Friday, 10 August 2012

Baking well

I have spent considerable time this week on a short chapter for a book about island foods. I saw the call for contributors some time ago, and reflecting on the fact that Britain too is an island, I wondered what I could suggest to the editors by way of worthy British munchables. Fish and chips seemed too much of a cliché, Eccles cakes would be just to weird for foreigners and, being a Mancunian by birth, it would practically be against all my deepest convictions to suggest Yorkshire Pudding. But, I thought, what about the Bakewell Tart? The editors liked my suggestion, and after much procrastination, I settled down a couple of weeks ago to look into the matter.

First tings first: the Bakewell Tart  is not the classic Bakewell dessert for a start. That honour goes to the Bakewell Pudding. The Bakewell Tart appears to have its elan only since its commercialisation in the 1960s by Mr Kipling whose various cakes have been advertised by the fruitily-voiced James Hayter. Youtube offers this little gem from what must have been a trying morning of recording adverts about fondant fancies.

 As I say, purists hold to the Bakewell Pudding as the authentic dish from the Derbyshire town, but its history is beset by half-myth not to say savvy creativity.

The basic story can be found in various places online. One tourist site puts the matter thus:

This famous delicacy was first discovered over one hundred years ago, when the landlady of the local coach Inn (the White Horse Inn) instructed the cook on what to prepare for her guests that evening.

The pudding after the meal was to have been her favourite recipe, but the instructions were not followed as intended, and hence the Bakewell Pudding was born.

The landlady was so overwhelmed by the success of the new dish, she instructed her cook to carry on making it in that way.

That was back in 1820 and the white horse (presently The Rultand Arms Hotel), became famous for its delicious pudding.

Other stories tell us the landlady was called Mrs Graves, that this incident happened around 1860, and that she passed on the recipe to a Mr James Radford who passed it to a Mr Bloomer, the baker. Today there is still a Bloomer's Bakery in the town and they produce Bakewell Puddings.

The truth of the matter is somewhat different . The White Horse Inn was demolished in 1803 to make way for the Rutland Arms Inn. The landlady was Mrs Greaves, not Graves, and by 1860 she had already retired to Manchester. The dish which she and her blundering cook were supposed to have 'discovered' - discovered? I love it. Just like someone once discovered the old Black Pudding Mines of Lancashire - was appearing in recipes in domestic coookery magazines from the 1830s onwards.

So, there you have it. Clearly something did happen in the Rutland Arms kitchen one day concerning the pudding but whatever it was has been lost in a tangle of myth. For my sources, I refer you to the interesting books of Paul Hudson published by Pynot and the fascinating site of Ivan Day, a food historian.

The pudding incidentally differs from the tart in various ways. It has puff pastry, not shortcrust pastry, and its classic filling is not frangipane but a kind of thick, almond flavoured custard / pastry cream. Your servant has been making various attempts at baking one and will post the horrifying pictures later on today. Meanwhile, here is a picture of a real Bakewell Pudding.

A Bakewell Pudding (not a tart!)

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