I don’t mean to boast (which means I’m going to), but I’m very pleased with this recipe, which I found in a book from 1767 entitled “Primitive cookery; or the kitchen garden display’d”. In the curious attribution style of the day, the frontispiece declares the book “Printed for J.Williams at No. 38, Fleet Street”, which leaves the authorship somewhat undetermined – possibly J.Williams or he might have been the publisher, or even the printer himself.
That mystery aside, the frontispiece also contains some wonderful claims, viz “RECEIPTS for preparing a great Variety of cheap, healthful and palatable Dishes without Fish, Flesh or Fowl; WITH A BILL of FARE of Seventy Dishes that will not cost above Two-Pence each”. The low cost and the vegetarian nature of the dishes was doubly interesting, since vegetarianism didn’t really take off in Britain until the nineteenth century. Alas, it wasn’t quite the groundbreaking publication I thought, as I found meat and meat products scattered liberally throughout, and although the seventy tupenny dishes are meatless, they consist mostly of dishes along the lines of “[insert the name of a vegetable] boiled and bread and butter”. Still, it’s not all plain fare, as the following meal suggestion illustrates: “Bread and half a pint of canary, makes an excellent meal.” With half a pint of sherry (canary) inside you, you wouldn’t really care that you only had bread to eat. And for tuppence? Bargain!
These biscuits are listed in the book as Parsnip Cakes – the word ‘cake’ having a much more versatile usage in the eighteenth century, and more inclined to refer to shape, rather than some delightful teatime confection. Parsnips provide both bulk and a very gentle sweetness. Sliced, dried in the oven and then ground in a spice grinder, the parsnip ‘flour’ is then mixed with an equal quantity of flour, a little spice, and formed into a dough by mixing with double cream. Rolled out to a thinness of 5mm and baked in a cool oven, the resultant biscuits are crisp, crunchy and similar to a close-textured digestive biscuit. The flavour of parsnip is detectable, especially if, in the drying they have also browned a little and the sugars caramelised, but it’s not overpowering. More nutty than vegetable. In terms of sweetness, they sit bang on the fence between sweet and savoury – sweet enough to satisfy a sugar craving, savoury enough to eat with cheese.
It’s this versatility which got me thinking of ways in which it could be adapted, and after experimentation, came up with the following:
- Spices. You can vary the spices and tip the biscuits more towards sweet or savoury as you prefer.
- Sweet spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves.
- Savoury spices: garam masala, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, curry powder.
- Neutral spices that could go either way: aniseed, fennel, fenugreek, caraway, cardamom, Chinese five spice.
- Herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, chives, etc.
- Flours. This is where these biscuits are most versatile.The flour you match with the parsnip powder doesn’t have to be limited to plain white. The biscuits in the picture above have been made with stoneground wholemeal with aniseed (top) and medium oatmeal, with a little salt (bottom). Here are just a few further suggestions:
- medium oatmeal
- plain white
- white + cornflour
- brown + rye
- Usage. The dough can also be used as a pastry, with different results coming from the different flours used. Mixing the parsnip flour with brown flour or oatmeal would make a fantastic crust for something like a cauliflower cheese tart. I haven’t tried it for turnovers/handpies, but I suspect you’d need to use bread flour and to work it quite well in order to prevent it cracking when trying to fold it.
The recipe for mixing the actual biscuits requires only a fraction of your parsnip flour, thereby allowing you to make several batches from this one quantity. That said, this made only about 200g of parsnip flour in total.
4 large parsnips
50g flour of choice
½-1tsp spice/herb/flavouring of choice
50-70ml double cream
¼ tsp salt (for savoury biscuits and/or when using oatmeal)
- Peel the parsnips and slice thinly – a mandolin is ideal.
- Arrange the slices on parchment-lined baking sheets and put into the oven.
- Turn the oven on low, 120°C/100°C Fan.
- Since the slices are so thin, they won’t take very long to dry at all. Check after 15 minutes. If they have curled into flower shapes, remove from the oven and allow to cool. If they aren’t completely crisp when cold, you can easily dry them a little longer. It’s better to dry them in two stages, than to let them go a little too long and allow them to take on colour – unless that’s what you’re after, of course.
- When the parsnips slices are crisp and cold, grind them to powder in a spice grinder, or pound them in a pestle and mortar. If you’re using them for savoury biscuits, you can get away with having it a little coarser – like semolina or polenta. For sweet biscuits, you’ll probably need to sieve out the larger pieces and re-grind.
- Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C Fan
- To make the biscuits:
- Put 50g parsnip flour in the bowl of a food processor.
- Add 50g of your chosen flour.
- Add your chosen spices and salt, if required.
- Blitz for a few seconds to mix.
- With the motor running, gradually pour in the double cream. Depending on the flour you are using, the quantity of cream required to bring the dough together will vary. Add just enough until the dough comes together in a ball, or at least resembles damp breadcrumbs.
- Tip out and press together into a ball.
- Roll out between sheets of cling film plastic (to avoid sticking) to about 5mm and cut into biscuits. I made rectangles of 2.5cm x 5cm, but any shape will do.
- Lay the biscuits onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick the middles neatly with a fork.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Transfer to a wire rack and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes in order to ensure the undersides are dried and crisp.
- Allow to cool on the wire rack before storing in an airtight container.
Bonus Recipe – Labna
This has to be the world’s simplest soft cheese recipe. I enjoyed it regularly when I was working in the Middle East and its so easy to make. It’s the topping for the biscuits in the photograph and, like the biscuits, can be enjoyed equally with sweet flavours as well as savoury. I dabbed on some seedless blackcurrant jam and it was awesome.
500ml yogurt – any will do, but Greek yogurt is especially delicious
- Line a sieve with some clean, scalded muslin.
- Mix the salt and the yogurt together and pour into the muslin.
- Tie the corners of the muslin together and hang over a bowl to drain.
- Leave for 10-12 hours, or overnight.
- Transfer to a suitable container and store in the fridge.
And that’s it. It’s rich and creamy like cream cheese, but light and refreshing and with just a fraction of the fat content. As already mentioned, it’s delicious paired with a sharp jam or salad, but you can also embellish it as follows:
- Combine with crushed garlic, freshly chopped mint or parsley, a little olive oil and black pepper and serve with flatbreads.
- Spread labna on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper or paprika. Serve with tortilla chips and salsa.
- Shape balls of labna by using a tablespoon as a measure, or a mini ice-cream scoop. Arrange on a tray and chill in the fridge for several hours until firm. Transfer to a jar and pour over olive oil to cover. As long as the labna balls are fully covered by the oil and the jar properly sealed, this will keep without need for refrigeration. Serve dusted with zatar, sumak or rolled in chopped, fresh thyme.
This is another fantastic textured fudge recipe, but in a whole different way to the Condensed Milk Fudge.
It is made with whisked egg-whites and a hot sugar syrup, beaten to grain the sugar. The result is a dazzlingly white, almost marshmallow appearance. The magic, however, happens when you take a bite. Just like it’s namesake, Sea Foam Fudge melts away like a whisper.
It is positively ethereal. Which is why it needs a jolly great handful of cranberries, apricots and a few chopped nuts for zing and colour and a bit of texture. Some Yuletide flotsam, to be carried into your mouth on a cushion of sea foam, if you will. Or not. I tend to get a bit carried away with my extended metaphors.
In the US I believe this is called Divinity and lacks the fruit, but also veers dangerously (for my not-very-sweet-tooth) towards the soft and nougat-y.
As with meringues, this will absorb moisture if left uncovered, so pack into a ziplock bag for personal indulgence, or shiny, crackly cellophane if gifting as presents.
This comes from a delightful book in my collection – Sweet-Making For All by Helen Jerome, originally published in 1924. Just as with Ms Nell Heaton, I have great confidence in Ms Jerome’s recipes which are always clear and straightforward. If you come across any of their books, I can highly recommend them.
450g white granulated sugar
60g golden syrup or glucose
2 large egg whites
50g chopped nuts – pistachios are colourful, almonds keep things pale
50g chopped dried apricots
50g chopped cranberries – dried or candied
1tsp vanilla extract or 1tbs rum
- Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment.
- Put the sugar, syrup and water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
- Bring to a boil and continue to heat until the syrup reaches 130°C. Do not stir.
- When the temperature of the syrup reaches 120°C, start whisking the egg-whites until stiff. The temperature of the sugar syrup will rise relatively quickly, so keep an eye on each. Or get a glamorous assistant to help.
- Still whisking, pour the hot syrup slowly into the whisked egg-whites, as if making Italian meringue, and continue beating until the mixture begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Add the flavouring whilst whisking.
- When the mixture has lost its high sheen and thickened slightly add the fruit and nuts and continue beating until the mixture has thickened further and becomes cloud-like. NB This might happen suddenly, so be prepared.
- Smooth your Sea Foam into the tin. Alternatively, roll lightly into logs about 2cm in diameter Try not to squash out the air you’ve just whisked in as you do so. Wearing latex gloves or dusting your hands with cornflour, or both – will help.
- Cover lightly and allow to cool completely. If you can enclose your tin in a large ziplock bag to protect from humidity, so much the better.
- When cold, cut into squares and/or dip into tempered chocolate. Store in an airtight container.
 The glucose will keep the fudge dazzlingly white, the golden syrup will add a very pale golden hue.
The recipe I have for you this week is infinitely customisable, rich, classic, timeless……and made up 2 weeks ago.
Yes – confession time – I have LURED you in with the promise of an authentic, resurrected classic biscuit by using a shamelessly ambiguous title.
For these are not Heritage Florentines due to their authenticity and observance of a meticulously researched recipe. No – they are named after Stuart Heritage who said something nice about me in The Guardian newspaper.
THE GREATEST GBBO CONTESTANT OF ALL TIME, FOR ALL TIME, TILL THE MOUNTAINS FALL AND THE SEAS RUN DRY.
I paraphrase, but I think that was the general gist.
Go me! 😀
In gratitude, I sent him a bumper-fun Box O’ Bakes, which included these Florentines.
Reading the – frankly hi-LARIOUS – article, I noticed a certain wistfulness about him wanting-to-but-never-quite-getting-fired-up-enough-to bake stuff. Quite by coincidence, an article on “How to bake the perfect Florentine” was published on the same day as I made these. However, those all turned out to be a whole lot of Faff™, what with the butter and the sugar and the cream and the flour…..yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. SO! I rustled up this recipe for the faff-hating foodie! I’ve no idea whether he’ll have a go at them, but the recipe is here if needed.
I used a silicone cupcake mould to ensure a small, rounded shape to each biscuit, and also to prevent them spreading to side-plate proportions with accompanying tooth-shattering caramel. The mix of fruit and nuts is entirely customisable to a) what you like and b) what you have in the cupboard. Keep the fruit large/whole, so that the variety in the baked biscuit can be both seen and appreciated, rather than become an anonymous blob. Incidentally, this recipe is an amazingly efficient method of spring-cleaning the cupboard and using up all the half-opened packets you’ve got lying around.
*poker face* Not that I’d ever do that.
Hope you enjoy this fast, fuss and gluten-free riff on a classic.
Written in deliberately faff-free language. For a delicious variation, use caramel condensed milk, aka Banoffi Pie filling.
1 lot of sliced almonds
1 lot of coconut ribbons/cornflakes
2 lots of dried fruit
1 (397g) tin sweetened, condensed milk
- Get a mug – doesn’t matter which size, really – big if you’re peckish, small if not really, proper measuring cup if that’s how you roll.
- Fill mug/cup with sliced almonds.
- Bung them in a bowl.
- Fill mug/cup with coconut ribbons and bung in the bowl. Don’t like coconut? Use cornflakes instead.
- Fill mug with dried fruit that you love. Throw in more nuts if you like.
- Bung it in the bowl.
- Repeat as above (for a total of 2 mugs of fruit).
- Open tin of sweetened condensed milk.
- Bung it in the bowl.
- Turn oven on to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
- Put spoonfuls of mixture into cupcake tin. NB Using bendy silicon is probably easiest, but non-stick metal works too. To help retrieve the biscuits easily after baking, put a square of baking parchment into the bottom of each one and spoon mixture on top. NNB Up to 2cm of mixture will make a crispy Florentine, more than 2cm will make chewy/gooey Florentine. Either way, they will be nice and round and not burnt at the edges.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- Take the tray out and turn it around 180 degrees.
- Look at your Florentines. If they’re already starting to brown, bake for a further 2-3 mins. If they’re still pale, bake for a full 5 more minutes.
- Leave to cool in the tin.
- Melt some chocolate.
- Dip the bottom of the cooked biscuits in chocolate.
- Put biscuits on parchment to set.
An unusual and simple cake for you this week, with the bonus of being gluten-free!
Following on from the gluten-free Brazilian Cheese Breads of last week, it might look as if I’m following a theme here, but I assure you it’s juts a coincidence – a DELICIOUS coincidence!
Last week, I got a request from my publisher to write a short paragraph for publication on their foodie website, on my favourite baking book. As you can imagine, with my book collection, this took quite some time to narrow down. As I was perusing the shortlisted books, I came across this recipe – not in any specific allergy-related book or even chapter of a book. No, it was just included with a bunch of other recipes in a book aimed at the commercial baker, dating from the early 20th century. I have scaled the recipe down from the originally huge quantities, but otherwise, it is unchanged.
This cake is made using potato flour. IMPORTANT: Potato flour is made from RAW potatoes and is a bright white and very fine powder, with no discernible taste. It is NOT dehydrated cooked potato, which is coarse, yellowish and tastes of potato. That makes mashed potatoes when reconstituted and will add a similar texture to your cake. Readers in the US: use potato starch flour.
At first, I thought the cake got its name from it colour, because, as you can see from the photo, it is indeed a very pale cake. However, after tasting the cake, I’m now of the opinion that its name comes from its texture. It has the same quality of settled snow, in that there is a thin ‘crust’ on the top and soft, friable, almost powder-like substance underneath. The cake dissolves in the mouth – but in a different way to, say, Melting Moments. It’s incredibly light and tender and is best enjoyed simply, where it can really shine.
That said, the cream that I have teamed with it is pretty awesome itself. It is a variation of the filling I used for the mille-feuilles in the final of The Great British Bake Off. The mixture of sweetened cream cheese and whipped double cream is given a firmer set by the addition of gelatine, which helps to hold in the moisture and makes for a very luscious, rich, creamy and mousse-like texture. Just to continue the frozen theme, it’s like the very best soft-serve ice-cream, without the cold.
I’ve brightened the filling with some of the Apricot Jam I made a couple of weeks ago, but any other sharp jam would also work well.
I bought the potato flour at Holland & Barrett.
112g unsalted butter – softened
112g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
2 level tsp baking powder
225g potato flour
- Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
- Grease and line the base of a 20cm diameter, tall cake tin – not a sandwich tin. The high sides will help shield the cake from the direct heat of the oven and keep it from becoming over-coloured.
- Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy – 5-10 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well each time.
- Add the remaining ingredients and beat thoroughly – a good 5-10 minutes. Ordinarily, you’d run the risk of over-beating a cake mixture, which would develop the gluten in the flour, leading to a tough cake. Since the potato flour has no gluten, there’s no need to worry about this. You want to try and get as much air into the mixture as possible to make for a light texture in the cooked cake.
- Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the tin 180 degrees and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, for a total of 30-35 minutes. When you turn the cake after 20 minutes, slip a sheet of baking parchment over the top of the tin to keep the colour from getting too dark.
- When cooked, remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Luscious Cream Filling
50ml double cream
50g caster sugar
2 leaves gelatine
1tsp vanilla extract
150g cream cheese, room temperature
250ml double cream
- Soak the leaves of gelatine in cold water for 15 minutes.
- Warm the double cream and caster sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
- Shake off the excess water from the gelatine and add to the pan.
- Stir until the gelatine has melted, then remove from the heat and set aside.
- Once the mixture has cooled a little, pour it into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients.
- Whip the mixture until the cream has thickened and it is soft and pillowy.
Even though this is a light sponge cake, the weight of the top half will be too heavy initially, to avoid squidging (technical term) the cream out of the sides of the cake. Therefore, I strongly recommend using the following method to assemble your cake.
200g apricot jam – warmed and pureed
- Using cocktail sticks, mark the midpoint of the cooled cake around the edge and cut it horizontally.
- Spread the cut side of each cake half with apricot jam.
- Put the bottom half of the cake back into the tin in which it was baked.
- Slip a band of parchment or food-grade acetate around the inside of the tin, between the cake and the inside of the tin.
- Smooth or pipe the cream filling over the bottom of the cake, making sure it reaches the edges of the cake.
- Place the other half on top and press gently.
- Cover with cling-film and chill for 2-3 hours, until the gelatine in the cream has set.
- Remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
- Remove the cake from the tin and gently peel the parchment/acetate from around the filling.
- Smooth with a knife if necessary.
- Dust with icing sugar to serve.