Sourdough fruit scones

Needing yet another means of using up starter, I hit upon this idea. The starter doesn’t need to be active (although it’s also fine if it is) — it’s the baking powder that does the work. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my first effort in terms of texture, but otherwise they were fine if rather rustic. A little more liquid next time should sort it.

Use whatever dried fruit you fancy: cranberries, cherries, sultanas, chopped dried apricots … the dried fruit guy at our local market does chunks of semi-dried apple tossed in cinnamon sugar, and these worked really well, chopped into small dice. I mixed them with sultanas and cranberries.
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Vintage Feast: Fine English Cookery by Michael Smith


Locked down and with not much to do except cook, I decided to revive my neglected “neglected cookbooks” series with Michael Smith’s Fine English Cookery, published in 1973. Mine’s a paperback reissue from 1998.

Long post, but comes with a recipe worth trying at the end, so scroll on if you just want that!

Michael Smith was a trained chef and restaurateur who was also a broadcaster. His book, while clearly treading the same ground as Jane Grigson’s great English Food, is a reflection of that. Jane herself wrote, “Of the many books on our food, his is my favourite, the one I use most.” Yet the two books have surprisingly few dishes in common, since Smith’s is biased towards restaurant food or at least dishes aimed more at dinner parties than family meals. He does draw on historical recipes, from the eighteenth century onwards but yes, this book reflects how the British middle classes ate and entertained in the 1970s!

The book has a simple structure: soups, “a medley of savoury and vegetable dishes”, principal dishes, puddings, sauces, salads. The soup chapter starts, to my surprise, with a chilled almond soup which immediately makes me think of the Spanish ajo blanco. No garlic or olive oil in this though; it’s simply chicken stock, flaked almonds, nut oil, and cream, thickened with flour. The puddings chapter is rather special too, with some delicious sounding baked puddings and tarts and, of course, a proper recipe for sherry trifle (no jelly).

In a spirit of adventure, I browsed the more unusual soups. Mushroom and mustard soup sounds interesting. But I was stopped in my tracks by chilled pineapple and curry soup. Curiosity got the better of me. It specified a fresh pineapple, but I was not about to waste one by cooking it in chicken stock and liquidising it, so I bought a tin. Other ingredients: curry powder, mango chutney, courgettes, onions, lemon juice. Served with cream swirled into it.

Verdict: it looked like snot. And the taste was pretty strange, flavours battling each other. It wasn’t disgusting, but I certainly won’t be making it again.

Main course: beef olives. I haven’t made these for decades. In the past I used an Italian recipe, with a stuffing featuring lemon zest, pine nuts, and sultanas, and a sumptuous slow-cooked tomato-based sauce. This version had a thoroughly English stuffing: yes, lemon zest featured, but with breadcrumbs, butter, and cooked ham. The sauce was a triumph though; rich with mushrooms, carrots, red wine and port. The only thing wrong with it was that there wasn’t enough of it. I’d halved the recipe but I think I should have made the full quantity of sauce. I have to say it deserves its reputation as a classic dinner party dish: yes, it’s a bit of a faff but it can be prepared entirely in advance, and it looks so much posher than a stew with the same ingredients would. I think the Italian version is superior though.

Pudding: I decided to try Maids of Honour, little tarts allegedly enjoyed by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in Richmond. I believe the traditional version of these tarts has curd cheese in it. This one doesn’t; the filling is basically frangipane, similar to Bakewell tart, with a layer of quince jelly in the bottom. They were delicious, albeit too sweet; I’ll reduce the sugar next time. A flaky, crisp pastry case, filling that’s squidgy in the middle (possibly a bit underbaked) and crisp around the edges. Of the recipes I’ve tried from this book, this is the only one I’d make again. Good enough to serve to guests: recipe below.

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Brandy snaps

Scones and brandy snaps for tea

A true classic for afternoon tea. They look much more difficult than they are: very quick to make, and once you’ve grasped that you need to wait a minute before lifting them off the tray, they are a doddle to shape — much easier than tuiles. They’ll be crisp within 10 minutes, ready to fill with piped whipped cream.

Note: most recipes have brandy in them. But this is not why they are called brandy snaps, and I think it’s neither necessary nor authentic. The “brandy” is more likely to refer to the fact that they are brannt or burnt, i.e. caramelised. So it’s absolutely fine to leave it out.
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Malt loaf

This is a traditional family recipe, slightly adapted by me, mainly to make it a bit less sweet. It’s not like that dark, claggy Soreen malt loaf that used to come wrapped in waxed paper; it’s much lighter and more cake-like, to the extent that it doesn’t need butter. In fact we have even had it for pudding with custard …

Finding malt extract was a challenge. Eventually a friend tracked some down for me in Holland and Barrett and posted it to me. Luckily the loaf doesn’t need much, so the jar will last a while.
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Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Sourdough hot cross buns

It had to happen! I was very pleased with these. They are not quite as light as conventional HXBs because sourdough is always chewier, but the crumb is soft and buttery, the crust light and soft. A definite hit, to be repeated. The recipe is from the Clink restaurant; I’m reproducing it here having converted it to metric from annoying cups. I give it in stages as it was in the original, because that’s the most effective way to plan it. The baking process itself will take about 2 1/2 hours including proving.

Notes:
You don’t need bread flour for this; ordinary white flour is fine. I used organic white flour (T65).
The dough is very sticky. If you have a stand mixer, I recommend using it with the dough hook. Otherwise, sprinkle your work surface with flour, have a dough scraper handy, and be prepared for messy hands.
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Bread and orange curd pudding

This is just a variation on bread and butter pudding, created because I had brioche and some home-made curd that needed using up. In my case it was Seville orange curd, but lemon curd or even passion fruit curd would both be fine too. It turned out even better than I expected, a good orange tang, caramelised top, and little cranberry flavour bombs. Feeds 3-4 depending on how greedy you are.
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The Apple Book, by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan

A neglected cookbook for a neglected blog. This is an old book, published in 1984. At the time we lived in the Vale of Evesham, where fruit and vegetables were plentiful. It’s really intended for people with their own trees, who are desperate for ways of using their gluts. But even if you aren’t surrounded by orchards, apples are available all over the place and all the year round, so it’s well worth having a cookbook dedicated to them.

I used to use it a lot, but it’s gradually migrated to the dusty lower reaches of the bookcase. Flicking through it, there are quite a few food-spattered pages. Some even have notes, including the word “wonderful” scrawled next to the apple and cider sorbet recipe. But there’s one recipe that has become the household standard virtually every time we can get hold of chicken livers: the catchily named Chicken livers with mushrooms, bacon and apples in a peppered cider sauce. You hardly need a recipe after that. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and it’s excellent with pasta.
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English apple pie

English apple pie

It must be over a decade since I last made an apple pie. Since I became French, my default option for apples and pastry is sinfully easy Tarte Tatin. Or occasionally, if I have time, a classic tarte aux pommes. But today I suddenly felt the urge to make an old-fashioned apple pie. I had to dredge long-unvisited corners of my memory for the little tweaks I developed in the years when I made it regularly. Painting the pastry with egg white to stop it going soggy. Mixing a little cornflour in with the sugar to thicken the juices, making it easier to serve cold. Adding a few sultanas. And above all, hiding bits of quince among the apples to perfume the pie and turn the filling a rosy pink. In fact it must have been the quince in the fruit bowl that gave me the idea in the first place.
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