumed with a lick of butter and a drizzle of honey (making up for the lack of fat and sugar in the recipe perhaps). It would be a good base to a fried feast of bacon, mushrooms, eggs, tomatoes etc., as the sturdiness and blandness of the bannock would soak up the oil and the flavours. This bannock is definitely a food for sending Scots soldiers on long marches, or to give a hill farmer sturdy legs during long days on the mountains; it would be wasted on pillows of golden cream and sweet summer fruits. Perhaps before moving out to the West Country I need to try one more of McNeil's girdle recipes, to see if I can find one that forms a closer link between the scones of Scotland and the scones of the South-West of England?

By coincidence, today (9th June) is St. Columba's Day (patron saint of shepherds). In rural Scotland this was traditionally marked by the baking of an oatmeal, barleymeal or rye bannock - one of the few foodstuffs that Columba allowed himself in his monastry on the island of Iona. The bannock would contain a coin and was shared between the children of the household. Whoever had the slice of bannock with the coin 'won' the job of looking after the new lambs for the next year (a prize coveted by children, for it meant that they were being granted great responsibility - better than an iPod, eh kids?).