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.)
…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 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…)
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…
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.
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.
Tonight’s episode of Victorian Bakers takes the history of bread forward, from the 1830-40s of episode one, to the 1870s. The bakery has changed too, from the rural surroundings of Sacrewell, near Peterborough, to the very urban Black Country Living Museum, on the outskirts of Dudley. This reflects changes in Victorian Britain. In the 1830s, most people still lived in the countryside and, although industrialisation and urbanisation was well underway, we still had an essentially agrarian economy. By the mid-century for the first time more people lived in cities than in the countryside, and by the 1860s we were entering into a second phase of industrialisation. Now it wasn’t about mills and child labour: it was about finding the balance between machinery and manpower.
As you’ll see if you watch the episode, baking lagged behind other industries. There were far more bakers than were necessarily needed, so there was little incentive to install expensive machinery, when labour was cheap and plentiful. Other workers unionised and forced through changes in working hours and conditions. Bakers also unionised, and went on strike regularly, causing minor meltdown in the middle class press, but they never achieved their aims of no overnight-working and a reasonable shift length. Nor did mechanisation reach the average – still very small – bakery until after the First World War in many cases. Indeed, traditional High Street bakers still work very long hours, and they still work through the night (though they do have mixing machines). All of our bread bakers – the Johns and Duncan – shrugged off the thought of working into the night and getting up in the small hours as something they were well used to, and which they still saw as normal in that industry.
The episode was hard to film, because we all did the nightshifts, and not only fatigue, but also practical matters such as light and the fact it was freezing cold and drizzling, made it rather less pleasant than Sacrewell. It was doubly difficult for the bakers because they were confronting a period in bread’s history which in most cases shocked, and offended them to the core.
The programme is emphatically not a challenge programme – we were in no way testing the bakers, and there was never a question of success or failure. Any jeopardy the viewer feels comes out of the situations and tasks which we all tackled together. It is a living history format, which essentially means it’s based on experiential learning. Within archaeology, a field both Alex (my co-presenter) and I are trained in, there’s a strong element of experimental learning – have a go and see – which underlies both his and my academic approaches to our chosen fields. It’s why it was so important to me that the bakers were professionals, and that they knew what they were doing. There’s nothing to be learnt – by us or, more importantly bearing in mind that this is intended for a wide, general audience, by viewers – by someone who can’t do something trying to do it and finding it hard. The reaction of the team to the adulteration segment in this episode was therefore doubly telling.
Bread had always been a focus for public and official scrutiny. In medieval Britain, bakers were subject to rigid regulation, including on price. A vital piece of legislation called the Assize of Bread was passed in 1266, and set a standard price for a loaf. The loaf size could vary, as market conditions changed, but it ensured that consumers could always afford a loaf of daily bread. There were also penalties for selling underweight loaves and adulteration. The assize remained in place, albeit modified, until 1815, but regulation on adulteration remained in force.
Some things were easy to adulterate, hard to detect, and relatively harmless. Milk and beer were watered down, and potatoes or other cheap starches could be added to bread and pre-prepared cooked dishes (the pies, soups and stews which formed the bulk of working class takeout food). Even many of the adulterants which did pose a health risk – such as the chalk or the alum which we use in the programme – wouldn’t have killed you. Or rather, shouldn’t have killed you. They wouldn’t do much harm to most of us today. But this was an era of widespread and worsening malnutrition, especially in towns. The poor, then as now, had limited access to food shops, no space to grow their own fruit and veg, little time, money and, again in an echo of today, often had no real knowledge of what was nutritionally useful or of how to prepare it. They also lacked cooking facilities or money for fuel. They were utterly reliant on what they could buy, and therefore at the mercy of manufacturers. And manufacturers, especially bakers, were only one step above their customers, desperate to make a tiny profit, and under constant pressure to cut corners. The millers who supplied them were under similar pressures, which is why the end consumer faced a double whammy in the worst cases: adulterated by the miller, adulterated by the baker. It was no-one’s fault, per se, but it was a growing problem in the 1850s and 60s.
Alum is an astringent, and it can irritate the stomach lining. In the young, old, or sick, it could have been, if not fatal by itself, certainly a contribution to illness and eventual death. Additionally, substitutions, such as water for milk, removed a significant proportion of the good stuff, and replaced it with empty stuff (a bit like fat-free yoghurt today, bleurk). If you were 3, and reliant on milk and bread for your health, and your bread was an irritant, and your milk largely water, it’s easy to see the bad consequences in store. In truth, very few loaves would have had as much in as ours did, but in some cases the proportions were dangerous, and, of course, data is hard to obtain. By the mid-century there was growing pressure on the government from health officials to investigate these food frauds for the good of the whole nation – but especially the put-upon workers, without whom industry would crumble.
The Lancet, founded in 1823 as a medical journal, and still in publication (and still very important) today, spearheaded the battle against food adulteration. There were a number of crucial individuals, but particularly vital were the analyses and articles written by Arthur Hill Hassell. In the face of government disbelief, denial and vague suggestions that it would all get sorted out by market forces, they launched a campaign showing just how widespread the issue was. In the 1850s, when Hassell carried out analyses of London foods, not a single bread loaf was alum-free. Tea, mustard, pickles, beer, milk….the list of foods which seemed pure, but were potentially deadly was shockingly long. Eventually the government rather reluctantly passed the Food Adulteration Act (1860) which sort of provided sort of funding if localities really really wanted to test foods and really insisted on prosecution. It did sod all. The struggle for a decent Act was lengthy, and makes for fascinating reading (I’ve put some references below, as this is very bare bones). In 1875 an Act was finally passed which did have some teeth, and which still forms the basis of legislation today. It worked, and by the 1880s, not only were foods generally testing negative for adulterants, but canny companies were realising that marketing foods as ‘pure’ was a good way to sell them. Hence all of those PURE COCOA adverts from the late 19th century, and hence, in the end, loose products such as tea, coffee, and cocoa, being sold in nice little sealed packets with a clear maker’s mark as a brand of quality.
We haven’t entirely sorted the issues out, of course, but today adulterants have to be tested to make sure they won’t kill you, and they generally have to be declared as additives. And some things have come full circle – chalk is back in bread. Now it’s a good thing, adding calcium and making up for people consuming fewer dairy products than once they did.
John Burnett, Plenty and Want
Bee Wilson, Swindled John Marchant et al, Bread
Arthur Hill Hassell’s original Lancet reports (available on Google Books)
EXARC, the Experimental Archaeology Group (website here)
The Victorian Bakers website is here – it’s on iPlayer for a little while yet.
This year’s series of James Martin: Home Comforts has started on BBC1. It’s on every afternoon, and repeated on Saturdays. There are 15 episodes, each of which has a food history slot, which either feature myself or Ivan Day. I’ve had a few requests for the recipes from episode 2, so as usual I’m putting them here. The clip is on the BBC website, so if you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here, and all will become clear.
For episode 2 I was at Swiss Cottage, part of the Osborne House estate on the Isle of Wight (it’s now run by English Heritage). It was built in 1853-4 as a playhouse for Victoria and Albert’s growing brood of children. Modelled on the idea of a Swiss chalet, it had a kitchen and a scullery, and, upstairs, a sitting room, museum room and dressing room. The children also had a garden, with individual plots where they were taught to grow fruit and veg, which were then bought from them at market rates by the Prince Consort. Later the museum room was expanded, to fill a separate building, and there was also a potting shed and various buildings housing animals. It was tenanted by a housekeeper, Mrs Warne, and her husband, who looked after the garden when they children weren’t there. Mrs Warne is the most likely candidate for the children’s cookery teacher, and they had a great deal of affection for her.
The kitchen at Swiss is, apparently, 2/3 size, and therefore suitable for small children. I mildly dispute this, as for me it’s pretty much the perfect height, but I will admit that when average-sized people are in there, it does look a bit reduced. There’s a range, manufactured under Royal Warrant in Belgium, and probably a gift from Victoria’s Uncle Leopold. He was one of the few relatives she had who wasn’t utterly hideous, though he had his moments. There’s a set of chafing stoves, and there’s a fairly fully equipped set of cupboards and a dresser. Most of the prep work would have been done, as is characteristic of Victorian kitchens, on a central table, and there is also a separate scullery.
The children regularly cooked at Swiss, as did some of their children in their turn. However, after Albert’s death in 1861, the Queen increasingly seems to have used Swiss as a convenient place to take tea (reasonable, given all the facilities for preparing it would have been in place), and as an office. It seems to have drifted out of use as a children’s playhouse by the 1890s, and was eventually cleared out and opened to the public in the twentieth century. Along the way, annoyingly for anyone researching it (!) a manuscript book of recipes disappeared from the drawers under the window. It was still there in the early 1930s…..anyone out there got it?
I’ve done a lot of work on Swiss Cottage, and was lucky enough to be a small part of the team behind its recent restoration and reinterpretation. It’s now the focus of an exhibition exploring childhood at Queen Victoria’s Court, and looking in depth at the lives of her nine children. It’s rather brilliant, and certainly adds an extra element to what’s on offer at Osborne. From my perspective, filming this segment felt very fitting. I was probably the first person to cook in the kitchen for about 150 years, and I was cooking dishes (though probably not the specific recipes) which were definitely cooked by the children. It was very special indeed.
The primary references to pancakes and schneemilch don’t contain any clues as to which particular versions of them the children cooked. However, I had to make choices for TV, and I plumped for these. I’ve transcribed, modernised and translated them. Massive thanks to Sophia Wollschlager at the BBC and Georgian cooking guru Marc Hawtree for helping with the German.
Neues auf vieljährige Erfahrung gegründetes Kochbuch, Sophie Armster, 1840
Princess Louise to Prince Albert, 1858, ‘On Saturday we cooked in our kitchen and made some wafers and Schneemilch’.
Method: Whisk 10-16 egg whites (depending on size) to soft peak in a copper bowl. If you don’t have a copper bowl, then all the other possible methods are also entirely fine. Add the other ingredients apart from the cream, and fold them all into the cream. Make thick custard of this mixture. I plonk my copper bowl on pan of water and use it as a Bain Marie, but however you do it, I’m sure it’ll be lovely. Allow to cool, spread on a baking sheet, and cut into lumps to use to make a mountain (the lumps won’t properly set unless they are left overnight, so if you are doing it, as I was, in a few hours, it may be a low mountain). Top with egg yolk custard if you fancy (not least as it uses up all those egg yolks!). Sprinkle with cinnamon and decorate with soft fruit and, for a true Victorian touch, a maidenhair fern.
Pancakes à la Celestine The Modern Cook, Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1845
Princess Helena to Prince Albert, 1858: ‘Alice made a pancake yesterday afternoon at the Swiss Cottage. I had none of it as I was out driving with Mama. Arthur told me that after she had finished it she touched it with the dirty charcoal pincers’.
Ingredients: 4oz flour, 4oz caster sugar, 2oz ratifia or amaretti biscuits, orange flower water, 4 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs, 1 pt cream, fine grain salt, butter for frying, apricot or other jam for filling
Method: Crush the ratifias to dust in a bowl with a masher, add the rest of the ingredients, and then the whisked eggs. Fry each pancake in about 2oz of butter. They burn like crazy, split, and are generally an absolute sod, by the way. Extract from pan, spread each pancake with jam, roll up and serve piled in a pyramid.
Over the summer I was involved in making a living history documentary on Victorian baking. I’m co-presenting (with Alex Langlands), and I was also a consultant on the programme. There are various things I could talk about in this blog, but I’ve decided to pick up on one aspect of each programme (possibly, I make no actual promises), and look at it in more detail. Today: episode one, day three, crammings.
Episode one covers the 1830-40s. The early Victorian period was, in rural Britain, one of massive hardship. So was the mid-Victorian period, and indeed the late Victorian period, depending on where you lived and what you did. But the 1840s have become especially infamous, mainly because Edwardian and later reformers wanted to make political points about protectionism and the Corn Laws, and so wrote a lot about it, and coined the catchy phrase ‘hungry forties’. There’s even a book called ‘The Hungry Forties: Life Under the Bread Tax’ (Unwin, 1904). It’s heavily weighted to give credence to the view that the ’40s were particularly bad and to lay the blame squarely at the then government’s door. Fine. That said, the oral testimonies and letters included do tell a truth, even if the direct link between bread tax, starvation and that particular decade is less clear cut. People were starving all the time, and there’s little to suggest the 40s were any worse than most of the rest of the period when you look at Britain as a whole.
One practice which crops up in The Hungry Forties book, and which the programme makers wanted to explore in more detail, was the eating of animal food in times of desperation. With any documentary, the aim was to both entertain (or no-one will watch it) and educate (or it may as well be the brain rot which is X-Factor and the like). Asking ‘our’ bakers to make animal food and then try and work out how on earth it could be made edible by humans, was just one way in which to graphically engage viewers in the themes of the period. Crammings are referred to several times, and that was the product which you will see on screen.
Cramming refers to the practice of fattening fowls. It’s similar to gavage, as practiced on ducks and geese today to make foie gras, but most of the references suggest that they seem to have had the pellets forced down in their throats, without a funnel to help, as per factory gavage today. It has a very long history: the practice of cramming poultry for the luxury market continued until the Second World War, but also was known in the Roman period.
It was also pretty widespread and references can easily be found in some of the best-selling cookery books of the Georgian and Victorian period. Here’s Isabella Beeton on chickens in 1861: ‘the fattening process…is to give them a gruel made of pot-liquor and bruised oats, with which are mixed hog’s grease, sugar and milk. The fowls are kept very warm, and crammed morning and night. They are put into the coop, and kept there 2 or 3 days before the cramming begins, and then it is continued for a fortnight, and the birds are sent to market’. In an early critique of intensive farming practices, she goes on to suggest that this process, when done in London especially, is very cruel.
Representing the Georgians, how about Mary Eaton, in 1822: ‘The method of fattening poultry for the London market, is liable to great objection. They are put into a dark place and crammed with a paste made of barley meal, mutton suet, treacle or coarse sugar, mixed with milk…[it] frequently kills them.’ and, on Norfolk turkeys, ‘[they] are literally crammed with boluses of barley meal till their crops are full’. Incidentally, in the good old tradition of plagiarism, both of the above borrow freely from William Kitchener’s rather more original Cook’s Oracle (1818).
Crammings, therefore, were made of bran or other filler, liquid and fat. They could clearly vary from region to region, but were largely based on by-products of the milling industry. It’s not a massive stretch to suggest that rural bakers, especially when attached to a mill, as at Sacrewell, where we filmed, would have turned them out as an easy way to make a few extra pence. Farmers would have made their own, and in bulk. Henry Stephens, in his Book of the Farm (1852) refers to cramming as a paste made with hot liquor and barley or other meal. Meanwhile 200 years previously Robert May opted for wheatmeal and milk (May, 1660). He is one the few writers to give details on making them, and specifies that the crams should be small and ‘well wet’. He also gives the ideal shape as being ‘thickest in the middle, and small at both ends’.
No-one suggests cooking the crammings, I tried making some and just leaving them to dry, which I suspect was the usual way as they could then be kept indefinitely. They would then have been well wetted with milk or water before the feeding process. They would have been pretty inedible in that form though. It seems that when starving rural householders tried them, they processed the basic ingredients into a dumpling – ‘You ask what sort of food we had. Well, crammings was common. It was made with what was left after the flour and the bran was taken away, and what was left, mixed with a little bread flour, we called crammings, but more often we made a sort of pudding with it.’ (Hungry Forties, 22). This makes sense – they’d hold their shape when boiled. Here’s another oral history; ‘Often on a Saturday I’d see Jonathan Heath, what was the son of a wheelwright who lived in the Petersfield Road an’ had a large family, comin’ along with a penny bag of crammin’s – that’s what they give the pigs nowadays – to make the Sunday puddin’ with’. (Ibid.,28)
All in all, it gives a fairly brutal picture of rural life. It was the day that the bakers stopped enjoying the sunshine and birds, and the novelty of wearing hose and drinking endless amounts of beer, and started realising that the past was not always a very nice place. Hopefully that segment also has a certain resonance with current debates around food and nutrition and welfare. Mind you, if that sounds vaguely pertinent to the 21st century, just wait until episode two.
I’ve been asked for this recipe quite a lot. It’s not mine, and when we made it for TV I was suffering from mad altitude sickness and felt like I was drunk and wading through mud. I can’t entirely remember what we did, therefore, so forgive me. Anyway, the fabulous Norbert Santeler, whose recipe it is, has supplied it for the delectation of his adoring English speaking public. Here it is, with a few Annieisms to render it suitable for the average UK kitchen and shop, assuming you aren’t up at 3440 feet when you make it yourself.
Gletscherschneetorte (Glacier Snow Cake)
This is essentially a cheese cake which you assemble and chill overnight. It does, however, need a pastry and a cake base, which need to be made in advance.
MAKE IN ADVANCE:
Shortcrust pastry base. If bought, make sure it is all butter for otherwise it is truly vile as opposed to just not great. Roll it out, and cut it to fit the springform cake tin or, better still, cake ring in which you plan to make your final cake. You could make it in a deep dish, if you have neither cake tin nor cake ring. You just won’t be able to demould it.
Sponge cake base. Again, make this in the same tin that you are assembling your final cake in. That way it will all fit together and be the right size. Any sponge cake recipe will be fine.
Fills a 9 inch/23cm cake tin very generously. Can be done the day before you want to eat it.
500 g sour cream, 500 g whipping cream, whipped to soft peak, 100g icing sugar, 4 standard sheets of gelatine (Norbert recommends 8 small sheets – the UK standard ones each set 100ml of liquid so this should be fine, but by all means play around), 1 small tin of pineapple chunks in juice, 3 tablespoons of whole milk, 1 tablespoon of coconut syrup (essence would probably do at a push), Ladyfingers or boudoir biscuits, granulated sugar, apricot jam, grated coconut (desiccated, either sweetened or unsweetened as you prefer, is fine)
Beat the sour cream with the icing sugar, coconut syrup and milk until smooth. Make sure that your cream is whipped to soft peak and add sugar to taste. Meanwhile, soften the gelatine sheets in cold water until they are very floppy. Squeeze them out gently and add them to a little boiling water (a tbsp should suffice – you need to dissolve them completely. Microwave or heat on the hob if necessary). Stir your now liquid gelatine into the sour cream/coconut mixture. Leave to cool completely. Now add a little of the whipped cream into the mixture to loosen it, before folding in the remaining whipped cream.
Spread apricot jam onto the round shortcrust base. Then add the sponge cake on top of that and place a cake ring round it. Alternatively, put the pastry in the bottom of a deep dish or springform cake tin, add the jam then the cake – the idea is simply to build up the layers inside a support which will hold the cream mix together while it sets. If you do it in a cake ring or springform tin you can demould it, if in a dish, best to serve in the dish.
Spread a little bit of the sour cream/coconut/ gelatine/cream mixture onto the sponge cake bottom. Put a single layer of ladyfingers into the middle and distribute chunks of pineapple around it. Now repeat the process: spread the cream mixture on top, then add ladyfingers and pineapple. Distribute the remaining mixture evenly on top and add grated coconut as the finishing touch – the snow on your glacier snow cake, if you will. Leave to set in a fridge or, if you’ve made it on top of a glacier, move it somewhere where it won’t freeze – freezing destroys the gelatine and it won’t set properly.
Norbert says you can also add chocolate or nuts to the sponge cake mixture. (And I imagine you can use any jam you most desire – or possibly even some mincemeat!)
Massive thanks to Norbert Santeler and his team at the café 3440 on the Pitztal Glacier.
Once more into the fray… Normally for the JMHC programme I can be found poncing around various kitchens cooking up historic dishes and explaining the social history behind them. For the Xmas special, however, I have a somewhat different role. The historic food slots are still in the programme – the fab Ivan Day is thoroughly in his element – but I got sent (begged to be allowed to go) to Austria as a roving food reporter. Given how much I like eating hefty meaty stews, dumplings and how much I am a die-hard Sound of Music fan, this was pretty much THE BEST THING THIS YEAR. Turns out I really like schnapps as well. Winner.
I’m aware that the slots are quite short, and the food quite brilliant, so I’ve put full details of the various producers here to help anyone desperate to track down the delights featured in the programme for themselves. Enjoy.
Annie’s travels in Austria.…
(in filming order, not necessarily in the order in which the films will be shown – I’ve put the air date for each at the end)
Day 1: Norbert Santeler, patissier for café 3440 on the Pitztal Glacier (airs 8th Dec)
We came off a stupidly early flight, landed, got in a van, and went straight up a mountain. The Swedish, German, Austrian and Slovakian ski teams were practicing on the slopes and the entire film crew got mad altitude sickness and spent the time drinking fat Coke and trying not to fall over. The views were so mind-numbingly beautiful that I don’t think it was really possible to take them in. And the challenges of cooking at high altitude were significant – Norbert is a weather forecast junkie, because high and low pressure affects how dough and pastry behave, and water boils at lower temperatures at altitude anyway. It is all sufficiently challenging that the café took a while to gear up to making and selling its own, rather lovely cake – despite the Austrians being utterly, madly, cake-obsessed. Cake is everywhere, and it is very, very good cake. We made a sort of cheesecake right up in the top of the glacier itself. It was -1°c and the gelatin was setting as we tried to use it. Insane.
Day 2:Hans-Joerg Haag and Therese Fiegl, Schoko-Haag, for Tiroler Edle chocolate (airs 14th Dec)
The surreal sight of 20-odd grey cows peacefully grazing while every 2 minutes a ski lift passes over their heads isn’t really something easily communicated on camera. It was like a parallel universe James Bond film (one where the latest instalment wasn’t a chronic disappointment, maybe, but hey). The cows are a breed specially adapted for mountain regions, with wide hooves, strong legs and the ability to put on fat from low grade pasture. Therese is a sort of enabler, and has masterminded a range of chocolates based on the products of the immediate region. Yes, obviously, the cocoa mass isn’t from the Tyrol, for cocoa beans don’t grow in Europe. However, with this exception, the chocolates produced under the Tiroler Edle brand are pretty much made using stuff the chocolatier can see from his window. The milk (and cream for the ganaches) comes from the aforementioned cows, and the flavourings are all natural and all very, very local indeed. There are various filled bars – cranberry (which is universal in Austria, and I’m not a fan), mountain honey, hazelnuts, chestnuts etc etc, and a small range of filled chocolates. They are pretty lovely. Hans-Joerg has a shop, as does Therese, and they sell a lot on the web. The biggest internet seller is a bar which is technically almost illegal ish, as the EU food guidelines don’t have a category for it. It’s a 70% cocoa solids bar which contains no sugar at all – it relies on the milk for sweetness. My dad used to work for Rowntrees, now Nestlé, as a chocolate scientist, so I took him some for nerd value. It’s not great, was our verdict. Chocolate really needs a bit of sugar to bring out the flavours. Clearly, if you are diabetic, bring it on, and in the current silly ‘clean eating’ climate I’m sure it’ll do well. But my advice is to gorge on the filled bars, which are sublime. The Xmas specials, which include spiced apple, are among the best chocolate bars I have ever eaten.
Oh, we ate a lot of wild cranberries as part of this. Weird little beasties. I prefer barberries.
Day 3: Brennerai Josef Schimpfössel, Stanz (airs 15th Dec)
Day three started really well. I’d drunk 2 schnapps before 9am. They were only small servings – 2cl is the usual size – and in Austria schnapps is THE drink for welcoming friends, strangers, children, passers-by….and it’s medicinal, and wakes you up, and helps you get going, and helps you digest, and helps you sleep, and is good for toasting stuff, and celebrating the end of things, and having in the morning, and the afternoon, and the evening….. Unlike the flavoured booze I make at home, this is the real deal. The fruit is fermented, then distilled with nothing added, then redistilled to yield a clear liquor of about 80% alcohol. It’s aged briefly, watered down to make it less lethal, and bottled. The Schimpfössels grow all their own fruit and operate the distillery as a cottage industry – everyone in the family has a ‘proper’ job, and Autumn is a sort of frenzy of fruit prep, during which everyone is enlisted to do their bit. The town itself has 50 official distilleries (out of 150 households), but my suspicion is that there were a lot more hidden behind closed doors. Unlike in the UK, where regulations brought in to curb the production of gin in the 18th century still affect would-be home distillers today, small scale distilling is pretty common in Austria. Wherever we went there were portable stills being hauled out of garages and set up ready to capture the fruits of the season. Apart from the fact that no one was vomiting in a gutter, and the resulting products were really high quality and probably wouldn’t kill you, I suspect it wasn’t a million miles away from London during the 17th and early 18th century gin craze.
The high point was properly discovering schnapps. The low point was me merrily abusing my German skills (I studied it at school and was determined to make a good showing, but I speak much, much better French), making up the word for ‘still’, and accidentally asking the lovely Josef how breastfeeding worked in the Tyrol. Note to self: stillen = breastfeeding. Brennerai = still. Um.
Day 4: Heinz Gstir and the family Bischofer, Senneri Hatzenstädt, Niederndorferberg (airs 7th Dec)
Up at 4am to go and nearly die as a giant milk float took off at great speed and with no warning from a half empty dairy in the dark. Heinz, who is a local dairy farmer, heads up a co-operative which took over the dairy a few years ago. At the time it was struggling, which meant that the livelihoods of the 25 or so high mountain farmers who depended on it as a market for their milk were at risk of going bust. The farms in question are too remote and too small to be able to supply big dairies and still make a profit. The solution for them, since the 1930s when the system was installed, was to zip wire their milk down the mountain, directly to the dairy, which then processed it into butter and cheese. When Heinz and the co-op took over, they quickly concluded that the only way to remain profitable in the modern big agri-business-led food world, was to go upmarket. The dairy now has full organic certification, but it remains totally independent and unfunded by outside support. This is a pretty big deal – a lot of the people we visited were affiliated to various organisations or umbrella brands, most often ‘Gnussregion’. This is a scheme set up by the government specifically to promote regional food and encourage food and drink tourism. It struck me as a jolly good idea, and had clearly benefited many of the small scale artisan producers we encountered. But Heinz and the farmers decided to do it on their own and set their own rules, so that the dairy would benefit exactly the people it most needed to, while preserving a culinary and farming heritage which was close to dying out. A true co-operative, indeed. Bravo. At the dairy, raw milk butter and amazing cheese is sold in a small shop, along with a few other products, and they have a roaring trade supplying walkers. It was the only shop in Austria not in a major tourist town that I saw open at a weekend, so no wonder.
Other things I did: milked cows, fed goats, ate oodles of kletzenbrot, made butter (not in costume for once, whoop – apart from the white coat and hat), drank more home-made schnapps.
Day 5: Theresia Bacher, the rauchkuchl at Stulfelden (airs 18th Dec)
This day was so crazy I can’t even think about it without reaching for the schnapps. Words fail me. The views were stunning though, and the food incredible.
Day 6: day off…
During which I dragged the whole crew to Salzburg to pay homage to the Sound of Music. Dan, the lovely cameraman, bought socks. Florian, the equally lovely runner and driving maestro, bought shoes. Director Sophia and I ignored them both and hit the souvenir shops.
Day 7: Peter Paffrath, Peters Land, carp farm (and general smallholding) (airs 9th Dec)
Back when Britain was a Catholic country, the days of Advent leading up to Christmas were official fast days, upon which all animal products were to be avoided, and only fish and non-animal products eaten. Obviously, the same was true for the rest of Catholic Europe too, and, along with Rome, Austria was the heartland of Catholicism. The head of the country was the Holy Roman Emperor, after all. Anyway, reading recipe books of the seventeenth century and before makes it clear how big a part of British culinary life fish was (and remained, as fish was invariably present as the second course of large dinners up to and beyond the end of Victoria’s reign). In medieval and early Tudor England, fish or fast days formed over half of the calendar year for an observant Catholic though, and fish cookery reached heights later generations could really only dream of. The range of fish, like the range of meat, that we ate was far larger than that consumed today. Carp was a definite favourite. In Austria, it’s far more closely linked to Christmas than any meat, and it’s traditionally eaten at the end of the Advent fast (no longer kept today, obvs), as a feast dish fit for Christmas Eve. I’ve always been told it’s a muddy fish, not worth eating. In the UK today it’s associated with Eastern Europeans, who, like the Austrians, regard it as THE Christmas dish. I asked Peter about the muddy thing, and about my sneaking suspicion that denigrating a fish we clearly ate for centuries as ‘muddy’, and not even trying it may just feed in to a certain sense of superiority versus migrant workers. Nah, says he, Eastern European carp can indeed be muddy, and as such, that’s a taste many people who eat it have grown to like. His fish isn’t at all muddy, anyway. He and his wife, who breeds Sheltand ponies, are impassioned advocates for all things pure, and he feeds the fish only the good stuff, ensures that the water is lovely, and, most importantly, says that the cold mountain climate helps keep the taste fresh and fishy. We ate it fried in butter. It was lush.
Chris is an ex-rock god, turned sweet maker. The showmanship suits him. This whole day was brilliant fun, and I can see why people flock to stare in awe as they watch sugar and glycerine being turned into mini bits of rock. I was aware of the principles, of course, but the bit where pulled sugar is handmade into tiny, intricate edible art miniatures was less clear. You will see the process on the telly, and there’s a video on their website as well. Essentially, it makes you realise that there is no need whatsoever for all the magical shenanigans inside Willy Wonka’s factory: the real thing is mind-boggling enough. It reminded me of glass-sculpting, with which Chris says there are, indeed, many similarities – working in intense heat, risk of major burns, the need to work rapidly, the translucent beauty of the material and the delicacy of the end product. Can’t eat glass though, so I reckon sweets win. One of the high points of the day was seeing a late 19th century catalogue of sweets and chocolates produced by the Heller company (and meeting Herr Heller himself). Well into the 20th century sweets of this type were made by hand because there was simply no way to mechanise such an intricate and time-consuming process. Indeed, to reach the heady heights of some of the stuff Chris, following in the footsteps of Heller at its peak, is producing, there’s no conceivable way machines could get involved. Of course, all this means that the sweets cost more than the average mass-produced roll of artificially flavoured nastiness. Fine. You aren’t really supposed to gorge on the buggers. But the demands of the public for cheap, sugary yuckiness, and lots of it, and a corresponding failure to appreciate artisan-led production, led to the demise of the hand-crafted sweets, and subsequent demise of Hellers, in the 60s. The factories were sold off, some to Rowntrees, now Nestlé. I think it’s fab that Chris and Maria are helping to bring back a long lived classic, but – and this is important – do it in a way which works with modern market conditions. It’s a premium product, and deservedly so. And I say that, and I don’t really have a sweet tooth…
Bernhard is half soft-spoken academic, half action man. He used to work for the Austrian equivalent of DEFRA, until a nagging desire to recultivate saffron in the Wachau got the better of him. He says he tried for years to find out about its cultivation and history in the Wachau, but, as with Saffron Walden in the UK, the time when it grew and was harvested regularly had passed out of living memory, and people didn’t quite believe him that the Wachau and saffron went together like beef and plum pudding (not his metaphor). Then, one day, while furkling in a monastic library, wherein the monks didn’t really know what they had, he came across a copy of a late 18th century printed guide to…cultivating saffron in the Wachau. Boom. I adored Bernhard. He was passionate about the product, the history, and the culture surrounding saffron, but also switched-on to making it work as a 21st century business. His dream is to see saffron brought back to all the areas of Europe which once grew rich on the saffron trade – Essex and Cornwall being the English growth centres in the 15th century and thereabouts. (There are a couple of English growers now, one of whom is based near Saffron Walden and tells tales of its heyday, when the streets were turned purple with discarded petals, and the scent of spice hung heavy in the air – etc – he’s on a Kitchen Cabinet episode on Boxing Day). We made a cake. The batter was beautiful, and for an instant I totally ‘got’ saffron. The scent is incredible, the colour rich…. As usual, though, I found that cooked it was nowhere near as lovely. Bernhard’s saffron is absolutely beautiful – but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’d rather eat cake and just breathe in the heady scent. Pleb.
I won’t beat about the bush. I’m a big fan of all things pork, and I was massively looking forward to this day. Mangalitzas are a Hungarian breed, valued above all else for the quality and quantity of their fat. And, as we all know, fat means flavour. They are also real lookers. They are often known as sheep-pigs for their coat is not mere bristles in the way of most British pigs, but actual real life, proper curly, fluffy fur. There was once a British pig which closely resembled them, which I’ve had a soft spot for ever since I heard about it: the Lincolnshire curly coat. Now extinct, it was reputedly a very friendly and very tasty pig. There are early 20th century pictures of kids riding about on them, and they were a mass of white curly fluff. They were even exported to Austria-Hungary and cross bred with the Mangalitza to make a Lincolnitza, according the to ever-reliable Shire Guide to British Pigs. However, the Mangalitza is slightly different. The Lincs version, like most British pigs, was snub-snouted. The Mangalitza is far more like the wild boars from which pigs are eventually descended. It has a pointed face, and the males have decided tusks. The piglets are stripy, again like boars, though they come in red, white and black (and are adorable). Christoph and Isabell have farmed them since they received a breeding pair as a wedding present (I have friend envy), and are now world-renowned for their knowledge. They don’t, however, sell the meat they produce, due to some convoluted set of legalities which I only half understood. They mainly sell livestock, and their own extensive knowledge. Christoph also practices a particular type of butchery, which doesn’t really feature on the show, but which was magic to watch. Seam butchery involves cutting out each individual muscle, still wrapped in what he calls the ‘bone skin’. It’s very hygienic, very interesting, and frankly rather like watching a sculptor at work. And OH! the meat. I ate it 12 ways, including raw fat, lardo, rare skirt, long cook pocket, tripe stew, spleen on toast and lard pastries. All of it was gorgeous (especially the spleen toasts actually). All hail the Mangalitza for it is gooooood.
(NB: you can buy Mangalitza hams and the meat itself from various places in the UK – Google is your friend. I have just purchased a Xmas joint and sundry other items from Brynheulog Rare Breeds, and they were brilliant – even managing to fish out a spleen for me….).
Day 11: Ursula Kujal and Harald Thiesz, Bio Feigenhof Wien (airs 17th Dec)
The last day. We were all, unsurprisingly, knackered, and the figs were all that kept us going. That and, it must be said, the schnapps. Figs make excellent schnapps. And geist (an infused version of schnapps, I think). They also make excellent ice cream, jam, marmalade, vinegar, and the little ones are pretty stunning soaked in booze. Yes, yet more booze. The story behind the rather random sight of a Mediterranean fruit growing in sub-zero temperatures on the outskirts of Vienna is fairly simple. Ursula and Harald took over what amounts to a humongous allotment, or mini smallholding, on the outskirts of Vienna, so that they could grow fruit and veg. It came with a couple of industrial-sized greenhouses, so they thought they’d have a crack at growing figs. After all, who doesn’t like figs? Theirs are exceedingly luscious – better than anything I’ve eaten in the UK. As with the carp and plums, they suggest that the extremes of temperature are apparently a big help. The trees are sown directly in the ground, no need to bind the roots, and are very productive. They prune them when they threaten to break through the roof, but otherwise largely leave them to it – and they have loads of varieties, in every colour from white to red and yellow. I gorged on them, and through that experimental process can say honestly that 8 should probably be most people’s limit.
Hey ho, fig joy got me happily through Vienna airport, where the Sleazyjet gates are a sort of wasteland, inhabited only by Mozart chocolates, Toblerone and paprika crisps. Not a bacon sarnie in sight. Sigh.
The opening shots are of Innsbruck Christmas market, by the way.
James Martin – Christmas Home Comforts airs every weekday from from the 7th to the 17th December, on BBC1 at 3.40pm. It’s repeated on Saturdays as an 30mn special, straight after Saturday Kitchen. The un-Christmassy Home Comforts is back with a brand new series on January 4th, and runs for 3 weeks. I’m back for that in my more usual slot, cooking and commenting on food from the 1760s to the 1960s. The link to the BBC homepage is here.
I passed onto the BBC the fact that several of you lovely people have contacted me to ask for recipes from Home Comforts. The equally delightful Beeb web people have suggested that along with me sticking them up here, you might want the clips available permanently, and not just on iPlayer, where they will die imminently. At the moment it’s just the recipes I’ve actually been asked for (EPIC salad and Slippery Bob kangaroo brain fritters therefore aren’t included).
If you do want to feast yer eyes, herewith the links. They may become embedded if I can work out how to do it.