Tag Archives: England

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!

TYT.

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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!

TYT.

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!

TYT.