Showing posts from December, 2020

Pain d'Epices - a taste of Medieval baking

If you listen to my podcast¹, you will have heard last week how much I love to celebrate the winter festivals of St Nicholas, Advent and Christmas, and how I associate them with baking. I published my recipes for Dutch Sinterklaas biscuits last year, so I thought I'd treat you to my French recipe this year. Although sugar cane was cultivated in Europe in the middle ages, it was very expensive to produce and limited in its geographical spread, confined mainly to the island of Sicily and, later, Madeira. Sugar-based sweetmeats were luxury goods, even for the wealthy, and honey was the most commonly used sweetener. Rye was a popular grain for bread-making throughout central Europe, due to it being hardier than wheat and able to tolerate a wider variety of soil conditions. Finally, there are the spices that give pain d'épices its name (literally, 'spice-bread'): cinnamon, aniseed and nutmeg or mace. Aniseed is the predominant flavour, which is hardly surprising: it grows n

Give the turkey a rest - alternative Christmas roasts

In a recent article for Handpicked Harrogate magazine¹, I wrote about how home cooks put themselves under tremendous pressure to cook a turkey "with all the trimmings." It seems that over the last 20 years or so, we have come to expect our seasonal bird to come with a vast array of accompaniments, vegetable dishes and sauces. As far as I can tell, we only seem to have these massive expectations with turkey. Given that most of us will be reducing our Christmas guest-list this year, a 16lb turkey is likely to be too much, anyway, and I thought I'd have a look at alternatives. Chicken Before the advent of battery farming, chicken was considered a luxury meat. The idea that it had more flavour is not down to nostalgia: slower-growing breeds have time to develop more flavour but are, inevitably, more expensive to rear. Having said that, you can be confident they will have had space to roam and a generally better life, especially if you're buying from an independent butche