A glut of Broad Beans

If planted in autumn, broad beans may crop as early as May, making a very welcome early crop.  However, over-wintering has never been successful for me, the beans tend to rot in the ground, and consequently we get our crop much later.  The beans all reach optimum size within just a few weeks – leave them to get too big and the texture becomes mealy.  So there is often a glut to use up, although luckily they freeze well.

When cooking broad beans removing the skins, although time consuming, really pays dividends.  Unless the beans are very small (fingernail sized) the skin is quite bitter and it is this that causes many people to dislike broad beans.  The bright green colour of the skinned beans is so much more appetizing too.

Here are some of my favourite ways to use a glut:

CHILLED BROAD BEAN SOUP

Serve 6

1½ lb young broad beans (shelled weight – buy almost 3 times the weight in the pod)

1½ pints chicken stock

heaped tbsp. of chopped marjoram (or try mint or savory)

juice of ¾ of a lemon

salt and pepper

3 fl oz double cream

3 fl oz yoghurt

additional herbs for serving

Cook the shelled broad beans in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Run the beans under cold water until they are cool enough to handle.  Remove the skins and purée with the hot chicken stock.  After puréeing pass through a sieve so that the purée is really smooth.

Stir in the chopped herbs and the lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill for 4 hours then serve in small bowls garnished with the cream, yoghurt and additional fresh herb leaves.

BROAD BEAN AND FETA DIP

1.5 kg broad beans

200g feta cheese

Thyme

Black pepper

Salt (optional)

Lemon Juice

Olive oil

Shell the broad beans and then cook them in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain and cool.  Once cool enough to handle remove the skins from the beans.

Put the peeled beans into a food processor with the crumbled feta cheese and the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme.  Process to combine, and then add a good grind of black pepper and the juice of half a lemon.  The Feta is quite salty, so you probably won’t need to add any more salt but taste again once the olive oil is added.  This should be added in a stream whilst the processor is running, enough to give the consistency you desire.

BROAD BEAN, MINT AND FETA FRITTATA

Serves 1-2

1lb broad beans (unshelled weight)

4 cooked new potatoes

2-3 eggs (depending on size)

4 sprigs of fresh mint

salt & pepper

2 oz feta cheese

Slice the potatoes and brown them on both sides in olive oil in a 6″ omelette pan.  Meanwhile put a saucepan of water on to boil whilst you shell the broad beans.  Cook the beans in the boiling water for 3 minutes, drain and run cold water over them.  When cool enough to handle remove the skins from all the beans that are larger than your fingernail.  Whilst you are doing this turn the grill to it’s highest setting.

Beat the eggs together and then mix in the chopped mint, broad beans and some salt and pepper.  Pour the mixture over the potato slices and cook over a high heat until the base is set.  Crumble over the feta cheese and place under the grill to puff and brown the top of the frittata.

Strawberry Serving Suggestions and Recipes


TIPS FOR MAKING THE BEST OF YOUR

PERFECT STRAWBERRIES

I most frequently eat my strawberries for breakfast, picking the handful or so that have ripened each day.  I know you won’t believe me when I say that I actually think the light acidity of yogurt is preferable to cream with strawberries, but if the yogurt is really good and creamy – say Brown Cow Organic’s Vanilla, then it really does taste good.

Strawberries and Cream are however the British way, and in the form of jam, with clotted cream and scones, this in indeed a winning combination.  The Italians on the other hand favour squeezing over a little lemon juice and then a sprinkling of sugar before leaving to macerate for no more than half an hour.  Some acidity really does help bring out the flavour whilst cream can deaden the palate.

The following recipe for Strawberries with Syllabub manages to combine the two cultures.  The cream is flavoured with lemon, both juice and zest, together with a good glug of sherry.  It is the original topping for trifles, very British, and I’ve never yet come across anyone who didn’t love it.  It also helps stretch a relative small quantity of strawberries – an ideal dessert for serving to large crowds.

Before moving on to the recipe just a couple more tips – strawberries taste best when eaten warm from the sun, if you can’t achieve this please at least try not to refrigerate them.  A cool larder is better.  If you are picking your own and you need them to keep for a day, pick them with a short length of stem still attached.

STRAWBERRIES WITH SYLLABUB

Serves 6

12 oz strawberries

½ pint double cream

4 oz caster sugar

finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsps medium dry sherry

Put the creams, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and sherry into a mixing bowl.  Beat well until the cream is thick.

Slice the strawberries into 6 serving glasses, reserving 3 for decoration.

Spoon the syllabub onto the strawberries and chill for several hours.

Top each glass with half a strawberry and serve with shortbread fingers – Lavender, Rose or Almond shortbread are my favoured flavourings for this.

WHOLE STRAWBERRY CONSERVE

Our tastings have looked also at the subject of strawberry jam – it’s a very serious business you know!  I’m not a great jam lover, but there are just two flavours that my larder must contain – strawberry for scones and apricot for the occasional continental breakfast.

Making jam is the best way of preserving strawberries and if you have visited a pick-your-own you will almost certainly want to do this.  It has to be admitted though that whilst jam suits strawberries, strawberries are not the ideal fruit for making jam – too little pectin.  Don’t expect a firm set or, if you must have this, be prepared to add pectin.  Always pick the fruit on a dry day and, for jam, they are better just slightly under-ripe.  A conserve has whole fruit in it, but you’d be hard pressed to fit more than half a dozen of today’s whoppers in a jar.  Commercially Wilkins and Sons Ltd have continued growing Little Scarlet (Fragaria virginiana) for their conserve.  The plant was originally brought back to the UK from America, where it grew wild, by C J Wilkin in the 1900’s and it has been cultivated by the company every since.  You can still buy their conserve, which is very nice if a bit too firmly set for my preference.  My recipe however borrows from their idea of using whole small strawberries, wild or alpine, in a conserve made with standard sized strawberries.  It is a good use for wild strawberries, which grow like a weed in my garden, but never yield enough to do much with.

Makes about 6 lb

2 kg strawberries + as many wild or alpine strawberries as you can muster (probably just a couple of handfuls, I use some of my Mara des Bois for this)

1.5 kg granulated sugar

The juice of 2 large lemons

A handful of redcurrants or gooseberries if you have them will help the set.

Put the whole small strawberries in a dish and sprinkle with sufficient of the sugar for them all to get a good coating.  The sugar will begin to draw the juices out of the fruit, firming them up and helping them to stay whole in the preserve.  Do this several hours ahead of making the jam if you can.

Wash the jars and then sterilise by first rinsing them with boiling water (wear rubber gloves whilst you do this) then place the empty but hot jars in an oven preheated to 120˚C.

Mash the 2 kg of ordinary strawberries, plus redcurrants or gooseberries if you are using them, with the remainder of the sugar in a preserving pan.  Place over a gentle heat until all of the sugar has dissolved.  Now add the whole strawberries, together with their juices and any un-dissolved sugar.  Stir very gently until the rest of the sugar has dissolved but take care not to break up the whole strawberries.

Now add the lemon juice, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a rolling boil.  Continue boiling until the temperature reaches 104˚C on a jam thermometer; this will take between 8 and 12 minutes.   If you do not have a thermometer cook the jam for the full 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in a small knob of butter to help disperse any scum and leave for 5 minutes to allow the fruit to settle, otherwise all of the whole fruit will rise to the top.  Pour into the hot, dry jars and seal immediately with new lids.

Mint Recipes

Tabbouleh

TABBOULEH

Tabbouleh comes from Lebanon where it is often served with fresh young vine leaves which are used to scoop up the salad. Cos lettuce leaves make a good alternative “bed” for the salad. The proportion of herbs to cracked wheat (Bulghur or Bulgar) is, in Lebanon, usually higher than that given below, so the overall colour is green flecked with white.  In Britain we are less used to eating herbs in such abundance, and may even find such quantities hard to come by, but do feel free to vary the proportions given below.

4 oz Bulgar wheat

1 bunch of spring onions

4 handfuls of chopped flat leaf parsley

1 handful of chopped Morrocan mint

Salt and pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil

Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl and cover it by about an inch with cold water.  Leave to soak for three quarters of an hour and then drain off any excess liquid.

Make a dressing by shaking or whisking together the lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil.  Pour this over the drained wheat, cover and leave in the refrigerator for half an hour for the wheat to absorb the dressing.

Add the chopped spring onions and herbs and mix thoroughly before serving.

TZATZIKI

1 large pot (500g) Greek strained yogurt (or strain natural yogurt)

1 small cucumber

1 clove garlic

Morrocan mint (a good handful)

For the best results the yogurt you use should be really thick.  You can achieve this by turning it out into muslin and suspending this over a bowl in the fridge overnight.  Make sure there is a good space beneath the muslin, as a surprising amount of whey will drain off.

The cucumber also needs to be as dry as possible, but do not add salt, as this reacts with the yogurt and makes it go lumpy.  Instead, grate it into a sieve and leave it to drain for at least 10 minutes, and then dry it in kitchen paper.

Chop the garlic very finely and mix it with the yogurt, cucumber and chopped mint to taste.

Serve with pitta bread.

FRESH PEA & MINT SOUP

You see many recipes for this soup made with frozen peas.  Frozen peas are not a bad standby vegetable, but they do contain additives, some to maintain the colour, others to help the frozen peas flow freely from the pack – my husband gets an allergic reaction, especially if the cooking liquor is used.  When fresh peas are really fresh they are a fantastic revelation to people who have only ever eaten frozen.  The difficulty is in buying them really fresh.  Obviously a supermarket is no good, the transportation time is simply too long as the natural sugars begin to turn to starch the moment the peas are picked.  I like to pick peas at pick-your-own farms – but frustratingly my local one doesn’t let you on to them until the pods are overfull and past their tender best.  The Farmer’s Market is now the best option if you don’t grow your own.  I once ate this soup in Italy garnished with drops of Balsamic vinegar so thick they were like honey – both in consistency and almost in taste.  It made me realise what all the fuss about Balsamic Vinegar was about – buy the most aged you can afford and treat it like the nectar that it is.

Serves 6

3 tbsp olive oil

2 bunches of spring onions

1½ pints chicken stock

1¾ lb fresh peas (shelled weight – buy at least double this weight)

1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint plus 1 sprig

pinch of sugar

salt and pepper

¾ pint double cream

handful of wild rocket and best aged Balsamic Vinegar for serving

Chop the onions and cook them gently in the olive oil until they are soft but not at all coloured.

Add the stock and bring it up to boiling point then add the peas and a sprig of mint.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until the peas are very soft.

Remove the sprig of mint and replace it with the chopped fresh mint.

Liquidise the soup then pass it through a sieve to ensure it is really smooth.

Add up to half a pint of cream and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little sugar.

The soup can be served chilled or re-heated.  If re-heating do not allow the soup to boil or it will lose its fresh colour.  Add a swirl of cream to each bowl before serving and top with a few fresh wild rocket leaves and drops of aged Balsamic Vinegar.

MINT SAUCE

There’s very little to making this so why anyone would buy it I don’t know.  I don’t feel the need for it in winter when there is no fresh mint, but if you do I would suggest Mint Jelly is a better option.

To make your own sauce: heat some decent wine or cider vinegar in a small pan.  Add a teaspoonful of sugar.  Chop the mint reasonably finely and add to the hot vinegar.  Remove immediately from the heat and leave to infuse and cool down.  Taste before serving, if you think the vinegar is too strong you can add a splash of water.

BLACK MITCHAM PEPPERMINT SORBET

8 oz/225g sugar

1¼ pints/700ml water

A handful of Black Mitcham Peppermint leaves (about a dozen tops)

1 egg white (optional – see method below)

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and begin to heat.  Stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.  Now turn up the heat until the liquid comes to the boil and continue boiling for 10 minutes, by which time it should be a light syrup.

Roughly chop or crush the peppermint to release the oils.  Add to the syrup and leave to infuse.  When it is cool, remove the mint and refrigerate the mint syrup until it is completely chilled.

You can freeze this syrup just as it is, but you either need an ice-cream maker to produce a good texture or I would recommend using the egg white and following the instructions below.  I know many chefs will throw up their hands in horror at this suggestion – a more acceptable way of preventing the mixture from freezing solid is to add a teaspoonful of glycerine.  What the egg white will do is make the sorbet lighter, both in texture and taste, and I find that without it the sorbet is very powerful in flavour.  So if you are not using the egg white serve only the tiniest portions or use fewer mint leaves.

Part freeze the mixture, either in an ice cream maker or your freezer, and then add the egg white, whisked well but not as far as soft peaks.  If you have an ice cream machine you can just tip it in whilst the mixture is churning and the machine will incorporate it for you.  If you are dependent on just the freezer, fold the whisked egg white in with a spoon – it will be difficult to get it evenly incorporated, but after another half an hour or so of freezing, turn the whole lot into a food processor and whizz up briefly.  Return to the freezer to complete the freezing.

FRESH PEPPERMINT TRUFFLES

Makes about 20

130 ml double cream

1 tbsp chopped Mitcham Black Peppermint leaves

200 g good dark chocolate (one you would like to eat!) in small pieces

2 tbsp cocoa powder

Heat the cream in a small pan just to boiling point.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped peppermint leaves.  Leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

Strain the cream into a clean pan, slightly larger than the first, to remove the mint leaves.  Put the pan back on a very gentle heat and stir in the chocolate pieces with a wooden spoon.  As soon as all the chocolate has melted place the pan in a bowl of iced water and continue stirring as the mixture cools and thickens.  When it is sufficiently cool to hold its form, place teaspoonfuls of the mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with a second sheet of paper and place in the freezer for about half an hour to set more firmly.

Remove the top sheet of paper and sieve half of the cocoa powder onto this.  Sieve the other half over the truffles the turn them onto the other sheet of paper so that the bottoms are now also coated in cocoa.  Use the palm of your hand to gently roll them into a ball.  Don’t spend too long on this as the chocolate soon melts and it all gets rather messy, to me it doesn’t matter if the truffles are rather roughly shaped.

Store in a container in the fridge and eat within a week.

The Home Dairy

Making dairy products is not an activity often carried out in today’s homes, but the dairy was once commonplace in even fairly small households.  In some districts a milk cow formed part of a labourer’s wages, on loan until it ran dry.  A goat was often also kept, in part to cover the cow’s dry period, and so part of the housewife’s duties would be to turn some of the milk into cream, butter and even simple cheeses.

Pasteurisation has interfered with many of the natural processes, killing as it does both good and bad bacteria, so that now the required cultures have to be deliberately reintroduced to make sour cream, yoghurt and buttermilk.  But for those with access to raw milk it is useful to learn the traditional dairy skills, in part so that the knowledge does not die out, but also so that none of the precious milk is wasted.

Dairies were separate from the main kitchen for a couple of reasons, mainly cleanliness and temperature.  Both are still important, although refrigerators are now available for cold store, but the need for absolute cleanliness is still paramount.  All equipment should be sterilised with boiling water before use.

Raw Milk in the Kitchen

Storing Milk

I prefer milk from glass bottles to that from plastic or cardboard cartons, but, unless there is a system for re-using the bottles, glass is not always economically viable.  You can decant the milk, Hook and Son sell the traditional glass bottles to do this, or you can use a milk jug but it should be kept covered to prevent bacteria entering.  Whatever vessel it is stored in, the milk should be returned to the fridge as soon as you have finished using it, and not poured back into the bottle.  The lactobactilli will slowly make lactic acid in the fridge, but the milk should still be perfectly pleasant to drink at the end of a week.

Separating the Milk

The cream in raw milk, which has not been homogenised, will naturally rise to the top.  You can temporarily mix it by upending the bottle before pouring, but most people tend to prefer the cream on their cereal and semi-skimmed milk in tea.  To pour the semi-skimmed portion of the milk I use a jug that was actually designed to separate the fat from gravy but that I keep specifically for milk.  You can see it here:

http://www.wilcockandsons.co.uk/p67514/Gravy-Fat-Separator/

The beauty of this jug (the smaller one being preferable for milk) is that you can pour from either end, one pours from a spout rising from the base, and the other end will pour from the top.  The only disadvantage is that the surface area is larger than I would ideally choose, and cling film seems to be the only cover that will fit.

Sour Milk and Buttermilk

 At the end of a week don’t throw away any leftover milk.  You should notice that, unlike pasteurised milk, the smell is pleasantly tangy rather than “off”.   Cream will have become Crème Fraiche.

 If you remove the milk from the fridge and stand it a room temperature the lactobacilli will multiply more rapidly, eventually causing the milk to curdle.  Scientifically what is happening is that the casein micelles are becoming destabilised, causing them to form a network that partially immobilises the water and traps the fat globules in a newly formed matrix, meanwhile the whey proteins remain in suspension.  This naturally soured milk (sometimes called Clabbered) has been appreciated in many northern European cultures for centuries, only to disappear with pasteurisation.  Cooks took advantage of the acidity in baking – when mixed with an alkaline substance, usually baking soda, it creates carbon dioxide lightening the mixture.  Most housewives kept sour milk for this purpose – in Britain Scones were the classic use and for me I think it an essential ingredient – try the recipe below and see for yourself.  In Ireland the bread itself relied upon this reaction for leavening.   The terms Sour Milk and Buttermilk are often used interchangeably, although buttermilk was the residue left from buttermaking (see below) and thus of a slightly different composition chemically.  However both are high enough in acidity to use them interchangeably in baking.

Making Curd Cheese

 

If you have a larger quantity of sour milk (say a litre or more) you might want to make a simple fresh curd cheese.

There is often confusion about the difference between “curd cheese” and “cream cheese” or even “cottage cheese”.  Although there are differences, mostly in terms of fat content of the milk or cream originally used and the final texture, they are all essentially made in a similar manner – by draining the curds to produce a fresh cheese for eating within a matter of days.

A litre of milk will make about 225g/8oz of cheese.      As already mentioned the naturally occurring lactobacilli will eventually cause curdling but there are different ways in which this destabilisation can be achieved.  In most cheesemaking, and certainly where the milk has been pasteurised, enzymes (usually rennet – naturally present in a calf’s stomach) are added.  Lowering the pH value of the milk, i.e. making it more acidic, with acids such as lemon juice or vinegar will also result in casein micelle aggregation but will also reduce the calcium content.  Acid curd is more fragile than rennet curd, but in a cheese that is to be eaten fresh this is not a great problem.  A third method is by heating, which causes the denaturation of whey proteins, which then interact with the caseins.  In rennet coagulation only 76-78% of the protein is recovered, whereas a combination of heat and acid can recover up to 90% of the proteins.  This is how Ricotta is made from the whey that is left over after making Pecorino.  Ricotta literally means “re-cooked”.   I have watched the process at a very small farm in the Garfagnana and been offered the freshly made ricotta to eat whilst still warm.  It is something of an acquired taste, but when you consider how much ricotta is imported into this country I wonder why British producers of ewe’s milk cheeses don’t utilise the whey.

Here are some pictures from a food tour in Italy – you can still book places for this year at  http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/

Artisan cheesemaking in the Garfagnana
Fresh Ricotta

Curd Cheese Recipe

Whether souring naturally or with an additive, the milk should be poured into a sterilised wide bowl (so that the surface area is greater) and then covered with a clean cloth.  Yogurt is the slowest acting additive – use a tablespoonful per pint of milk, and wait until the next day.  Lemon juice or white wine vinegar will react more quickly, you need only a teaspoon to each pint of milk and, depending upon how sour the milk was already, it may separate into curds and whey in only a few hours.  The Indian curd cheese Paneer is always made by souring with lemon juice – it is delicious and since I usually have lemon juice to hand this is the method I normally use.

Rennet is commercially prepared for different purposes.  That which is widely sold in supermarkets is less concentrated than that used for cheese (it is intended for Junket).  It will work but slowly.  If you want to make cheese with rennet – and this is essential if you want to age it or are using pasteurised milk – you can buy non-GM animal rennet via www.cheesemaking.co.uk.  There are alternatives to animal rennet, some natural plant extracts e.g. from cardoons, others synthetic chemical compounds, but all of them impart a bitter after taste and I would strongly recommend traditional animal rennet.

Cutting Curd

When the curds have separated from the whey you should be able to slice through them with a knife.  Place a colander on top of a bowl, line it with muslin, and spoon the curds into it with a slotted spoon.  Cover and leave to drain overnight.  In the morning gather up the corners of the muslin and tie them to make a bundle which you can then suspend over the colander to drain further – the longer you leave it to drain the firmer it will become.   You can then mix it with salt and herbs to eat as a savoury cheese or dip or, if you want it to be sweeter, mix it with a little cream or butter.

Whey

 

Whey is the liquid drained away from the curds – it looks like barley water.  Its flavour is mildly sour but the exact nature depends on the method used for forming the curds from which it has drained.  As mentioned above, if the curds were formed by the action of rennet, there will still be in the region of 22-24% protein remaining within the whey.  Most of these solids can be recovered by heating – the method by which Ricotta is made.  Butter was also made from whey, although considered of lesser quality than butter made from sweet milk or cream.  The small quantity of whey available in a domestic kitchen makes it unlikely that either of these options will be viable, but rather than waste the whey, it can be used in place of water in making bread.

Butter

Butter and Buttermilk
Churning Butter in a Jar

Buttermilk is similar to whey in that it is a low fat liquid by-product, but this time of making butter.  Butter making extracts the fat globules from cream or milk by churning.  You can try this yourself simply by shaking cream or top of the milk in a jar.  Sometimes it happens accidentally when whipping cream – if you overwhip the fat will separate.  Rather than throwing this away as an expensive mistake, continue whipping until the mixture resembles scrambled eggs.  Drain the buttermilk from the fat solids in a muslin lined sieve, then beat the mixture again for 30 – 60 seconds to expel more butter milk.  Now fill a bowl with ice cold water put the butter in and wash out more buttermilk by kneading the butter on a board with your bare hands or pre-soaked wooden butter bats.  Repeat the process until the water is clear. 

Butter making does not actually use a souring agent, but the incorporation of air seems to sour the cream anyway, at least when the cream is unpasteurised, as the buttermilk by-product is indeed slightly, and pleasantly, sour.  It has traditionally been used for baking because the sourness reacts with alkaline ingredients (such as baking soda) to create carbon-dioxide and so aid the rise.  Whey, whilst not as rich, can be used in a similar manner.  Pasteurisation prevents the souring and so commercial buttermilk is now made by adding a culture.

Further Recipes Using Your Dairy Products

 

SCONES

 

Scones should never be made in advance, but eaten before they are cold.  They are very quick to make, but if you want to prepare in advance, you can go as far as rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients, and then add the egg and buttermilk when you are ready to bake them.

8 oz plain flour

½ level tsp. salt

½ level tsp. bicarbonate of soda

½ level tsp. cream of tartar

1-2 tbsps. caster sugar

1½ oz butter

1 egg, beaten

5 tbsps. Sour milk or buttermilk

beaten egg or milk to glaze (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 230C/Gas Mark 8.

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add sufficient egg and buttermilk to make a fairly soft dough.  Gently roll or pat the dough out to a thickness of about 2cm/¾”.  Cut with a sharp knife of cutter (do not twist the cutter or this will cause uneven rising).  Brush with beaten egg or milk if you like a glazed top.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until brown and well-risen.  Serve immediately.

BROWN SODA BREAD

 

The wheat that grows in Ireland is a very soft wheat which does not make is suitable for the yeast leavened breads eaten throughout the rest of the UK.  Instead they made a “bread” using bicarbonate of soda to lighten it.  The technique is entirely different to yeasted bread, and has far more in common with the making of scones.  The less the dough is handled the better, it is just a matter of combining the ingredients.

10 oz stone-ground wholemeal flour

10 oz plain white flour

1 rounded teaspoon salt

1 rounded teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

¾ pint buttermilk (or sour milk)

optional: a handful of fine stone-ground oatmeal can be added.  An egg makes a richer dough.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas Mark 8

Sift the white flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl.  Add the wholemeal flour and mix well.

Make a well in the centre and add most of the buttermilk or sour milk all in one go.  Working from the centre, mix with you hand to bring in all the flour adding the rest of the buttermilk if required.  The dough should be soft but not sticky.

Turn out onto a floured board and lightly shape into a round.  Flatten slightly (to about 2″ deep.  Put onto a baking sheet, mark with a deep cross, and bake in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and cook for a further 20-25 minutes until the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Cheesecake

Cheesecakes, in one form or another, are one of the earliest types of sweet pudding, the earliest recorded being served at the first ever Olympics in Greece in 776 BC.   Most countries have a version.  In the UK, the Countess of Leicester’s account book for 1265 record the purchase of considerable amounts of soft cheese for tarts.  The cheese was pounded with egg yolks, ginger, cinnamon and sugar to make a filling.  By the 17th century cheesecakes were made all over Britain, although the recipes varied tremendously (some even omitted cheese despite keeping the name).   Here is one from Hannah Wolley, written in 1664:

Set some Cream over the Fire, and turn it with Sack and Eggs then drain it well and season it well with Rose-water and Sugar and Eggs, Spice, Currants and a few spoonfuls of Cream and put it into your Crust, adding a little Salt and so bake them.

Eventually the Curd Tart became synonymous with Yorkshire – it was always made in a shortcrust pastry case and the filling used curd (rather than full cream) cheese.

The revival of interest in cheesecakes in the 20th century owes more to their popularity in America than their historic importance here, although as with much American baking, it may well have introduced by British settlers.  Full fat cream cheese is essential to the famous New York version.  By the time it had travelled back across the Atlantic the base was made of crushed biscuits and it was often, but not always, topped with fruit.  Unbaked versions also became popular.  So once again there are a number of desserts made in the UK that go by the name Cheesecake.

Honey and Saffron Cheesecake

The filling for this cheesecake uses flavourings that would have been popular in 17th century Britain, when cheesecakes first became widely made.  For authenticity it would be made with a shortcrust pastry case.  This is where I, not being a great fan of shortcrust pastry, depart from authenticity.  A modern biscuit base is more to my liking, provided it is made with good biscuits.  A biscuit base also has the advantages of being quicker and simpler to make and can, if you wish, be flavoured with spices, such as nutmeg, that also would have been popular in the 17th century.  You can see how all the variations arose!

For an 8”/20cm diameter, deep cake tin

Crumb base:

250 g/9 oz good digestive biscuits, crushed

½ tsp ground nutmeg

55g/2 oz butter

Filling:

3 oz sultanas

4 tbsps sweet sherry

450g/1lb cream or curd cheese (cream cheese will make a richer filling)

125g/5 fl oz sour cream

Good pinch of Saffron

4 eggs

4 tbsps of honey

2 tbsps sugar

Soak the sultanas in the sherry for at least 2 hours.  At the same time, heat the sour cream with the strands of saffron and leave to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Gas Mark 4. 

Melt the butter then add the biscuit crumbs and nutmeg.  Press into the base of the cake tin and then place in the refrigerator to cool whilst you make the filling.

Cream together the cheese, eggs, honey, sugar and sour cream.  Stir in the sultanas, you can include any sherry that has not been absorbed.  Spoon the filling over the biscuit crumb base.  The sultanas will probably all sink to the bottom, but this doesn’t matter.

Place a circle of cardboard or thick brown paper over the top of the tin to prevent the filling from browning.  Cook for 50 minutes then turn off the heat and leave in the oven for a further 10 minutes.  At the end of this time the filling should do no more than wobble slightly.

Leave to cool in the tin then, when completely cold, cover and refrigerate overnight.  The flavours develop up considerably over time but you should remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator about an hour before serving.