Our favourite historical baking recipes

Our favourite historical baking recipes

by Great British Chefs 17 October 2017

While avocado-based chocolate cakes, pandan-flavoured icing and high-tech wizardry might be the things that get all the headlines, it’s the traditional cakes and bakes of Britain that offer the most comforting flavour. Here are a few of our favourites.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Baking is one of the oldest methods of cooking, and in the UK some of our most beloved recipes can be dated back to the ovens of yesteryear. Back then, sweet dishes would be reserved for noblemen and royalty, as ingredients we take for granted today such as spice, sugar and almonds were incredibly rare and expensive.

While many of our ancestors enjoyed flavour combinations that you’d rarely see today (the combination of sickly sweet fruits and gamey meats from all sorts of animals in a pie doesn’t enjoy the same popularity it had in the nineteenth century), there are some bakes that have stood the test of time. Here are some of our best recipes that can be traced back hundreds of years.

1. Beef, stout and oyster pie

Beef and oyster was a popular combination in Victorian times, as oysters were regarded as a cheap source of protein for poor people. Beef was expensive, so thrifty cooks could pad out their pie fillings with the shellfish instead, often using ale to make the gravy. Today, oysters are regarded as a luxury and tend to be eaten on their own so we can appreciate the flavour, but this pie recipe shows how delicious they can be encased in pastry.

2. Bakewell pudding

Bakewell tart is one of Britain’s great bakes, but it originally started life as a pudding in the nineteenth century. The sugar and almonds needed to create this decadent pud would have meant only the wealthy could afford it, but today it’s an easy, affordable dessert to put together. Mark Hix’s recipe is a fantastic way to bring it into the twenty-first century.

3. Madeleines

These quintessentially French delicacies might not be British but they’re loved throughout Europe for their light, airy and subtle flavour. First written about in the eighteenth century, madeleines quickly became popular with the French bourgeoisie, and then entered the history books when author Marcel Proust wrote about them in his book In Search of Lost Time. You’ll need a special mould to achieve the iconic scallop shell shape, but follow Tom Aikens’ recipe to the letter and you can’t go wrong.

4. Simnel cake

Rarely seen at any time of year apart from Easter nowadays, simnel cake dates way back to the Middle Ages. It was probably originally boiled before being baked, but has changed over the years from a rudimentary fruit cake to include marzipan. The eleven balls of marzipan on top that represent Jesus’ disciples (minus Judas) first appeared in the 1970s, and it’s now very similar to a Christmas cake. Sally Abé’s version is simple to make and looks fantastic, thanks to the quick blast under the grill which browns the marzipan on top.

5. Cobnut and apple tart

If you were a Victorian living in Kent, then autumn would undoubtedly be your favourite time of year. That’s because both apples and cobnuts – which are like a tastier, more intense hazelnut – would be in season, resulting in some very delicious tarts and crumbles. Kentish cobnuts are a fantastic addition to all sorts of desserts, but this simple tart – made with earthy spelt flour – is a great way to show them off.