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The British Baking Book (Oats in the North, Wheat from the South)

British Baking Book by Regula YsewijnI’m so excited to introduce you to a book that has so much appeal for so many people (not just bakers!) – Regula Ysewijn (aka Miss Foodwise)’s The British Baking Book (original title: Oats in the North, Wheat from the South): The History of British Baking, Savory and Sweet releases today in North America and Canada and is a book for food enthusiasts and wannabe culinary historians alike. Packed full of recipes you’ll want to make alongside fascinating information, it’s just as at home on the coffee table as it is on your kitchen counter.

From the publisher:

With over 100 iconic recipes, The British Baking Book tells the wonderfully evocative story of baking in Britain—and how this internationally cherished tradition has evolved from its rich heritage to today’s immense popularity of The Great British Bake Off.

With lavish imagery and evocative narrative, the expert-baker author details the landscape, history, ingenuity, and legends—and show-stopping recipes—that have made British baking a worldwide phenomenon. From cakes, biscuits, and buns to custards, tarts, and pies, authentic recipes for Britain’s spectacular sweet and savory baked goods are included here—like pink-frosted Tottenham cake, jam-layered Victoria sandwich cake, quintessential tea loaf, sweet lamb pie, Yorksire curd tart, and more. Illustrating the story of how British baking evolved throughout the country, many of the recipes have a sense-of-place heritage like Dorset apple cake, Whitby lemon buns, Cornish cake, Grasmere gingerbread, and Scottish oatcakes. Evocative and fascinating, this cookbook offers a guided tour of Britain’s best baking. 

To be completely honest, before reading this book, I realise I was very unaware of the lengthy and unexpectedly interesting history of baked goods in Britain. Regula has delved deep into the culinary archives and I first read this book from start to finish like a novel, as opposed to flipping through it like a cookbook. One of the blurbs describes this book as having “meticulous” research and I couldn’t have said it better myself. But it doesn’t read like a dry, dense tome; in fact it’s very lighthearted and playful in tone. Though there is a lot of information shared, Regula’s writing style is conversational and she manages to impart a lot of information in few words so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. She has styled and photographed the book herself (collecting the photos over a period of 10 or so years) as well as researching, writing and testing the recipes – the whole package is quite delightful and Regula’s passion for British baked goods shines through every page.

So, what sort of recipes can we expect to learn about (and bake)? So many more than you might expect! Cakes, Fruit cakes & loaves, Gingerbreads (a whole chapter), Biscuits, Buns, Fritters, Oatcakes & griddle cakes, Breads and Pies & tarts. Like any good research book, there’s a comprehensive bibliography for those who are interested in delving further into this subject matter (I am a sucker for a good bibliography!) and, like any good cookbook, there is a useful section on the ingredients used and explanations of certain things which will help make your bakes successful (the type of flour, the size of your eggs, the fat content of your butter – all of these are especially important for North American readers whose basic ingredients sometimes differ slightly). It is a beautiful book full of “want-to-make” recipes and SO many interesting facts about British baking, I started making notes about that as well!

Want a taste of what you can expect? Here are

Fifteen things I learned about British baking from Regula Ysewijn’s The British Baking Book (Oats in the North, Wheat from the South)

  1. There are seven different, local names for a “soft white dinner roll” in Britain?
  2. Cake is so important at British royal weddings that pieces of the cake are wrapped and sent in commemorative boxes and sent to foreign relations, friends and others.
  3. During the Second World War, carrots were offered to children in sticks in place of lollipops as they were considered “sweet food”.
  4. To make a Victoria sandwich cake, traditionally the eggs are weighed first in their shells and then the same weight of butter, sugar and flour is used (kind of like a “quatre quarts” in France, which is equal weight of eggs, sugar, flour and butter).
  5. Britain has a cake that celebrates “Twelfth Night” (Epiphany) but it’s very different to the French version that had a few different iterations over the centuries, most recently (towards the end of the 19th century) merging with the traditional Christmas fruit cake, and eventually disappearing from the baking landscape.
  6. Gingerbread (the “one bake that connects the world”) was mentioned by Shakespeare in Love’s Labour’s Lost!
  7. There’s more to know about British buns than you could think possible!
  8. Hot Cross Buns were baked as far back as the 8th century when pagan Saxons baked bread in honour of the goddess Eostre (which is the origin of the word “Easter”)
  9. The origins of “afternoon tea” might have been in the mid 1800s when the Duchess of Bedford introduced it to “fight a sinking feeling in the afternoon” (Is there an afternoon tea to fight the sinking feeling of 2020, then? 😉 )
  10. Bread was one of the most important elements of people’s diet for many centuries and the type of bread people ate depended very much on where they were from and what their social status was.
  11. Toast is an all-purpose dish in British households (it can appear at any meal!)
  12. A pie doesn’t have to have  a pastry bottom and sides, as long as it has a lid made of pastry.
  13. Cornish miners were responsible for the introduction of pasties to the US at the start of the 19th century. These days, though, a pasty can only be called a “Cornish” pasty if it’s made in Cornwall, has the shape of a “D”, contains a minimum of 12.5% raw beef, potato, turnip and onion contained in a shortcrust dough that’s crimped on one side and never on top.
  14. Mince pies did used to contain actual meat; these days, it’s more likely that the meat is represented by the suet or kidney fat in the pastry.
  15. The earliest recipe for custard tarts dates from 1390, when it appeared in the first English cookbook in the English language “The Forme of Cury”.

Belgian Buns from The British Baking Book by Regula Ysewijn on a baking tray being icedAnd now, down to the recipes – I have marked SO MANY as “to make” and I know this will be my “go to” for classic British Bakes, moving forwards. For my first bake, though, I was particularly drawn to the “Buns” section – growing up in Australia, a sweet sticky bun was such a treat from the local bakery – and I’m fortunate to not only have made the recipe (because it’s SO GOOD!) for the so-called Belgian Buns but also have permission to share it here today, thanks to the publisher.

Yield: 6

Belgian Buns

Belgian Buns from The British Baking Book by Regula Ysewijn on a baking tray being iced

The name of these buns is very amusing for a Belgian like me, because you don't see them in Belgium at all. The first time I saw these buns at a bakery in Oxford I had to ask the shop assistant what a Belgian bun was and why they think they are Belgian. Of course there was no answer, because these buns have been sold for more than a century and nobody remembers where they come from. The 19th-century version of this bun is more like a rock cake and you'll find the recipe on page 114. 

We do have a similar pastry in Belgium, but it is made with laminated dough and, although it has a modest amount of icing, the glace cherry is missing. I think Belgian buns look cheerful, and when I see them lying in rows of two in the bakery window, I  always have to smile. 

As there is no strict recipe. every bakery makes these buns from their basic bun dough, and so do I.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Proofing Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes

Ingredients

For the buns 

  • 2¼ tsp (7 g) dried yeast 
  • ½ cup lukewarm whole milk 
  • 2 1/3 cups (275 g) strong white bread flour
  • 2 Tbsp (30 g) demerara (coarse raw sugar), or granulated white sugar 
  • 4 Tbsp (60 g) butter, cubed, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • flour, for dusting

For the filling

  • 3 Tbsp lemon curd 
  • ¾ – 1 cup (120-150 g) currants, soaked
  • for 1 hour in water or brandy, drained 

For the glaze 

  • I¾ cups (200 g) confectioners' sugar
  • 3 Tbsp water 

For decoration

  • 3 glace cherries, halved

Instructions

Add the yeast to the lukewarm milk and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready for use. Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and put the butter on top. Pour half of the yeast mixture over the butter and start kneading. When the milk and butter are completely absorbed, add the rest of the yeast mixture, along with the egg. Knead the dough for 
5 minutes, then let it stand for a few minutes (at this point the dough will be 
very wet). Add the salt and knead for 10 minutes, scraping the dough off the dough hook and sides of the bowl if needed, until the dough has come together in a smooth and classic dough that is not too dry but also not terribly wet. 

Cover the dough and set aside for one hour until it has doubled in quantity. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Shape the dough in a rectangle on a floured work surface and roll it out until it measures about 11 x 14 inches. Spread the lemon curd over the dough and sprinkle it with currants. Roll up the dough from the short side like a jelly roll. 

Shape the dough into six equal parts with a serrated knife and place on the baking sheet with the spirals facing upwards.
 
Cover the sheet of buns with a light cotton cloth and wrap it in a large plastic bag (I keep one especially for this purpose). Rest the dough for 1 hour until the buns have doubled in size. Towards the end of the resting time, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Bake the buns in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes until light golden brown. Let them cool completely while you make the glaze by mixing the confectioners' sugar with the water. 

Apply a layer of glaze to the cooled buns and finish with half a glace cherry.

*** You can freeze these buns before you ice them, thaw, and then pop them into  a hot oven to revive them before adding the glaze.

Notes

Excerpted from The British Baking Book (Oats in the North, Wheat from the South) by Regula Ysewijn ©2020 published by Weldon Owen. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

These buns were the hit of last weekend (and so much easier than I thought). A tasty baking lesson, for sure and surely the first of many from this gorgeous book.

British Baking Book by Regula Ysewijn

Buy The British Baking Book (Oats in the North, Wheat from the South) on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store geographically closest to you). Or for free worldwide shipping, buy from The Book Depository.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This post also contains affiliate links from The Book Depository. This means that if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!

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Disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. I was not compensated for writing this post and all opinions are my own.

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3 Responses to The British Baking Book (Oats in the North, Wheat from the South)

  1. Cakelaw September 8, 2020 at 18:34 #

    It sounds like a great book. I enjoyed the historical baking segments they used to have on GBBO. I still have shell shaped moulds to make some sort of cakes I saw on there – not sure what they were though!!

  2. Tami September 8, 2020 at 19:38 #

    Maybe I need a new cookbook or maybe my English- born husband has a birthday coming up 😉 – two birds with one stone!!!!

  3. Geoff September 8, 2020 at 20:01 #

    A very interesting post, Mardi…
    I’ve always thought it rather odd, isn’t it, that a slightly burnt slice of bread (otherwise known as toast) can be so appealing. Slathered in proper butter, it’s the food of gods.
    Cornish pasties did make their way across the world – even to the Cornish mining towns in the northern end of Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. Presumably, even if the ingredients and crimping is correct, if it’s not made in Cornwall it can’t be a Cornish pasty.
    Anyway, I hope the book does well.

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