Tag Archives: baking

The most wonderful time of the year

Since moving to the US I generally don’t allow myself to get excited about Christmas until after Thanksgiving (although I’ll admit I did experience a certain childish thrill when I realized Starbucks had started using their Christmas-themed cups, even though it was still October!). There is one very necessary exception however, because now is the perfect time to make a traditional English Christmas cake. So this weekend all rules were broken, the brandy came out, and Sinatra’s holiday tunes were blasted unashamedly around the house!

Those not familiar with English Christmas cakes may think it unusual that I am baking one over in a month in advance of the big event. But these rich fruit-laden cakes need time to mature. To be lovingly fed with brandy each week and then wrapped up tight again for the fruit to absorb the liquor and for the flavors of the cake to develop. Preserving sweet treats in alcohol is something that we English have done well for centuries. Be it Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, or the sweet mincemeat for mince pies – to me, these are the quintessential flavors of the holiday season.

It’s come to my attention that many Americans, my partner included, hold a vague suspicion of fruit cakes – and particularly any baked good that you have to leave for a good few weeks before eating. But I must emphasize that this cake doesn’t end up resembling a hard crumbling brick that would be better suited to self defense. By the time Christmas comes around these cakes are incredibly moist and have a pleasing brandy perfume. Served in thin slices, it’s wonderful on its own but also makes a particularly delicious accompaniment to a good cave-aged cheddar (Union Market in Park Slope sells a very good English one).

This is a fourth generation family recipe. It differs from others I’ve seen as it doesn’t include treacle and uses self-raising flour, meaning it makes a slightly lighter cake on eating. Also we never ice our cake, which is definitely unusual as most cake-makers take the opportunity to drape with marzipan and royal icing, and then adorn with little plastic trees and reindeers to recreate little snow scenes. You can certainly do this here if that is your preference.

Nuts and candied peel are also omitted mainly due to the fact that the children in the family (including myself a few years ago) viewed such things as essentially evil. Similarly, candied cherries were added because everyone loves them to this day. You can’t tell me that you wouldn’t be secretly hoping to receive a slice with a cherry in it!

You need to start this recipe the night before by soaking the fruit in brandy overnight and then, the next day, the cake needs about four hours in the oven. So this is the perfect activity for a cold, lazy November weekend when you can look forward to the smells of Christmas wafting throughout the house. And what a wonderful excuse for sneaking a pre-Christmas tipple from the brandy bottle!

TYT’s Traditional English Christmas Cake

Makes one 8-inch round cake or one 7-inch square cake (better for slicing in my opinion).

The night before you plan to bake the cake, place 8 oz currants, 8 oz raisins, 8 oz golden raisins, and 4 oz candied cherries in a large bowl. Add 4 tbsp brandy and mix well so all the fruit is glistening. Cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight for the fruit to become plump.

When you are ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 275F/140C/Gas Mark 1.

Grease and line your tin with baking parchment. The paper should stand up about 2 inches higher than the side of the tin. You will also need to a cover the top of the cake with a double layer of parchment. Cut out the right size shape and then cut a hole in the middle about the size of a quarter to allow the steam to escape. Finally, wrap the outside of the tin with brown paper and secure with string. This again should stand about 2 inches above the height of the tin. All of this work will help prevent the cake from scorching during the long hours in the oven.

Cream 8 oz butter and 8 oz soft brown sugar together in a bowl. When pale and fluffy add all the soaked fruit and mix well.

In another bowl, mix 8 oz all-purpose flour, 3 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt (all this makes self-raising flour), 4 oz ground almonds, 1 tsp nutmeg, and 1 tsp of pumpkin spice (or mixed spice, if you can get it).

In a jug, beat 4 eggs with 1 tsp almond essence and 3 tbsp brandy.

Add the egg mixture and the flour mixture alternately to the butter and sugar mixture and mix between each addition. This will ensure the mixture doesn’t curdle. The cake mixture does get quite stiff towards the end and so if you are not using a stand mixer you might find it easier to just use your hands.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared cake tin and smooth the surface using the back of the spoon.

Place the double thickness of baking parchment on top of the cake and make sure all other paper is secure.

Place on the bottom shelf of the oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Do not open the oven until 3 1/2 hours have passed. To check if it is done, pierce with a skewer. If it comes out clean then the cake is done.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 20 mins and then turn out onto a wire rack. Don’t worry if it looks a little well done around the edges despite your best cake-wrapping efforts – I can tell you from experience that these will soften up with the subsequent additions of brandy.

When the cake is completely cool, wrap well in a double layer of greaseproof paper and store in an airtight cake tin. I really don’t think you can wrap the cake too well at this point, so I often follow the greaseproof paper with a layer of aluminum foil and then place the cake in a plastic bag secured with elastic bands.

Approximately once a week until Christmas, unwrap the cake and pierce all over with a darning needle. Trickle teaspoons of brandy into the cake (no hard and fast rules here on how much), then wrap the cake back up again very tightly.

When ready to eat, slice into thin wedges (if you baked a round cake) or slices (if square) and serve with a tipple of brandy or dry sherry, and slivers of a very mature, cave-aged cheddar. Christmas bliss!



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!