Carraway Bunns

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When I was conducting research at the Folger Shakespeare library in June, I saw this recipe for “Carraway Bunns” in Mary Hookes’s manuscript recipe book V.b.342. I love caraway. I love buns, rolls, scones, biscuits, popovers, and trying out yeasted bread recipes (like these “Oven Cakes“). As I prepared to cook “Almond Jumballs” with paleography students at the Folger, I added this recipe to my running list along with the “Snow Cream” I tried in July.

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Last week I wanted to bake something warm, buttery, and doughy. (I felt a little bit like the woman in this Onion article.) As I transcribed this recipe, I realized that it was rather similar to my mother’s recipe for Herb Biscuits. Her rich rolls appeared on our Thanksgiving table smelling of sage, onion, and speckled with celery leaves. Seasoned with caraway instead, these buns were just the thing. Like a rich, yeasted biscuit (or scone), these buns are an excellent accompaniment to hearty fall dinner or a luscious snack with afternoon tea.

The Recipe

carraway-bunns

To make Carraway Bunns         32
Take two pound of fine flower, & three quarters of a pound
of fresh butter crumble the butter very small in the flower went
It with milke bloud warme, & Good Ale yeast halfe a pinte
Att least, Two Eggs well beaten when it is Made into a paste
lett it stand halfe an hower to rise before the fier, then take it
& spread it abroade worke halfe a pound of Carraway comfits
in it & cast in a little white sugar Make them up into Bunns
Lay them vpon paper, & Bake them quick when they are hard
Att Bottome then they are Enough.

The recipe calls for caraway comfits, or sugar coated caraway seeds. I’ve made fennel comfits before (see below), but coating these small seeds in sugar syrup is tricky, fiddly work that I wasn’t up for last week. I used regular caraway seeds instead and increased the sugar.

Our Recipe

While Alyssa wrapped up things at work and walked over to my place for our cooking date, I put together this rich dough and left it near the warm oven to rise. (I was roasting some broccoli for dinner.) Halved, the recipe made 5 small buns and 6 large buns.

3 1/3 c flour (1lb)
12 T butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 c warm milk
1 envelope yeast
1/2 t salt (possibly increase to 1t)
1 egg, beaten
1t caraway seeds (possibly increase to 2t) OR caraway comfits
1T sugar

Heat milk. Sprinkle in yeast and let stand for two minutes.

Combine the flour and butter. You can do this in a mixer with a dough hook or in a sturdy bowl. Add the yeasty milk, then the egg, then the salt and dough should form. *Next time I will incorporate the sugar and caraway seeds in this initial mix.* Either keep running the mixer or turn the dough and any unincorporated bits out onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes. When the dough is smooth, cover with a towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Punch down the dough and sprinkle in sugar and caraway seeds. *This is what I did with the test batch, but next time I’ll add these earlier.* Form buns and put on a greased baking sheet. I left these to sit for a few minutes before baking, next time I might give them a second rise of an hour or so.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bottom and top are both golden brown. Make a pot of tea while they’re baking. Devour.

The Results

Delicious, dense, buttery “buns.” They have the crumb of a good biscuit or scone from the butter and a hint of fluffiness from the yeast. But some bites were full of caraway and others were sharply sweet. Next time I’ll incorporate the seeds and sugar from the start.

I think there are a lot of ways to adapt this recipe as well. If you don’t like caraway, use fennel or sage or celery salt or orange zest. If you want to make these sweeter, increase the sugar and consider adding an egg wash and sprinkling sugar and seeds on the top to make a tasty and stunning crust. I’ll be keeping this one on my list.

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To make a Simnel

Before I moved to England to study a decade ago, I had never heard of a Simnel Cake. When I asked people what it was, I usually got the same response: a light fruit cake for Easter. Needless to say, I was initially baffled by the concept of a “light” fruit cake.  But when I finally tried a Simnel Cake I knew I’d been missing out. It was sweet with marzipan and candied peel, rich with spice, and yes, it was “light.”  Now I always urge my spouse to make one as Easter approaches. We also usually re-watch this clip about Simnel-baking and egg-tossing from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series, too.

Although the origins of the Simnel Cake are highly debated, the Oxford English Dictionary includes mentions of Simnel from medieval and early modern sources. It’s long been “A kind of bread or bun made of fine flour” and “A rich currant cake, usually eaten on Mid-Lent Sunday in certain districts.” When I saw a recipe “To make a Simnel” in perennial favorite manuscript MS Codex 785, I knew which version of the Easter Simnel I’d be making this year.

The Recipe

simnel

To make a Simnel
Take half a peck of flour five or six whites of Eggs
well beaten a pint and an half of good milk, a quarter
of a pint of Sack, six Ounces of sugar, two pound
of Raisins of the Sun, two pound of Currants
half a pint of good Balme, three Nutmegs a
Race of Ginger, a little pepper, Cloves and Mace
make it into paste boyl it and it.

From the start, I wasn’t sure how much this would taste like a “light fruit cake” without the marzipan and candied peel showcased in modern recipes. But the recipe seemed straightforward except for that “half a pint of good Balme.” Ivan Day’s historical baking guide suggests that liquid “balme” in baking recipes often refers to liquid “barm,” or the yeasty scum on the top of home-brewed beer. This barm would have been full of wild beer yeasts. It leavened the bread and imparted funky fermented flavors. Researching this ingredient led me to treat this recipe for Simnel as a rich yeast bread.

Our Recipe

Our version of the Simnel receipt is quartered from the original recipe and makes two hearty loaves. I hand-kneaded this bread, but a standing mixer with a dough hook should also do the trick. Since this is a yeast bread, make sure you budget for an hour and a half of rising time! Alternatively, you can prepare the dough in advance. Keep it in you fridge overnight, allow it to return to room temperature for about an hour or so, and then bake it.

It was fun to pour a favorite local beer into this dough. I used Yards “Brawler,” an English mild style session beer,  but other lagers and pale ales will work as well.  Feel free to experiment with other beers and let us know if they impart unique flavors to the bread. I also used brandy in place of the sack, but sherry is an equally good substitute.

4 1/2 C flour (1.75 lb)
1/4 C sugar (1.5 oz)
1 t yeast
1/2 t nutmeg, freshly grated or ground
1 t ground ginger
1/4 t black pepper, freshly ground or pre-ground
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t mace
1 1/2 C raisins (1/2 lb)
1 1/3 C currants (1/2 lb)
3/4 C milk
2 egg whites, beaten
1 C beer
1 oz sack

Mix the dry ingredients — flour, sugar, yeast, spices — in a large, sturdy bowl. Add the raisins and currants.

Add the milk to the dry mix and stir it in. Add the eggs and continue stirring. Add the beer and the sack. The mix should resemble a rough dough that you can shape into a ball. If it’s too wet to handle, add a little more flour by the tablespoonful. Alternatively, if it’s too dry, add water, milk, or beer by the tablespoonful to soften it.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for five minutes until the dough is smooth. It should look glossy and consistent. Don’t worry if the raisins and currants keep falling out of the dough! Just fold them back in. Shape the dough into a ball.

Place the dough into a bowl greased with butter, baking spray, or oil. Set in a warm place to rise for about an hour and a half. This dough doesn’t rise dramatically because of the huge amount of dried fruit mixed into it. The dough is ready to bake when it springs back when poked.

Preheat your oven to 375F. Grease two baking sheets with butter, baking spray, or oil. I shaped my dough into two, round, free-style loaves, but you can also bake it in a well-greased rectangular or circular baking tin.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until the loaves are nicely browned on top and bottom. When you turn them over and tap the bottom, the bread should make a hollow sound.

The Results

This is a delicious, spicy, fruity bread.  It reminds me more of spiced, English hot cross buns than the modern simnel cakes I’ve eaten. The pepper keeps catching me off guard as I eat slices with tea whilst grading a huge pile of midterms and papers. The beer, milk, and eggs add a sweet richness to the bread that I’d normally expect from a loaf of challah. It makes great toast and I anticipate it freezing well, too.

Oven Cakes

Alyssa once called me a “yeast whisperer.” I love baking with yeast — no-knead bread and flatbreads make regular appearances in my kitchen and challah, herb-speckled dinner rolls, baguettes, and babka emerge from the oven on special occasions. A few weeks ago I was looking over the recipes I’ve made over the course of this project and I realized I hadn’t pulled out my yeast once. It was high time to correct this oversight.

This recipe for “Oven Cakes,” fluffy leavened rolls, comes from Ms Codex 644. I wrote about this manuscript a few weeks ago about in our “Cheape Soupe” post and these rolls would certainly pair with that soup.

The Recipe

oven cakes

Oven Cakes                            Mrs: Metcalfe

2 pound flour, dissolve a 1/4 pound of Butter
in as much warm milk as will wet the
flour. Beat 2 eggs, yolks, & whites very
light, in a spoonful of good yeast mix all
together. let it stand to rise when risen
make it into flat cakes, the size of a Muffin

Our Recipe

This recipe makes a delicious and versatile roll that could accompany soup, add to a dinner spread, provide a foundation for a fierce sandwich, or make a mean midnight snack. As a yeast baking aficionado, I need to do additional research on the status of yeast in the eighteenth century, before Pasteur identified it as a living organism. My normal sources had very little information on how one would add a “spoonful of good yeast” to this recipe in the 1700s. I assume wild yeast and something like a sourdough starter may have been involved. The dried yeast I rely on certainly would not have been available. In addition, what we now call “English muffins” are (still) simply called “muffins” in the UK. I flattened the cakes into round disks based on what I know about muffins and the recipe’s clear instructions.

The only thing I added to this recipe was salt. (And, honestly, I’ll likely add some more salt the next time I make them.) I halved the original here and it made eight rolls.

1lb flour (3 2/3 c)
1/8 lb unsalted butter (4 T)
1 egg
1 c milk
1 t yeast
1/2 t salt (I plan to try 1 t next time.)

Measure all ingredients. Melt the butter, heat the milk, and lightly beat the egg. In a large bowl, mix together flour, butter, and milk until combined. Add the egg, then the yeast. The mixture will be sticky, moist, and somewhat unmanageable. I didn’t knead this dough, but I did stir it vigorously. When everything is well-combined and the dough is smooth, if unwieldy, cover with a towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour and a half.

When the dough has risen and springs back to the touch, preheat oven to 400 F. My dough didn’t quite double in size, but it did plump up nicely. Divide the dough into eight rolls and pat into round disks. Butter two baking sheets. Leave ample room between rolls.

Bake for 10-15 min, until golden on the top and firm on the bottom. Try to let the rolls cool down before eating them. Serve warm.

The Results

I devoured these. I ate the first one hot out of the oven. It smelled vaguely yeasty, but it was buttery and delightful. After the first few bites, I brought out my current favorite spreads: Lydia Pyne‘s strawberry jam and “Three Citrus Marmalade” made by the local Fallen Fruit from Rising Women project. I ate some rolls with almond butter for breakfast: I ate some more with leftover chilli for dinner. This is a recipe that will make a return appearance in my kitchen. I look forward to making a batch with chopped fresh herbs, nuts and dried fruit, sprinkled with seeds, and/or brushed with an egg glaze.