Wishing you a happy but belated Pancake Day

Pancake Day came and went quietly this year. It’s a holiday I never heard of before I moved to the U.K. and it’s such a quiet one that I’d been here a couple of years before I even noticed it.

Pancake Day is also known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts. Traditionally, anyone who kept Lent gave up everything fun, and that put a lot of pressure on that last pre-Lent day. So New Orleans went wild with Mardi Gras and still does. Brazil cut loose during Carnival and keeps right on doing it. And the British? They eat pancakes.

Does this country know how to throw a party or what?

Screamingly irrelevant photo: This is from New Zealand and has nothing to do with anything. Nice, isn't it? Photo by Ida Swearingen

Screamingly irrelevant photo: This is from New Zealand and has nothing to do with anything here. Nice, isn’t it? Photo by Ida Swearingen

The logic of Pancake Day is inescapable. People were supposed to give up eggs, milk, and sugar during lent, so they used them up the night before by making pancakes. What were they supposed to do with the eggs the chickens went right on laying and the milk the cow kept on giving? Because cows and chickens don’t care if it’s Lent. They don’t believe in any religion, and even if they did biological processes are hard to control But what do I know? I’m Jewish and I’m an atheist, and if that isn’t enough I grew up in New York, where we didn’t keep a lot of cows or chickens. So I’m not an expert on this stuff. In fact, I thought all a person had to do during Lent was give up one thing, like orange bubble gum or blue frosting. But maybe that’s a toned-down modern approach.

Anyway, these days Britain’s long on tradition but light on traditional religion. So it substitutes eating pancakes for emptying the cupboards of all the good stuff and entering a somber season in a sugar-free, egg-free, lactose-free condition. And even I can get behind eating pancakes, although not on a fixed day every year, which accounts for me being late with this post.

So let’s talk about pancakes. They never go out of season.

British pancakes—at least the ones I’ve had—are more like French crepes, which is to say, thin. I first tasted them when a neighbor borrowed some flour because he had to make pancakes that night–it was Pancake Day–and in payment he brought us each a pancake, with lemon (I think) and (definitely) sugar. They were good. I can’t think of a bad thing to say about them. But sometimes a person just wants a thick ol’ American pancake. So be warned, I’m leading up to a recipe. Because no matter how good British pancakes are, I believe in the American version. What can I tell you? Talk to me about food and I’m capable of unreasoning patriotism.

I’ve seen British food writers offer approximations of American pancakes and they have some strange ideas about how we make them. One adds vanilla and honey but no baking soda or baking powder. Which is why she has to beat hell out of the egg whites. Another beats hell out of the whole mix until it’s thoroughly blended and lumpless, which is a good idea if you’re making a cake but not so great if you want pancakes, because they need a lumpy batter.

Why the food writers don’t just look in an American cookbook I don’t know, but here’s my recipe.

Pancakes

Serves 2 moderate eaters; for enthusiastic eaters, double the recipe and eat the leftovers cold and straight from the refrigerator

1 cup (4 oz.) flour

1 tsp. sugar

½ tsp. salt

¾ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda

1 egg

½ cup (or more) buttermilk (or plain milk with about 1 tsp. of cider or white vinegar added*)

1 Tbsp. (½ oz.) melted butter

Optional: blueberries, peaches, or raspberries

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. That’s instead of sifting. I’m a lazy cook and this works. Beat the egg into the milk and add it to the dry ingredients. Add the butter. Stir until just barely mixed, leaving some lumps. Add more milk if you need to until you get a thick but pourable batter. The thinner the batter, the thinner the pancakes will be.

Stir the fruit in last.

Heat the frying pan (or several pans, which will let you cook them faster) over a medium-high heat until a drop of water bounces (in theory; I usually settle for it sizzling madly). Add a bit of oil or butter and spread it with a spatula. If you’re using a non-stick pan, you don’t need much; if you’re not, you’ll need more and will have to add more before each new pancake. Pour in a ladleful of batter. I generally make my pancakes a bit bigger than CD-size. but you can make smaller ones if you like. Hell, you can shape them into the letters of the alphabet if you want, but they’ll be hard to flip. Don’t put a cover on the the pan. Bubbles will rise and then break, signaling that the bottom’s probably done. Sneak a look and if it’s brown, flip the pancake. Leave the second side on the pan long enough for the center to cook through.

You may need to adjust the heat as you go. If the pancakes burn, turn it down. If they don’t brown, turn it up. You’d probably have figured that out without me saying it.

You can feed them to the ravening hordes as they get done of keep them warm in a very low oven until they’re all cooked and you can sit down yourself.

Serve with butter and maple syrup. Or if you’re in a Lenten kind of mood, with plain old yogurt, which is surprisingly good with them.

 

*The milk will curdle when you mix in the vinegar. That’s fine.

Serving Texas hamburgers in Cornwall, part 2: the definitive recipe

I already told you that the only ingredient in a Texas hamburger is beef, and that’s true but I may have oversimplified things. So I’m going to give you the full, formal recipe. Don’t leave here without it.

Before we get down to business, though, I need to explain that the difference between a Texas hamburger and any other kind of American hamburger.

Cornwall; Madron Holy Well

Screamingly irrelevant photo: Tree at Madron Holy Well, near Penzance. The tradition of tying cloth to the tree goes back to pre-Christian times, when it was believed to cure illness. Exactly why people do it today is anyone’s guess. Maybe to cure an illness; maybe to brush shoulders with something ancient or add their bit of cloth to something compelling. I was tempted, because it is compelling, even though I don’t believe it can cure and wasn’t sick to begin with.

People don’t notice regional differences in countries that aren’t theirs, but if you live there, they matter. A California burger comes with lettuce and tomato, and if you live in California it’s just called a hamburger. It’s the rest of the country that calls it a California burger. And a Texas burger? It has one ingredient no one else can match and it has its own cooking method.

The ingredient is attitude. A Texas hamburger has it, and much as I love other parts of the country we just can’t rival Texas for its outright and usually charming bullshit. Without the good ol’ Texas bullshit, what you have is a plain ol’ American hamburger. That’s not bad, but it isn’t from Texas.

If you’re not from Texas can you do Texas bullshit? Probably not. Many and many a year ago in a queendom surrounded by the sea, we were trapped across a table in a broken-down train with an Englishman who lived in Texas and thought he’d learned the trick. What he’d learned to be was loud, self-important, and obnoxious. What he hadn’t learned was charm. It was a very long wait for that train to get moving again.

What do I recommend, then? A) Invite a Texan and turn her or him loose, B) offer your burgers to a group of people who don’t know about the secret ingredient and won’t miss it, or C) call it an American hamburger. Do not, under any circumstances, try to substitute a low-cost bluster for Texas bullshit. You’re better off without it.

And the cooking method? You cook the burgers outdoors, on a hot grill, and you cook them, at most, medium rare. When the burger’s almost done, put the top half of the bun on it. This spreads the grease on it. Wild Thing assures me that’s good.

The grill has to be hot, so the outside gets seared and dark. If you’re using charcoal, Wild Thing tells me you have to let the coals get white hot. Tossing a bit of water on them will release some steam and heat everything up. It’ll also bring a little drama to the process. She uses a gas grill, and she buys hardwood chips, soaks them, and tosses them into the grill to give the meat a smoky flavor. Oak is good, but any hardwood will do. Pine won’t.

What about the folks who can’t bring themselves to eat their burgers rare? We-e-ll, it’s up to you, of course. I suspect Wild Thing’s becoming a bit of a missionary about this, but the fact is that she did re-grill the hamburgers that were brought back to her. Whether she can bring herself to do it a second time is anyone’s guess.

So here’s the recipe. Be sure to get the proportions right:

Texas Hamburgers

Good ground beef

That’s it. Nothing else. Not even salt and pepper. No eggs, no bread crumbs, no shoelaces. Don’t (as I’m sometimes tempted to do) buy cheap ground beef, telling yourself the fat will cook out. Get the good (for which you can read more expensive) stuff, divide it up, pat it into shape, and grill the hell out of it. Put it on a bun, put some ketchup on it, and eat it.

And remember, you got the recipe from a vegetarian.

Peach or blackberry cobbler: an American recipe

One of the small joys of living in the U.K. is messing with British cooking. In the interest of which, I’d like to share an American recipe with you: peach (or blackberry if you prefer) cobbler. And if you live in the U.S., you’re still welcome to it.

I’m not actually from cobbler country. I’m a New Yorker by birth and a Minnesotan by I’m not sure what but whatever it was it lasted many long years. Wild Thing, however, is from Texas so over the years I’ve learned some Southern cooking. Not from her—the only things she likes to cook involve meat—but because it’s fun to feed her something she can get sentimental about.

cobbler, eddie 006The recipe’s is adapted from Trilla Pando’s collection of recipes and interviews, Stirring up memories all the time, which I can’t find online anywhere, new or used, or I’d give you a link. I’d tell you how good the book is, but it would be cruel.

I am, as anyone who’s been reading Notes for a while knows, hopeless with numbers and thoroughly unsystematic, so you’ll find a certain, um, flexibility in some of the measurements. If that worries you, remember that the recipe has survived my numerical incompetence, so it should survive almost anything you can do to it. Except maybe tossing in a half pound of bacon, or some coffee grounds.

A warning: This cobbler (assuming you leave out the bacon and the coffee grounds) has a way of disappearing quickly—it really is good—and I’ve tried doubling the recipe and baking it in a larger dish, but the center never baked through. If you’re going to double it, use two smaller pans.

 

Peach or blackberry cobbler

4 cups of fruit (or a bit more; I always add more; if you’re using peaches, it’s about 7)

1 to 1½  cups sugar, divided

2 to 4 ounces butter

1 cup flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

½ cup milk (whole or 2%, which is called semi-skimmed in the U.K.)

 

Heat the oven to 350 F. That’s more or less 175 c. Don’t worry about it–it’s close enough. Set a square baking dish (anywhere between 8” and 9” square will do) inside it to heat.

The original recipe has you sprinkle ½ a cup of sugar on the fruit and set it aside for half an hour or so. I don’t bother. It’s sweet enough already. So if you leave that out, you’ll only need a single cup of sugar. If you’re using peaches, slice or chop them. Melt the butter. Sift the dry ingredients together, or measure them out and use a whisk to mix them. As far as I can tell, the whisk works just as well as sifting.

Pour the butter into the baking dish once it’s hot, then convince the batter in on top of it. It’s thick, so this is awkward, but spread it around as best you can. Then spread the fruit on top of that. The batter will rise up through the fruit as if bakes.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the center’s set. Test it with a knife to make sure it’s fully set. If it isn’t, toss it back in the oven (okay, okay, slide it back in the oven) until it is.

Serve plain or with cream or yogurt.

Trilla, if you’re reading this, thanks.

American baking in Cornwall: baking powder biscuits

I’ve been browsing through too many blogs lately, so I don’t remember where I found the question “what do Americans mean when they say ‘biscuit’?” (I’m paraphrasing. If I didn’t remember to make a note of where I was, raise your hand, please, if you think I had the foresight to copy the actual words. No hands? I didn’t think so.) I left an answer, then thought that in the interest of intercultural mayhem, which I do so much want to promote, I should answer it here as well. So for anyone who (a) isn’t American or (b) is American but is somehow unaware that biscuits are bliss, I’m going to print a recipe. Just as soon as I manage to shut up.

Which may not before a while. Feel free to scroll down if you’re bored. I’ll never know.

Irrelevant photo: It's spring! Crocuses by our back door.

Irrelevant photo: It’s spring! Crocuses by our back door.

Since I moved to Cornwall and began my campaign to mess with the purity of English cooking, I’ve learned to call biscuits baking powder biscuits to distinguish them from cookies, because that’s what anyone British would think I meant otherwise. Although they also say “biscuits” to mean crackers. While we’re at it, crackers are also something non-edible that show up on the table at Christmas. Are you confused yet? That tells you you’re not British. In case you weren’t sure.

Don’t you just love the English language?

In the U.S., I was more likely to call baking powder biscuits either just plain biscuits or buttermilk biscuits. But let’s stick to the phrase I’m currently using: Baking powder biscuits are a cousin of the scone, but they’re not as sweet. Or if you’re comparing them to savory scones they’re not as—oh, you know, scone-y. Sadly, they’re also not as good cold. The leftovers tend to taste kind of salty. But that only means you have to eat more while they’re warm, because they’re light and glorious then.

I didn’t grow up in the American biscuit zone, which is made up of (a) the South and (b) the African-American community in any part of the country. Those are generalizations, I know, but they’re accurate for the present purpose, which is to say that in spite of my geographical and ethnic limitations, I’ve been around both parts of the zone enough to know good food when I see it, and since Wild Thing’s originally from Texas, learning to make biscuits seemed like a good idea. I mean, if she can not only eat but pronounce both challah and knishes, I can surely make biscuits. She swears mine are better than her mother’s, but I only dare say that in public because her mother’s dead. The difference, I suspect, is that I use butter. You can use margarine if you like, or (probably, but what do I know? I’m a Jewish atheist New Yorker and a distinctly amateur cook, which makes me no expert on the subject) lard or pretty much any other hard fat.

The trick is to use as little liquid as possible—just enough to get the dough to form a ball. Too much liquid and the biscuits will be tough. That much I do know.

 

Baking Powder Biscuits

(makes 8 or 9)

2 cups flour

1 scant tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. sugar

2 ½ oz. (5 tbsp.) butter

¾ cups (approximately) buttermilk or milk with vinegar * (see note below)

Sift the dry ingredients together—or if you’re as lazy as I am, dump them all in a bowl and take a whisk to them. I swear it works just as well. Cut in the butter  or crumble it in with your fingers. Your fingers will warm the butter, so cutting it is better. If you can find a pastry blender, that’s ideal. Don’t lose sleep over how small the bits of butter are; as long as you don’t leave it looking like gravel, it’ll be fine. Stir in just enough buttermilk to form the dough into a ball. Knead if very briefly—no more than 30 seconds—just to bring the dough together fully .

Dust your counter with flour and roll the dough out so it’s about ¾ inch thick. Understand that I’m making up the thickness. Mine vary all over the lot. Cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or a glass. (My biscuit cutter had a diameter of 2 ¾ inches. Just so’s you know.) Set them on a greased baking sheet, which in the U.S. I called a cookie sheet. It doesn’t matter if they touch.

Bake in a 450 F. / 220 c. oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

Since the thickness of my biscuits varies from batch to batch, I pry one open to make sure they’re done in the center. You’ll want to split them when you eat them anyway, so it doesn’t show.

Eat warm with any combination butter and/or honey, jam, or gravy.

 

* If you don’t have buttermilk (and it’s not as widely available in the U.K. as it is in the U.S.), you can add some vinegar to the milk—roughly one teaspoon to a cup seems to do it. I sometimes add more. It doesn’t seem to be finicky. Just don’t use a flavored vinegar, or a red one unless you want pink biscuits. White or cider work well.

Messing with British Baking: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Since moving to Cornwall, I’ve made it my mission in life to mess with the Britishness of British baking. Not because British baking is bad. It isn’t; it’s fantastic. Have you eaten shortbread? Or scones? Or pain au chocolat? Or—wait a minute, that last one’s French, isn’t it? (And in case you’re not familiar with the stuff, it’s not pronounced like the English word pain, it’s closer to pan, and it’s basically a croissant with chocolate inside. Mmmm.)

So okay, we’re not talking about a tradition that goes back, unmixed and unmessed-with, to Alfred the Intolerable. British cooking has done what pretty much every culture does: it’s adapted, stolen, borrowed, and claimed as its own whatever bits happened to work—so much so that now people ask, with an almost straight face, “What’s more English than curry?”

How am I carrying out my mission? I’m baking, and I’m feeding my friends and neighbors. It all sounds so harmless, doesn’t it?

Irrelevant Photo: Fountains Abbey

Irrelevant Photo: Fountains Abbey

So here’s my recipe for chocolate chip cookies, because chocolate chip cookies are even more American than Mom and apple pie. They’re probably more American than the flag. The recipe’s in imperial measures. (Shouldn’t we start calling them American measures, by the way? The empire’s gone and—does any country other than the U.S. still use them these days?  And I’m not sure how many people know what imperial measures means.) But back to my point, I’m not going to try translating it into anything sensible like the metric system because the last time I did lost three weeks of my life and didn’t get it right anyway. So forget it. Besides, what’s more American than an irrational and antiquated system of measuring that we inherited from a country that’s since abandoned it and which we will fight to the death rather than give up?

Am I off the topic yet?

The recipe was adapted from one my friend J. found in the Duluth, Minnesota, News Tribune. The introduction explained that the more sugar a cookie has, the more it spreads out in the oven. The original minimized the sugar, which suited me because my chocolate chip cookies had been turning into chocolate chip wafers and I like a thick cookie. I’ve cut the sugar back even further and substituted oatmeal for some of the flour. If that sounds healthy, don’t kid yourself, they’re lethal, but you can increase the sugar if you like. I’ve left the amount a bit vague (a scant ¼ cup, in one place) for exactly that reason. Not to mention because I’m exactly that sort of cook—a bit vague, probably even a bit scant.

If you want the cookies to turn out well (and why would you make them if you didn’t?), you have to find really good dark chocolate—preferably chocolate chips. In the U.S., that means semi-sweet—none of that milk chocolate mess. In the U.K., I’ve had a battle to find good chocolate chips. For years, all I could find were brown waxy things that tasted like buttons that had popped off an old-fashioned shoe. If that’s all you can find, don’t buy them. Chop up chocolate bars (I’ve used 70% chocolate) with the back of a knife and make chocolate chunk cookies, but chunks of chocolate bars don’t keep their shape the way chips do. They’re good but not the same. For some time now, friends have kept us supplied with American chocolate chips, which is a real luxury, especially when you look at the cost of postage, but recently I’ve discovered that Dr. Oetker’s make decent chocolate chips, even if they come in itty bitty bags and are overpriced. In the U.S., you can buy chocolate chips in industrial-size bags. We’re seriously serious about chocolate chips.

If you’re in other countries, I have no chocolate chip advice to offer, but I do know this: If you open the bag and taste them and they don’t taste like much, they won’t get any better when you stir them into the batter and bake them.

The recipe makes an insane number of cookies. (I did warn you that, as a cook, I’m a bit vague.) I freeze whatever we don’t eat on the first day and take them out when we have company. They’re good frozen. Maybe even better. Honest. I discovered this the time I hid them from myself and—surprise surprise—found them. And ate them on the spot.

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies                               

1 c. whole wheat flour

2 1/3 c. plain white flour

1 ½ c. rolled oats (any thickness will do)

2 tsp. baking soda (that’s bicarbonate of soda)

2 tsp. salt

12 oz. (that’s 3 sticks if you’re American) butter

Scant 2/3 c. brown sugar

Scant ¼ c. white sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

Lots of dark chocolate chips  (about 2 ½ c.)

 

Cream the butter and sugars. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients, then the chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets, leaving some room for them to spread out.

Bake 9 – 11 minutes at 375 F.,  or 185 c., or 165 c. with a fan oven.

Cool 2 minutes or more on baking sheets before removing.

True Lemon Drizzle Escapes the Comments Box

Belladona Took sent a link to a traditional lemon drizzle cake recipe, and it deserves to be let free of the comments box so anyone who reads only the posts can find it. It uses plain flour, so it should translate reasonably well to any country. Judging from the comments on the recipe I published, no two readers share any single measuring preference, so I’ll warn you that it’s measured in cups and so forth and let you decide in the privacy of your own kitchen whether it makes sense to follow the link.

In case it changes any minds, 4 cups of flour equals a pound, so you can still weigh it.

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Lindas-Lemon-Drizzle-Cake-51159200

Enjoy. Or run like hell. It’s up to you. Thanks, Belladona.

Autumn in Cornwall

Irrelevant Photo: Wild Blackberries Ripening in the Hedge

One Great British Cake: Lemon Drizzle

British cooking has a lousy reputation, which is only partially deserved. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Yes, I do love it here, but honest, folks, baked beans on toast? Mushy peas?

To make up for that, though, British baking is amazing, and somewhere in the blog fog that surrounds my life lately, I promised to post a recipe for lemon drizzle cake—something I’d never tasted, or even imagined, before I moved here. That sounded simple when I wrote it. I’d translate grams to ounces, milliwhatsits to—oh, god, what did I measure in back in the U.S.? The U.S. measures in a system officially called imperial measurements, but nobody knows what you’re talking about when you call it that and I’m not a fan of empires anyway, so I find myself fishing for a set of words people will understand. You know, something clear, like cups and whatsits.

I’m not inspiring confidence, am I? It’s okay, though. I can count past twelve, and even if I’m not reliable once I get into the high teens, I have an oven and I’m not afraid to use it.

Egg. Drawing by Janneen Love

Egg. Drawing by Janneen Love

But before I give you the recipe—actually, two recipes, one metric and one in cups and whatsits—let me shake your confidence a bit more. (If you want to just get to the recipe, scroll down and I will meekly shut up—something I seldom do in person.) A friend gave me a simple lemon drizzle cake recipe and I thought I’d use it, but it calls for self-rising flour. A bit of online research told me that self-raising flour in the U.S. not only has an extra letter but also has salt—an unspecified amount—which it doesn’t in the U.K. Short of investing in a ticket to the U.S. to try out the recipe or asking a friend to mail me a bag, which would inevitably split open in the mail, causing an anthrax scare, I couldn’t predict how that difference would affect the cake. So I looked up substitutions and learned that every cook on the internet has a slightly different idea of how much baking powder you have to add to plain flour to come up with the equivalent of self-rising flour.

I went with a cook whose website sounded convincing, made the cake following her formula, and ended up with too much baking powder. And, oddly enough, a fairly flat cake, as if it needed more baking powder. But it already had too much, something you can tell because your tongue feels like it’s growing fur. So not only couldn’t I add more, I had to take some away.

Screw it. I tried a different recipe. This one is based on Dan Lepard’s version , which isn’t a traditional lemon drizzle but does use plain flour and is damn good. He’s a genius of a baker. Where we’ve diverged is the butter (he uses unsalted and I can’t be bothered) and the sugar.

A word about sugar: The first time I went to buy sugar in Cornwall, I was almost paralyzed by the decisions involved. I’m used to seeing white, brown (I’m not fussy about whether it’s light or dark, which tells you a lot about my approach to cooking), and confectioner’s sugar, but here I was looking at granulated, caster, Demerara (which Word just capitalized for me, thanks, and I’m sure it’s correct but I don’t know why), brown, muscovado, and icing.

Since recipes in the U.K. specify one kind or another and some use a bit of each, and I have, once or twice, messed around with caster and Demerara, but the results haven’t transported me bodily to heaven, so I said screw it and stuck with the three basic kinds I know: granulated, which is what I call plain ol’ sugar; brown; and icing sugar, which is what I learned to call confectioner’s sugar.

There’s only just so much shelf space in the world, never mind in my kitchen.

So I haven’t used the caster sugar Lepard recommends, and I haven’t topped the cake with his lemony sugary topping because I can’t see that it needs it. I like my sweets a bit sour. But I’ll include it for anyone who wants it.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Metric                                                                                    Ounces Etc.

50 g. butter                                                                             2 oz. (4 Tbsp.) butter

50 ml. sunflower oil                                                                3 Tbsp. sunflower oil

Finely grated rind of 2 lemons                                              Finely grated rind of 2 lemons

150 g. sugar                                                                             ¾ cup sugar

2 eggs                                                                                        2 eggs

50 g. ground almonds                                                             ½ c. ground almonds

150 g. flour                                                                               1 ½ c. flour

2 Tbsp. corn flour                                                                    2 Tbsp. cornstarch

2 ½ tsp. baking powder                                                         2 ½ tsp. baking powder

90 ml. lemon juice                                                                    3 fl. oz. ( 3/8 c.) lemon juice

[opt.: 75 g. icing sugar]                                                            [opt.: ½ c. confectioner’s sugar]

 

Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade / 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt the butter and pour it into a mixing bowl. Add the oil, lemon zest, sugar, and eggs. Whisk them until they’re smooth a little bubbly. Stir in the ground almonds. Sift the flour, cornstarch (or corn flour—whatever you want to call it), and baking powder into a different bowl. Sift about half of this into the first bowl. If you’re working metrically, add 75 ml. of the lemon juice and set the rest aside. If you’re working in cups and ounces, measure out 1 Tbsp. of the lemon juice and set it aside, then pour the rest into the batter. Stir until they’re well mixed, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.

Oil a small loaf or square pan. Cut a strip of baking paper wide enough to cover the bottom and long enough to lap a bit over the sides. This will make it easy to lift out the cake. Fit it into the pan, then take it out and fit it back in upside down, so the side that picked up the oil faces up. Is that clever or what? Smear the oil around if it’s not completely covered. Convince the batter into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake a loaf for 45 – 50 minutes or a square pan for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

If you’re not adding the sugar, brush the remaining lemon juice over the top. (You could probably skip this step and never notice the difference, because the batter’s already very lemony. Traditionally, you pour quite a lot of lemon juice over the cake, mixed with sugar, but then traditionally you don’t add lemon juice to the batter. When I make the traditional version, I skip the sugar and just add lemon juice, because I like my sweets tart.) If you want a sugary topping, mix the remaining lemon juice with the sugar, let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes, and spread the lemony sugar on top.

*

And with that I have fulfilled my promise. Enjoy your cake.

At some point (she typed rashly), in the interests of subverting British cooking, I’ll print a brownie recipe and a chocolate chip cookie recipe.

How to Bake a Scone

I can’t keep writing about life in Cornwall without posting a scone recipe. And not just any scone recipe, an English scone recipe.

You should understand that there’s no single, definitive English scone. Not only do scones divide into plain, fruit, and cheese (or savory, which is spelled savoury), but any one of those three will vary. You can also find griddle scones and drop scones. They’re like the brownie that way. Or religion. Lots of variations; lots of recipes; lots of people damning each other to hell for doing it wrong. You’ll also find regional variations. I could be wrong about this, but I believe scones get larger as they go north. It may have to do with the weather, or the longer O in the northern accents.

Some recipes include eggs, which is any right-living person would tell you is heresy, so this one doesn’t. I have no idea where I found it, or how much I’ve tinkered with it over the years. Whoever developed it, I’d give you credit if I could. All I can give instead is my apologies, and my thanks, because it makes a damned good scone.

Scone with jam. Photo by Benson Kua, and it's from Canada, not the U.K.

Scone with jam. Photo by Benson Kua, and it’s from Canada, not the U.K.

Scones: Makes 5 or 6

1 ½ cups flour, unsifted (see below)
1 Tbsp. cold butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
½ tsp. salt
[raisins if you want them]
Enough milk to pull the ingredients into a ball

Sift the dry ingredients. (I was taught to sift flour before measuring, transfer it grain by grain into the measuring cup, then sift it again after measuring, but I can’t be bothered. Half the time I can’t be bothered sifting it at all, I just mix the dry ingredients together. If we’re talking about kitchen heresies, this is a big one, but my baking comes out fine, thanks. Just don’t whack your measuring cup down on the counter to make the flour settle, because it will and you’ll end up with too much.) Cut in the butter. (You want to keep the butter cold, which will keep the scone from being heavy, so if you can cut it with a pastry blender, do. If you use your fingers to crumble it into the dry ingredients, handle it as little as possible.) If you want raisins, this is the time to add them. Stir in just enough milk to form the dough into a ball. Roll out to about ¾” thick on a floured surface and cut with a biscuit cutter or, if you don’t have one, the rim of a glass. If you twist your cutter, the scones won’t rise evenly. If your scones don’t rise evenly, it won’t make the least bit of difference, so don’t lose sleep over this. Place the scones on a greased cookie sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees. (To make sure they’re done, take the cookie sheet out of the oven, pry one open partway, and peek inside. If it’s gooey, put the cookie sheet back in for a couple of minutes.) Eat with butter—lots of butter—or jam, or both. They’re fine cold, but they’re better hot.

This is the real thing.