St. John’s Eccles Cakes

I will stress the St. John in our Eccles cake, as I am sure Eccles cake bakers in Eccles will not recognize them as an Eccles cake they know.

Oddly enough, for a restaurant with a certain carnivorous reputation, we serve a vegetarian Eccles cake, omitting to use the traditional lard in the pastry; instead we use puff pastry, so apologies to Eccles, but this recipe’s results are delicious and particularly fine when consumed with Lancashire cheese, a fresh, sharp, and crumbly cheese.

Eccles cakes take their name from the town of Eccles. It is a small flaky cake containing currents, but one of those dishes that much debate arises from, almost to the same extent as the discussion of what should go into a proper cassoulet.  But the rigor of the Eccles cake discussion is that there are far fewer elements to disagree on, hence I stress Lancashire cheese, whose fresh, sharp qualities are the perfect foil for the rich currant filling.

With that last sentence banging about in my noggin, I suppose I should come clean right now: these Eccles cakes are missing currants.  Had actual thought gone into things I suppose ordering some dried currants might have been a wise move.  Not me though, my life is a whirling dervish of random encounters and half-baked ideas. So that’s why I grabbed two possible alternatives when all of my local markets let me down.

There are two different fruits called currants.  First is the dried zante grape which is a lot like a raisin and is commonly used in baked goods.  Most people think of currants as a fresh tiny berry that resembles a gooseberry. To cover my bases I grabbed a box of golden raisins and a bag of frozen goji berries.

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When Chef David Holtzman and crew started talking about making the cakes, I helpfully pointed out that I had bought two boxes of pre-made puff pastry dough.  The chef was having none of that nonsense and proudly declared that we’d be making puff pastry by hand, dammit.

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And so he did.  It was a wonderful master class of proper baking techniques: the melding of cold butter and flour into hundreds of layers.  In this picture you can see a layer of butter exposed under the cracking, moistened flour.  Making puff pastry by hand is not an easy task because you have to keep the butter at around 60 degrees Fahrenheit or else it will start melting, ensuring that you never get the desired “puff” aspect.

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That’s why Chef David took his time and properly rested the pastry in the fridge when he started to notice the dough warming up.  Letting the dough sit also allows the gluten in the flour to strengthen its bonds, which helps the layering remain intact during the folding and rolling periods.

When it came to making the filling, I explained to everyone my dilemma with the lack of proper currants.  Quickly they ruled the Goji berries out, as apparently the flavor of the Goji   isn’t exactly what I was looking for.  That left the golden raisins to take center stage, and did they ever shine. In a small pot I melted a few tablespoons of butter to which I added some dark brown sugar, pinches of ground allspice and nutmeg, and a little over a cup and a half of sun-kissed golden raisins. Everything was then tossed until even and set aside to cool off.

It’s at this point that I totally spaced on taking pictures, so I’ll have to verbally paint you a picture or two.  I do apologize but we were trying to cook seven different things all at the same time.  It’s a terrible excuse, but the truth is terrible sometimes.

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Thankfully I do have this image depicting the starting of the Eccles cake assembly. Here you can see Chef David cutting out little rounds of pastry dough which we then filled with dollops of the raisin melange.  Pinching the edges of each pre-baked cake ensured that the insides stayed on the inside of each pastry instead of free-flowing all over the baking sheet onto its brethren. Next was a quick egg wash and sprinkling of caster sugar before we slashed the top of each cake three times.  Apparently Eccles cakes must have only three slashes. Five is right out.

Eccles Cake & Lancashire Cheese

The cakes went into a medium hot oven for about 16 or so minutes, and they came out looking like this.  Delightfully tender, buttery circles housing a rich, velvety spiced raisin filling.  The pastry in particular was ethereal and flaky, the use of butter instead of lard or shortening making for a splendid mouth-feel and lightly buttered fingers.

Perhaps using golden raisins instead of currants maybe considered high treason in parts of the world, but my goodness they were a kingly substitution.  Deeply caramelized flavors enhanced with holiday spices left everyone in a quite sort of trance, as we each experienced personal nirvanas.  The best part by far though was the addition of the Lancashire cheese.  Dry, crumbly and almost acid is the best way to describe the cheese’s flavor, but when you added just a small bite to your Eccles Cake it just made everything in the world seem right.  The flavors were made for each other.

This was another one of those recipes that made me sit back and think, “Damn, I really have to find an excuse to make these again.”

One down, thirty six to go.

Tom’s Cherry Trifle

For this recipe I leave you in the capable hands of Tom, a man of many talents who has served St. John’s well, in and out of the kitchen!

The individual recipe components should ideally be made the day before the pudding is to be served.  Also, this trifle doesn’t really work when done as one large bowlful because, unlike my mother’s, the fruit isn’t set in a jelly but in a thick compote and so remains a little runny.

This update is a long one, but before I get into the details, here is an amazing video of April Bloomfield demonstrating how to break down a whole pig.  Thanks to David Shaw for the heads up!

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I was incredibly lucky to have Trish, a co-worker and friend staying at my house to help me with this recipe.  She and her boyfriend Jared decided to check out Austin on their short vacation, and we were more than happy to let them stay with us as they explored the city.  In return, Trish’s volunteered baking abilities helped shore up my lackluster skills for this recipe.  With the needed ingredients on hand, we started.

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First, we needed to make the custard part of the recipe.  Milk, heavy cream, and the scrapings from this vanilla bean were placed in a pot and brought up to a boil.  Not wanting to waste any of the amazing flavor housed inside the bean, I placed the two empty halves into the pot as well.

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Meanwhile, Trish started working on seperating some eggs for their yolks…

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…and whisked them together with some caster sugar until we had a smooth mixture.

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When the vanilla bean infused dairy finally reached a boil, we poured it over the eggs and began whisking furiously to keep the eggs from scrambling.  After a few minutes, we had a perfectly blended custard.

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Back into the pot, we let the custard sit over a low heat, stirring constantly.  I was looking for the back of my spoon to be coated with the custard when it hit me: we had just made a crème anglaise!  Reading every post on Mr. Rhulman’s blog sure helps me identify techniques and methods that aren’t mentioned in, “The Cookbook”, and this was just another example.  As a matter of fact, here’s a link to Rhulman’s post on how to make your own crème anglaise, which you really should read.  I’ll explain why later.

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While I watched the “custard” thicken, Trish had moved on to making the trifle sponges.  Half a dozen egg yolks were placed in a mixing bowl with more caster sugar and beat until the eggs were light and fluffy.

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The leftover whites were handed over to my standing mixer, who whipped them into soft peaks. Slowly, I added caster sugar until the mixer had incorporated all of it.

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All the while, I kept my eyes on the crème anglaise to make sure that it didn’t curdle. As soon as it was able to coat the back of a spoon, I removed it from the burner and set it aside to cool.

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With the yolks taken care of and the whites at the mercy of the mixer, Trish moved on to the dry part of the sponges by sifting together some all purpose flour and cornstarch. Due to my lack of baking knowledge, I’m not sure why cornstarch was called for. I know to use it as a thickener for sauces and stews in a pinch (I prefer arrowroot, actually), but that’s it. If any experienced baker would care to enlighten me, I’d appreciate it.

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Finally, we were ready to combine everything. By folding the ingredients carefully while forming the dough for the sponge cake, we ensured that the egg white foam didn’t lose its structure.

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Carefully, we spread the mixture out on a silpat laden half sheet pan…

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…and dusted it with confectioners sugar.

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The pan went into a medium hot oven for a while to rise and set. That gave us a chance to start work on the cherry compote.

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These cherries were frozen, which is okay in my book. Sure, I’d like to work with nothing but the freshest and highest of quality for everything, but fruits and veggies that are bought frozen are usually processed and flash-frozen close to the time of harvest, so they retain their nutrients and flavor quite well. Sometimes better than fresh! A quick defrost under cold running water, and they were ready to use.

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In another pot I started a simple syrup, heating it until the soft ball stage of candy making was reached. The soft ball stage is a dense, uncolored syrup where large bubbles can sustain themselves for a little while. A fourth of the dark cherries were added to the syrup, along with a little lemon juice. I dropped the heat, and let the cherries stew a while to get nice and soft.

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Once the cherries were finished, they and the syrup went into the blender to be purèed. The purèe joined its whole brothers to steep and cool down.

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By this time, the sponge cake had finished baking. You can see here that it cracked a little after we removed it from the oven, but it didn’t matter too much, as the sponge was going to be covered in the final dish.

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The crème anglaise had cooled enough as well, so I quickly ran it through a strainer to ensure that no stray little curdles found their way into the dessert.

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Finally! With all of the component completed, we could assemble the trifle. Again, I’d like to point out how grateful I was to have Trish in the kitchen with me. I’d have probably spread making this dessert out over two or three days, but together we were able to tackle it in just one night. Many hands, light work.

In the bottom of four bowls we placed the cherry compote mixture, and covered it with a layer of diced sponge that had been soaked in Marsala wine. After letting the wine soak in for a few minutes, we pressed the sponge down and poured some of the crème anglaise on top. The bowls were covered and placed in the fridge overnight.

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30 minutes before serving, the bowls were taken out of the fridge to warm up slightly. That’s when I found out that I had forgotten to slam the bowls on the counter to remove any air trapped by the custard. There were lots of unsightly little bubbles formed on the skin of the dessert. As I started to berate myself, I realized that I could just slightly massage the crème anglaise to remove the bubbles. One minute later, and no bubbles remained.

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At the end of the recipe, they suggest that we spoon a little crème fraîche on top and sprinkle some toasted almond slivers if we wanted to be utterly sinful. As the picture can attest, we were bad. Really, really bad.

I had wanted to take a picture of a spoonful of the finished product, but there is no good way to make trifle attractive to the camera. It’s just too messy. What I can do is tell you about how it tasted.

There have been two things I’ve eaten in my life that later on, I dreamed about while asleep. The first was a dish my wife ordered at Incanto a few years back, corzetti with trotters, foie gras, dates, and breadcrumbs. Everything we had that night was excellent, but that dish still haunts my dreams. Now it has a a friend.

Firstly, the crème anglaise was just a slap in the face. Why haven’t I had this before? Hell, why haven’t I made this before? Rich, vanillaie (is that a word?), and not overly sweet, I can understand why people are so passionate about the proper method to make crème anglaise. It’s awesome, awesome, awesome. If you didn’t go check out the link I had above to Mr. Rhulman’s thoughts on this dessert powerhouse, please go check it out when you get the chance. It’s not something you’d want to eat every day because it’s little more than fat and sugar, but I’m going to go out of my way to introduce it to as many people as I can. I’m on a crusade.

Now that we’re past the custard, the sponge had a lovely cherry and Marsala flavor, and it gave the dessert structure that it really needed. The cherries were perfectly sour and acidic, evening out the richness and sweetness of the crème anglaise. Also of note were the toasted almonds. Rather than be a suggestion, I’d say that they were paramount to the success of this dessert. They added a necessary crunchy texture, the slivers breaking into shards which slightly poked you in the mouth as you chewed.

A lot of work went into making this recipe, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t worth it. Tom, thank you very, very much.  Trish, thank you again for helping me make something so wonderful.

One down, fifty six to go.

Baked Treacle Pudding

The Golden Syrup can be replaced by jam with equally joyous results. A pudding basin is a kind of china bowl that goes into the oven.

I made this recipe for a St. Patrick’s party held by my friends (and extended family) Chris and Amanda.  It’s always fun making things from “The Cookbook” at other people’s places.  It gives me a chance to work under different conditions.  To make it even more interesting, the recipe was doubled to accommodate all of the attending people.  I’d like to point out that all of the pictures were taken by another good buddy, Robert Ohannessian.


One of the needed ingredients for this recipe is caster sugar.  You could go out and buy some for a pretty penny, or make your own by putting regular old sugar in a food processor or blender.  A quick blitzing, and boom – superfine sugar.


To make the sponge cake, caster sugar was combined with a decent amount of butter.


To that, an egg was gently mixed in along with some flour to prevent the batter from curdling.  The other eggs were added one by one and incorporated slowly.


Lots of freshly grated lemon zest was called for, and supplied.


Now for the “treacle” part of the dessert, Lyle’s Golden Syrup.  I hit up Wikipedia for more information about this UK-based concoction, and what is a treacle anyways?

Treacle is the generic name for any syrup made during the refining of sugar cane and is defined as “uncrystallized syrup produced in refining sugar”. Treacle is used chiefly in cooking as a form of sweetener or condiment.

Lyle’s golden syrup is a partially inverted sugar syrup. It consists of glucose and fructose syrup produced by inversion, which has been blended with the original sucrose syrup in a proportion that creates a thick mixture which does not crystallize.

Uh, okay.

What I was hoping for was a description of the flavors that are subtly hidden behind the overwhelming sweet nature of the golden syrup.  My palate isn’t as refined as I’d like, but I think that Lyle’s syrup tastes mostly of sugar with a lightly bitter caramel after taste,  hints of vanilla, and even lemon notes here and there.  It’s an unusual treat for those of us that don’t live in the UK, and I’m happy to have two cans in my arsenal now.


At this point in the recipe I needed to pour the Golden Syrup into a pudding basin.  Now, I do not have a pudding basin on hand.  They’re not terribly expensive if you really, really want to own one, but I figured that a Pyrex mixing bowl that had been buttered would work just as well in a pinch.  In went half the can of syrup…


… and the batter was spooned out right on top of it.


The bowl was then covered in foil, and placed in a medium hot oven for about an hour or so.  Doubling a recipe on the fly is always a blind experiment.  It should work perfectly, in theory.  Now that I think about it, I’ve had a lot more failures than successes trying to double recipes in the past.  I should probably stop trying my hand at theoretical cooking.


The only problem is that on the rare occasion things do work out well (like this one) it bolsters my confidence in my own abilities.  ”See!  I’m getting better!  I know what I’m doing!”  Famous last words, right?

A quick flip out onto a serving plate and the baked pudding was completed.  As I cut into the golden brown mound, I noticed that the syrup had integrated itself into the outermost part of the cake, forming a slightly crunchy crust that stuck to your teeth.  The cake itself was wonderfully moist, had a fine crumb, and a refreshing lemon flavor thanks to the zest.  Amanda is an excellent baker in her own right and she really seemed to enjoy this cake, as did everyone else.

Perhaps the best part of this recipe is its simplicity.  Seven ingredients in total, easy to follow steps and a short baking time has earned this recipe a permanent spot in my head, right behind my grandmother’s fruit cobbler.  It’s just that good.

One down, fifty nine to go.

UPDATE: I’ve learned two new things about this recipe from the comments!

The first revalation comes from Gem of curiousconfections.com

If I can make a suggestion, if you find a smaller bowl than the pyrex then the batter will cook quicker so the syrup will remain a sauce with only a little of it soaking it, it shouldn’t be forming the crust that you mentioned.
Maybe try using some ramekins?

I’ll just have to make this again to get proper results. 

Secondly, Russel Everett (who has been featured here before) was kind enough to describe how to make your own Golden Syrup at home

Heads up, I use sometimes use Lyle’s Golden Syrup to brew certain British and Belgian beer styles. I got sick of paying for it, and having to go find it. So now I make it. It’s just invert sugar, after all. And it’s easy.

Invert sugar is just sucrose (table sugar) that’s been boiled in the presence of an acid. The sucrose breaks down into glucose and fructose, and becomes stable as a syrup, so it won’t re-crystallize.

To make it, I put a pound of sugar in a pot with a cup of water and a teaspoon of cream of tartar or lemon juice. We’ve got really soft water here, if you have hard water you should add a bit more acid. Bring it to a boil and stir the sugar into the water. When it’s boiling, stop stirring and watch it. It will start to turn color, and you can pull it when it’s gotten as dark as you want. And it will get more caramelly and intense, the darker it gets.

Lyle’s is a light, just slightly orangy color. You could boil it just for a minute or two for nearly clear, which is good for baking applications. I’ve also taken it to a molasses color for funky dark Belgian beers.

After it cools it’s shelf-stable for a long time, so you can put it in a jar. It should remain a syrup, if it recrystallizes you didn’t add enough acid. And you get a pound of it for about 75 cents.

Thank you both very much!

Goat Curd and Marc

Goat curd is available, but if you can’t find it, a log of young goat cheese, before it has formed a rind, will suffice.

My friend Laura recently posted about a meal I had invited her, her husband and a few other people over to.  All of the dishes made were from “The Cookbook”, so I’d have lots of things to write about (when I finally got the time).  The really cool part is that she drew the meal!

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I’m going to try and get a copy so I can hang it in my kitchen.  The one recipe that she talked about and didn’t draw was this one, the dessert.

I hit up the farmer’s market, hoping that I’d find someone with goat curd for sale.  Sadly, it seems like all of the goat-related vendors had decided to stay home.  Since Mr. Henderson had declared that fresh goat cheese was okay, I went with that route.  Maybe I’ll find some goat curd in the spring.

Next up was the Marc.  Marc de Bourgogne to be precise.  Finding it turned out to be easier than I had feared, thanks to my wife working at Grapevine Market in Austin.  When we went to pick up a bottle, we were warned by a few of the “wine guys” at the store that it was very “rustic”.  And strong.  Mr. Henderson had mentioned in the recipe that if necessary, it was okay to hold back on the Marc content “if you find it too heady.”  You would think that I’d be paying attention to all of these warning signs and blinking lights, right?

In a bowl I combined a bit of caster sugar with the Marc, and then stirred them together to melt the sugar.  Bit by bit, the goat cheese was added until everything was completely mixed.

I plated the Marc/cheese concoction along with a few sugar cookies and some fresh fruit.  The first bite was…  interesting.  I mean, I could smell the Marc from across the kitchen.  So actually eating it combined with the creamy yet mild goat cheese was an intense experience.  Maybe I should have heeded all of those warnings.  You really needed the fruit or the cookies to diffuse the sheer power of it.  The Marc itself could best be described like so:  Imagine that you’re out on a long drive, and you decide to rest for the night.  The only place you can find is a family run bed and breakfast that’s slightly run down.  The water isn’t terribly hot, and the bed squeaks when you roll over, but the family is so warm and inviting that you end up leaving with a big smile on your face.  It does have a rustic flavor to it, and it is very strong.  That’s what makes it so wonderful.

I do want to post more this week, but please pardon me if I don’t.  I’m currently on vacation in Chicago for my birthday, which will end with a dinner at Alinea.  I can’t wait!

One down, eighty nine to go.

Welsh Rarebit

Savories are a particularly British way to end a meal, obviously not something sweet, a dish more appropriately washed down with a glass of port. For example, Welsh Rarebit, Soft Roes on Toast or, historically, Bone Marrow were often eaten as a savory.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” Proverb – late sixteenth century

“The road to hell could be paved with my intentions to update twice in one week” Ryan – fairly recently

I have an excuse this time, I really do. See, my wife just finished a run of the Pirates of Penzance for the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin, and Sunday night was the cast party. She volunteered us to bring an appetizer, and while I’d have no problems with Jellied Tripe, I didn’t want to inflict anything a little too far out there on the unsuspecting actors and musicians. Welsh Rarebit seemed like a perfect fit: not really bizarre by any standards, and easily adaptable to bite size servings.

Since there were supposed to be roughly 30 people at the party, I decided to double the recipe. Things started off with me making a light roux.

Once the roux started smelling “biscuity” I added a bit of cayenne pepper and some of the always fabulous Colman’s Mustard…

… along with a pint of Guinness Stout and a few big splashes of Worcestershire sauce.

The mixture looked almost like I had dumped a latte in the pan. I turned the heat down to low and began working on the cheese.

The recipe called for a lot of grated, mature, strong cheddar cheese. The cheese monger at my local megamart suggested this Denhay Farm cheddar. After tasting it, I can see why it has won so many awards.

Shortly after my wrist fell off, I had grated the entire two pounds of cheddar. I added it to the pan, and slowly let it melt.

Seven minutes later the cheese had reached the right consistency. I pulled out a half sheet baking pan and poured the mixture onto it so it could cool down and set. Unfortunately, at that moment my wife arrived at home after her last performance and striking the set. That meant that we needed to head out for the party, pronto.

So I cheated a little and stuck the pan in the freezer while I ran around getting ready.

Right before we left, I cut a whole baguette into half inch slices and scrapped some of the cheese mixture into a casserole dish.

Upon our arrival, I asked for permission to use the oven. Manners first. Once I was given the okay, I flipped the broiler on high and began applying the cheesy spread on to the baguette slices. Into the oven the sheet pan went …

… and I began taking pictures for my wife while the rarebit sat under the broiler.

Golden brown? Check.

Bubbling? Check.

With those two requirements achieved, the rarebit was finished. I yanked them out of the oven and began serving the party guests who had begun slowly gravitating toward the kitchen. The wonderful smell of the rarebit is slightly intoxicating.

Welsh rarebit is like a refined, sophisticated, slightly spicy cheesy bread. Not counting lactose intolerant folks, I can’t imagine a single person not liking it.

To back up my theory, every piece was happily eaten, and here’s a picture of my wife’s friend Lisa Alexander serving her husband some rarebit. They’re also big fans of Fergus Henderson, and we ended up talking about some of the recipes from Beyond Nose to Tail.

One down, one hundred and seven to go.