Slow Fermented Bread Recipes

Hot Cross Buns

All of the following recipes use the “Sponge and Dough” method described in the Food Culture Article Take Time to make Good Bread.  This may also be combined with cool overnight fermentation.


First class ingredients will make your homemade Hot Cross Buns better than any you have ever bought.  It really makes a difference to hand cut candied peel and grind spices just before using rather than buying ready prepared alternatives.  Likewise use organic stoneground flour if you can – it will give the buns more character, flavour and texture.  White stoneground flour is harder to come by than wholemeal so, if you can only find industrial roller-milled white flour, mixing it with a proportion of stoneground wholemeal flour is a good alternative.

Fresh yeast gives the best results, but if you are unable to find it, try to buy traditional dried yeast, such as that made by Allinsons, rather than “easy-blend” or “fast acting” alternatives, which include flour improvers.  Use half the quantity of dried yeast to fresh, and halve this again if you have to resort to an easy blend version.

Note that the ferment needs to be made a day in advance.

Makes 16

The Ferment:

140g strong white flour

20g fresh yeast

150ml water

The Dough:


310g stoneground strong white flour (or use 170g industrial white mixed with 140g stoneground wholemeal)

1 tsp salt

3 tsp mixed spice *¹

55g light muscovado sugar

55g butter, melted

1 egg, beaten

125ml milk

85g hand chopped candied lemon peel

85g sultanas

For the crosses:


50g plain white household flour

Pinch of baking powder

40 – 50ml water

1 tsp vegetable oil

For the glaze:

1 egg

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp boiling water

Mix up the ferment 12-18 hours before you want to make the hot cross buns.  Heat the water until it feels lukewarm to the touch then stir into the fresh yeast until it is smoothly blended.  Mix this liquid into the flour, cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a cool place to rise and drop again.

When you are ready to make the dough, mix together the flours, salt, sugar and spice then create a well in the centre.  Melt the butter and pour it into the well together with the beaten egg and 4 fl oz of milk.  Stir the liquid with your hand, gradually drawing in some of flour mixture.  When the centre is no longer liquid add the ferment from the day before and begin to knead to create a homogenous mixture.  Absorption rates vary from flour to flour so be prepared to add more water or flour to get the right consistency – quite moist but manageable.   It will take the yeast a little while to recover from these additions, so it pays to cover the dough and let it rest for half an hour or so before kneading in earnest.  Whilst the dough is resting you can chop the peel and, if you like, pour a couple of tablespoons of sweet sherry over the sultanas to plump them.

Once the dough is smooth and elastic, stretch it out, as far as it will go without tearing, into a rectangular shape.  Scatter the chopped peel over the dough and then fold the bottom third over, followed by the top third.  Now give the dough a quarter turn and stretch it out again.  This time scatter with the sultanas (minus any excess soaking liquid) and repeat the folding process.  Put the dough into a large bowl, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place, such as an airing cupboard, until the dough has doubled in size.  This will take about 2 hours at this temperature or see note*2 below for overnight fermentation.

Briefly knead the dough to knock out the air and then divide it into 4.  Further divide each quarter into four and shape each piece into a ball.  Place these onto greased baking sheets allowing a gap approximately the same size as each ball between them for the dough to rise.   It doesn’t matter if the buns just touch as they cook.  Cover and put back in a warm place for the dough to rise again, which this time will take about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients to make the crosses.  The mixture should be quite firm but just runny enough to pipe.  Put the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a broad plain nozzle.  Pre-heat the oven to 210ºC/190ºC (fan ovens)/Gas Mark 5.

Pipe a cross over each risen bun.  Put the buns into the oven and turn the heat up to 220ºC/200ºC (fan ovens)/Gas Mark 6.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden in colour.  Whilst the buns are baking mix together the ingredients for the glaze and brush over the buns immediately they are removed from the oven.


*¹ Mixed Spice is a blend of predominantly sweet spices that used to be known as Pudding Spice.  The exact blend varies but almost always includes cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  Other additions might include: coriander seeds, allspice berries and ginger, these latter two providing heat as well as flavour.  Elizabeth David recommends: two parts nutmeg, two parts white or black peppercorns (or substitute allspice berries for a milder blend), one part cinnamon bark, one part whole cloves, one part dried ginger root.  She further notes…To this mixture a fraction of freshly ground cumin seed can be added.  This is particularly successful for Hot Cross Buns.

*² If this rising time is inconvenient, for example if you wish to eat the buns in the morning, the dough can be put in a cold place to rise overnight.  The second rising, after the buns have been shaped, should be in a warm place and slightly longer should be allowed for the dough to warm up and begin to rise.


This recipe is from Paul Merry’s Traditional British bread making course, which he runs from his cookery school Panary .  It is based at Cann Mills, near Shaftesbury in Dorset, from where I buy all my stoneground flour.  For further detail see or email Paul at

Paul Merry

Many traditional British loaves were based on this dough, the main differences being down to shape, which might, for example, give more or less crust.  On Paul’s course we made a Cottage Loaf from the same dough, using two thirds to form the base with the remaining third, also shaped into a ball, secured to the base by pushing a floured finger right through the middle.

First Stage – The Overnight Sponge

450g/1 lb strong white bread flour

300ml/½ pint cool or luke warm water  (depending on ambient temperature)

15g fresh yeast (note: I find 10g quite sufficient, or 5g traditional dried yeast – SW)

Disperse the yeast in the water and then mix in the flour.  Mix thoroughly then knead briefly.  Cover the bowl with a cloth or plastic sheet, ensuring there is plenty of room for the dough to expand.  Leave overnight at room temperature.   NB Overnight is a minimum of 6 hours, if more than 12 or if the weather is very hot, half the salt from the second stage can be included to slow down the fermentation.

Second Stage – The Bulk Fermentation

450g/1lb strong white flour

15-20g salt

250 – 300 ml/ approx ½pint water

The overnight sponge

Add the flour and salt to the overnight sponge together with sufficient water to bring it all together.  Knead vigorously to develop the gluten in the fresh flour.

The maturity of the overnight dough will ensure that the yeast works on the fresh flour of the second stage surprisingly quickly, and if the dough has finished reasonably warm it will probably only require about 1½ hours for its bulk rise.  Allow 2-3 hours to prove if the dough has finished cold.  To test whether it is properly proved and ready for the next stage, gently poke the dough with a floury finger tip.  If the cavity you make stays then it is ready, if it closes over as you withdraw your finger then it needs more time to mature.

Third Stage – Shaping and Final Proof

When you are satisfied that it has matured fully, shape the dough into one huge long loaf or two smaller ones.  The rounded ends are important to the look of a London Bloomer.  Place the loaves on a baking tray or, if you are baking them on a hot earthenware tile (which would be more authentic) prove them in floured cloths.  Once shaped the final proof will take about an hour.

Just before the loaves go into the oven (preheated to 220˚C/Gas Mark 7) make a dozen diagonal cuts across the loaf’s back.  Bake for about 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the loaves and the heat of the oven but the loaves should be well baked with a thick and crunchy crust.

©Paul Merry

Spelt Recipes


Use this recipe as a basic template, the vegetables and flavouring ingredients are infinitely variable.

25g butter

1 onion

2 leeks

Clove of garlic, crushed

Bunch of wild garlic leaves

160g pearled spelt

Approx. 500 ml chicken stock

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan. Add the chopped onion, leeks and garlic, season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and sweat gently for 5 minutes. Meanwhile bring the chicken stock up to simmering point in another pan.

Add the pearled spelt to the vegetables and stir in enough stock to cover. Leave the pan open whilst this stock simmers away, stirring every now again to prevent the spelt sticking. Add more stock whenever the mixture is getting a bit dry. Begin tasting the spelt after about 15 minutes – it usually takes about 20 minutes to reach the right consistency – soft but still with plenty of substance. Wash and chop the wild garlic and add towards the end of the cooking time.


Frumenty predates the invention of an enclosed oven, but having made the traditional recipe, the similarity with rice pudding occurred to me and also that this would be a much easier method. I tried it, and personally prefer it made this way.

50 g pearled spelt

75g sultanas

1 tbsp caster sugar

500 ml good creamy milk

Cinnamon (or saffron)

Cream for serving

Butter an ovenproof baking dish, ideally one that has a lid but foil can be used instead. Put the rest of the ingredients into the dish, stir and cover. Place in a low oven (120̊ C) and cook for several hours until the milk has been absorbed. Serve with additional cream.




Makes 16-18 ravioli

200 g refined spelt flour

2-3 eggs (depending on size and absorbency of the flour)

Carrier bag loosely filled with young nettle tops



Clove of garlic, finely chopped

200 g ricotta

2 tbsps of grated parmesan cheese (plus extra for serving)

Salt and pepper

Make your pasta dough several hours in advance; the dough will stretch more easily for having rested.

It may be frowned upon in Italy, but I usually make my pasta dough in a food processor and can judge the right consistency by when it begins to come together in a ball. Put your flour into the food processor and crack in two whole eggs. Process, and at this stage the mixture will probably form crumbs. Separate the third egg and add the yolk. Process again. If the mixture has still not formed a ball, lightly whisk the white, to break it up so that you can add a little at a time, and do so until the mixture forms a ball around the blade. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it briefly on a worktop. Put the bowl in a plastic bag and rest it in the refrigerator for several hours (up to a day).

Wash the nettle tops in a sink full of cold water. Lift the nettles out into a colander, leaving any grass or other debris behind. Place the colander in the sink. Boil a kettle of water and pour it over the nettles to remove their sting and wilt the leaves. Refresh by running briefly under cold water. Drain using the back of a wooden spoon to press out excess liquid.

Heat a mixture of oil and butter in a frying pan. Add the drained nettle tops and cook for a minute then add the chopped garlic. Cook for a further minute, leave to cool slightly, and then transfer to a food processor. Process until the nettles finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ricotta and parmesan cheese and process again to blend smoothly.

Roll the pasta dough into sheets about 10 cm wide. Place teaspoonfuls of the filling in a line along one (the shorter) sheet leaving a gap about the width of two fingers between each spoonful. Dampen a circle of the dough around each pile of filling. Lay a longer sheet of pasta dough on top of the first using your cupped finger to form a seal around the filling taking care not to create an air bubble as you do so. Cut around each raviolo (you can use a pastry cutter, knife or scissors). Now take each raviolo and seal firmly between your thumb and forefinger. This is another opportunity to check for air bubbles, which you should be able to expel before sealing firmly.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a rolling boil. Meanwhile melt some butter in a saucepan to serve as a sauce. Drop the ravioli into the boiling water. You will probably need to cook them in two batches, removing the first with a slotted spoon when cooked, but they take only a few minutes. The ravioli are cooked when they have all risen to the surface. Drain, but only briefly, before turning in the melted butter.

Season with freshly cracked black pepper and Parmesan cheese before serving.




Overnight Sponge:

10g fresh yeast (or 5g traditional dried yeast)

300 ml water

500g refined white spelt flour

Blend the yeast in the water then stir in the flour. Cover the bowl and leave at room temperature overnight.


20g sea salt

300 ml warm water

500g wholemeal spelt flour

Overnight sponge (see above)

50g butter

Needles from a 10 cm length of fresh Rosemary

50g raisins

Begin by melting the butter and infusing it with the chopped rosemary needles.

Dissolve the salt in the warm water and then stir in the flour. Add the overnight sponge mixture and melted butter/rosemary. Knead together to make a smooth dough, adding more water if required.

When the dough is smooth and elastic, stretch it out into a large oblong (as large as it will go without tearing). Sprinkle the raisins evenly across the dough and then fold one-third of the dough over, followed by the other side so that the raisins are enclosed. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the stretching and folding. This will incorporate the raisins more easily than kneading as well as giving the gluten in the dough a good stretch. Fold the dough into thirds a final time before placing in a bowl, covering and leaving in a warm place to prove for about 1½-2 hours.

Shape into two small loaves or 16 individual rolls. Push any extruding raisins back under the surface or they will burn during cooking.

Heat the oven to 220˚C whilst the loaves or rolls rise again.

Rolls will bake in only 10-15 minutes, for loaves the oven temperature should be reduced to 180˚C after this time and the bread baked for a further quarter of an hour.

©Suzanne Wynn

Meat-Free anchovy recipes




Simple Scotch Woodcock

The name of this dish illustrates how well anchovies stand in for meat – no woodcock are involved, just eggs and anchovy paste.  It is a classic Edwardian Savoury – a dish that would have been served before (or instead of) dessert.  Today we would be more likely to eat it for breakfast or brunch. Instead of making a spread with butter, anchovies and capers I find Gentleman’s Relish is perfectly adequate. However, I would find it worthwhile to use English Muffins rather than ordinary toast.  Spread the split and toasted muffins with Gentleman’s Relish, top them with scrambled eggs and garnish with two crossed anchovies.


Gentleman’s Relish is also handy for making hors d’oeuvres like Palmiers to serve with drinks.  Simply spread Gentleman’s Relish on one half of rolled, good quality, bought puff pastry.  Fold the un-spread half over and roll again to the original dimensions.  Starting from one of the long edges, roll the pastry up tightly to the centre and then repeat on the other side. Rolling the pastry in its original paper makes this easier.  Wrap the roll in cling film and chill for an hour.

Cut the pastry roll into slices nearly 1 cm thick.  Lay them flat on a lined baking tray.

Cook at 200° C until puffed and golden – about 12 minutes.

Sage and Anchovy Fritters

This recipe comes from Franco Taruschio.

24 large sage leaves (at their best in June)

12 anchovy fillets preserved in oil

1 egg

150g plain flour

2-3 tbsp white wine

1 tbsp olive oil

Oil for deep-frying

Rinse the sage leaves and dry thoroughly.  Lay the anchovy fillets on kitchen paper to remove excess oil.

Make a batter with the remaining ingredients and leave to stand for an hour.

Sandwich each anchovy fillet between two sage leaves and secure with a cocktail stick.  Dip into the batter and fry until golden brown.

Serve hot with aperitifs.

Lettuce and Anchovy

This is so simple it can hardly be called a recipe.  It is a Spanish Tapas – just very fresh crisp lettuce, quartered Little Gems hearts are perfect, each quarter enveloping an anchovy.


This Provençal dish originally had a bread base, like a pizza, and is sometimes claimed to be the for-runner.  It now often has a puff pastry base.  Personally I much prefer the bread base, hence the recipe below, but I do see that bought puff pastry provides a quick and easy alternative.  The topping is also sometimes varied, for example I have seen slices of tomato included.  At this point I think we are missing the simplicity of the dish – the topping should consist of plenty of slowly cooked onions, with a lattice formed by anchovies and a black olive punctuating each of the diamonds formed by the anchovy lattice. – “Simples”!

1 kg onions

50g butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed


jar anchovy fillets, cut in half lengthwise

24 black niçoise olives

Bread dough:

10g fresh yeast

10g sea salt (preferably Maldon)

375g strong flour

225ml tepid water

2 tbsp. olive oil

Peel and halve the onions then slice them thinly.  Melt the butter in a large oven proof pan.  Turn the onion slices in the melted butter until they are all coated.  Add the crushed garlic and some fresh thyme leaves.  Cover and cook in a low oven (120°C) for a couple of hours until very soft.  Remove the pan from the oven and place over a higher heat to drive off any remaining liquid and lightly caramelise.  Leave to cool.

To make the bread, stir the yeast into the tepid water, then add the olive oil.  Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl, pour in the liquid and mix to form a dough.  Turn out and knead until smooth.  Return to the bowl, cover, place in a warm place to double in size – about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.  Turn out the risen dough and “knock back” by kneading briefly.  Roll or stretch to fit an oiled baking tray about 30×24 cm in size.  Cover with the cooked onion then form a lattice of anchovy slices (cut lengthwise if thick).  Place a black olive in the centre of each diamond formed by the anchovies.

Bake for 25-30 minutes.



Salade Niçoise

This salad often includes Tuna, but provided you include sufficient good quality anchovies it is quite superfluous. The salad should be arranged rather than tossed, with crossed anchovies as the final garnish.  The other ingredients should include: Little Gem lettuce, boiled new potatoes, cooked green beans, just boiled eggs, tomatoes, olives, capers, chopped flat leaf parsley and, of course, anchovy fillets, 5 per person.

The dressing includes raw garlic, finely chopped with salt, pepper and red wine vinegar finished with good olive oil.

Caesar Salad

Caesar salad is apparently named not after the Roman Emperor but the brother of the chef, Alex Cardini, who created it.  Since then there have been many variations on the original recipe.  The enduring popularity of this salad is no doubt partly due to the strong umami taste of anchovies, Parmesan cheese and Worcester sauce, which, when combined with sour lemon juice makes an exciting, refreshing salad.

Serves 6

3 cos (or romaine) lettuce

12 anchovies

3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

6 slices of good white bread

2 eggs, at room temperature

12 tsps lemon juice

3 tsps Worcester sauce

18 tbsps olive oil

freshly ground black pepper

9 tbsps freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.  Put 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a small pan with the slices of garlic and heat very gently, on no account allowing the garlic to burn.  Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the oil and lay the bread in the pan to absorb the oil.  Cut the bread into cubes and scatter on a baking sheet.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until crisp.

Cut the anchovies into strips, putting 3 fillets into a mortar and the rest in a bowl with the washed and dried lettuce leaves.  Grind the 3 anchovy fillet to a paste and blend with the lemon juice and Worcester sauce.

Break the eggs into barely simmering water and poach for 1-2 minutes, until the white is just opaque.  Now use a teaspoon to lift the yolks out of the pan (discarding the whites) and add them to the anchovy and lemon mixture.  Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion.  Season with black pepper (taste, it probably won’t need salt).  Pour over the lettuce, add the Parmesan cheese and croutons and roll the leaves gently to coat.



Orecchiette con Broccoli

Orecchiette con Cime di Rape o Broccoli

Orecchiette means “little ears”, the little cup shapes are formed by hand in southern Italy, although you can sometimes buy them dried.  They are traditionally served with Cime di Rape (turnip tops) in Puglia, although similar recipes using broccoli, Romanesco or cauliflower are found elsewhere in the south, for example in Sicily.  The flowering greens are cooked with anchovies, raisins and pine nuts.  If you can’t find orecchiette, other small shapes such as farfalle are fine, or I have seen bucatini (a thicker version of spaghetti) used in Sicily.  Saffron is a good addition to cauliflower, I also like to add some chopped preserved lemon.  Use this recipe as a guide adjusting cooking times depending on the vegetable used.

1 head of broccoli, cut into florets, stem peeled and sliced finely

Olive oil


4 anchovies, minced


Pine nuts

Saffron and preserved lemon (optional)*

Pangrattato (fried breadcrumbs) to serve

Bring a large pan of water to the boil.

Meanwhile dice the shallot, diced stem and anchovy and cook gently in olive oil.

When the water is boiling add a ladleful to the vegetables together with a pinch of saffron, if using, and the raisins.

Add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the pasta water, then add the pasta.  Add the broccoli florets at a point in the cooking time so that they will be cooked at the same time as the pasta.

When the water has evaporated from the vegetables, add the pine nuts and brown lightly.

Drain the pasta, retained a little of the cooking water, toss with the vegetables and sufficient water to amalgamate.

Top with pangrattato to serve.

*Note: Not authentic, but I like the addition of preserved lemon, added with the anchovies.

Trifle Recipes

Rhubarb and Ginger Trifle

Recipes to accompany the article on Trifles.

Classic English Trifle

Beginning with two award-winners – Jonathan’ Trifle, which Jane Grigson praised for it’s authentic components, including flour-free custard; and Silvija Davidson’s Slow Food Trifle Tasting winner, which does include flour in its custard but in my view is similarly authentic.  These two recipes provide perfect templates for a classic English Trifle.

Jonathan’s Trifle

Jane Grigson writing British Cookery in 1984 gives the trifle recipe from Jonathan’s of Oldbury in Gloucestershire, which won the Trifle Competition organised by the AA in 1983.

Serves 12 (n.b. this quantity needs a really large bowl, half the custard would suffice for a normal bowl depending on dimensions)

Day–old homemade whisked sponge cake made with 2 eggs

4 fl oz cream sherry

2 tbsp brandy


8 eggs yolks

8 tbsps vanilla sugar

1 pint single cream

good raspberry jam

6 oz fresh raspberries


½ pint cream sherry

6 tbsps caster sugar

½ nutmeg, finely grated

juice of ½ lemon

1 pint double cream

Cut the sponge cake into cubes and place in the bottom of a large glass bowl.  Pour the sherry and brandy over carefully, so that all of the cake is well soaked but not swilling in liquid.

To make the custard, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale, scald the cream and pour onto the egg mixture, whisking well as you do so.  Pour the custard back into the pan and stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens.  Allow the mixture to cool until barely tepid before pouring over the sponge.  Cover and cool in the fridge until the custard sets.  Meanwhile combine all of the syllabub ingredients apart from the cream to allow the flavours time to mingle.

Heat a little raspberry jam so that it can be spread in a thin layer over the custard.  Allow a little to trickle down the sides.  Cover with fresh raspberries, reserving some to decorate the top.

Add the cream to the rest of the syllabub ingredients and whisk until really thick.  Spread over the top of the trifle.  Cover and chill for several hours decorating the top with fresh raspberries just before serving.

Silvija Davidson’s Trifle with Mara des Bois Strawberries

This recipe was published in 2006 in the second edition of the late Sarah Freeman’s The Best of Modern British Cookery.  We three knew one another through working for Slow Food and Silvija made this trifle for one of the many tasting events that were organised.  It was pronounced the very best trifle ever.

For the sponge cake:      for a 20cm/8″ cake tin (n.b. this will make twice as much as needed for the trifle)

100g/3½ oz caster sugar

4 large or standard eggs

½ tsp vanilla essence

100g/3½ oz fine plain white flour

Pinch of fine salt

For the custard:

600ml/1 pint single cream or Channel Island milk

1 vanilla pod

6 large eggs

50 g/20z caster sugar

25g/10 sauce flour (or extra fine plain white flour)

½ tsp vanilla extract

For the syllabub:

350ml/12 fl oz double cream

1 organic lemon

60g/2¼ oz caster sugar

100 ml/3½ fl oz Muscat flavoured dessert wine

For the trifle:

25g/10z flaked almonds

50g/2oz Turkish Delight or 2 tsps rosewater (optional)

350g/12 oz jar strawberry conserve

6 tbsps Malaga or sweet sherry

500g/1lb 2 oz Mara des Bois strawberries

150ml/¼ pint strawberry or raspberry coulis, or lightly sweetened purée

20 ratafia biscuits

Crystallized rose petals and mint leaves (optional)

Cake Bake and cool the sponge cake first.  It needn’t be stale, but should be cool when used.  Butter and flour the cake tin – and base line it too, if possible.  Whisk together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until the mixture is thick and pale, and lifting the whisk leaves a “ribbon” trail.  Very gently fold in the flour and salt (superfine flour doesn’t need sifting) until just amalgamated.  Tip the mixture into the cake tin, smooth the surface, and bake in a pre-heated oven set to 180˚C, 350˚F, Gas Mark 4 for 30-35 minutes, or until the mixture springs back when pressed in the centre and/or a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool a little in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack.  Remove any backing paper once the cake reaches room temperature.

Custard Heat the milk or cream and vanilla pod in a saucepan until hot, but not boiling.  Remove the vanilla pod, and scrape the seeds into the milk.  Separate the eggs.  Only the yolks are needed for this recipe so keep the whites for a soufflé or meringues.  Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour, and pour the hot milk or cream over the mixture, continuing to whisk.  Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir continuously over a low heat until the mixture thickens, coating the back of a spoon quite thickly.  Stir in the vanilla extract and set aside to cool (in a bowl of iced water for speed), stirring or whisking from time to time.

Syllabub Make sure that the cream is very cold.  Scrub the lemon, finely grate the zest, and squeeze the juice.  Mix together the lemon zest, juice and sugar, ensuring that the sugar dissolves completely and, if possible, set aside for a couple of hours.  Stir in the wine.  Whisk the cream until it just holds its shape, then whisk in the lemon and wine mixture gently.  Keep chilled while assembling the trifle.

Trifle Toast the almonds.  Mix the rosewater or Turkish Delight with the conserve if you are using them.  Split the cake once vertically and once again horizontally, and sandwich generously with the conserve.  Cut to fit the base of your trifle bowl, trying to ensure there are no gaps.  Sprinkle with the Malaga or sherry.  Cover with strawberries, halving any large ones.  Pour over the coulis or purée.  Arrange the ratafia biscuits over the strawberries.  Spoon the custard mixture on top, smooth the surface, and spoon the syllabub over the custard, swirling it as far as possible.  Just before serving, sprinkle with the toasted almonds and any crystallized petals or leaves.

The Trifle can be refrigerated, tightly covered with plastic film, for 24 hours, but decorate just before serving , so that the nuts remain crunchy and there is no colour bleeding from the crystallized leaves.

Elements in Focus

A close-up on some of the constituent parts of a trifle, each of which is very worthy of making in its own right, beginning with Syllabub, then an alternative sponge – Almond Swiss roll with low-sugar. Raspberry Jam.

Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub

One small glass, or 4 oz of white wine or sherry, 2 tablespoons of brandy, one lemon, 2 oz of sugar, ½ pint of double cream, nutmeg.

The day before the syllabub is to be made, put the thinly pared rind of the lemon and the juice in a bowl with the wine and brandy and leave overnight.  Next day, strain the wine and lemon mixture into a large and deep bowl.  Add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved.  Pour in the cream slowly, stirring all the time.  Grate in a little nutmeg.  Now whisk the mixture until it thickens and will hold a soft peak on the whisk.  The process may take 5 minutes; it may take as long as 15.  It depends on the cream, the temperature and the method of whisking…The important point is to recognise the moment at which the whisking process is complete.

Katie Stewart’s Strawberries with Syllabub

8 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.

Almond Swiss Roll

This recipe came from Josceline Dimbleby’s Christmas Book and, when flavoured with cocoa powder, forms the basis for a Yule Log.  Freshly ground almonds give a more sophisticated flavour, lighter texture and, of course, avoid the gluten in flour.  Filled with Raspberry Jam it is my preferred sponge for a trifle.

Swiss Roll Tin (mine is approx 12×10) – greased and lined with parchment

6 medium eggs, separated

5 oz caster sugar

3 oz/75g blanched almonds, ground finely

1½ teasps baking powder

2 tbsps warm water

¼ tsp cream of tartar

Variation: For a chocolate swiss roll add 2 rounded tbsps cocoa powder, sifted, with the other dry ingredients.

Heat the oven to 180˚C.

Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and thickened but not stiff.  Stir in the ground almonds, baking powder and add water to slacken the mixture.

Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and whisk until stiff.  Fold through the egg yolk mixture with a metal spoon.  Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until springy to the touch.

Remove the tin from the oven and leave to cool during which the cake will shrink back slightly from the sides.

When completely cool turn out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper over a clean tea towel.  You may need to help the sides away with a knife.  Remove the parchment and then roll up the Swiss roll quite tightly using the paper and tea-towel to help.  Store in a cool drawer of the fridge overnight.

Raspberry Fridge Jam

Jams that will keep well in the larder need approximately the same weight of sugar as the fruit to be preserved.  If you have space to store jam in the fridge you can halve this quantity of sugar.  The jam will have a softer set and a fresher taste than conventional jams. Pam Corbin gave this recipe, which she credits to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in her book Preserves.

Makes 6 x 340g jars

1.5 kg raspberries

750 g jam sugar (with added pectin)

Wash the jars then rinse them in boiling water.  Place in a baking tray with a shallow layer of water and put in a low oven (120˚C) whilst you make the jam.

Put half the raspberries in a preserving pan and mash them to release their juice.

Add the rest of the raspberries, leaving them whole, and all of the jam.

Stir over a gentle heat until all of the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat.  As soon as the jam comes to a good rolling boil keep it there for exactly 5 minutes then remove from the heat.

The jam now needs to settle for 5 minutes before potting otherwise all of the pips will rise to the top in the jar.  But don’t leave it for longer as to keep everything sterile you also need to pot when everything is hot – not less than 90˚C.  Providing this condition has been adhered to the jam will actually keep in a cool place, i.e. a proper larder rather than the fridge, but as soon as it is opened it must be kept in the fridge and used within a matter of days rather than months.


In her book Trifle, Helen Saberi notes that … “Confections resembling, in varying degrees, conventional trifles have sometimes been referred to as “creams”….a main characteristic of anything called Swiss Cream seems to be the presence of lemon and/or lemon rind”. The recipe below by Eliza Acton is an early Victorian and very fine example of Swiss Cream.

Trifles have also inspired many other fine desserts including the family of Tipsy Cakes and the Italian Tiramisù, which could not be ignored here.

Eliza Acton’s Swiss Cream

1 pint rich cream

6oz sugar

Juice of 2 lemons plus rind of 1

½ cinnamon stick

4 tsps flour

4 oz macaroons

1-2 oz candied citron

Flavour pleasantly *with lemon rind and cinnamon, a pint of rich cream, after having taken from it as much as will mix smoothly to a thin batter four teaspoonfuls of the finest flour; sweeten it with six ounces of well-refined sugar in lumps; place it over a clear fire in a delicately clean saucepan, and when it boils stir in the flour, and simmer for four or five minutes, stirring it gently without ceasing; then pour it out, and when it is quite cold mix with it by degrees the strained juice of two moderate-sized and very fresh lemons.

Take a quarter of a pound of macaroons, cover the bottom of a glass dish with a portion of them, pour in part of the cream, lay the remainder of the macaroons upon it, add the rest of the cream, and ornament it with candied citron sliced thin.

*The requisite flavour may be given to the dish by infusing in the cream the very thin rind of a lemon and part of a stick of cinnamon slightly bruised, and then straining it before the flour is added.

Katie Stewart’s Coffee Brandy Cake

This, and a Chocolate and Rum flavoured variant, were all the rage when Katie Stewart’s Cookbook was published in 1983.  I now recognise it as a variant on the Tipsy Cake theme.  Now that I have an espresso machine at home I would use this rather than instant coffee/coffee essence.

Serves 8

6 oz/75g plain flour

2 level tsps baking powder

½ level tsp salt

5 oz/150g soft light brown sugar

2 eggs

6 tbsps corn oil

4 tbsps milk

2 tbsps coffee essence

½ pint/300ml double cream

Toasted flaked almonds, for sprinkling


4 oz/100g granulated sugar

¼ pint /150ml water

2 tsps instant coffee

2 tbsps brandy

Heat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C/Gas mark 4.  Grease an 8″/20cm layer cake tin and line with greaseproof paper, then grease the paper.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and stir in the brown sugar.  Separate the eggs, cracking the yolks into a small bowl and the whites into a separate larger bowl.  Add the corn oil, milk and coffee essence to the egg yolks and mix with a fork.  Add the flour to the mixture and beat with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form and, using a metal spoon, gently and evenly fold into the batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and spread level.  Place in the centre of the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.

Put the sugar and water for the syrup into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes to concentrate the flavour.  Draw off the heat and stir in the coffee granules and brandy.  Prick the surface of the hot cake with a fork or skewer and spoon over the hot syrup.  Leave to soak in the tin overnight.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form.  Turn the cake onto a serving plate and swirl whipped cream over top and sides.  Chill for several hours, then sprinkle with toasted flaked almonds just before serving.


This popular dessert probably originated in Venice although this has been disputed in Siena where an older similar recipe has been found.  Nevertheless it was the Venetian reincarnation that bought the dessert international fame.  The mascarpone is often beaten with eggs, the yolks first and then the whites whipped and folded through to lighten.  Raw egg recipes are not often served nowadays and I have in any case found them unnecessary, preferring instead to lighten the mascarpone with good thick Jersey cream, but if you want to use them, two yolks and one white would be about the right quantity for the recipe below.  I now often use mascarpone in place of custard when making a trifle.

Serves 6

3 tbsp vanilla sugar

375g/12 oz mascarpone

1-2 tbsps thick Jersey cream

200 ml/8 fl oz espresso coffee

4 tbsp coffee liqueur (Kahlua or Tia Maria)

30 Savioardi biscuits

1 tbsp cocoa powder

Beat the mascarpone together with the vanilla sugar and sufficient cream to make the mixture easy to spread.

Add the liqueur to the coffee and pour into a bowl large enough to be able to dunk the Savioardi biscuits.  Dip each one in briefly, but not for so long it breaks.  Use to line the base of 6 individual serving bowls (or one large bowl).  Top with the Mascarpone mixture and chill overnight.

Sieve cocoa powder over the top before serving.

Some Seasonal Trifles

I hope all of the forgoing has given you inspiration for trifles – or almost trifles, for every season.  Here are a few of my favourite combinations.


Rhubarb & Ginger: Savoiardi or ginger biscuits soaked with rhubarb syrup and Kings Ginger Liqueur, rhubarb fool (made with custard) and ginger syllabub.

Rhubarb and Ginger Trifle

Rhubarb and custard are a classic pairing and so for this trifle the second layer is a rhubarb fool made with custard.  Both the sponge layer and the syllabub are flavoured with ginger.  Illustrated at the top of this page.

For the rhubarb fool:

1½lb/750g forced rhubarb (prepared weight)

3-4 oz/80-120g Demerara sugar

Juice of half an orange

¾ pt cold custard (made with 4 egg yolks, 1 oz caster sugar, 1 tsp cornflour, ½ pt double cream)

Trifle Sponge/Boudoir biscuits

20 Ratafia biscuits

2 fl oz Kings Ginger Liqueur

2 fl oz rhubarb juice


4 fl oz Ginger Wine

Thinly pared rind and juice of 1 lemon

2 oz caster sugar

2 tbsps ginger syrup

½ pint double cream

2-3 knobs of stem ginger, finely diced

Pistachio nuts to decorate

Cut the rhubarb into lengths of approximately 2″ adjusting for varying thickness of the stems so that all the pieces will take about the same time to cook.  Add the sugar, if the rhubarb is very young the lower amount should be sufficient.  Squeeze over the orange juice, which should provide enough moisture until the rhubarb starts to release its own juices.  I find it cooks more evenly in the oven, at a low temperature of 130˚C.  As soon as it is becoming tender remove the pan from the oven and leave it, covered, to continue cooking as it cools.  This should keep the delicate pink colour and some texture.

When cold, drain the rhubarb reserving the juice.  Put the flesh into a food processor or liquidiser and purée.  Fold in the sufficient custard to make a good fool.

Put 2 fl oz of the reserved rhubarb juice in a bowl with an equal quantity of Kings Ginger liquor.  Soak trifle sponges and line the base of a trifle bowl with them.

Top the trifle sponges with rhubarb fool and then top this with ratafia biscuits, again pre-whetted in rhubarb juice/Kings Ginger.

Put all of the syllabub, apart from the diced stem ginger, into a large mixing bowl and whisk until the mixture is thick. Now fold through the diced stem ginger and spoon over the ratafias.

Decorate just prior to serving with pistachio nuts that have been roughly crushed to reveal more of their lovely green and pink colour.


Traditional Raspberry: Homemade almond roulade filled with raspberry jam, soaked in sherry and topped with raspberries & syllabub.  See recipes for the individual components above.


Orchard Fruit: Amaretti biscuits soaked in rum, apple & quince purée, pears poached in Perry, Perry or Quince Syllabub.


Chocolate & Cherry (Black Forest): Chocolate & almond roulade, spread with Morello Cherry Jam & soaked with Cherry Liquor, Preserved Morello Cherries in mascarpone (or chocolate custard), whipped cream topped with cherries and chocolate shavings.   This is illustrated here.  Another, “almost-trifle” version is given below:

Gâteau Pavé with Cherries

This is my variation on a Katie Stewart recipe conceived to use some excellent local morello cherries in apple eau-de-vie.

2lb loaf tin

30 sponge fingers

1 bottle of cherries in eau de vie

4 oz icing sugar

8 oz dark chocolate

4 oz unsalted butter

250g mascarpone cream cheese

6 egg yolks

8 fl oz double cream, whipped

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over gently simmering water.  Turn off the heat, but leave over the hot water whilst you beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.

Cream the butter with the icing sugar until soft and pale, then beat in the mascarpone cheese and chocolate mixture.  Use some of this to cover the base of the loaf tin.

Tip some of the cherry eau-de-vie into a dish wide enough to take the sponge fingers.  Soak each sponge finger well, but not so much that it disintegrates.  Place the first 15 fingers on top of the chocolate layer in the loaf tin, spread with another layer of chocolate and stoned cherries.  Repeat the layers ending with a final layer of chocolate.  Cover and chill for several hours, preferably overnight.

Turn the gateau out of the tin and cover with whipped cream before serving.  Decorate with chocolate shavings and cherries if desired.

Irish Stew

There are probably as many variations of Irish Stew as there are people who make it.  Despite having some Irish blood in my veins I make no claims about the authenticity of the following recipe – it’s based entirely on my personal preference.  If you can get mutton chops then so much the better but you will need to extend the cooking time.  It looks nice if you use baby onions and carrots so that they can be kept whole, but if not just chop up larger ones.

Serves 4

150g/6 oz pearl barley

8-12 lamb or mutton chops at least 2.5cm/1″ thick – trimmed of fat

12 baby onions

12 baby carrots

700ml/1¼ pints good lamb stock

8 medium potatoes

sprig of thyme

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper

Pre-cook the pearl barley in plenty of salted boiling water for 20 minutes then drain.  Meanwhile heat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 3 and lightly brown the chops using excess fat trimmed from them.

When the chops are browned remove them and briefly turn the onions and carrots in the fat.

Now layer the chops with the carrots and onions, pearl barley, herbs and seasoning.  Peel the potatoes, cut them in half and place on top of the layers.  Season again and pour over the hot stock.  Cover with a lid and cook for 1½ hours (or longer for mutton).

Serve with soda bread.

William Curley’s Chocolate Truffles

William Curley has five times won the title of “Britain’s Best Chocolatier” and I recently attended a course at his Belgravia shop to learn the secrets of making chocolate truffles.  The course was conducted by his head chocolatier, Alistair Birt, and along with 8 other participants we made their House Dark Truffle using Amedei Chocolate.  This is the base recipe:

To make approx 30 truffles

145g whipping cream

160g 70% grated chocolate

25g unsalted butter (at room temperature)

250g tempered chocolate

150g cocoa powder

The first step is to combine the cream and chocolate to make a ganache.  The cream is heated to boiling point and then poured over the grated chocolate, mixing gradually with a spatula until it is smooth and glossy.  Then the butter is stirred in – this is an optional ingredient but used at Curley’s because they believe it improves the mouth feel.  The ganache would then ideally be left to set at room temperature, but because of the time constraints of the course we refrigerated it.

Once the ganache is firm, spoon it into a piping bag and pipe bulbs onto a tray lined with silicone paper and leave to set in a cool place.  If you don’t want to pipe, you can just spoon teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto the sheet – they will be more roughly shaped, but this doesn’t really matter as chocolate truffles should resemble the truffles that come out of the ground in appearance.  An alternative is to pipe the mixture into a continuous “sausage”, which you then cut to the required lengths once set.  

The next step, coating the ganache in tempered chocolate, was one of the key things I had come on the course to learn, having previously missed out this stage when I made them at home.  Alistair agreed that tempering is what bothers most amateurs, but that at Curley’s, where of course they are tempering all the time for their other chocolate creations; it is included with the truffles to create a different texture, a crisp outer coating around the smooth ganache.  Having now made both versions I think I will be reverting to just coating the firm ganache with cocoa powder.  The tempering is not very difficult, but it does require a decent quantity of chocolate to work with, and results in some waste (how much depending on your skill level).  As you will see from the ingredients above, it uses more chocolate than the ganache itself and thus contributes significantly to the cost.  In addition, I’m not sure that I actually prefer the dual textures.  For me, part of the pleasure of a truffle is to just let it melt in the mouth, savouring the flavour as you do so, whilst the crisp coating left me feeling the need to bite. However, if you do want a contrasting texture, you could just roll the ganache in chopped nuts or even grated chocolate.

Here is what I learnt about tempering:

Tempering brings the cocoa butter to the correct crystalline state so that it melds smoothly with the cocoa solids.  The chocolate will be sold already tempered, but when you melt it to alter the shape, you will have disturbed this balance.  Most critically in chocolate making, the mixture will contract by about 2% when tempered, so that it naturally contracts from the mould –if you have ever tried making Easter eggs or filling any other chocolate mould you will know the frustration of trying to turn out a chocolate that has not been correctly tempered.  The surface will also be clear and bright – we have probably all purchased chocolate that has been stored in too hot a shop and seen a bloom on the surface and found the chocolate melt immediately you touch it.  Whilst this can still be eaten perfectly safely, it does actually affect the taste experience as chocolate should melt at body temperature, i.e. within the mouth.

Having melted the chocolate (at home usually done over a saucepan of simmering water, but be really careful not to allow any water, or steam, into the chocolate) – or in a microwave, it will be at around 40˚C and needs to be cooled to between 30˚ and 32.9˚C to remix the cocoa butter and solids.  The traditional way to do this was to pour the chocolate onto a marble worktop and move it around until it had cooled, but Alistair feels this is unnecessary and showy, preferring to melt just half the chocolate and then add the remaining half, grated, to reduce the overall temperature.  He judges the temperature by eye rather than using a probe, the critical test being the speed at which the chocolate sets when spread thinly on paper.  This is a little like testing for a set in jam.  The photograph below shows four tests in chronological time order from left to right.  The tests were done at about 5 minute intervals and in the first two the chocolate still isn’t set – if it doesn’t set within 5 minutes it is not yet cool enough.

The next job was to coat the truffles in the tempered chocolate, and then immediately into cocoa powder.  We donned disposable latex gloves and worked in pairs, one person allocated to each task.  Even then we found that the chocolate quickly began to set and we had to be given freshly tempered chocolate for coating.  It is possible to re-heat and temper the set chocolate – providing it has not been contaminated in any way.   Alistair said that at home he would use a hairdryer to bring the chocolate gently back to tempering point, but consider the difficulties of working solo.

Finally excess cocoa powder was removed by sieving.

Flavour Variations

Infusion – this is the main method used for flavouring the truffles.  The cream is brought up to simmering point and then the chosen flavour infused for several hours (at Curley’s overnight in the fridge).  Examples of flavours that are incorporated in this way include herbs, spices, coffee and citrus zest.

Alcohol – a proportion of the cream can be replaced with alcohol.  For liqueurs and spirits the proportion is one quarter, for Champagne it would be one third (added after the cream has been heated).

Spring Greens

Basic cooking method

Firstly, take time to prepare and cut the cabbage carefully, it can make all the difference to the eating pleasure.  Wash the cabbage well and then shake off the excess water but do not worry about drying it.  Remove coarse central ribs then roll the leaves and slice them very finely.

Choose a heavy based pan with a close fitting lid and heat some olive oil in it until it is quite hot.  Add the cabbage and stir with a wooden spatula until it is all coated in the oil.  Now put the lid on and continue to cook over a reasonably high heat for a couple of minutes.  Remove the lid and, depending on the quantity of cabbage you are cooking, it might be necessary to give it another stir and then a further minute of cooking.  Now for the flavour variations:

Mustard Dressing – whisk together a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, salt and pepper with four tablespoons of olive oil.  When the cabbage is cooked take the pan off the heat and pour on the dressing, turning the leaves over until they are evenly coated.

Herb Vinegar – a more subtle flavouring is simply to add a teaspoon of good herb vinegar to the cabbage just before it is cooked.

Pancetta – cook some diced pancetta in olive oil until it is crisp before adding the cabbage so that it cooks in a mixture of the pancetta fat and olive oil.  You can also stir in a couple of tablespoons of cream at the end if you wish.

Garlic, Ginger and Soy– add crushed garlic and grated fresh ginger to the olive oil then finish the cabbage with soy sauce.

Onions and Juniper – this is good with game or liver.  Slowly cook sliced onion in olive oil for 20-30 minutes so that it is soft but not brown.  Crush a couple of juniper berries and add them to the onion then stir in the cabbage, put on the lid and turn the heat up.

Stuffed Cabbage

1 large cabbage

1lb sausages

Salt, ground black pepper and ground nutmeg

1 casserole dish – greased

Oven at 120C


Take off the outer leaves and coarse ribs then chop centre.   Blanch all by placing in a large colander and running through with boiling water to wilt.   Line the dish with outer leaves, then a third of the chopped cabbage followed by a thin layer of sausage meat that is seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg.   Continue layering and finish with a layer of cabbage which is covered with a piece of buttered paper and a lid.   Bake for 2½ hours at 120C.


Colcannon is a variant of the more widely eaten Champ, the difference being that Colcannon contains cabbage (usually kale) whilst Champ is flavoured instead with spring onions.  There is a similarity to Bubble and Squeak in that the major ingredients are potatoes and cabbage, but whereas Bubble and Squeak is always fried, Colcannon is served as a pile of creamy mashed potato.

Approx 1lb of potatoes and the same weight of kale

5fl oz whole milk or cream

1 leek (or substitute spring onions or chives)

Salt and pepper


The aim is to produce a dry mashed potato and then incorporate warm milk or cream.  Ideally, if the potatoes are of similar size, you should boil them with their skin still on.  Otherwise peel and cut into similar sized chunks so that they cook at the same rate and you don’t get some breaking up before other pieces are cooked.  When the potatoes are cooked, drain them, remove the skins and then leave them to dry in their own steam in a colander placed over the pan in which they were boiled.

At the same time cook the kale until it is tender – the time varies depending upon how young the kale is, but follow the basic method above.  Melt some butter in a pan and for this recipe add the sliced leeks first and sweat them for a couple of minutes (if you are using spring onions or chives skip this bit and add them towards the end of cooking the kale). Then add the sliced kale and a tablespoon of water.  Place the lid back on the pan and continue to sweat both vegetables until the kale is tender – with older kale this might take 10 minutes.

In a separate pan, heat the milk or cream.

Press the potato through a potato ricer into the warm milk, or if you do not have a ricer, mash the potatoes and then incorporate the warm milk gradually, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Note that the milk must be warm for the two ingredients to meld smoothly – do not be tempted to use a food processor for this because it will release the starch in the potato and you will end up with a gluey mess.

Finally incorporate the cooked and chopped kale using a wooden spoon.

Serve with melted butter, either on the side of poured into a well made on top of the potato.

Crispy “Seaweed”

175g/6oz dark green cabbage leaves with the thick stems removed (Savoy or Cavolo Nero are ideal)

Groundnut oil

1 tsp sugar

Salt (salt with real seaweed mixed in is good)

25g/1oz crushed cashew or peanuts

After removing the thick stems from the cabbage leaves roll them up into a tight cigar shape and then shred them as finely as possible.

Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat and when it is really hot add the cabbage.  Stir fry for about 2 minutes – no longer or it will begin to taste bitter.  Alternatively you can cook briefly in a deep fat fryer.

Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt and sugar.  Serve immediately topped with crushed peanuts or cashews.

Related article: Learning to Love Cabbage


For a 1.2 litre/2 pint pudding basin (Serves 4)

1½ lb mutton

1 onion, chopped

1clove of garlic, crushed

1 carrot, chopped

1leek, chopped

1 stick of celery, chopped

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp capers

¾ pint of lamb stock

¼ pint Madeira

1 tbsp chopped parsley

salt and pepper

For the Suet pastry:

300g/10 oz self-raising flour


150g/ 5 oz freshly grated suet

200ml/7fl oz water

Trim the mutton of excess fat, which can be rendered in a large casserole ready for frying the meat.

Cut the meat into cubes of about an inch, season with salt and pepper and then fry until well browned. Remove the meat from the pan, turn the heat down and cook the onions gently until softened. Now add the crushed garlic and the rest of the finely chopped vegetables and cook until softened. Return the meat to the pan and sprinkle a level tablespoon of flour over. Stir and cook for a minute or so.

Bring the stock and Madeira to the boil in a separate pan then add to the casserole, stirring to amalgamate and make thin gravy. Stir in the capers and chopped parsley, taste and adjust seasoning. Cover the pan and cook for 1-1½ hours.

At this stage the meat will be just becoming tender, but remember that it will be cooked for longer in the pudding. Taste and check the seasoning. The liquid should now be drained off and reserved and the meat and vegetables left to cool. The pudding can be made to this stage a day in advance, which will give the flavours time to develop and also allow you to remove the excess fat that will settle on the surface.

To make the suet pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix in the grated suet (peel away the thin skin before grating or chopping the suet). Add the water and stir to form a dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes before rolling.

Whilst the pastry is chilling prepare the pudding basin by buttering it well and chilling. Jane Grigson swore by plastic pudding basins with snap top lids for ease of turning out but if you are using glass or china pudding basins they can be chilled after buttering and then re-buttered to build up a good layer to make turning out easier.

Lightly flour the work surface and roll out three-quarters of the pastry to line the bowl. The dough should be between ½ and ¾ inch thick. Leave a border of pastry overhanging the lip of the bowl. Now put the filling into the bowl, leaving a little room at the top. Pour on the retained liquid (heat slightly to liquefy if necessary) until it just reaches the top of the meat. Keep the rest back to serve as gravy with the pudding.

Now roll out the remaining pastry to form a lid. Fold the overhanging rim of pastry in on top of the filling and brush with water. Press the edges of the pastry together with a fork to seal.

Cover the top of the pudding with buttered greaseproof paper and then either put on the plastic lid or cover with a double layer of foil. The plastic basins usually have a handle. For foil-covered bowls you can create one with string.

Put the pudding into a steamer with boiling water in the base, or, if you do not have a steamer, place a trivet (or crossed skewers or upturned plate) in the bottom of a saucepan and pour on hot water to reach half way up the bowl.

Cover the pan and steam for 1½ – 2 hours, checking the water level regularly.

When cooked remove the foil and paper covering then turn the pudding out onto a plate. Serve with the re-heated and strained gravy. Swede or buttered cabbage would be good accompaniments.

Recipe suggestions using Thyme


Rabbit is available all year although at its best in late summer/early autumn.  This recipe is more suited to older rabbits.

Serves 4-6

2 wild rabbits, jointed

3 tbsps plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

6 tbsps olive oil

1½ lb belly pork, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

4 carrots, roughly chopped

4 sticks of celery, roughly chopped

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

Bouquet garni of 3 bay leaves, a handful of thyme and 3 sprigs of parsley tied with string

10 fl oz dry cider

10 fl oz chicken or rabbit stock

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp coarse grain mustard

6 fl oz double cream

Fresh thyme leaves to garnish

Heat half the olive oil in a large casserole dish.  Lightly coat the rabbit joints with the seasoned flour and then brown them in the oil.  Remove from the pan and brown the cubes of belly pork.  Remove the pork and add more oil if necessary to sauté the onion, carrot, celery and garlic.

Return the meat to the casserole and add the bouquet garni, cider and stock.  Bring to a simmer and then transfer to an oven, preheated to 150C/Gas Mark 2.  Cook for 1-2 hours (depending on the age of the rabbit) – until the meat is very tender.

To thicken the sauce, beat the egg yolks with the mustards and cream in a bowl.  Add a ladleful of the hot liquid from the casserole and whisk well before adding the rest of the liquid and the peeled broad beans.  Pour into a saucepan and heat very gently but do not let it boil.  Add some fresh thyme leaves and then pour the sauce over the rabbit.


1 trout, gutted and scaled

2 good handfuls of freshly picked lemon thyme (this will be sufficient to flavour 3 – 4 lb of trout)

Maldon salt & freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsps olive oil

½ a lemon per person

fresh bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas Mark 6.

Pound the thyme with some Maldon salt and the oil in a pestle and mortar.  Rub the mixture into the skin and cavity of the trout.  Place in a roasting tray.

Cut the lemons in half and slice off the ends so that they will stand flat.  Cut a slit into the flesh of each lemon half and put a bay leaf into it.  Stand the lemon halves around the trout in the roasting tray.

Roast the trout for 5 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes.  Check it is cooked by pulling the dorsal fin away from the body, if it doesn’t come easily give it a few more minutes.  If you are still unsure, insert a knife into the thickest part of the fish, close to the backbone to see if the flesh comes cleanly away from the bone.

Serve the roasted lemons with the trout.

Mendip Wallfish (Snails)

The common garden snail, Helix aspersa, is perfectly edible, once purged of anything poisonous it might have been eating.   This simply involves keeping them somewhere where you can control what they eat.  I use a large plant pot (so that there is some drainage) with a large stone in it for the snails to clamber over or hide under for shade.  You then need to cover the pot with something that keeps the snails in but is well ventilated.  I use a plastic mesh packing tray, but fine chicken wire would also do the job.  You need to weight this down with stones to prevent your snails escaping as it is amazing what the combined pushing power of a few dozen snails can be.  Keep the bucket in a cool shady place and keep some moisture in the bucket.  Herbs or lettuce leaves are the usual recommended food although I found they seemed to prefer oats.  They should be kept like this for 5 days, although I often wait longer if I haven’t amassed enough snails to be worth cooking.  You may however know of some favoured hiding places for them and remember always to look after rain.  Just keep them fed and watered and clean them out at least once a week – the easiest way is to pick the snails out into a fresh plant pot and then swill out the dirty pot onto your garden.  Don’t feed the snails for 2 days before you want to eat them so that their gut is quite clean.

I have read several very different methods for cooking the snails but the one I favour is as follows:

Bring a large pan of quite heavily salted water to the boil.  Put your snails into a colander and rinse them under running water, shaking the colander so that they all retract into their shells.  Tip the snails into the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes then drain and rinse again.  This stage will kill the snails and rid them of their slime.

Next remove the snails from their shells with a cocktail stick.  You will soon get the knack of twisting your wrist as you pull them out.  Now simmer them for 3 – 4 hours in a mixture of cider and water flavoured with a few herbs and vegetables.

Meanwhile prepare a herb butter.  Allow 250g of butter for 3 dozen snails, which will feed 2-3 people.  Add a tablespoon each of chervil, chives, and parsley plus about a teaspoon each of chopped thyme and tarragon leaves.  Chop and blend the whole lot in a food processor and season with salt and pepper.

Personally I think it is more trouble than it is worth to put the snails back into their shells for serving but if you do want to serve them this way, chill the butter until firm then put a knob into each shell, followed by the snail and then add another knob of butter to seal them in.  Instead I just put them into small ramekins with the butter and then scatter the tops with a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated cheese.  These are then put into a very hot oven for 10 minutes, until the top is bubbling, and served turned out onto a slice of toasted bread.

Mendip Wallfish in a Paella cooked by Vix Osborne