Time for tea

Old-fashioned cakes and curiosities
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Bakewell, the Derbyshire Peak District town, is as famous for its pudding (not tart) as Melton Mowbray in nearby Leicestershire is for its pork pie. I only say that, because it is something of a rarity for towns or regions still to be remembered fondly for something to do with cooking.

At one time there was a Manchester pudding, a Nottingham pudding, a Durham Fluffin', Tewkesbury saucer batters and Tiverton batter puddings. Even London had its own syllabub, according to Sara Paston-Williams, in her book Traditional Puddings (The National Trust, 1983), where I also found the other curiosities listed. It is an invaluable book, and should be reprinted.

Good, plain cake shops do not really exist any more. I remember a small chain of bakers called Duncan Foster in the north of England. Particularly memorable were their custard tarts (often still warm); vanilla slices topped with icing, that oozed their yellow custard filling all down the front of my school blazer; generously jammy doughnuts made with real jam, and sometimes lardy cake. Have you ever had lardy cake? It is one of the richest and most gorgeously sticky things you can eat. It seems simply to be layers of sugary bread with strata of lard and currants, but I'm blowed if I can find a recipe. However, if you are ever in the vicinity of Lechlade, in Gloucestershire, pay a visit to The Flour Bag in Burford Street. Maurice Chaplis, who is half French, makes some of the best lardy cake I have ever eaten, as well as a bewildering array of excellent breads.

Two other cake shops that still do a roaring trade are the Original Maids of Honour in Kew (near the gardens) and Sally Lunn's in Bath. Apart from Bakewell puddings, which are still sold from the original shop in Bakewell (which opened circa 1860), the Original Maids of Honour still sells its eponymous little almond curd tarts by the thousand, and Sally Lunn's turn over a similarly large number of their teacakes.

Another English pastry that used to be wonderful, is the Eccles cake. Sadly this has become just another rather dry, sweet pastry, mostly commercially made, with nowhere near enough of the black, wet mass of currants that should outdo the pastry wrapping to the ratio of 10-1, at least that is what I have found over their declining years (if you know better, and there is still an Eccles baker making them to my description, please tell me). The recipe that follows will, I hope, remind you of how they used to be.

Eccles cakes, makes about 15

It is fine to use frozen puff pastry, particularly as it is rolled quite thinly. You will need 350g/12oz, thawed.

for the fruit filling

85g/3oz butter, melted

2 tbsp brandy

85g/3oz soft brown sugar

225g/8oz currants

4 globes stem ginger, finely chopped

3 tbsp ginger syrup (from the jar)

1 tsp mixed spice

12 tsp powdered ginger

grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

grated rind of 1 orange

egg yolk, to brush on pastry

Melt the butter, add the brandy and sugar and dissolve. While the mixture is warm, add the other ingredients. Stir well. Leave to soak and cool, for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Roll the pastry out thinly, to the thickness of about one-eighth of an inch. Cut into circles about 10cm/ 4 inches in diameter and place a dessertspoon of the mixture in the centre of each. Brush the rim of the pastry circle with a little egg wash, lift up two edges to the centre and press together. Then take the remaining edges and lift over on top. Press lightly together. Dust with flour and turn over. Roll out lightly to flatten a little and then form into as neat a circle as you can; the result should resemble a little pie. Cut two or three traditional little slashes in the top, brush with a little milk and lightly dust with caster sugar.

Lay the cakes on a greased baking tray and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until puffed a little, glossy and golden brown. Cool on a cake rack and eat while still lukewarm.

Simple almond tart, serves 4-5

This is the easiest of tarts to make, and is best eaten warm with thick cream. The ingredients are similar to those for Bakewell pudding, but it is not as rich. In the photograph, I have used marmalade in the base of the tart instead of the more traditional apricot jam, but you could use any sort of jam that happens to be around.

for the pastry

110g/4oz plain flour

55g/2oz butter, cut into cubes

1 egg yolk

1-2 tbsp iced water

pinch salt

a little beaten egg

2 rounded tbsp jam for the filling

110g/4oz softened butter

110g/4oz caster sugar

2 large eggs

110g/4oz ground almonds

grated rind of I lemon

You will need a 20.5cm/8in diameter, 3.5cm/l12in deep, loose-bottomed flan tin

First make the pastry. In a food processor or electric mixer, or manually, blend together the butter, flour and salt until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Now tip into a large, roomy bowl and gently mix in the water and egg yolk with cool hands or a knife, until well amalgamated. Put into a plastic bag and chill in the fridge for at least an hour before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible, line a 20.5cm/8in wide by 4cm/112in deep tart tin, and blind bake by lining the uncooked pastry case with a sheet of tin foil and filling with dried haricot beans, for example. Cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and keep for future use. Brush the inside of the case with the beaten egg, which will form a seal and prevent any leaks. Return to the oven for a further I0 minutes or so, until it is golden, crisp and well cooked, particularly the base. Warm the jam slightly and spoon over the base of the tart. Leave to cool in the tin. For the filling, beat together the butter and sugar, preferably in an electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Add one egg and continue beating until entirely incorporated, then add the next one, and beat again. Add the ground almonds and lemon rind and carefully, but thoroughly, fold them in.

Spoon into the tart case and smooth the top. Place in the oven (at the same temperature) on the middle shelf and bake for 40 minutes or so, until the surface is golden brown, puffed up and springy to the touch. Switch off the oven and, with the door ajar, leave the tart to cool for 15 minutes. Dust with caster sugar before serving.

Sara Paston-Williams' Rich Bakewell Pudding, serves 6

S P-W says that "it is generally accepted that the pudding was probably first made by a cook at The Rutland Arms (or, according to the Bakewell Pudding Shop, it may have been the White Hart) in Bakewell two hundred years ago." It must be stressed that BakeweIl pudding is nothing whatsoever to do with Bakewell tart. And, according to the people at The Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, it should not be finished with icing sugar, even though S P-W says otherwise. Shall we ever know the truth?

175g/6oz plain flour

pinch of salt

40g/112 oz butter

40g/l12 oz lard

about 2 tbsp water

3 heaped tbsp apricot jam

25g/l oz chopped candied peel

3 eggs

110g/4oz caster sugar

110g/4oz butter

12 tsp vanilla or ratafia (almond) essence

1 tbsp brandy

110g/4oz ground almonds

icing sugar for dredging (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Sieve flour and salt together into a mixing bowl. Rub fats into flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix with sufficient cold water to make a firm dough. Knead until smooth and roll out on to a lightly floured board. Line a greased 20cm/8in oval pie dish with pastry. Prick the bottom with a fork and spread jam evenly over the pastry. Sprinkle with chopped peel and chill.

Beat eggs and sugar together until pale and thick. Melt the butter and run into the egg mixture. Beat together well. Stir in vanilla essence (or ratafia) and brandy. Fold in ground almonds. Pour mixture over jam and candied peel in the pastry case. Bake in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 20-25 minutes, or until filling is set and golden brown. Dredge with icing sugar (or not) and serve, warm, with pouring cream.