The lovely Quadrille books sent Alix and I their two most recent publications which include Eliza Acton’s Modern Cooking for Private Families, first published in 1845. Acton had one volume of love poetry published in 1826 and was advised by her publishers when she submitted a second volume ten years later, to write a cookery book instead.
This 656 page giant is divided into chapters for meat, bread, vegetables etc, written in Acton’s deft, frank style. I’ve never had the urge to make stuffing before, but the forcemeat chapter has made me quite excited by the idea. Many of the recipes look temptingly well-seasoned (cayenne pepper and shallots feature heavily) and there are at least four recipes for ridiculously named biscuits.
I was immediately intrigued by the recipe for cream crust, as I’d never seen a method for pastry which included cream and I love the confidence of her description of it as ‘very good’. (My other favourite stylistic flourish is her use of ‘at pleasure’ meaning ‘if you like’.)
Cream crust (Author’s receipt. Very good)
Stir a little fine salt into a pound of dry flour, and mix gradually with it sufficient very thick cream, sweet cream to form a smooth paste; it will be found sufficiently good for common family dinners, without the addition of butter; but to give an excellent crust, roll in four ounces in the usual way, after giving the paste a couple of turns. Handle it as lightly as possible in making it, and send it to the oven as soon as it is ready: it may be used for fruit tarts, cannelons, puffs and other varieties of small pastry, or for good meat pies. Six ounces of butter to the pound of flour will give a very rich crust.
Flour, 1lb; salt, 1 small salt spoonful (more for meat pies); rich cream, ½ – ¾ pint; butter, 4oz; for richest crust, 6oz.
This began simply enough, but when I was ready to add the butter (4oz), I was slightly confused by the statement ‘in the usual way, after giving the paste a couple of turns’, although I guessed this meant like a flaky pastry.
I read through previous recipes for pastry in the book, which include feuilletage, a lard pastry and ‘English puff-paste’ which, on the subject of adding butter, included the unambiguous yet unfathomable statement ‘fold the paste like a blanket pudding’.
As I have never made puff or flaky pastry, I looked up method in The Reader’s Digest Cookery Year and found the explanatory diagram to the left. I divided the butter into thirds and added each third is added as per the diagram, leaving it to rest for 20 minutes after each sealing.
When all the butter had been added, I rolled out the soft, pale dough into a rectangle and poured on a large amount (maybe a pint?) of stewed tomatoes, peppers, onions, black olives and garlic. Then I folded over the edges to make a flat roll, placed it (joined side down) on a silicon mat on a baking tray (I was worried about it sticking), cut a few small slits in the top and washed it with egg yolk (leftover from the sherbet I had made for pudding) and milk.
I then baked it until it was a golden colour (on one side and slightly burnt on the other) – about 40 minutes.
This was a great success and very well-received – the pastry was soft and light and crumbly. The mild, blanketing taste of cream needs to be balanced with a strongly flavoured filling (a sharp fruit filling would also work well). I will definitely make this again – trying it without the butter, especially in smaller quantities, if I had some cream leftover from another dish.
Creamed by Elly