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.


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.

Community life in a Cornish village

Some days you find an adventure around every blind curve in the narrow road. At least if you’re 144, as Wild Thing and I cumulatively are (I think; don’t trust me with numbers), it’s enough to pass for adventure.

We drove to a garden center on Sunday to buy a dwarf hydrangea. Doesn’t that sound like the kind of thing you do when you’re cumulatively 144 years old?

Irrelevant photo: St. John's wort, or rose of sharon

Irrelevant photo: St. John’s wort, or rose of sharon

We weren’t yet at the main road when we saw a ewe and two lambs on the road. I slowed to a crawl and thought I’d edge past them, but they weren’t having it. The ewe led her lambs straight ahead, so that I was either driving them back toward their field or further from it, only I had no idea which.  Either way, I was adding stress to their day.

City kids that we are, we’ve lived in the country long enough to know we needed to stop at the nearest permanently occupied house (this is second-home country, and vacation-rental country, so not just any house would do). But we weren’t near the nearest house—we were near fields, none of which had sheep in them.

Wild Thing got out of the car, thinking she could edge them to the side of the road, but they treated her the same way they treated the car: They kept going down the road.

Eventually we—me in the car and Wild Thing on foot—came to a field gate and they plastered themselves against it. I drove past and got out of the car while we talked about what to do. It was tempting to open the gate and let them in, but it was a recently mown, sheepless field. Wherever they came from, this wasn’t it. (If it had had sheep, we’d have had no way of knowing if it was the right flock, but never mind, it didn’t.)

We drove on and stopped at the next house, which turned out to belong to people we know slightly. They narrowed the possibilities down to two farmers and promised to call them both. In the meantime, a litter of six springer spaniel puppies swarmed us in that charming, brainless way that puppies have and they—that’s the people, not the dogs—said they had two left, did we want any?

I dragged Wild Thing away before she could claim them both and we got back in the car feeling very much like part of the community. Which is something, I suspect, that only people who aren’t quite part of the community bother to feel, but never mind, it felt wonderful.

We drove on and about a mile on the other side of the main road picked up two hitchhikers carrying skateboards. They were, at a wild guess, somewhere in their late teens and facing a long, long walk if they didn’t get a ride.

Wild Thing’s part of a group of people trying to create a skateboard park in the village. The group was kicked off by a couple of fathers whose kids—well, one of them is just walking and the other hasn’t gotten that far. So you can think of this as a long-term project. The village is a great place for young kids but not so great for older ones, and a skate board park wouldn’t solve the problem but it would help a bit. And it might keep the kids from skating on a stretch of road between two blind curves, where sooner or later somebody’s going to get smooshed.

So Wild Thing talked with them about skateboard parks and they loved the idea that someone wanted to build one. The three of them happily traded information for a few miles. They talked about how adults tend to treat skaters like a threat to the fabric of society—I’m paraphrasing here; I can’t remember their exact words—and I talked about how generation after generation adults are convinced that whatever kids are into is a threat to the fabric of society. The only thing that changes is the activity. When Wild Thing and I were kids it was hanging out on the street corner.

We dropped them in Launceston and left feeling like—you got it—part of a community. Then we bought a blue dwarf hydrangea and some pansies. I’d told Wild Thing just the day before that I wasn’t going to grow pansies anymore because the slugs and snails love them (yumm, salad) but they were so cheery that I bought them anyway. And I’ve been out slaughtering slugs and snails pretty consistently in recent weeks, so I might be able to get away with it.

From there, we drove home and walked to a village tea that was raising money for the Air Ambulance. We shared a table with two women from a nearby town and Wild Thing got a conversation going, which isn’t always easy but she has a gift. As they were leaving, Wild Thing said we’d stop by on Monday to help them eat the cake they were buying. They said we’d be most welcome. It was gracious thing to say, and since we don’t know their address(es), a safe one.

Then some people from the village joined us and J. wanted the recipe for a chocolate cake I brought to a party last week. Actually, she’d asked the day before and I hadn’t gotten around to sending it, but she explained that she needed it that day because she wanted to make it on Monday.

The recipe’s based on one in The Joy of Cooking, and I’m in love with it at the moment. British pie crusts are richer than the ones we make in the U.S., but their cakes tend to be drier. And I’m on a mission to mess with British baking anyway. Not because I don’t like it–some of it’s wonderful, and I’ve learned how to make a mean ginger cake. But what culture’s national cuisine couldn’t be improved by peach cobbler and New York cheesecake?

Anyway, being asked for the recipe left me with that same feeling of being part of a community, and we waddled home, happy and full of cake and scones.

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.

Easter candy in the U.S. and U.K.: Special late edition

Our friend J., having read my post about Easter candy, sent us some from the U.S. Her cover note said to read the back of the Peeps package because it might inspire me.

“What’s a Peep?” you ask if you’re not from the U.S. It’s sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, yellow #5 (tartrazine), potassium sorbate (a preservative), natural [unspecified and I’d say hard to detect] flavors, and carnauba wax. Yum. They’re gluten free and fat free and shaped (if you have a bit of imagination) like a chick that came into existence by being spat from a spout. Each chick contains 28 calories. That’s 140 calories per serving, because, as an essential part of a balanced diet, serving size has been scientifically determined.

North Cornwall. Thatched cottage.

Irrelevant photo: Thatched cottage with gorse and may in bloom.

The text on the cover claims they’re marshmallow, but they taste like nothing that originated on planet Earth.

No, I’m going to backtrack on that, because I think carnauba wax is used on cars. On planet Earth. So if you’ve ever used your tongue to wax the car, the taste will be familiar. That means, all you Peep Corporation lawyers out there, that I retract my statement about planet Earth. Don’t sue. Please.

The text on the back of the package says that opening it “opens a world of possibilities! [Oh, the thrill implied by that exclamation mark. I’m so carried away I’ll add one of my own: !] From creative crafting and imaginative artwork, to delicious recipes and more, let the fun begin!” And I feel compelled to tell you that the repetitious use of open is theirs. They were aiming for one of those rhythmic poetic thingies. Isn’t it wondrous, the uses writing techniques can be put to?

So basically, what they’re saying here is that these things last forever and therefore can be used in any form of artwork. The Mona Lisa in Peeps? Why not? A Peep perched Thinker-like on the toilet? Sure! More exclamation marks? You got ‘em!

When I worked for a writers organization in Minnesota, one (or possibly two) of my illustrious co-workers impaled a Peep on the bathroom ceiling, where it remained for months without changing in any noticeable way. I’m not sure whether that was craft or art (it gets tricky sometimes, that art/craft question), but I do know the Peep didn’t rot or stretch or draw ants or roaches or anything else that would normally be drawn to food. Those insects? They know stuff. We could learn from them.

I have a bit more trouble with the delicious recipes the text promises. Peep pie? I don’t know what happens to them in the presence of heat. I’m not sure what happens to them, in fact, when they’re eaten. They appear to be indestructible. Do they pass through us whole or does the digestive system work its magic, even on Peeps?

Dedicated as I am to this blog, and to exploring every last aspect of the cultures of the U.S. and Britain, I draw the line at offering myself as a test subject. But I do, once again, wish those of you who celebrate it a happy Easter and those of you who don’t a happy non-Easter. To those of you who love Peeps, I offer my apologies. Our package has been promised to an American Peep-lover in the village, and she’s thrilled by the prospect of all those exclamation marks landing in her house.

And finally, to J. I send my profound thanks. For both the candy and the suggestion. I wouldn’t have thought to turn the package over and read it if you hadn’t told me to.

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.

British Brownies and U.S. Scones

My last post included a traditional British scone recipe, and American readers immediately wrote in (on the blog and on Facebook) and said, That sounds great. Can I add cranberries, chocolate chips, and marshmallows? The answer is, of course you can, and it may taste great, but it won’t be a British scone, it’ll be more like a British brownie.

Why is a brownie like a scone? Because once it crosses international boundaries you can’t recognize it.

Irrelevant Photo #2. Dorset. Photographer, Ida Swearingen

Irrelevant Photo #2. Dorset. Photographer, Ida Swearingen

Let’s start with the American scone. It’s great, but it’s got only the faintest relationship to the original. Which is British, and a cousin to the American baking powder biscuit—plain, round, workaday, and delicious. Usually. If it comes in cellophane, be suspicious. It’s usually a little sweeter than a baking powder biscuit, and sometimes comes with raisins, which for reasons I don’t expect to ever understand are called fruit. I mean, yes, they are fruit, in a dried-up sort of way, but the world’s full of fruit. We don’t insist on calling a carrot “vegetable” instead of “carrot,” do we?

Never mind. The fruit scone has raisins. The cheese scone has cheese. The plain scone doesn’t have either one. And the scone with ginger and lemon and blueberries and chocolate chips and deep-fried Mars bars? It doesn’t exist. But the cream tea does exist. It’s tea with two plain scones, jam, and clotted cream, which is cream that’s been beatified. If you see one and you’re not in (a) a highway café or (b) a railroad café, try it.

The American scone is a British scone on steroids. Triple the sugar, double the shortening, quadruple the size, and add every kind of fruit and candy you can think of. Exactly when every American turned into a Texan (you know: Everything we have is bigger, and everything bigger is better) I don’t know, but somehow we did. Or it looks that way from here.

What about the brownie? The British call anything dark, slab-shaped, and sweetened a brownie. Mind you, I’ve had a few over here that were delicious, but if I see them advertised I approach the display case with extreme caution. Wild Thing ordered one in London once. It looked pretty reasonable in the display case but turned up at the table decked out with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and a blood-pressure monitor. The theory must be that if it’s American and you go over the top with it, it must be authentic. I mean, look what the bloody Americans do to the scone.