Friday, February 15, 2019

Chapter 6: Puddings - Completed!



My version of Jane's Poached Pears, that ended up in the Telegraph (pic: Greg Funnell)

I have come to a true milestone in the project because the behemoth that is the Puddings chapter is now done and dusted. It was a beast, weighing in at a stonking 66 recipes. It was a very diverse chapter with a vast array of desserts and techniques, many of them new to me. Unlike other large chapters (e.g. Teatime) it wasn’t really possible to sub-categorise and make Puddings easier for me to, er, swallow. Jane tends to mix the recipes up, but such is the way of the English pudding. Jane says that they had a ‘great reputation’ since at least the seventeenth century. She found this great quote from the protestant exile François Maximilien Misson:
They bake them in an oven, they boil them with meat, they make them fifty-several ways: blessed be he that invented pudding, for it is manna that hits the palates of all sorts of people.


#173 Summer Pudding

Of course, back then the word pudding had a more specific meaning and meals were not split into separate courses; sweet and savoury dishes were served at once, often in the same dish, beef and plum pudding (similar to our Christmas Pudding, but less showy) being one example.
For those who are not British, the word ‘pudding’ causes some confusion because it has several meanings, in the context of this post, and therefore the book, it simply means dessert (aka afters or sweet, depending on where you from). Readers of the blog will know that many puddings are not sweet at all (e.g. #200 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding, #189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly, #181 Yorkshire Pudding), some desserts have pudding in their name, but others don’t. Usually the steamed puddings have ‘pudding’ in their name (e.g. #90 Sussex Pond Pudding), but not always. It’s very confusing! I thought to iron out some of this confusion I would give a very potted history of pudding:
In mediaeval times, and probably much earlier, puddings were animal intestines filled with a mixture – these are the true puddings – #34 Black Pudding is one of the few survivors, but sausages also belong to this group too, though rarely boiled in England these days, they are in other countries such as Germany. Surprisingly #27 Rice Pudding, bread and butter pudding and #181 Yorkshire Pudding all started life as these true puddings. It did mean, however, that puddings could only be made when there were fresh intestines around. Eventually, the pudding cloth was invented, the pudding could now be swaddled in material and boiled, producing a cannonball-shaped pudding, Dickensian Christmas Puddings are an example of this. Other favourites like Spotted Dick could be cooked like this and #374 Pease Pudding got an upgrade from potage! Roly-poly puddings could be made by wrapping them in shirt sleeves, giving them the moniker ‘dead man’s arm’.


A page of Mrs Beeton's cold desserts 
Finally, the pudding basin was invented meaning that suet pastry and sponge cake mixtures could be used with great success. As time went on, puddings got lighter, more spiced and more sweet as ingredients became cheaper, and a switch from French to Russian service (single dishes and courses) meant they were served at the end of a meal. Hence, we call dessert the pudding course, explaining why all desserts have ended up being called pudding.
The British have great enthusiasm for their puddings, especially the old-fashioned ones many ate as children, often called ‘nursery puddings’, #27 Baked Rice Pudding, Spotted Dick and other steamed puddings fall into this category. Of course, a love of puddings means that one’s waistline is somewhat affected. We know that we are eating too much sugar, fat and flour and we need to reduce our intake, but how can we when they are so irresistible!? It’s the main reason why I go to the gym; I exercise five or six times a week, and try to watch what I eat, just so I can eat what ever I like on Saturday and Sunday (I’m revisiting #167 Brown Bread Ice Cream this weekend).

#321 Sweetmeat Cake
The best desserts says Jane are ‘simple and natural’, and stinginess should be frowned upon. It is this piece of advice that has really stuck with me. Just don’t cut corners, it’s simple really; if you do, it’s slippery slope to cheap margarines instead of butter and lard, or substituting egg yolks for cornflour (she hated Bird’s custard powder!). Jane also showed me how to improve things with little additions, suggesting adding a chopped quince to your (#96) Apple Pie, or a teaspoon of chopped mint to soft fruits such as the blaeberry.
The Puddings chapter is broad and Jane shows us both familiar and new recipes, as well favourites from her own childhood and historical recipes. I became so in love with the British pudding that I started up my own Pud Club – a seven-course dessert only meal. There are many top scoring recipes too – five score full marks and ten score 9 or 9.5/10. There are several recipes from the book that are now part of my own canon – the most notorious being the #309 Sticky Toffee Pudding, goodness knows how many of those I have made in my lifetime! Others to point out are #384 Foolproof Flaky Pastry, #300 Trifle and #90 Sussex Pond Pudding.


#361 Poor Knight's Pudding with Raspberries
Jane’s #275 Pears in Syrup recipe is good – and easy to remember – that I used it in the second round of the Fabulous Foodie 2015 competition in the Telegraph, the judges were suitably impressed and off I went to the final!
There are lots of recipes from history; a mediaeval custard tart #264 A Coronation Doucet’, #329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs made from spinach, #326 John Farley’s Fine Cheesecake laced with rose water and wobbly #131 Devonshire Junket, the list goes on…

#435 Worcestershire Pear Souffle
There were recipes I did not enjoy too, of course, #153 Mocha Cake was a wan wartime tiramisu rip-off, and I managed to achieve my only food induced hangover from eating too much of the extremely very boozy #125 Whim-Wham, not a badge I wear with pride.
It is this chapter that has inspired me most to get into the kitchen, and I have managed to pass on my enthusiasm to my brother and his family who have bought a copy of English Food just for the recipes in this chapter!


An apple tart made with #384 Foolproof Flaky Pastry
It’s fair to say that the number British desserts is vast, and Jane couldn’t include all of them, but I think she left out some real classics – there is no recipe for custard for example, nor is there a bread and butter pudding, jam roly-poly, spotted Dick, blancmange, treacle tart or Eton mess. She obviously didn’t like rhubarb, because it isn’t mentioned once. There are some very good historical puds too that were overlooked such as posset, cabinet pudding or flummery. Readers of the other blog will know that I am trying fill in these gaps myself.


Making #402 Blaeberry Pie

So, as mentioned, the chapter had 66 recipes, even though there were many excellent puddings, it actually came out with a very average mean score of 7.2 (it faired better non-parametrically with a median and mode of 7.5 and 8 respectively). Of course, you can judge for yourself because all the recipes as they appear in the book are listed below with links to the post and their scores. If you cook one – or have cooked one – please let me know!

#96 Apple Pie 6.75/10
#88 Richard Boston’s Guinness Christmas Pudding Part 1 & Part 2  3.5/10
#74 Vanilla Ice with Plum Sauce and Lace Biscuits 9/10



Friday, January 25, 2019

#436 Worcestershire Pear Soufflé

I like to eat as seasonally and as locally as possible, especially when it comes to fresh fruit. However, this is impossible in the middle of winter when all there is to eat are the ubiquitous apples and pears, so I cast my net a little further this time of year.
However, it is easy to forget what a delicious and versatile fruit the pear can be; especially when aromatic and very ripe, its optimum state according to the late, great broadcaster Terry Wogan who said it had to be so ripe and messy that the only way to eat one was hovering over the sink completely naked.
A ripe pear is a gastronomic delight. And one rarely experienced by those who buy their fruit in packets at the supermarket, following the ‘best before’ dates to the letter. If you have a large, ripe pear, leave it in the fruit bowl as long as you dare, you won’t be disappointed. If you need to feed several people, use it to make a soufflé like this one.
The peariness can be enhanced – should you like – with some pear brandy. This can come in the form of a calvados that uses perry (pear cider) in its manufacture, or the liqueur Poire William. These can be tricky to get hold of, so you could go with the cherry liqueur, Kirsch.
By the way, this is the last of two sweet soufflés from the book (the other being #293 Mrs Beeton’s Chocolate Soufflé), and the last of the entire book (there are several soufflé recipes in the book). Not only that, it the last of the recipes in the behemoth that is the Puddings chapter of the book!
First of all, preheat your oven to 200°C, and prepare your soufflé dish: Take two macarons and crush them. A good macaron should be squidgy in the middle, so I found this task much easier by freezing them and blitzing them in my food processor. Next, butter the dish well – you’ll need one around 2 ½ pints (1.5 litres) capacity for this recipe. Sprinkle the macaron dust all around the inside of the buttered dish, saving the remaining crumbs for later (see below).


Take a large, ripe pear and peel, core and quarter it. Take a fork and give it a mashing, or if feeling lazy, use a food processor or hand blender. My pear was so ripe that it started to brown almost immediately, stymie this by quickly adding the juice of half a lemon along with a tablespoon of the pear brandy (or Poire William, or Kirsch).
Place 4 ounces of butter in a mixing bowl and let it melt slowly over a pan of just simmering water. As you wait, measure out 4 ounces of vanilla sugar (posts #36 Vanilla Sugar and #266 Concentrated Vanilla Sugar show you how) and 1 ounce of cornflour. When the butter has melted, sift these into it and beat in well with a whisk.
Separate four eggs, take the bowl off the heat and beat the yolks in one-by-one, then add the pear mixture. Whisk the whites to the stiff peak stage (when you can turn the bowl upside down and the whites stay firmly put). Add a large tablespoon of the whites to the mixture and mix in well, don’t worry about losing any air at this stage, adding a little egg white now means that the rest will be ‘accepted’ by the mixture more readily.


Tip in the rest of the egg white, fold it into the pear mixture with a metal spoon. I found that the mixture was too runny to mix the whole lot together well – I presume I didn’t let the cornflour thicken enough. Pour the mixture into the soufflé dish, sprinkle with the remaining macron crumbs and put in the oven. 



After 3 minutes, turn down the heat to 190°C and cook for another 27 minutes (i.e. half an hour in all).
Serve immediately!



#436 Worcestershire Pear Soufflé. I’m not sure what to make of this recipe – it tasted delicious, the overripe pear, alcohol and hint of vanilla made for quite a heady aromatic hit, but the texture was a little wrong; the mixture essentially sank to the bottom, not getting incorporated properly, and remained very liquid. I know that a good soufflé should be light at the top and saucy in the centre, but here the contrast was a bit too much. I think that Jane’s instructions were not clear enough regarding the base mixture – perhaps the butter-sugar-cornflour mixture should have been cooked until very thick before adding the rest of the ingredients. I think that this is worth trying again to get right as it should have been an excellent pud. In conclusion, flavour excellent, but recipe perhaps too vague: 7/10

Monday, January 14, 2019

#435 Shellfish Puffs

Here’s quite an involved recipe from the book that requires several techniques, one of which is the making of choux pastry – the one pastry I can’t seem to get right. However, I was asked to cater for a recent dinner party, and I thought this one could work very well because the theme was ‘An Alternative Christmas Dinner’. Prawn cocktail is often served as a starter at Christmas and I thought this hot shellfish starter would be a good alternative. It was more 1970s than prawn cocktail, sounding like a dish you would see crop up in Fanny Cradock book, not in a Jane Grigson tome!

It’s not for the faint-hearted though, aside from the pastry there’s a complex sauce made from the shells, so that means you need to shell your fish yourself to make this one. If you have never done this before, I recommend choosing prawns. Here goes:
First of all, make your choux pastry. Bring to a boil in a pan ¼ pint of hot water, a shy teaspoon of sugar and 2 ½ ounces of butter. Meanwhile, sieve 4 ounces of plain or strong white flour into a bowl; I went for the latter as you get better expansion, though this is not necessarily a good thing, see below.
When everything is boiling, take the pan off the heat, pop in all the flour in one go and make a dough by mixing the whole lot together using a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on the heat again and beat the dough well with your spoon. The dough will soon become waxy and will come away from the bowl. This can take a few minutes, especially if you’re out of practise when it comes to beating thick doughs, as I was.


Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes and beat in 4 eggs one by one, waiting for the previous one to become fully incorporated before adding the next one. Use an electric stand mixer for this if you can, otherwise and electric hand whisk. The dough can be used straight away or covered and cooled and used later.
Prepare some baking trays by lining them with greaseproof paper. Now it’s time to pipe the pastry – Jane gives no indication as to how many we need or what size they should be. I scooped the paste into a piping bag fitted with a large round nozzle and made mounds around 1 inch in diameter. It’s important to raise the piping bag as you dispense the dough so your paste is very domed – you get a better and larger puff that way.
If your piped pastry has little spikes, press them down with a wet finger so they don’t burn and carefully drip on the tray (don’t sprinkle water on the pastry itself though).



Jane now says to bake them for 35 minutes at 230°C which is far too long and too hot as I quickly discovered! I found they baked best at 200°C, becoming golden brown at the 20-minute mark.
Once they are good brown colour, remove them from the oven and cut a slit or make a hole in their bottom with a skewer. Tip them on their side, return them to the oven and turn the heat down to 120°C so that the steam that puffed them up can escape to create a nice crisp interior. Cool on a rack.


As always, whenever I make choux buns, they turned out all different sizes, all looking like clouds rather than perfectly domed profiteroles. However, they were hollow so good enough for me.
Choux buns can be stored in an airtight tub for a week, so you can get all of this done way before the time you want to serve the course.
For the filling, you need a pound of prawns in their shell, or a 1 ½ pound lobster, or a 1 ½ to 2 pound crab (or crabs). I went for prawns as I couldn’t get hold of crab or lobster at either of my favourite fishmongers! In retrospect it was a good thing, as prawns are much easier to shell than lobsters and crabs. My prawns were raw, so I steamed them in a saucepan containing just a few tablespoons of water. This method yielded a delicious, sweet tasting bright-pink liquid. I kept it and added it to the sauce later.

The delicious pink prawn stock

Remove the meat from whatever shellfish you are using and refrigerate it. If using large prawns, as I did, don’t forget to de-vein the blighters. If using crab or lobster don’t forget the precious brown meat and roe (if any).

Now make a sauce with the shells by adding them to around ¾ pint of thin béchamel sauce – Jane doesn’t tell us how to make one, but I heated ¾ pint of milk containing a couple of bay leaves, a blade of mace, some old ends of nutmegs and some crushed black peppercorns. I then made a roux with ½ ounce each of butter and plain flour.
Add the shells to the sauce and allow the sauce to simmer away for 15 minutes. Loads of flavour comes out of the shells, and the sauce turns a beautiful salmon pink colour. Sieve ‘energetically’, says Jane, so I strained the whole thing through a conical sieve, pushing down hard with the underside of a sturdy ladle.

As the sauce simmers, fry 4 ounces of chopped mushrooms with a chopped clove of garlic in 3 ounces of butter.
Add to the sauce: the shellfish meat, the cooked mushrooms, 2 heaped tablespoons each of grated Lancashire cheese and double cream and two egg yolks. Heat the sauce, but don’t let it boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut the choux buns in half crosswise and spoon some of the mixture into the bottom half. Deftly replace the lids and serve straight away.
#435 Shellfish Puffs. There were quite a few techniques required in this recipe, but I must say that it was absolutely delicious! The sauce was creamy, sweet and packed-full of umami flavours. Not too sure about the choux buns though, but the kitsch 1970s brief was definitely filled. Jane also suggests filling vol-au-vents with the mixture – I think this would work better than choux pastry, being more sturdy, but equally as old-fashioned. Nevertheless, that filling was great, whatever it was served in, so it gets a 8.5/10 from me.