Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Traditional British Food, Part 15: Pastry and Prerogative

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see an old lady upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes.

I was very lucky and got to spend some time with Rebecca Friday-before-last (I've been absent a while, haven't I?) since she was passing through Wichita. She told me how she's been up to her ears in Bate's Case. Attention, dear reader: it's time to get out your copy of The Stuart Constitution. (It just occured to me that quite a few of my readers probably do have a copy lying around somewhere.) Anyhow, we'll just say it all started with currants. In honor of Rebecca's increased knowledge of import duties and absolutism:

Bate's Case Banbury Cakes**

Yields 8

1 pound puff pastry, thawed
Egg white, beaten
3 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 ounces dried currants (3/4 cup)
1/4 cup candied lemon peel, finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons mixed spice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon white rum

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Measure all the filling ingredients into the pan with the cooled butter (I'm trying to save you some dish washing) and stir together. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry. It should be so very thin that you're afraid it's going to tear, but not so thin that it actually does tear. Cut out eight 6-inch circles (or something like a circle) and place a heaping tablespoonful of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold the pastry over the filling and seal with the tines of a fork. With a sharp knife, make three slashes in the center of the pastry. Brush each pastry with egg white and sprinkle sugar over the tops.

Carefully transfer the pastries to a baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for twenty minutes. Check the heat after ten minutes and turn the heat down (or even off), if necessary, to prevent the pastry from over-browning. When the pastry has browned and the sugar has formed a crisp coating, the Banbury Cakes are finished and just need to be cooled on a wire rack before enjoying.

I've finished The Portrait of a Lady and I don't know whether I liked it or not. I was reading like a crazy woman for the first few chapters and then I lost interest for a bit and had to make myself read and then I finished up the last dozen chapters in record time because I wanted to know what would happen. I thought the book would have gone in a very different direction than it did. There was also a space of time while I was reading the middle portion of the book that I didn't care about a single character. That being said, I was really struck with the enormous, and yet petty, cruelty of two of the main characters (I won't name names, just in case you haven't read it). I'm glad I read the book, I just don't think I'll ever want to read it again.

I've moved on to reading Ivanhoe. At the risk of losing any remaining literary credibility, I must admit to really liking Sir Walter Scott. Sometimes it's nice to read something easy and entertaining. Plus, I can't read any more Jane Austen at present. Out of the complete works, I got through Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and then gave up (oh and I read Northanger Abbey last summer). I read part of Mansfield Park and just didn't want to go on. I wasn't interested in any of the characters or the plot or anything. Aside from Pride and Prejudice, I haven't been that impressed. So, that's why you haven't heard anything more about the book club that I was supposed to attend. That, and I was afraid of becoming an unfortunate-looking, obese, lonely, crazy-cat-lady-trying-to-find-Mr.-Darcy like a good number of the other participants. It was just too bleak.

*Blanche Fisher Wright, The Real Mother Goose (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992), 20.

**Yes, it is very strange that something that is so obviously a pastry should be called a cake. In Good Things in England, the 1615 recipe for Banbury Cakes is very similar to Hot Cross Buns, but the 1929 recipe ("A Modern Recipe") is almost exactly the same as the one from Jane Grigson's British Cookery, upon which my recipe is based. I'd love to know how Banbury Cakes evolved from buns to pies.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! I will have to try them...and then try to forget about the case that inspired them!


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