I think baking cookies is equal to Queen Victoria running an empire. There’s no difference in how seriously you take the job, how seriously you approach your whole life.
And if you run a good empire, perhaps you’ll get a cake named after you. And if you find this book, you can bake that cake.
There are plenty of jokes about British food and cooking (though in this day of Borough Market, Ottolenghi, and Mary Berry, most are unwarranted). But there is and always has been something wonderful about British baking.
Elizabeth David recognized years ago in her book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery. She recorded the home-based and regional breads–something warm and floury for breakfast and tea. Recipes made different with a change in ingredient proportions, or cooking technique, or serving tradition.
You can find all of that in this little book, which I found at my usual haunt, The Saint John’s Opportunity Shop. It starts out with the basics, parsing a simple loaf of yeast risen bread into Household Bread, Light Bread, Wholemeal Bread, Fine Wholemeal Bread, and Cottage Loaf. And then there are the appealing oddities–Baps (a soft roll), Girdle Scones (cooked on a griddle), Crumpets (a wet batter, cooked in molds on a griddle), Huffkins (oval cakes with a hole in the middle), Revel Buns (saffron), Chelsea Buns (currants), Parkin (oatmeal), and Singin’ Hinnie (a kind of giant currant scone cooked on a griddle).
And like Elizabeth David, the directions, especially for an instructional book, are pretty scanty. In fact, refreshingly scant directions–no descriptions of types of flour or exhortations to weigh your ingredients. That said, there are no small ambitions here. This little book covers a lot of ground–croissants, American cakes, and gingerbread. There are recipes for a tiered wedding cake, a maypole birthday cake, and a chocolate swiss roll.
But let’s not forget the cake of empire–a brilliantly simple Victoria Sandwich–a sponge cake split, spread with lemon curd or jam, and dusted with powdered sugar. It’s good to be with the queen!