Remember, remember

Remember, remember the fifth of November; Gunpowder, treason and plot;

I see no reason for gunpowder treason; To ever be forgot!

Today is my favorite holiday. It didn’t used to be, but it has been ever since I’ve lived in the US. When I first moved here, I rather naively thought everyone celebrated the thwarting of Guy Fawkes’ famous attempt to blow up Parliament, intending to assassinate King James in the process, and restore Catholic rule in England. You can imagine my disappointment when November 5th rolled around and I realized that this was, in fact, a very English event.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the holidays I’ve gained since moving here. Indeed, there are enough fireworks on July 4th to hold someone over for the entire year, and who wouldn’t want an extra feast a mere month before Christmas?

But there’s something wonderfully sinister about “Guy Fawkes Night” (also simply referred to as ”Bonfire Night”). I have to admit that I’d never really thought about how sinister until an American friend exclaimed, “But don’t you guys burn effigies?!” To which I could only reply, “Well, yes…in fact we do.”

But it’s just so much fun! I’ll always remember the week leading up to Bonfire Night at school: the emergence of the Horrible Histories books and the ensuing arguments about what being hung, drawn and quartered really entails. The prizes for the best class “Guy”, eternally fated to a fiery death on the bonfire come nightfall. The wildlife officers reminding us to check our wood-piles for unfortunate hedgehogs before setting them alight.

And then there are the fireworks, intended to signify what Parliament would have looked like if Mr Fawkes had succeeded. Fizzers! Bangers! Whoppers! Spinners (known as Catherine wheels which is also a rather morbid reference)! There are often rivalries as to who can bring the biggest, the loudest, the screechiest. Those requiring a safe distance of 40 ft are regularly set off in tiny English back gardens, to the sound of joyful “Oooos” and “Aaaas” of friends and family, gathering around the bonfire for warmth, munching on pie ‘n’ mushy peas, toffee apples, and parkin. All the while, kids excitedly write their names in the air with sparklers.

The food associated with Bonfire Night is hearty and warming, designed to keep you going for a good few hours out in the cold. One particular speciality is associated directly with Yorkshire, and my hometown of Leeds in particular: the aforementioned parkin. Imagine gingerbread, but made with oatmeal, black treacle and the burnt sugary undertones of golden syrup, wrapped tightly for a few days before being eaten so as to allow the flavors to develop and mature. No one would dream of eating fresh parkin.

Parkin is guaranteed to sustain you through even the coldest Bonfire Night celebrations (like the ones I remember in my grandparent’s garden, pictured below). Even better, any leftovers last for ages!

Yorkshire Parkin

Adapted from a recipe by BBC GoodFood

Preheat the oven to 140°C/280°F/Gas Mark 1. Grease and line a 8 inch square cake tin.

In a pan, melt 4 oz butter with 4 oz soft dark brown sugar, 2 oz black treacle, and 7 oz golden syrup. Use a gentle heat and don’t let the mixture get too hot or bubble.

Once melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, sift 4 oz all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Add 8 oz medium oatmeal, 2 tsp ground ginger, and 1 tsp pumpkin spice.

Make a well in the center and gradually pour in the melted butter mixture and fold together.

Beat two eggs with 1 tbsp milk and add to the mixture. Stir to combine.

Pour into the baking tin and bake for 1 hour. Parkin can become dry easily so keep an eye on it. I baked mine for 1 hour 15 mins and I think it was a little too long.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 20 mins. Then turn out onto a cooling rack.

When cool, wrap tightly in parchment paper and leave in a cake tin for at least one day (and up to a week!) so the flavors become richer and deeper, and so it develops a moist, sticky texture. Yum!



An old familiar

It’s been a tough few weeks. I’ve reached the stage in my degree where the wheat is well and truly separated from the chaff. And I can tell you, it’s taking everything I’ve got not to be chaff.

Now is not the time for anything adventurous. Not the time to be whipping up the latest ginger infused crème brûlée or trying to finally master that chocolate-raspberry soufflé. Instead, I long to become re-acquainted with an old friend. Something so familiar that it’s mere ordinary-ness is a joy in and of itself.

My grandma used to make “scones” every single week, half of which she would give to my uncle. He would take one to work with him to have after lunch, every day, rain or shine.

I use quotation marks because they aren’t really scones at all, at least not in the true ‘afternoon tea’ sense of the word. They are rock buns. Dense, buttery, and with an outward appearance worthy of their name. They will easily tide you over until your next meal, especially if they the size of a fist like the ones my grandma used to make.

But to me they are and always will be “scones” (and in my household that’s “scone” as in “bone”, not as in “gone”; seriously, wars have been fought over less). Truly glorious in their familiarity and simplicity. Serve with an obligatory cup of tea and an extra slathering of butter for good measure.

Vera’s “scones” 

Makes 16 small or 8 large scones.

Heat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas Mark 6. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Mix together the 8 oz all purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt. Then rub in 4 oz butter.

Stir in 4 oz raisins and 2oz caster sugar.

Combine to a stiff dough by adding 1 medium egg and a few drops of milk. If the dough gets too sticky, add a little more flour.

Roll into 16 small or 8 large balls and arrange on the baking sheets.

Bake for 10-15 minutes for small scones, and 20-25 minutes for larger scones. They should have a nice golden crust on top.

Enjoy warm from the oven and spread with a little extra butter.


The Joy of Custard

Before we go anything further I think it’s really important that we talk about custard. Described by Delia Smith as the “traditional English sauce”, custard is a mandatory item on dinner tables and dessert menus up and down the country.

Where I come from, custard is more than just a sauce. It’s a religion. We dream in custard. When we order a ‘pudding’ after dinner, it’s the custard we are really looking forward to; the pudding is just for show.

There were two custard camps when I was growing up. Those that bought ready-made and those revered few who practiced the art of homemade. My family falls mainly into the first camp, purchasing the bright red and blue boxes of Birds-Eye pre-made (not powdered, but the “real stuff” where half the fun is the “squelching” noises it makes while being squeezed out) or Marks & Spencer’s own with real vanilla for special occasions.

My grandma on my Dad’s side was the exception however, conjuring up a delicious home-made jug-full for almost every Sunday lunch. “She makes ‘er own” we would say, one eyebrow raised with pride and an almost mystical awe.

My lovely grandma passed away only a few weeks ago and I am determined to become a disciple of homemade custard in her memory. Now that Fall’s refreshing breeze is returning to NYC, the time certainly seems ripe to start my training.

This week, however, I felt that the weather was still just a little too warm for a bowl of steaming sponge and custard, and so I decided to make a dessert that was much loved in my household when I was growing up: a custard tart.

I felt that there was no one I could turn to for a lesson as fundamental as making a custard tart than dear Delia, and so it is her recipe that I have adapted below.

Custard Tart

Adapted from a recipe by Delia Smith

First the pastry:

Sift 5oz plain flour with a pinch of salt into a large bowl. Add chilled cubes of 1 oz shortening (or lard if you can get it) and 1.5 oz butter. Gentle rub the fat into the flour, lifting the mixture up high all the time to give it a good airing. Then, sprinkle in about 1 tbsp ice cold water and bring the mixture together with a knife. Finish off with your hands.

Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 mins.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C) and pop a baking sheet in to preheat on the center shelf.

Roll the pastry out into a circle on a surface lightly dusted with flour, giving it quarter turns to keep its round shape. The size should be 1 inch larger than the diameter of your tart tin.

Transfer the pastry to the tin. Fold the pastry over the rolling pin to do this in one piece (I failed miserably at this which is why my pastry case looks more like a patchwork quilt, but it was still quite delicious so no need to worry if you experience a similar disaster!). Take a sharp knife and trim the surrounding pastry, brush the whole surface with some beaten egg and prick the base of the tart with a fork.

Place the tart on the baking sheet in the oven on the center shelf and bake for 20 mins, until the pastry is crisp and golden. Check after 4 minutes to make sure the pastry isn’t rising up in the center. If it is, don’t worry, just prick again a few times with a fork and press it back down with your hands.

While the pastry is baking, take the time to grate 1 and 1/2 fresh whole nutmegs and soften 1 tsp butter.

Once the pastry case is out of the oven, adjust the temperature to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C).

Now, the filling:

Now, place 1 pint (570 ml) single cream into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Break 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks into a heatproof jug and beat lightly. Add 2 oz (50g) caster sugar and mix with the eggs using a balloon whisk (I used a fork…). Try not to beat too vigorously as you don’t want lots of bubbles. Pour the hot cream over the beaten eggs and add 1 tsp vanilla extract and half the grated nutmeg. Whisk all the ingredients together again briefly.

Now, place the pie shell (still in the tin) back on the baking tray with the oven shelf half out and have ready the rest of the nutmeg on a plate or piece of foil.

Carefully pour the filling into the pastry case – it will be very full – and scatter the rest of the nutmeg all over, and dot with the 1 tsp softened butter. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is golden brown, firm in the center and slightly puffed up.

Serve either warm, or as Delia and I both prefer it, cold.


Tart at the very beginning

I spent a long time thinking about what type of tart I should make at the start of this journey.

Should it be something fancy to try to convince you I know what I’m talking about? Should it be my namesake, a “yorkshire” tart, complete with fascinating tale of me adventuring around New York trying to track down curd, the primary ingredient?? Perhaps it should be my own interpretation of a UK-USA fusion tart??? Then it hit me. To start this blog I needed to go back to my own very beginning. Back to the first tarts I ever made. Jam tarts.

Although simple in concept, making the perfect jam tart is certainly a right of passage in the eyes of any child taking their first steps in the kitchen. The jam tart is where the foundations of life’s baking skills are laid down.

How to achieve the perfectly ‘short’ crust by learning to combine flour and super-cold fat (repeatedly running to the cold tap to cool your hands when working in a kitchen already hot from the oven). How to roll dough so that it is the perfect thickness. Too thin and the tart will never make it out of the tin in one piece, but too thick and the crust takes over, leaving you without enough of that super-sweet satisfaction a good jam tart promises. How to use just enough jam to satisfy the sweetest tooth but not so much that it bubbles over and burns in the oven. Indeed, there are many obstacles to be overcome by a child making their very own jam tarts.

And also in its eating. Do you choose to lick out the filling before starting to tackle the crust? Do you first nibble off the crust’s edge, saving the best ’til last? Do you compete with your siblings to see who can be the first to eat a whole one in a single bite?

I learned to make jam tarts at my grandmother’s knee at the tender age of four or five. It was what we would do if I was bored during my afternoons between school finishing and my mum coming home from work. The recipe we used – for these and many of the other tarts I will write about – was from a Be-Ro baking book. I still have the book and I returned to it for inspiration this weekend, each page transporting me back more than two decades to my grandparent’s kitchen, hands and face covered in flour, sneaking licks from the mixing bowl, delicious smells filling the air.

Some things, however, I did a little differently.

The first was the jam. I had originally planned to use some locally made jam and set out to the Van Vorst farmer’s market in search of some. But there was no jam to be found so I bought a bagful of some gorgeous New Jersey peaches and, taking a leaf out of Confessions of a Tart’s blog, got to work making my own fridge jam (which was actually a huge success, as much to my surprise as everyone elses!).

Second was the fat. We always made shortcrust pastry with lard but I quickly learned that lard is much harder to come by here in the US than back home. A web-search quickly pointed me to Flying Pigs Farm who sell unrendered leaf lard from their stall in Union Square Market. Unfortunately I am without some of my usual kitchen equipment at the moment (a long story…) so rendering lard this weekend just wasn’t an option. Instead, I opted for vegetable shortening to mix in with the margarine. Be-Ro rules: no butter.

Finally, the size was a little different. Cupcake tins are just too deep for jam tarts and I was unable to find a shallower version like the one I used to use. So I opted for my mini-cupcake tin and made tiny two-bite tarts. The upside of these of course is that they are easier on the waistline or, if you are like me, give you an excuse to eat three or four at a time. Preferably with a cup of Yorkshire tea!

The final verdict: success. Not quite the same as they looked and tasted twenty years ago, but not quite so different either. More importantly, I took my first steps. With jam stuck to my fingers and crumbs around my mouth.



The philosophy of TYT

Hello and welcome to TheYorkshireTart!

This blog was born mainly out of my need to stay connected with my northern-English roots now that I have traveled across the pond. But it represents much more than that. It is also a celebration of my new home. The outstanding array of produce on offer at the local Greenmarkets in NY and farmer’s markets in NJ would be enough to make even a non-foodie excited about what might be for dinner. But for me over the last two years they have represented a sanctuary among what has often felt like chaos, and a resource for excellent food and culinary inspiration that was certainly never available to me while I was growing up in the suburbs of Leeds.

So my goal in the coming months is to reconcile these two aspects of my life that are so important to me, and the primary medium I will choose to do this with is: the tart. What is it about tarts, you ask, that makes them so pleasing? Is it the perfect filling to crust ratio? The fact that they can easily be as savory as they are sweet? The feeling you experience as you glide your fork first through the pillowy soft interior following by the crisp crack of the crust? Whatever it is, I get excited about it!

That said, I have rarely made a tart over the past two years, and a visit to my grandma’s house back in England would often obviate the need for me to make one when I still lived there. So this will be an adventure we both shall share, a rediscovery of the tastes and textures of my homeland, and new encounters with the wonderful food and produce of my new home. I am also excited to play a role in introducing northern-English food to a broader audience, in all is comforting glory. I hope that you will enjoy the journey as much as I’m sure I will and I certainly promise some new and delicious food along the way!