In the Kitchen: Queen Drop Biscuits

Dear Constant Reader,

I am extremely enamoured of the Victorian cooking web series at English Heritage and recently I tried one of their recipes. The results were interesting!

The recipe for Queen Drop Biscuits is from the personal receipt book of Mrs Avis Crocombe, the cook at Audley End House in the early 1880s. They’re a buttery cookie, packed with currents and a delightful almond flavor.

1/2 lb of butter beet to a cream, 1/2 lb of sugar, 4 eggs 1/2 lb of currents 3/4 of a lb of flour a few drops of almond flavour drop them on paper

It’s pretty straight forward as historic recipes go, with measurements for almost all of the ingredients. You need butter, sugar, flour, eggs, currants, and almond extract.

The method is super simple. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the flour, then the eggs (Victorian eggs were smaller than ours, so probably only 2), then some almond extract and the currents. Drop by tablespoons onto parchment-lined baking sheets at bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom.

The first time I baked them, I made a rookie mistake. I only used one stick of butter (1/2 cup) instead of two (1/2 pound). The biscuits were more like small cakes than cookies, but so delicious! I brought them backstage at one of our shows and everyone loved them. So, either way, you win. I think I actually like the less butter version better.


Queen Drop Biscuits
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, softened
8 ounces sugar
2 eggs
8 ounces currants
12 ounces flour
2 teaspoons almond extract

Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the flour. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add almond extract. Mix in currants.

Drop by tablespoonful onto parchment-lined baking sheets at bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom.

Makes about 2 baker’s dozens.

Note: If you go the less butter way, use 3 eggs.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 29 August 2019 at 9:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Christmas Pudding, Part 2

Dear Constant Reader,

Last week I showed you how to make a fruity, boozy Christmas pudding. Today we’re going to talk about how to steam it and store it.

To steam the pudding, you’ll need a pudding basin, a pudding cloth, and a pudding string. Fortunately, none of these are too difficult to acquire. You’ll also need a big pot, large enough to hold the basin.

A pudding basin looks like a bowl. In fact, you can use a mixing bowl. The important parts are that it’s heat-proof (mine are ceramic) and it has a lip where you can tie the pudding string and it won’t slip. For this recipe you want a 6-cup basin. There are also metal pudding molds, which can make for a more decoratively-shaped pudding.

The pudding cloth is a big piece of plain, undyed cotton fabric, well-washed. Mine is a square of unbleached muslin. Flour sack towels also work well.

Lastly, the pudding string is just some sturdy cotton kitchen string.

Grease the inside of your basin well, then spoon the pudding batter into it. The pudding should be below the rim of the basin.

Wet your cloth with hot water and wring it out. Some say to also flour the wet cloth to keep the pudding from sticking to it, but I’ve found it just makes a mess.

Place the cloth on top of the basin and tie the string just under the lip to hold the cloth in place. I used a slipped reef knot to make a secure knot that can be untied easily when it’s wet (which it will be).

Now take opposite corners of your cloth and tie them together over the top of the basin. Repeat with the other two corners. You now have a handle.

Now it’s time to steam! You’re going to place the pudding in a pot of boiling water, with the water coming at least half way up the basin, but no more than an inch or two from the top. It’s tricky maneuvering a heavy pudding into boiling water, so I’ve found the best solution is to use a pot with a pasta insert.

I fill the pot with the insert in place, check the water level by putting in the basin, then take the insert and basin out, and start boiling the water. Once it’s boiling I gently lower the insert with basin into the pot. If you don’t have this kind of pot, use the cloth handles to carefully and gently lower the pudding into the boiling water.

Cover, lower the heat, and let the water gently boil for at least 2 hours (more won’t hurt — I’ve seen recipes call for five hours of steaming). You’ll need to replenish the water from time to time as it boils away, so keep a teakettle handy. Make sure the water you add is boiling and that you don’t pour it onto the pudding itself.

After a couple of hours, take the pudding out. Either just remove the insert or use the cloth handles. Be very careful! Everything is going to be steaming hot and wet.


Take off the string and cloth and test the pudding for doneness with a long skewer. The skewer should come out clean. Let the pudding cool a bit in the basin, then turn it out onto a rack. Let the pudding cool completely.

Now we age it. You’ll need your pudding cloth again, and your alcohol of choice, and a container in which to age the pudding. I use a food-grade plastic bucket with a lid that I got it from my local ice cream shop — I think it used to hold marshmallow topping.

Wrap the pudding in the cloth and put it in the container. Pour 1/4 cup booze over the pudding. Cover your container. It doesn’t have to be an air-tight seal — in fact, it shouldn’t be. Put it someplace cool and dry until Christmas. I keep mine in a cabinet in my unheated pantry. If you don’t have a pantry or a cellar or similar, you could keep it in the fridge.

Once a week, flip the pudding and feed it another bit of booze. I know some people who use a pastry brush to gently coat it with alcohol. I’m lazy and just pour a splash of rum on top and let in run down the sides. You don’t even need to take the cloth off.

Puddings should age for a minimum of a month. I’ve aged them for as long as a year and a half. As long as you keep them somewhere cool and keep feeding them alcohol, they’re going to be fine.

Once we get closer to December, I’ll tell you how to prepare your delicious pudding for serving, how to make sauce, and most importantly, how to flame it!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 28 February 2018 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Peach Ice Water (1885)

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s starting to cool off a bit, but we had some terribly muggy days this summer. I recommend this delightful Victorian ice recipe to counteract such misery. It’s made with (no surprise from the name) water rather than a cream base. I think it’s more refreshing than ice cream on a really hot & humid day.

From The Book of Ices by Agnes Marshall (1885):

Peach Ice Water
Peel 6 good peaches, and crack the stones, and remove the kernels, which must be pounded; put in a stewpan with 1 pint of water, 4 ounces of sugar, and juice of 1 lemon, cook the fruit for 15 minutes, then tammy, and add a wineglassful of noyeau and 1 glass of orange flower water, a little carmine. Freeze.

Untitled

I assumed that Victorian peaches were smaller than modern ones and halved the amount. This turned out to make the right amount for my ice cream freezer, so hurrah for me. It was a bit of a challenge to acquire peaches in the first place as the crop in the northeast this year suffered badly from our weird winter and the farmers’ markets have been lacking.

The ground peach kernels are used to give the ice an almond flavor. Rather than playing games with cyanide (this small an amount is probably safe, but still…), I used a splash of almond extract instead.

I know the picture shows a fake plastic lemon, but that’s because I took it after the fact and I had used my stock of fresh lemons. Someday I’ll remember to take the ingredient picture first.

A tammy is a fine hair sieve that you would rub the cooked peaches through. Because I don’t have servants, I used an immersion blender and resigned myself to a less than perfectly silky smooth puree.

My research showed that a Victorian wineglass measure was about 2 fluid ounces. Noyeau is a almond-flavored liqueur; I used amaretto. Orange flower water, like its cousin rose water, is very potent. I recommend using very little.

Carmine is a red food coloring made from cochineal, an insect. I actually have some cochineal in its raw form, but that seemed excessively authentic. I considered adding a little red food coloring, but I was out (blue and green coloring, yes, but no red or yellow. Why?). Besides, the puree had a lovely peachy color in its natural state.

If you don’t have an ice cream freezer, there are ways to fake one. Or you can treat this like a granita and freeze for a couple of hours in a shallow pan, stirring every half hour to break up the ice crystals.

Peach Ice

Peach Ice Water
1 lb. peaches
2 cups water
1/2 heaping cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup amaretto
1 teaspoon orange flower water
A few drops of red food coloring (optional)

To peel the peaches, dunk them into boiling water for a few seconds and then into ice water. The skins will come right off. Halve the peaches and take out the pits.

Cook the peaches with the water, sugar, and lemon juice for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree.

Add almond extract, amaretto, and orange flower water. Let cool completely.

Pour into ice cream freezer and follow the instructions.

M2

Published in: on 24 August 2016 at 12:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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