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Currant Scones

Currant scones with salted butter, homemade blackcurrant jelly, and scrambled eggs

The key to a great scone is handling the dough as little as possible. The more it is handled, the tougher and drier it will become. Scones become stones, as it were.

I used Corinthian currants from Vostizza, which are highly flavoured and juicy, and they invite snacking. They are made from tiny, richly purple black grapes.

Ingredients:

2 C plain flour

2 T sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

60g cold chunks of unsalted butter

1/2 C dried currants

1 large egg

1/2 brimming cup of milk

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220C.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Either rub in or cut in the butter until the whole attains a coarse texture. Stir in the currants, then mix in the egg and milk, stopping the very instant the dough just comes together.

On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough out into a slab the size of a small dinner plate. Either cut into rounds or divide into six wedges (I am lazy, and therefore make scones into wedges).

Place the scones on a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with milk. Bake for 15 minutes until golden. Serve warm with salted butter and/or jam.

Pancakes, Griddle Cakes, Flapjacks

Pancakes all began in about the same way on two sides of the Atlantic: thin cakes cooked on a hot stone or griddle that make a pleasing and amusing ‘flap’ sound when turned. How the name ‘flapjack’ came, in the UK, to be applied to the sticky, oaty golden syrup bar cookie that must be pressed messily into a pan to bake is anybody’s guess. It certainly doesn’t live up to the onomatopoeia. There’s really nothing more unflappable than English flapjacks. It is really only the combination of carbohydrates and lots and lots of sugar that may be meaningfully compared between the two. Well, perhaps also that they’re both tasty. This recipe is for the classic American pancake, which should be slathered with salted butter, doused with Maple syrup, and served with crisp, smoky bacon for the flavour counterpoint it provides.

When cooking these pancakes the batter should be poured from the tip of a spoon onto a hot, seasoned griddle – about a 1/4 C of batter will do. If no griddle is available, a skillet (but not non-stick) will do, very lightly greased with butter. The butter in the batter itself is enough to lubricate the cakes in the pan. To test if the griddle is hot enough, a drop of water should dance in the pan. If it spreads and boils, the pan is too cool. When bubbles begin to form on the surface of the pancake, take a peek underneath. If the cake is coppery in tone, then it’s time to flip (flap) it. It will take half the time to cook the other side, and it never cooks as evenly as the first side.

 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 C plain flour

1 tsp salt

3 T sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

3 T melted unsalted butter

1 C milk

 

Method:

Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs and add them with the milk and the melted butter. Stir the batter only until the ingredients are just barely incorporated. Don’t worry about lumps. Test the griddle and bake.

 

NB: I have recently seen small plastic jugs for sale with dry mix for pancakes in a pitiful layer at the bottom. The wet ingredients are added and the whole is shaken. Please bear in mind that the dry ingredients for pancakes are flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (that’s IT!), and that shipping vast quantities of packaged air across the globe – and then paying the price for it – is quite simply idiotic.

Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

It’s a cold, wet morning in London, so I need little excuse to fire up the oven and bake a rich, decadent coffee cake. This recipe skimps on nothing – it is full of butter and is generous on the streusel. It also uses lots of vanilla extract (not essence), so it’s absolutely crucial that real vanilla rather than imitation is used. If you have only imitation vanilla, use only half the amount, then pour the rest down the drain and buy real vanilla next time you’re at the shop.

 

Preheat oven to 175C/350F

Have ingredients at room temperature

 

Mix:

2 C plain flour

3/4 C sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

 

Rub or cut in:

1/2 C (110g) unsalted butter

 

Break into a measuring cup:

1 egg. Beat, fill to 1 C with milk and add to dry ingredients with 2 tsp pure vanilla extract.

 

Pour into a greased spring-form pan and cover with the streusel topping – see below.

 

Streusel

Combine:

4 Tbsp plain flour

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 C packed light brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

 

Blend these ingredients with the back of a spoon until they crumble and add:

1/2 C chopped pecans

 

Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter and bake for approximately 25 minutes until a tester inserted comes out clean. Serve warm. Unlike many coffee cakes, this will keep for a day or two and remains delicious and succulent.

Semolina Porridge

Semolina porridge with homemade strawberry jam

Hard durum wheat is too tough a customer to show up in breads and pastries, but provides us with that essential food, pasta. One other great comfort food from durum wheat is semolina porridge, which is eaten all over Europe. Semolina’s poor cousin farina is also consumed as porridge, primarily in the United States, as ‘Cream of Wheat’. Semolina porridge is the perfect start to the day, especially on a Sunday if there is to be a large roast lunch consumed at midday. Within a couple of hours of consumption, semolina porridge provokes a fierce appetite that is just the spice that’s needed for a big midday meal. I usually serve semolina porridge with a dollop of strawberry jam or with raspberries and sugar. This recipe serves two.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups milk

1/3 cup semolina

Method:

Mix milk and semolina with a small whip in a saucepan over medium heat. When boiling reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring consistently, for about fifteen minutes until thick. Serve forth and soak the pan immediately. As my partner says, ‘It sticks to the pan better than it sticks to the ribs’.

Soft Boiled Eggs

This morning it’s soft-boiled eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice and rough-hewn toasted baguette with salted butter and John Dennis’s excellent Romford honey.

Taking a cue from Hervé This’s fascinating book Molecular Gastronomy, I tried salting the water to flavour the egg whites. He debunks the myth that salted water prevents the eggs from cracking, saying that piercing the shell is the only viable method, but recommends salted water for flavouring. I didn’t find that it had enough effect to bother wasting the salt – particularly when a sprinkle of fresh salt on the cooked egg brings the flavour so marvelously to life.

I did find, however, that this method quoted from the London Daily Telegraph in The New Yorker of September 13, 2010, works a treat. This snippet appeared under the heading ‘There’ll Always be an England’.

‘Surely of more importance than the correct way to eat a boiled egg is the timing of the cooking in the first place. My own foolproof method involves placing the egg in a pan of cold water, bringing it to the boil and timing the cooking with a leisurely recitation of Henry V’s speech at the siege of Harfleur. If, upon reaching the line “Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!'” the egg is then plunged into cold water, the white will have set while the yolk remains delightfully runny.’

I can vouch for the efficacy of this method, and I will use it from now on. It’s a bracing way to start the day – to ‘Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,/Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit/To his full height.’

Here is the full text for any reader who would like to give it a try:

SCENE I. France. Before Harfleur.

Alarum. Enter KING HENRY, EXETER, BEDFORD, GLOUCESTER, and Soldiers, with scaling-ladders

KING HENRY V

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
Exeunt. Alarum, and chambers go off