Sorry for the long pause in posts! The last couple of weeks I was traveling around England, soaking up all things literary and consuming all things edible. My dad and I left my mom and two sisters behind in the states and took a literary nerd trip, visiting most of the spots I have been reading about since I was very young. I hold my dad responsible for my love of British literature–it is his first literary love as well, and we have both been dreaming of traveling the country together since I was a kid.
The rumor about England (here in the States at least) is that the food there is bad, but I am here to tell you that this is simply not true. I had some of the best meals of my entire life while I was over there–crispy, spicy ragdaa pattice and sea bass masala so buttery it evaporated on my tongue, pig’s head stew and creamy garlic soup with crispy fatback and snails at the unbelievable St. John’s Bread & Wine, airy pasties filled with braised meat and sweet peas–I’ll stop before I can’t.
One thing I noticed about the Brits is that they take their toast very seriously. We ate all manner of things on toast–chutney, cheese, sardines, mushy peas, and of course beans, which was a concept I could never really get behind until I actually tried it. The flat we stayed in even had a little rack next to the toaster to keep the toast from getting soggy before serving it, and on multiple occasions I witnessed people at restaurants sending their toast back for being too cold, too toasted, not toasted enough–all very politely of course.
Every time I piled something onto toast I thought of Lucy and Mr. Tumnus’s tea in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
“And really it was a wonderful tea. There was a nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake.”
Three different varieties of toast in one sitting and a sugar-topped cake to wash it all down–that is a dream-come-true for a diehard carb-lover like myself.
Any post on food in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe would be incomplete without at least mentioning Turkish delight–a sweet so all-powerfully delicious it lead Edmund to betray his brother and sisters to The White Witch. I remember how quickly I tore through my super-deluxe box-set of The Chronicles of Narnia the summer I was in third grade, and how vividly I could taste what I imagined Turkish delight would taste like the entire time. I imagined it was pure white and some impossible combination of dense and chewy while still being light-as-air. And there were certainly chunks of salty, roasted almonds in there somewhere.
There has never been a more delicious-sounding treat, and in my opinion, a bigger candy letdown. My aunt finally found some for me at a Middle-Eastern grocery that year and I was crestfallen when I bit into my first piece and it tasted like perfume and cornstarch. Regardless, it has been around forever and is absolutely everywhere in England so I must be in the minority of people who dislike it. I do wonder, though, how much C.S. Lewis has to do with its enduring popularity.
Turkish Delight Makes 40-50 pieces
- 4 cups superfine sugar
- 4 ½ cups water
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons rosewater (or any extract you prefer)
- food coloring
- ½ cup chopped pistachios
- powdered sugar for dusting
Directions: Place 1 ½ cups of water into a medium saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice and boil over medium heat until mixture reaches 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer. While this mixture is heating combine the cornstarch, cream of tartar and remaining 3 cups water in a large pot and whisk until the cornstarch dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking to avoid lumps, until it is thick and gluey. Once the sugar mixture has reached 240 degrees slowly add it to the cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly. Simmer over low for about an hour, whisking every ten minutes or so. After about an hour it should be very thick and light yellow in color. At this point add your food-coloring, extract and pistachios. Pour into a greased, nonstick pan and allow to set, uncovered, overnight. Once it has set, turn the Turkish Delight out on a surface dusted with powdered-sugar and slice with a well-oiled knife.
Sardines on Toast
I made a sampling of toasts for my tea party—one was simply buttered toast with honey, one was buttered toast with sardines and the following two I will give the ingredients for below:
- 1 fresh small/medium baguette, sliced in half twice (4 pieces) and toasted
- 1 8 oz can of sardines packed in olive oil (should have around 4 large fillets in it)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoons good balsamic vinegar
- 2 hard-boiled eggs (if you can find pickled eggs or want to make them, I will post a recipe for them below—I highly recommend them for this!)
- 1 small red onion, thinly-sliced
- salt and fresh-cracked pepper to taste
Toast 1: Once your bread is toasted, drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on it. Slice your cherry tomatoes and parsley and toss them on the toast. Top with sardine fillets, drizzle with balsamic and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Toast 2: Butter your toast. Slice your hard-boiled eggs (pickled egg recipe is below if you decide you want to use it!). Lay red onion slices on the toast, sprinkle with chopped parsley and capers (about 1 Tablespoon), top with sardine fillets and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pickled Eggs: Makes 1 dozen
- 12 eggs
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- Beet juice from 1 (15 oz.) can beets
- ¼ white sugar
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 TBS mustard seeds
- 2 TBS whole allspice
- 2 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp dried red pepper flake
First, hard boil your eggs. Place them in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Once the water comes to a rolling boil let them cook for 7 minutes. Remove them from the heat and immediately rinse them under cold water before peeling them.
To make your pickling liquid add the beet juice, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan. Make a bouquet garni with the pickling spices by tying them securely in cheesecloth (you can also use a coffee filter or empty tea bag). Bring the liquid to a boil then lower the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Place the eggs, sliced onion and crushed garlic into a pickling jar. Remove bouquet garni and pour hot pickling liquid over eggs. Seal securely and let sit, refrigerated, for at least 3 days (more if you can bear to wait!)
Sugar-Topped Burnt Sugar Cake
Makes 1 9” double-layer cake or 2 dozen mini-cakes
I chose to top my burnt sugar cake with sugar crystals to look more like what Mr. Tumnus might have served Lucy, but I will give the ingredients for a burnt-sugar frosting below—both the cake and the frosting are just as tempting as they sound (unlike Turkish Delight, blech!)
Burnt Sugar Syrup
- 1 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1 1/3 cup boiling or very hot water
Place sugar in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan (I used my cast-iron skillet). Over medium heat melt the sugar, touching it as little as possible so as to avoid clumping. You can use a wet pastry brush to brush the caramelizing sugar back into the pan. Meanwhile, boil your water.
When the sugar is all melted and a dark, golden-brown, slowly (slowly!) add the boiling water. The caramelized sugar will bubbling up vigorously when you start adding the water so be very careful to incorporate it a little bit at a time. Once all the water is in, simmer for 10-15 more minutes. Allow to cool completely before using in the cake batter.
Cake Batter Ingredients:
- 3 cups cake flour (regular flour will work too)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup softened butter
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon good vanilla
- 2 eggs (separated)
- ½ cup burnt sugar syrup
- ½ cup water
- ¾ cup full-fat milk
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift all of your dry together and set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat softened butter then slowly add sugars and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and beat until incorporated. Dilute ½ cup of the sugar syrup with ½ cup water. Alternate adding wet (sugar syrup and milk) with the dry mixture until everything is incorporated and batter is smooth (be sure to scrape under the paddle, there are lots of heavy sugars in this recipe that want to sink to the bottom of the mixing bowl). Remove batter from the bowl, give it a quick rinse and beat reserved egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Gently fold whites into batter. Pour into 2 9” greased. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
- 2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
- 2/3 cup burnt sugar syrup (should be plenty left over from the cake batter)
- 2 oz (1/4 cup) soft butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat butter and slowly add sifted powdered sugar. Add vanilla to sugar syrup and slowly pour into the mixer with the paddle running. Beat until smooth and spreadable. If the frosting is too stiff add milk 1 teaspoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.