from one generation to the next
The Cookbook Guru, hosted by Leah is exploring Mrs Beeton’s classic tome on cooking and household management during May.
I inherited a 1907 copy of “Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookery” from my dearly cherished Grandma Lois. She was born in 1899 in England, Yorkshire to be exact. Orphaned at four years of age. Lois and her baby brother were sent to Norfolk to be raised by their kindly grandparents who were poor farm labourers. The untimely death of their Grandmother forced 12 year old Lois into domestic service.
In her ninties, Grandma was encouraged to write about her experiences as a house maid, kitchen maid, cook and housekeeper. She wrote about laying rising early to blacken the stove while it was cool and scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, but mainly her memories were dominated by terrible working conditions, petty staff jealousies and exploitive employers. Mrs Beeton’s advice on matters domestic gives me a practical insight into Grandma’s working life.
Life for Lois changed when she saw an advertisement encouraging domestic staff to emigrate to Australia. She sailed to Melbourne in 1926, met my Grandfather on the voyage and the rest, as they say, is history.
Grandma was a frugal by nature, her humble beginnings ensured that never changed. She had a well earned reputation for her silky baked custards, never made with cream, but simply with whole milk.I don’t have Grandma’s tried and true formula for baked caramel custard, but it may well have been taken from her copy of Mrs Beeton’s cookbook.
I set out to follow the recipe for Mrs Beeton’s caramel pudding faithfully. The tiny quantity of caramel made to the recipe’s instructions went from beginning to burnt in about 20 seconds, so I had to make a second batch, but not before consulting a modern recipe for quantities.
The second batch made just enough to coat the inside of 8x125ml ramekins and 1x250ml dish. After the frustrating beginning to making caramel pudding the remainder of the recipe was pretty straightforward, and clear to follow.
I preheated the oven to 160C, without the fan, but when I opened the door to put the custard in to cook, I sensed the temperature was still too high so I reduced it a further 10 degree. I think I should have reduced it further again as the cooked custards, sadly, had tiny bubbles around the edges which spoilt their texture. Modern day ovens are so much more efficient than they were a century ago. They are not subject to the vagaries of solid fuel and they so well insulated that the temperature remains constant. I have amended the recipe to take this into consideration.
As well as the issues with the caramel and the oven heat, I do wish that the recipe had stated what sized dishes to use. The small size I cooked were a bit smaller than those intended, a delicious tiny sweet taste, but I should have monitored the time in the oven a little more closely.
When it’s all said and done this was a classic creme caramel with a lighter custard than the French style. We thoroughly enjoyed these desserts. Having ironed out the issues with the original recipe I’ll definitely make them again.
1 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup water cold water
600mls whole milk (I used lactose free)
2 egg yolks extra
1 tablespoon castor sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
Preheat the oven to 140C.
Whisk together the whole eggs, yolks and sugar. Gradually whisk in the milk then strain the custard to remove any lumps of egg white. Whisk in the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean. Set aside.
Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a small saucepan, stirring continuously until the sugar is dissolved. Continue to boil the syrup until it caramelizes to a golden colour.
Immediately tip some caramel into the base of 4x250ml deep sided ovenproof ramekins, then quickly swirl the coat the sides before the toffee solidifies.
When the toffee is set, fill the dishes with the custard mixture.
Put the dishes in a deep baking pan and fill the pan with hot water so it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the dishes.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until cooked in the middle. To test the custard, slip a sharp paring knife into the centre of the custard and see that it is set.
Remove the custards from the oven and the baking dish and allow to cool.
Chill before turning out and serving.
The Original Recipe
INGREDIENTS.- For the caramel : 2 ozs of loaf sugar, 2 tablespoons of cold water. For the custard: 1/2 pint of milk, 4 yolks and 2 whites of eggs, 1 tablespoon of castor sugar, a few drops of vanilla or other flavouring.
METHOD.- Boil the loaf sugar and cold water together until the liquid acquires a light brown colour, then pour it into a charlotte or plain timbale mould, and turn the mould slowly round and round until every part of it is coated in the caramel. Beat the eggs, add to them the sugar, flavouring and milk, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Strain the custard into the mould, cover with a greased paper, steam very slowly for about 40 minutes, then turn out carefully. No other sauce is needed than the caramel, which runs off when the pudding is inverted. This pudding is equally nice cold; when intended to be served thus, it may be allowed to cool before being turned out of the mould, and so lessen the probability of it breaking. If preferred, 6 dariol moulds may be used instead of 1 large mould.
TIME.- About 1 1/4 hours. AVERAGE COST, 7d. or 8d. SUFFICIENT for 4 or 5 persons.