Have you been bitten by the baking bug? Baking has become an extraordinarily popular pastime during these “safer-at-home” days. Stores have been running out of flour as fast as they can stock it, and Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are filled with pictures of homemade bread, cakes, cookies, and other tempting treats.
In my last column, Finding Comfort in a Cup of Tea, I wrote about the time-honored British and Irish tradition of putting the kettle on during a crisis, and I talked about the comfort and strength a cup of tea can provide during difficult times. It turns out baking is another important source of comfort during difficult times. It’s productive, it helps take our minds off our worries, and it gives us a measure of control over our lives at a time when we’re feeling vulnerable. Baking has also become an important family activity, creating cherished memories even in the midst of the pandemic.
Many bakers in the US are eager to expand their repertoires beyond old favorites like brownies and chocolate chip cookies. If you’re an Anglophile looking for a challenge, here are some ideas to help you add a touch of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland to your stay-at-home baking.
BAKE SOME CLASSICS
I’m a sucker for classic British bakes like Victoria sponge, Battenberg cake, millionaire’s shortbread, lemon drizzle cake, jam roly-poly, Madeira cake, and sticky toffee pudding. I also like to seek out regional classics from across the UK and Ireland.
Regional English specialties include Bakewell tart from Derbyshire; parkin, an oat, and ginger cake claimed by both Yorkshire and Lancashire; Eccles cakes from Lancashire; heavy cake from Cornwall; and apple cake variations from Somerset, Dorset, and Devon. If you’re interested in a more in-depth exploration of regional baked goods, Caroline Taggart’s A Slice of Britain: Around the Country by Cake is a good place to start. Part travel book and part cookbook, it recounts Taggart’s travels across the UK seeking out the origins of more than sixty regional treasures.
Add a touch of Scotland to your baking with some buttery shortbread, a Dundee cake stuffed with currants and almonds, or some ever-versatile oatcakes. Salute Wales with Welsh cakes or bara brith, a traditional bread filled with dried fruit. Transport yourself to Ireland with some barmbrack (a quick bread filled with raisins and sultanas), soda bread, or a traditional roll called Waterford blaa. If you’re feeling really ambitious, bake a specialty from each country.
BAKE LIKE YOU’RE IN THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF
Are you a fan of the Great British Bake Off? If you want to feel like a contestant on the show, you’re spoilt for cookbook choices. I won’t attempt to list them all, but a couple of options include The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking and The Great British Bake Off: Perfect Cakes and Bakes to Make at Home, both by Linda Collister. You could also try one of the cookbooks written by the show’s popular long-time judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, or by one of the Bake Off winners. The Great British Bake Off website is also filled with recipes.
BAKE LIKE A TIME TRAVELER
For something a little off the beaten path, try a historical recipe. Explore The Foods of England Project for ideas. The site documents more than 2,500 recipes or ‘receipts’ for traditional British dishes from the 1300s to the present.
If you’re a Shakespeare fan, try John Tufts’s new cookbook, Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table (April 2020). Tufts calls it a deep dive into the world of Shakespearean cuisine. The hefty volume features more than 150 Tudor and Elizabethan recipes for foods mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Visit Tufts’s website to watch his video on how to make an Oxfordshire Cake. It’s a good way to jump into the world of historical baking.
If you’re feeling regal, head to the Recipes From the Past page on the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) website to try your hand at making an authentic Tudor Tarte Owte of Lente (see my version pictured above) or a Georgian chocolate tarte. HRP’s chefs demonstrate the recipes in the historic kitchens at Hampton Court Palace and Kew Palace. Tarte Owte of Lente is a savory pie that was designed to use up foods like eggs and cheese before the start of Lent (see my column on Shrove Tuesday and Easter traditions for more information on the custom).
BAKE LIKE YOU’RE ON YOU FAVORITE BRITISH TV SHOW
I have several cookbooks based on British television and radio programs, including Mrs. Bridges’ Upstairs, Downstairs Cookery Book, The Ballykissangel Cookbook, and Jennifer Aldridge’s Archers’ Cookbook, a companion to the long-running BBC radio soap, The Archers. There are also companion cookbooks for many other popular British programs.
Downton Abbey fans might want to try A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes by Jessica Fellowes, At Home at Highclere: Entertaining at the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnavon, or The Unofficial Downtown Abbey Cookbook: From Lady Mary’s Crab Canapes to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding by Emily Ansara Barnes.
Outlander fans will enjoy Outlander Kitchen: The Official Outlander Companion Cookbook by Theresa Carle-Sanders, while Poldark fans will enjoy The Poldark Cookery Book by Jean M. Graham. There’s even a cookbook for Doctor Who fans, Doctor Who: The Official Cookbook, 40 Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Recipes by Joanna Farrow.
FINDING RECIPES ONLINE
I love dipping into cookbooks for inspiration, but I know many bakers prefer to find their inspiration online. Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite online resources for English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish recipes.
BBC Good Food: This website is overflowing with tempting treats, including a large selection of recipes for scones, biscuits, and retro cakes.
Delightful Repast: This American blog features a lot of British recipes, including classic bakes such as Victoria Sponge, parkin, Madeira cake, steamed jam sponge pudding, and sticky toffee pudding, as well as several varieties of shortbread.
Easy Food: This Irish site has collections of recipes for bread, cakes, and tray bakes. Its biscuit collection includes recipes that replicate store-bought classics like chocolate Bourbons, jammy dodgers, and custard creams.
Tesco Real Food: This site from the British supermarket chain Tesco includes collections of easy baking recipes, “adventurous” recipes, and savory recipes (good for those who want to bake but don’t have a sweet tooth).
Waitrose: This supermarket chain’s website has an extensive selection of cake recipes, and its biscuit collection includes favorites like Viennese whirls, Jaffa cakes, and shortbread.
Note that you’ll probably have to do some conversions if you’re using British and Irish recipes in an American kitchen. Delightful Repast has good information on recipe conversion, and the BBC Good Food site has a glossary that will help you decode unfamiliar terms and ingredients.
SHARE YOUR BAKES WITH US
Have you been hit by the baking bug? Let us know what you’ve been baking and share some of your favorite sources for British and Irish recipes. Anglotopia readers who are standing by with a stash of flour want to know!