Baking Classics

So, Great British Bake Off returns tonight but now on Channel 4 and with only Paul Hollywood remaining of the original BBC presenters.  Am I going to watch it?  Probably not, it always annoyed me anyway, but there is no denying that it has had considerable influence in actually getting people to bake, not just watching.  The Westwood Show that I attended yesterday demonstrated as much enthusiasm for baking competitions as for the gardening and crafts.

The Sunday Telegraph ran a big feature to promote the new series including recipes for “ten classics you need to master to earn your place in the tent”.  That got my attention.  Before learning that she was to become the new judge, Prue Leith had previously criticised the programme for encouraging unhealthy eating, and I hope that she might bring it back to basics and away from the presentational emphasis on creating “show-stoppers”.  There was no suggestion that the “10 classics” were of her devising, and thank God, as very few are what I would consider classic, nor British, and every single one of them is sweet – very sweet.  Given that there are two judges, one specialising in bread, I have always wondered why this is so under-represented in the programme.  Anyway, it gave me the opportunity to consider what would make my Top 10 (Great British) Baking Classics, so here they are:

  1. 1. Overnight Risen London Bloomer

Why? Sandwiches are the nation’s favourite lunch.  They are a British invention (the Earl of Sandwich, who didn’t want to leave the gaming table to eat) and their popularity spread nationwide. A proper Afternoon Tea would always include sandwiches, dainty ones with the crusts removed.  Being able to bake the sort of bread that can be cut thinly enough for this must surely be an essential skill of the British baker.  There is no reason why overnight rises (so much more healthy, digestible and traditional than modern fast-risen loaves) could not be incorporated into the programme schedule.

  1. 2. Regional Yeasted Bun

Why? All over the UK people added something sweet to a piece of their standard bread dough before taking it to the bakers and thus arose hundreds of localised specialities.  A Chelsea Bun and Bath Bun became nationally famous (so much so in the case of the Bath Bun that it came to be a pale reflection of the original).  Many others remained specialities of their area and everyone should know how to make their local speciality bun.

  1. 3. Crumpets

Why? Before people had ovens at home they either took their dough to a baker or cooked on a griddle directly over the fire.  There are numerous recipes cooked in this way and I toyed between choosing English Breakfast Muffins and Crumpets for my classic recipe.  It would be good to remember that English Muffins have nothing in common with the American version that is now so ubiquitous.  However, whilst it used to be possible to buy some quite acceptable commercial crumpets, I haven’t found any for a few years now so making your own is a must if this winter treat is not to be lost.

  1. 4. Scones

Why? Essential for a cream tea.  I did consider whether the older, yeasted, version known as Cut Rounds in Devon and still popular in many parts of the West Country was more classic than the modern version that relies on baking powder as a raising agent.  However, modern scones are so quick to make that if you have these “off pat” you can whip them up for unexpected visitors in the time it takes to heat the oven.

  1. 5. Shortbread

Why? If I had to choose one biscuit for the rest of my life it would be shortbread.  In fact, I’m not too bothered about any other type.  Buttery, crumbly delicious home-made shortbread.  It is also a great accompaniment to fools and other soft desserts.  I even allow some flavour additions in these cases!

  1. 6. Suet Pastry

Why? We have become so afraid of animal fats when they are actually healthier than vegetable substitutes.  Suet puddings, both sweet and savoury, are classic British fare and I would love to see fresh suet become readily available again.

  1. 7. Hot-water crust pie

Why? Pork Pie is the most famous version although once you have mastered hot-water crust pastry you can make beautiful raised Game Pies too and you can’t get much showier than that!

  1. 8. Teabread

Why? These are so useful – they actually improve on keeping.  There are so many variations based on this technique e.g. malted fruitbread, sticky gingerbread, date and banana loaf (useful for using up over-ripe bananas).

  1. 9. Eccles Cakes

Why? I admit that it might seems bizarre to single out one regional speciality above others but I have chosen Eccles Cakes for the following reasons: the use a rough puff or flaky pastry that is useful in other classics, e.g. sausage rolls; the fruit content makes them high energy but high in natural sugar; although a regional speciality they are popular nationwide, there is even an acceptable commercial product, and they are also good with cheese.

  1. 10. Trifle

Why? A British classic that involves many elements and is a genuine show-stopper.  Forget packet custard or jelly and think instead of syllabub, homemade trifle sponge, biscuits and jam.

I further justified my Top Ten selection in that I have deemed them all sufficiently important to have covered previously in my articles and recipes for The Campaign for Real Farming so just click on the links to get more information.

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