The first thing I ate in England was a Wimpy burger. It was one of the worst meals of my life: tough, overcooked meat, the overwhelming taste of raw onions, a soggy bun and flaccid, oily fries. The memory of that long ago meal - and others had on the same trip - kept me away from Britain despite the many reports that its food was undergoing a renaissance.
A visit to London this year proved the reports correct, and made me revise my view of food in England: we had wonderful meals at Aspinalls, Wild Honey, Hinds Head (the gastro-pub started by Heston Blumenthal of the Michelin three-star Fat Duck) and - my favourite - St John Bread & Wine. The latter was so good I went back a second time, arriving early enough to start with breakfast then lingering so I and a friend could order plate after plate from the lunch menu. The food was indisputably English and seemingly simple - a plate of raw fresh peas garnished with tiny pea sprouts and delicate pea flowers, a bacon sandwich, a pig's tail that had been braised until tender then dredged in bread crumbs and pan-fried in butter. But as chef Fergus Henderson and fellow countrymen are demonstrating, if you start with quality ingredients and prepare them well, the food will be delicious.
Scotch eggs (pictured)
A friend is on a mission to find the best scotch (although there's nothing Scottish about them) egg in England - she samples them whenever she sees them. After she described her idea of perfection - slightly gooey yolk, lightly seasoned meat and a good ratio of meat to egg, I came up with a version. You can fancy it up by adding ingredients to the minced meat mixture, but try it this way first: it's absolutely delicious in its simplicity.
6 small organic free-range eggs, room temperature
500 grams minced pork
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 large shallot, finely chopped
Fine dry bread crumbs, for dredging
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Oil, for frying
Thoroughly combine the pork with the sage, parsley, shallot and salt and pepper and chill for about 30 minutes.
Place the eggs in a pan large enough to fit in one layer without crowding. Cover with cool water. Bring to the boil over a medium flame. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover and allow the eggs to stand for four to five minutes (if you like them hard-boiled, leave them for seven minutes). Pour off the hot water and run the eggs - still in the saucepan - under tap water until they feel cool. Leave in the water for at least 15 minutes. Crack the eggs all over then carefully peel them. If the shell sticks, add ice cubes to the water and let the cracked eggs soak until they're very cold, then peel while they're submerged. Dry thoroughly then pack a thin layer of the meat mixture over the eggs to encase them entirely. Dredge in breadcrumbs.
Heat 5cm of oil in a saucepan to 180 degrees Celsius. Fry the eggs until medium brown, using a ladle to pour hot oil over them and to turn them over so they cook evenly. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot or warm.
Despite my long-held view that British food is, on the whole, less than delicious, I have often admired some of that nation's puddings (although the preference for powdered custard over homemade creme anglaise is something I'll always find puzzling). But when I first saw this recipe, which comes from Saveur magazine, I was doubtful - it seemed too easy. Fortunately, I resisted the temptation to complicate things and it's now a favourite when I need a simple, crowd-pleasing cake. It dries out quickly, though, so should be eaten within a day.
Be sure to fill the cake with top-quality strawberry jam (if you don't have any homemade use Tiptree Little Scarlet preserves) and double cream that hasn't been ultra-pasteurised.
For the cake:
180 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened
150 grams granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
5ml vanilla extract
160 grams cake flour, sifted
For the filling:
240 grams double cream, chilled
200 grams strawberry jam
Icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease and flour a 20cm round, 4cm deep pan then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
Use an electric mixer to beat the butter, sugar, baking powder and salt until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs with the water and vanilla. Turn the mixer speed to low and add half the egg mixture. Stir in half the flour. Add the remaining egg mixture and flour. Turn the mixer speed to medium and beat the batter for five minutes, scraping the bowl several times with a rubber spatula to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is fragrant and shrinking from the sides of the pan. The surface should spring back when you touch it, rather than leaving an indentation. Invert onto a cooling rack, remove the pan and parchment paper and cool completely.
Cut the sponge horizontally into two even layers and remove the top. Lightly whip the double cream until it's just thick enough to hold its shape. Spread a layer of jam over the bottom layer and the double cream on top of the jam. Add the top layer and press down gently. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
Styling Corner Kitchen Cooking School