Sometimes I feel that we have the tendency to get over-sentimental about baked goods. In the past few years, there has been a trend for nostalgia in food blogs and some cookbooks, and we all seem to be delving into the past for ideas. My own food blog is no exception and I have, in the past, written about the comfort of making my late Nan’s tea loaf, and the memory of baking scones with her as a child. There has always been a link between food and our personal histories; the food we ate with our families, what they served up at school, the dishes we despised and the treats we relished; but are we starting to overdo it a little?
Last week, I watched Jamie Oliver, in an act of patriotism, try to revive the Colchester Pudding, an old Essex dessert that had fallen out of favour. Of course, he succeeded, even after feeding tapioca pudding to skeptical Essex theme-park-goers, and several caterers agreed to reinstate it to their menus. A little victory for history, you may think, but actually, like many old puddings named after British towns and cities, the Colchester Pudding has no real historical significance other than that it was simply named after Colchester. Oliver did a rather good job on making it palatable, but it made me think that some puddings that were lost in the past should perhaps stay in the past. The Winchester Pudding, for example, consists of bread layered with sugar and suet, and no amount of re-working (and believe me, I’ve tried) has yielded anything that anybody I know would choose for dessert over a chocolate fondant or panna cotta, for example. Winchester is close to where I grew up, so I thought reviving it might be fun. This is still a work in progress.
Biscuits seem to be the baked goods that we get the most nostalgic about. I noticed that when reading blogs to research recipes, most came with a lovely rose-tinted story about biscuits in childhood. The little pieces of shortbread that hung on the Christmas tree, or the Jammy Dodgers arranged on a doily at Grandma’s house. It seems that we really do associate them with our pasts. This was confirmed in spectacular fashion in Nigel Slater’s Great British Biscuit, an hour-long programme convincing us of the importance of biscuits in our history, national identity and every day life. Just as I thought it couldn’t get any more full-on, they brought in Stuart Payne, a man so obsessed with and passionate about biscuits (and who refers to them as ‘friends’) that you begin to realise that you know very little at all about these treats. The number of holes in a Bourbon, for example? Stuart knows this. We all enjoyed biscuits, but did they really shape our lives? I guess that’s for you to decide.
Of course, if you order a biscuit in America, you will get something resembling a scone, but that’s another story.
In recent years, I make far fewer biscuits than I used to. These days, I only ever seem to make them when people come for tea, and then only really a few varieties. I used to make batches and batches of chocolate chip cookies, but found that I ate too many and suffered all of the consequences that went along with that, popping waistbands et cetera, so stopped.
A year or so ago, I came up with the idea that I would bake everything from Dan Lepard‘s baking bible Short and Sweet and came across a few very good biscuit recipes. My favourite was a sandwich of two bittersweet chocolate cookies and a slick of sweet peppermint cream. Sandwich biscuits are always the most decadent of all, which is why the custard creams and bourbon creams disappeared from the tin far quicker than the plain biscuits. These don’t disappoint and are always a favourite with visitors. They look a little like Oreos and, despite some unkind remarks made by my boyfriend about ‘toothpaste’, the mint filling is always a pleasant surprise. For a while I have toyed with the idea of making a version with an orange cream filling, perhaps adding orange zest and cointreau to the buttercream mixture and a little cinnamon to the biscuits.
The recipe, by Dan Lepard, can be found here.