To get straight to the point, English cakes are plain, elegant and satisfying. At their best they are comforting, loaded with butter and steeped in history and heritage.
Most of the traditional cakes have a story to tell – from the Victoria sponge developed for Queen Victoria (who relished the new craze for tea-parties) to the humble Eccles cake which was illegal to eat in 1650 – anyone caught eating one would be sent to jail.
Thankfully times have changed and there are so many wonderful cakes for you to try.
Basically English baking consists of two things – butter and a good set of kitchen scales. Unlike baking in America the majority of English recipes are based on weight, which can be a little strange to get to grips with but when it comes to baking, it is all about accuracy and weight is far more dependable than measures.
When I first moved to America I didn’t have a set of kitchen scales so I trawled the internet to find a good conversion site, I spent hours trying to figure out what 180g of flour was in cups, and whether the conversion was actually correct. If I could offer you one piece of advice – don’t do that – it is far easier to buy a good set of scales from Amazon (good digital kitchen scales sell for around $25) and it will save you many laborious hours trying to convert the recipes.
With the weights/measures issue solved I happily moved on to making my much-loved recipes but everything I made tasted rather salty. I made a few more recipes, however it wasn’t until I made a steamed pudding that I realized where it was all going wrong. My beautiful jam steamed pudding was basically a salt bomb, so salty that my husband and I could barely eat a second bite. Now, many English recipes call for self raising flour (aka self-rising flour in the US), and it turns out self rising flour in America contains salt…around 1/2 teaspoon per cup…and there was me thinking it was just the name that was different.
So with that priceless gem of information uncovered I found a very easy way to convert all-purpose flour into self-rising flour – minus the salt – which gives fantastic results –
Basic rule – never use self-rising flour – US Self-rising flour also contains added salt – around 1/2 teaspoon per cup.
Switch it to all-purpose flour (known as plain flour in England) and for every 110g/3.5oz of flour add 1tsp of baking powder – simple!
All the recipes on English Baking in America have already been adapted and have been tried and tested so I know they work.
After dealing with the flour debacle it was full steam ahead! Trust me there have been numerous little hiccups along the way – which I will be sharing with you – but I can safely say that I am now ready to share with you on the art of baking the English way.
You can find most of the ingredients you will need in US, and if you do struggle to find a certain item Amazon will not let you down. The main things you will need are –
- All Purpose Flour (plain flour)
- A good baking Powder (preferably one that doesn’t contain aluminum)
- Golden Syrup (corn syrup will not work)
- Black Treacle (unsulphured molasses is a good substitute for this)
- Plus lots of butter
With regards to butter, try finding European butter in your grocery store. European butter is higher in butterfat, anywhere from 84% to 88% compared to 80% fat found in US butter. This is why English baked goods have so many flavors, plus it makes baked goods crispier. If you are using butter in cakes, I find US butter works just fine, but try and buy the best you can. *Good butter is very firm which means it will hold more air in creaming, which helps leaven cakes and it creates a flakier result in pastry.
The only ingredient I have not been able to find is real suet. Suet is used primarily in steamed puddings and cannot be substituted with butter. Amazon sells suet should you wish to turn your hand to a steamed pudding or two (and if you do find it in a grocery store I would love to hear from you!)
After that you should be all set!
Baking the English way is a fun and fabulous experience. It will open you up to 100’s of recipes that have been part of the English way of life for centuries – Who couldn’t resist some freshly made scones, a slice of fruitcake, a comforting bowl of Eves pudding or a piece of malt loaf washed down with a cup of tea.
Trust me you won’t be disappointed…I am feeling hungry just thinking about it!!*Click here to read all about butter and fats via the King Arthur Flour website.