Tag Archives: almonds

Angels and Devils on Horseback

A Victorian hors d’œuvre that has died a death in recent decades; an angel on horseback is simply an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled; a devil is a tea-soaked prune treated the same way. The main reason for this is that oysters were then poor man’s food and now they are a delicacy; it is odd to think of the working-class tucking into these at dinner rather than the upper middle classes. Of course, the tables were turned by the time we hit the 20th Century. If you have never tried oysters before, this is a good way to introduce yourself to them, I reckon. They should have a comeback as they are delicious, and if you can’t afford – or stomach – oysters, then at least have a go at making the devils, though they are best made together.

The best oysters for the angels are the large Pacific ones – especially if you can get them pre-shucked. The best prunes are the squidgy ‘giant’ ones; if you can’t find them, just substitute two normal prunes for each giant one. There are many elaborate recipes, especially for the angels; the oysters in one are  breaded and fried, in another they are chopped up to make a stuffing. These things are best kept simple – the raw ingredients should speak for themselves.

You can make these delightful and delicious bite-size nibbles as some decadent finger-food on rounds of bread fried in butter or alongside some roast poultry instead of pigs in blankets.

Angels on Horseback

12 large shucked oysters

Cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce (optional)

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon cut in half

First, soak 12 wooden toothpicks in some water and get your grill nice and hot. Season your oysters with a little Cayenne or Tabasco sauce if using and roll each in a piece of bacon, securing it with a toothpick. Place them on a baking sheet and grill until the bacon is crisp and the oysters are plump. Serve immediately.

Devils on Horseback

12 large prunes or 24 small ones

Freshly brewed, strong tea

12 roasted, salted almonds

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon cut in half

Soak your prunes in the hot tea until plump – this will take 30 minutes if no-soak prunes, or overnight if they require soaking.* Remove the stones if the prunes are pitted then fills the gap it has left with a roasted almond. If you are using small prunes, sandwich an almond between two of them. Spear with a cocktail stick and grill as described above.

*Don’t throw away the tea for it tastes delicious!

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Decorating the Christmas Cake

Once your Christmas cake is nicely matured and well-fed on brandy, it is time to decorate the bugger. In my opinion it is best to go all-or-nothing; either don’t decorate at all or go crazy. Traditionally, in England at any rate, you need a layer of marzipan and a layer of royal icing. Though I have seen recipes that have a bakeable marzipan and no icing, which I must admit is attractive, but I keep it traditional, even though I am not really bothered about the icing. No, I do it simply for tradition’s sake.

I gave the Christmas cake recipe that I use in the previous post, so if you have made one or have a bought undecorated one that you want to put your own stamp on, I have recipes for marzipan and for royal icing too. Don’t forget to add some festive bits and bobs too.

Sorry about the lack of photos, I shall update the post whenever I next decorate a Christmas cake! Instead, here is a sexy Victorian lady full of sexy Christmas cheer.

Marzipan

Marzipan is essentially a paste made of ground almonds and sugar and it found its way in Europe from the Middle East via the Crusades. It was the Italians – specifically the Milanese – that really took to the stuff, refining the techniques to produce a very high quality product that was excellent for making into extravagant sculptures. Leonardo da Vinci was quite despondent after making some amazing and intricate marzipan sculptures for the Milanese court as he ‘observed in pain that [they] gobble up all  the sculptures I give them, right down to the last morsel.’

Aside from being used as a sculpture material, marzipan also became a popular sweetmeat used by chocolatiers and bakers. Some of my favourite cakes use marzipan: Battenburg, stollen and simnel cake. The Christmas cake got its layer of marzipan because the Twelfth Night cake – traditionally covered in it – was banned by the Puritan and Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell as too frivolous, so people added the marzipan they loved so much to their Christmas cake instead.

Here’s the recipe I always use for the cake; again from Jane Grigson. What I like specifically about this recipe is that it is not too sweet, which I think the bought stuff always is. Also, when you make your own marzipan, it has a much better texture as well as flavour.

8 oz icing sugar

1 lb ground almonds

1 large egg, beaten

3-4 tsp lemon juice

1 tbs apricot jam

1 tbs water

Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl and stir in the almonds. Stir in the beaten egg and lemon juice to form a paste. Knead the marzipan on a surface floured with icing sugar. Easy.

To cover the cake with it, you first need to slice the top of your cake off so that it is a nice, flat surface. I always like that bit because I get to try the cake. Then turn it upside down and pop it on a wire rack. Warm up the jam and water in a pan and paint the whole cake with the glaze.

On a sheet of greaseproof paper, roll out two-thirds of the marzipan into a round shape that is just a little larger than the cake itself. Use the cake tin as a template. Pick up the marzipan still stuck to the paper, place it on top of the cake and peel off the paper. Next, take the remaining third of the paste and roll that out into strips the same height as the cake and secure them to the cake. Press the edges together as you go as well as any cracks that may appear.

You need to leave the cake for a couple of days to dry a little before adding the icing (should you want to).

Royal Icing

Royal icing is the classic icing for the Christmas cake – it is ‘royal’ because it was the British Royal Family that used in for their wedding cakes, and naturally if the Royals did it, then we copied it. Icing had been around since the eighteenth century; before that, their wasn’t the technology to refine the sugar to appropriate levels. The first icing was similar to royal icing, it was spread over the top of the cake but then the cake was returned to the oven to set hard. The final result was a nice flat, shiny surface like that of a frozen lake, hence we call the stuff icing. Elizabeth Raffald mentions it in The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) – the first written recording of the word.

Royal icing is the most popular icing because it can be piped and coloured easily. Plus it is easy to make , which a bonus. Here’s how:

2 medium egg whites

2 tsp lemon juice

1 lb icing sugar

Whisk the egg whites until frothy but not yet stiff and then stir in the lemon juice. Sieve the sugar and then add it to the egg white bit by bit, mixing as you go – an electric beater comes in very handy here, but you can use a wooden spoon if your forearms are up to the job. Cover the bowl with some cling film and leave for a couple of hours. Spread half the mixture all over the cake using a palette knife dipped in hot water to smooth it out. Use the remaining half for decoration. I have never piped my own icing – I always chicken out, but I have bought a set now so there’s no excuse next year – instead, I add it roughly to the cake and then use the side of a knife to make a nice spiky snow effect. When decorated, leave it for a day or two to set hard.

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Ce n’est pas une Macaron

If you look at old recipes for puddings, you’ll find they often require macaroons; sometimes as the sponge to soak up the booze at the bottom of a trifle, crumbled over the top of a dessert or used as part of the base to a cheesecake. Indeed, in Jane Grigson’s English Food, macaroons are needed for several recipes. She doesn’t give a recipe herself, and seeing as one of the blog’s roles is to try to fill in all the recipes that were omitted from English Food. If it had appeared, it would have been in the Biscuits section of the Teatime chapter.

However, don’t get macaroons confused with coconut macaroons – they are a relatively modern invention, old receipts require the classic macaroon, made of stiffly whipped egg whites and ground almonds. They are quite hard to find these days. If you are lucky, you might find them in a french bakery. Indeed, they are called french macaroons in America, and are found miniature-sized and sandwiched together with some buttercream. Delicious, of course, but no good for baking with.

The traditional macaroon is part-biscuit (cookie), part-meringue, wonderfully chewy and sweet. They are quite easy to make, though the mixture does need to be piped onto a tray. I recently made some for the 300th recipe for my other blog as  part of a trifle. Luckily for me they would be drowned in dessert wine and then covered with custard, so a deft piping hand was not required (as you can see in the pictures below).

Macaroons were originally invented by Italian monks and became popular in France in the 1530s when the pattisiers of King Henri II’s wife used the Italian recipe and started making them for the court. I dont’ know when they eventually made their way to Britain, but I am sure it was pretty soon after that, as French and English cuisine was very similar and they were always looking toward each other for inspiration, especially in those times. Most recipes from around that era are very difficult to pronounce either French or English as everything overlapped so much. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the idea of making tiny ones glued together with buttercream took off.

The modern brilliantly-coloured and tiny macaroons

My recipe below is based on two others:  one from Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper, and the other from Martha Stewart’s website of all places. The older recipe includes orange flower or rose water, which was not used as a flavouring per se, but as a way to prevent the whole almonds turning into a paste when they were being ground. I like the taste, however, so I have included it in the recipe.

If you come across a recipe that requires macaroons, or you just want some to go with a cup of tea, here’s how to do it:

Ingredients:

5 1/2 oz icing (confectioners’ sugar)

4 oz ground almonds

3 egg whites

pinch of salt

2 oz caster (fine granulated) sugar

1 teaspoon rose water or orange flower water (optional)

Begin by mixing together the icing sugar and the ground almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white and salt until they form stiff peaks, i.e. if the turn the bowl upside down, everything stays within. Whisk in the caster sugar gradually so that the egg whites become glossy. Mix in the orange flower or rose water. Next, using a metal spoon, fold in the icing sugar and almonds. Take your time here as the mixture gets thick and tacky, and you don’t want to lose all the air from your whisked eggs.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper and grease it lightly. Pipe out the mixture leaving some space between each one as it will rise in the oven.

For small macaroons, use a number 4 tip, for larger use a bigger size or pipe out in a spiral shape. It’s up to you how careful you are – the classic shape is a dome.

Leave to dry for 15 to 30 minutes, depending upon size and humidity before baking at 180°C (350°F) with the oven door slightly ajar (use a wooden spoon handle!) for between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on size. You can tell when they are done when the tops go from shiny to dull. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

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Filed under Biscuits, food, French Cookery, history, Recipes, Sixteenth Century, Teatime