Yet more Twelfth Cake

I’m back! I’ve been lecturing like a beast, living on oatcakes and cheese as I drive around the country in my increasingly crumb-filled car. It’s Christmas, again, which means time for my annual plea to bring back the Twelfth Cake.

Really. Seriously. What IS the point of Christmas Cake? I adore it, I could wallow in it and eat it every day (always with cheese), but for many people its sort of lost its place in the world… We make them (or buy them), save them ’til Christmas’, and…then what? Friends come over – we feed them mince pies. Pre-Christmas festivities – we don’t want to broach the cake. Christmas day – we’re too full to eat it. And after Christmas there’s a slow, increasingly guilty feeling as we fail to broach the bugger and feel we should perhaps wait for some undefined special occasion. And snacking is bad, and sugar is the devil etc etc. Sigh. There is, however, a solution! This year, get your cake, unwrap it (or before you ice it – this may be a tad too late), upend it, and stick a dried pea and a bean in each side.  Plonk it back on the plate and decorate as per usual. The kicker is that you then save it, to be eaten with lovely people and lots of booze on Twelfth Night (6th January) while you all have a have a proper party to send out the season. (Obviously I am assuming no-one reading this does anything terrible like ‘dry’ January, or, even worse, ‘Veganuary’. Please. January is a TERRIBLE month. You need bacon and wine.)

Srsly, argh.
Srsly, argh.

…Ok, realistically it may be that even the thought of Twelfth Night is making you feel a bit queasy, what with next year possibly lining up to be even worse, on a global politics/world meltdown scale than this year, and in fact you want to bury your head in the cake right now, and now come up for breath – but I still feel we need to address this cake situation. How about going some way toward it?  You could still to the bean and pea thing? Right? With a crown from a cracker or the finder of the bean, or a small token of your esteem. Makes cutting the cake way cooler….

This year, I am singing the praises of Twelfth Cake in public not once, but twice. First up is Victorian Bakers at Christmas (airs Christmas Day at 9.30pm and repeated Boxing Day), and next up is a special, 12th Night themed episode of The Kitchen Cabinet on January 7th at 10.30am, recorded at the Banqueting House in London. I am bound to be asked for the recipes, so here they are. Enjoy.

For Bakers, we were looking at an 1840s Christmas, when Twelfth Cake was really at its peak (see my previous post on the subject).The bakers were tasked with making cake for all, not just the fashionable bon ton who could afford the beautiful concoctions sometimes featured at heritage sites, but  the riff and the raff and everyone in between. Their cakes needed to be quick to make and decorate, and easy to sell – bright, fun, and funky. Inspired by the lurid descriptions of the time, the results were utterly joyous, and when the shop window was dressed it was so spot on that it made me very happy.

The shop.
The shop.

The cake recipe was from The Knight Family Cookbook, which is linked to Jane Austen through her brother, and was reprinted as a facsimile by Chawton House a few years ago.

To Make a Great Cake (a note in the margin reads ‘good cake’)

Take 5 quarts of fine flower, a pound of fine sugar beaten, half an ounce of mace, 3 nutmegs, a few cloves, a little cinnamon all well beaten, 8 pounds of currance, & a pound of raisons of the sun stoned and shred, mix all of these in the dry flower; then take 3 gills of cream, 3 pounds and a half of butter melted in it, almost a quart of new ale yeast, 20 eggs which beat with the yeast well together & strained in. Then put a jack of brandy [a jack is half a gill] into the cream & butter, so pour it to the rest blood warm, & mix it lightly with your hands. It must be about as stiff as a hasty pudding, so beat it with your hands a good while, & have ready half a pound of candied lemon & half a pound of citron cut into pieces. Then put your cake into your hoop with 3 or 4 papers at the bottom. If your hoop be half a yard over it will do – when you have put in some of your cake, show in some of the candied lemon and citron, then put in more of the cake, then the rest of the sucket, then the rest of the cake, then cut t over with a knife or it will crack, but don’t prick it at all. This cake is very subject to scorch, so when it colours lay a paper over it. It must stand in the oven full 2 hours, longer if it be thick when almost cold ice it.

I love the wording of this recipe, from the hoop half a yard across (we had to commission one), to the assumption that the cook knows the texture of a hasty pudding (thick batter). It speaks volumes that the writer assumes blood warm makes perfect sense – which it did to me, who spends half my life reading recipes like this, but it confused a couple of the bakers. And teh use of the term suckets for candied lemon and citron is a throwback to the 17th century and earlier, and, along with the use of yeast as the raising agent, hints at the longevity of this kind of recipe. Clearly if you decide to make it, scale it down.

For The Kitchen Cabinet, we were going all 17th century, in keeping with the glories of the Banqueting House venue (THAT CEILING!). Thus the recipe which I chose for the show was an earlier one (though the above would have been around then, easily). I also inserted tokens into the cake, whereas for Bakers, set 200 years later, we played with cut up Twelfth Night Character cards. The tokens were based on the list given in Bridget Henisch’s Cakes and Characters, where she quotes Henry Teonge, recounting a party at sea in 1676: ‘we had much mirth on board, for we had a Great Cake made, in which we put a bean for the king, a pea for the Queen, a clove for the knave, a forked stick for the cuckold, and a rag for the slut’. (Pepys records similar shenanigans, but he rigged it so that a friend of his under investigation for fraud got the clove…)

Rubens celebrating James I as an actual god. Because the 17th century has done it ALL before.
Rubens celebrating James I as an actual god. Because the 17th century has done it ALL before.

Again, the cake is yeast-risen, and packed with fruit and booze. Neither recipe contains much sugar; a reflection of the high cost of sugar before the late 18th century. Both benefit from a little while to rise, this more than the former. This one is somewhat bread-ier, and keeps less well (hence the ground almonds, which improve keeping qualities), but it is also slightly lighter, and was eaten by the audience before any of the panellists got a look-in. It’s from John Nott’s Cook’s Dictionary (1726).

To make an extraordinary Plum Cake

Take five pound of flour, two pound of butter, put the butter into the flour, five pound of currants, a large nutmeg, three quarters of an ounce of mace, and a quarter of an ounce of cloves, finely grated and beat; take three quarters of a pound of sugar, twelve eggs, leaving out three whites, put in a pint of ale yeast; then warm as much cream as will wet it, and pour some sack to your cream, and make it as thick as batter; then pownd three quarters of a pound of almonds, with sack and orange flower water, beat them but grossly; add a pound of candy’d citron, orange and lemon-peel, mix’d all together; put a little paste at the bottom of your hoop, and put it in.

Again, the language is revealing, though less old-fashioned than the manuscript recipe: tidied up, perhaps, for a modern reading audience. The paste at the bottom of the hoop is a nifty idea to stop the bottom burning, and doubles as a cake board when the thing is served. It’s a trick I’ve found in Victorian books as well, and it’s an easy way round having to cut bits of wood to shape or find silver platters upon which to serve your cake if you are trying to be vaguely in keeping with periods before foil-covered cardboard cake boards. Agnes Marshall even has a recipe specifically for cake bottom pastry.

Oh! And to prove I put my money where my mouth is, I have made all of my Christmas Cakes into Twelfth Cakes this year, peas and beans in every one. Some have, however, already been consumed…

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Yes, they were vaguely themed: this one is vaguely Tudor (and uses Tudor sugarplate)
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C18th gum plate.
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I made myself a Greedy Queen cake, AND?
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More sugarplate, different recipe, new moulds.
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From a book from 1904. STILL a TWELFTH CAKE, OK.
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The early C18th version. M insisted we try one to check they were edible and it was gone in minutes.

 

Happy Christmas!

 

The recipes, side by side, for scaling purposes.

Knight Family Cookbook

10 pints of flour, 1lb caster sugar, 1/2oz mace, 3 nutmegs, few cloves, bit cinnamon, 8lb currants, 1lb raisins, 12 fl oz cream, 3 1/2 lb butter, 2pt ale yeast (or fresh yeast mixed into a blend of weak beer and water), 10 medium eggs (or 20 pullets’ eggs), 2 fl oz brandy, 8oz candied lemon peel, 8 oz candied citron peel,

I tend to do an eighth for a standard 12 inch cake tin. Note the liquid measurement for a dry foodstuff in the flour.

Nott

5lb flour, 2lb butter, 5lb currants, 1 nutmeg, 3/4oz mace, 1/4oz cloves, 12oz sugar, 6 medium eggs (12 pullets), leaving out 2 whites (3 whites), 1pt ale yeast (or weak beer and water mixed with fresh yeast – or dried), glug of sherry or brandy, orange flower water, 12oz ground almonds, 1lb candied mixed peel.

I quarter this and it’s pretty ample.

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Old sheep are the best sheep

pie!
pie!

The Kitchen Cabinet is back! YAY. One of the things I most love about doing the show (and there are lots and lots of things to choose from) is the opportunity it gives me to cook things I probably wouldn’t get round to otherwise. (It’s sort of provocation and ‘I dare you’ more than opportunity, actually). For those unfamiliar with the programme (HOW? WHAT? WHY?), the format is a sort of Gardener’s Question Time on LSD, with a series of enthusiastic and up-for-it audiences asking questions to a panel of culinary experts which differs each week. In every episode we cover different topics, linked to the place where we are recording, what’s in season at the time the programme will air, and burning food questions of the day. The questions we answer are submitted by audience members on the night, so we have no idea what we will be responding to until about 2 minutes before we step on stage, but we do get a heads-up on the main subject areas. For me, that means a day or so of intensive research, to find interesting facts, recipes and to create a historical narrative which will act as context to the more immediate questions around how to cook it, build it, eat it or think about it. We also have invited guests from the area in which we record, who usually bring things we can eat (it goes without saying that we are all enthusiastic eaters).

The latest run started last Saturday (the 24th September), with a show from Derry (you can catch up via iPlayer Radio, by downloading the podcast, or by going to the show’s very own website, here). This Saturday we are coming at you from Windsor, and we are talking about Queen Victoria (clearly a fabulous topic upon which it is possibly to wax lyrical for about 5 days), Ragus sugar syrups and mutton. You’ll have to listen to the show to hear its glories, but I promised several audience members that I would post the two recipes I cooked, hence this post.

For those of you who are raising an eyebrow at the thought of mutton, DO NOT DARE. Mutton, in my view, is far superior to its fatty, flaccid offspring, lamb, and has both a better taste and texture. I am not alone in thinking this, and there is a website, fronted by Prince Charles, devoted to its charms. The 19th century definition was that it was meat from a sheep of over 3 years, and the meat of those of 6 years plus was deemed the best. Generally now, sheep meat is lamb until it about a year and a half old, and hogget until it is three ish, and mutton after that. Some butchers only admit to having hogget if you ask them, as they label it as lamb, for lamb sells better. Very few sell mutton and you generally have to order it, or buy it online. It seems silly to me that, since the 1960s, we’ve largely lost the habit of eating baby cow (though veal remains easier to obtain than mutton), but embraced the habit of eating baby sheep (yes, yes, not actual babies: both veal and lamb is usually a year old unless stated otherwise). Lamb is baby food, really, as sweet and tender and juicy as is veal, although it is not quite as different to mutton as veal is to beef. Lamb is delightful to cook with if you need a hefty amount of fat, and don’t mind a bit of insipidity. Lamb chops are delightful, and delicate, and lamb roast is like putting spring in your mouth. If you actually like the flavour of it though, and want something with a tad more texture and bit more life to it, mutton is where it’s at. It’s also, in my view, more versatile than lamb: you can very very slow cook it until it falls apart, you can flash fry the chops (and the kidneys are divine), you can stick it in pies and sausages, and stews and – well. you get the picture.

These recipes are both from books by Charles Elmé Francatelli, who was – briefly – Chief Cook to Queen Victoria before he departed after some murky business involving fisticuffs and the police (also, everyone who worked from him seemed to dislike him). One, The Modern Cook, was aimed at high end chefs working in large establishments, like him. The other, The Cook’s Guide, was more middling sort. Both are good, though the Modern Cook is tediously attached to garnishes of pureed veg and a zillion annoying cross-references. Still, that’s what sold in 1842…

Mutton Pies à la Windsor (Cook’s Guide): 1lb lean loin of mutton, finely minced with a knife; finely chopped mushrooms, parsley, a small amount of shallot, lots and lots of pepper and salt; a little gravy or thick stock. Mix everything together, and put it in small pies (a fairy cake tray is ideal). Pierce the top of each pie and bake for 45mn-1hr in an over at about 160-180. Apparently they are idea for ‘the sportsman’s bag of prog’. (I used a pastry from a Larousse of 1938 – 500g flour, 125g butter, 1 whole small egg, 15g salt).

Mutton cutlets with chestnut purée (Modern Cook): season the cutlets, egg them with a pastry brush dipped in the yolk, dip in breadcrumbs, then in melted butter, then in breadcrumbs again. Fry in very hot clarified butter. Serve with a chestnut purée made by simmering (previously cooked, peeled and probably in a tin chestnuts) in a bit of very good chicken or beef stock for 15-20mn, then adding a scant tsp of sugar, nutmeg and 1/2 pt of cream. Reduce this little lot on the stove and blitz or mash. Add a knob of butter just before serving.

Links…

The Kitchen Cabinet, Be in the Audience
Francatelli’s Modern Cook
Francatelli’s Cook’s Guide
Graig Farm Mutton (amazing)
The Smiling Sheep (wherein I have just obtained 10yo mutton and am very very excited)

In praise of the pudding

Puddings have been in the news a bit recently. Apparently there’s a puddings only restaurant opening somewhere in London, and it’s hitting the zeitgeist. I was quite excited by this idea, and then I read this article, which gives more details, and shows that there is one fundamental problem. The restaurant only serves sweet dishes. What? What is this infantile bollocks, quoth I, enraged. This is not pudding!

Puddings are not sweets, or desserts. Desserts – in the modern world – can be puddings, as can sweets, but they can also be not-puddings. They can be cakes, or tarts, or patisserie, or ice cream, or jellies, or blancmanges, or trifles. Puddings are puddings, and, although I fear I might be a rather lonely voice in the wilderness, I think when we conflate the word pudding with sweet stuff after dinner, we lose something very vital in doing so. Puddings, you see, can be sort-of-tarts, and they can be a-bit-like-cake, and you can certainly get some stunning iced puddings which head down the ice cream route – oh and blancmanges started life as kind-of-puddings…but puddings are so, so much more. Most importantly, they don’t have to be sweet. Indeed, my favourite puddings aren’t sweet at all. Sausage roly poly pudding, steak and kidney pudding, chicken and ham pudding… I mean, treacle pudding and that 1890s chocolate pudding I really like are all very well, but nothing – really, nothing – can truly beat a good suet crust (especially when baked, in my view: all that crispy exterior and gooey interior and sense of wellbeing).

So what is a pudding? Well, it’s hard to define, it’s anything you want it to be, really. Puddings probably started life as sort-of-sausages, and the word may or may not be related to the French boudin. Haggis is pudding (sheep’s pluck pudding, an early modern favourite was cooked all over the place, and not just in Scotland where it would find its eventual apogee). Black pudding is pudding, as is white pudding (sometimes savoury, sometimes custard-based and sweet). Batter pudding, originally cooked under the roast on a spit, and, like haggis, eventually associated only with one region (Yorkshire), is pudding. Plum pudding, once eaten with the roast and now a sad reminder of more broad-minded attitudes to food in the past; that’s a pudding. And so is sticky toffee pudding, and sponge cake pudding, and toad-in-the-hole and pigeon-in-the-hole), and Eve’s pudding, and bread and butter pudding (try adding marmalade; oh my word), and dumplings, and rice pudding. Man alive! I hear you cry! What is a pudding? For me, it’s a feeling. And it’s very, very British. (The French, the leaders of cuisine from the 18th century onwards, don’t have a word for pudding. It’s le poudding – a bit like le five o clock, for afternoon tea).

Anyway, definitions are for the faint-hearted. I was recently asked to write the foreword for a brilliant book on puddings, by the photographer, writer, cook and blogger Regula Ysewijn (@missfoodwise on Twitter). It’s an absolutely gorgeous book – I hadn’t realised how fabulous it would be, old master-style photography and all, when I penned my minor contribution. If you are into puddings, it’s definitely worth a look. Regula’s book explains puddings from the point of view of a self-confessed Anglophile (she’s Belgian), and, to me, this outsider’s view of a British culinary staple brings a real richness to the text. We don’t celebrate our food heritage enough, still, in this country. Puddings are a joke: we have ‘pudding stomachs’ (we don’t. Stop it. Grow up), and people are ‘pudding-shaped’. What a shame. Puddings are fab. We should celebrate them, and love them, and treat them like as the endless source of delicious delight that they are.

In typically perverse form, having salivated all over my advance copy of Regula’s tome, I went away and cooked one of my own favourite puddings. It’s not in a published book, but in a handwritten manuscript from Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. It belonged to Jemima, Marchioness Grey (1723-1797), so the recipe probably dates to the mid-18th century. It took me a while to work it out, and there’s no doubt that the result could be called a lemon tart as much as pudding, but it was a pudding to Jemima, so it’s pudding to me.

This is the original recipe:

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Stunningly readable handwriting. Georgians win vs Victorians on that score nearly every time.

Take 2 lemmons, scrape ye inside clean out, boyle ye rinds til they be tender. When they are cold, beat the, to a pulp with 3/4lb of butter, then mix up with 10 yolks of eggs and 3/4lb loaf sugar, finely powdered. Beat them together half an hour. Butter the dish and paste it to set it in ye oven. Half an hour will bake it. You may make orange pudding the same way.

If you want to cook it, it’s both ridiculously easy and fiendishly difficult. For the lemons I use lemons I’ve previously juiced – and I sometimes use 3 if they are the very small ones you get in modern supermarkets. Also, eggs were smaller then, so use pullets’ or bantams’ eggs, or halve the amount stated here. The full amount of mixture will easily fill two standard sized flan tins, so scale accordingly. And yes, a food processor works just fine for the beating part.

 

Proper pastry. A faff, but its worth it.

 

Sparkle 100%
Eggs, eggs, eggs…

Through trial and error, I have worked out a method which works for me. You may well choose to do it differently, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I do. I make exceedingly excellent pastry (hand cut in the butter, full-on pâté brisée, all the care and attention in the world), as it deserves it (normally I use a food processor and it’s fine, but not exceedingly excellent); and I blind bake it for about forever. I also make a lid separately and bake that as well. (You can buy a cunning lattice lid cutter if you make it, or other cut-lid tarts, regularly. Or you can leave the lid off.) Once I’ve glooped the mixture into the pastry case, I cook it very slowly – 160 degrees for about 30-40mn until just cooked through. Any faster or hotter and it will crack and separate (mine invariably does this, except this once, but it’s is still bloody lovely, to be honest). It rises, soufflé-like, so I tend to stand a tray under it. Once done, I plonk the lid on immediately, so it fuses to it as it settles.

 

The final article

Warning: it is very lemony, especially when served chilled, or it should be. As my grandmother used to say, it’ll draw your arse up to your elbows, and that’s the point. There is no room for lemon with meringue in my world.