British Food

Plum and Apple Crumble

September 10, 2013

Apples and Plums

Here I am, typing to you from England where everything is so very British and familiar. Buildings are ancient. It rains, then shines, then rains again. Everyone understands everything I say (at least I think they do, if not, then they’re too Britishly polite to tell me my accent has been mangled). I’m home and it feels pretty wonderful. The only thing missing is my mister, but I’m working hard on changing that and getting him over here quick-sharp.

On my third day back in the UK, I drove out to Wasing Park in Berkshire with my best friend and her dude, to see where they’ll be getting married next summer. Afterwards we three stopped into her future in-laws for coffee and cake and left with a heavy bag of cooking apples and a smaller bag of plums, picked that morning from their garden.

Plum & Apple Crumble

I was slightly giddy at this gift and knew pretty quickly that a crumble was in the making. Plum and apple crumble! It just seems brilliantly British. I love the lack of fuss in a crumble and how it becomes a jumble of soft warm fruit, crunchy topping, and cold-but-rapidly-melting ice cream.

I didn’t expect to have an opportunity to bake nearly so soon after moving (ahem, please excuse the iPhone photos) and I spent a lovely hour peeling, coring, and chopping apples, then softening them over heat with the plums under a generous dusting of sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest.

As the crumble baked, I tap-tap-tapped away at my keyboard but soon enough I was completely distracted by the smell and by the time my friends were home from work, the crumble was cooling and I’d already eaten a bowlful which soon became three helpings. Let’s just call it dinner and leave it at that.

Apple and Plum Crumble

Plum and Apple Crumble
adapted very slightly from Good Housekeeping

I found this to be a delightful crumble – the topping is pretty substantial yet light, with a lovely crunchy sweetness giving way to a really perfume-y mix of plums and soft cinnamon-scented apples. Do taste your apples and plums before adding sugar. My crumble was quite tart, which I liked with the sweet topping and is magnificent with the addition of a scoop of ice cream, but you may prefer to add more sugar.


  • 6 large plums (or 10-12 little ones)
  • 3 Bramley apples (or other cooking apples), about 500g (1lb 2oz)
  • 50g (2oz) light brown soft or caster sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

For the crumble topping:

  • 175g (6oz) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 125g (4oz) butter (or non-dairy alternative), chilled and cut into cubes
  • 50g (2oz) rolled oats
  • 75g (3oz) demerara sugar


  1. Preheat oven 200°C/400F. Halve and stone the plums, then roughly chop and put into a large pan. Peel and core the apples, roughly chop, and add to the pan with the sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest and 5 tbsp water. Cover and heat gently until apples are softening, about 5 mins.
  2. Empty fruit into a shallow, ovenproof serving dish. Set aside.
  3. To make the topping, put the flour into a bowl and rub in the sunflower spread (or butter) with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine rubble. Mix in the oats and demerara sugar, then scatter the topping over the fruit.
  4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crumble is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Try to serve it immediately (it can bake as you eat dinner) or re-heat it 10-15 mins before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream (optional).

madeira cake

April 30, 2012

This cake is a simple English treat – lemony but not overly so, nor too sweet, and perfect with some thick compote or a dollop of lemon curd on top.

I spent several hours on Friday night baking for the bake sale I mentioned participating in. I made double chocolate chunk cookies with sea salt and lemon-drenched lemon cake – two of my favourites! But of course, since I was packaging it up for other people I didn’t get a chance to steal myself a slice of cake and so I was left hankering for something lemony.

Enter this cake. Yes, lemony, but a completely different beast to that other one. This is much more of a simple everyday cake, jazzed up with some lemon zest and juice and perfect if you’re in the mood for something sweet but not dessert-like or cloying.

I always thought that Madeira cake came from the islands of Madeira, but no!  Evidently, centuries back in the U.K. it was popular to eat a slice of this cake with a glass of Madeira wine. If you have some on hand then please give it a go and report back but personally I’d recommend it with a good cup of tea. Enjoy!

Madeira Cake
adapted from Nigella Lawson


  • 240g/8.25oz softened unsalted butter
  • 200g/7oz caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 320g/ 2.5 cups all-purpose/plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/330F. Butter a 9- by 5- inch (23 x 13 cm) loaf tin, buttered and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light, and add the lemon zest.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of the flour for each egg to prevent the mixture curdling.
  5. Gently mix in the rest of the flour and, finally, the lemon juice. Transfer batter to prepared pan and  sprinkle with about 2 tbsp sugar. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until a cake-tester comes out clean.
  6. Remove to a wire rack, and let cool in the tin before turning out.

Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam650

Cream tea is one of those quintessentially English things that people find so crushingly charming about the U.K. Many a visitor to our fair isles latches onto this tradition as a must-do activity. Places like The Ritz hotel offer scones in this fashion in intimidatingly fancy surrounds for scary prices. That whole thing is not my idea of a good time AT ALL. Too much pomp and circumstance when all I want is a good cuppa and a really good scone (and to not worry about slurping said cuppa or getting clotted cream on my chin).

Scones and Jam650

I much prefer little tearooms with lace tablecloths, doilies, bad wallpaper, worse carpet, and honest-to-goodness scones and tea. It’s relaxed, admittedly somewhat “quaint”, but there’s no formality whatsoever, just people of all ilks enjoying a pot of tea and a classic English scone.

Since I know my readership is made up of mostly Americans, followed by Brits and others, I think a little explanation is probably needed.

Scones Clotted Cream 650

Here’s the deal: American scones and English scones are very different. If you want some visual comparison. Here are some typically American scones. Round-shaped British scones can resemble North American biscuits in appearance, but scones are delicate, with a flaky texture and just a touch of sweetness, while biscuits are a richer, more buttery, decadent affair. Also, while scones are served as part of afternoon tea or as a sweet dessert, biscuits are served more as a bread, often with breakfast.

The standard scone recipe is pretty simple and combines flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, butter, and milk. Felicity Cloak wrote a wonderful piece on how to make the perfect scone which I read thoroughly before beginning this baking expedition. With such few and simple ingredients, I gave much thought to which raising agent would be best, choosing the best local butter for optimum flavour, and how to get the scones to rise evenly. Phew. We’re serious about our scones over here.

I have to say the result was lovely. Soft, fluffy little cakes with rich clotted cream and sweet, fruity jam – nothing could be better.

Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam
adapted from BBC Good Food and BBC Food


  • 225g/ 8oz plain (all purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 55g/ 2oz/ 4 tbsp butter, at room temperature
  • 25g/ 1oz caster (white) sugar
  • 150ml/ 5fl oz milk
  • really good jam, to serve
  • clotted cream, to serve*


  1. Heat your oven to 220C/425F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside. In a large bowl, sieve together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Working as quickly and lightly as possible with cold hands, rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  2. Next, stir in the sugar and then the milk until you have a soft but firm dough. Turn out dough onto a floured work surface and with floured hands, pat the dough into a circle about 1.5cm to 2cm thick and cut out the scones using a 5cm/2in cutter or a small glass jar. Place rounds on baking sheet and lightly knead together the rest of the dough and stamp out more scones to use it all up.
  3. Brush the tops of the scones with milk. Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden. Cool on a wire rack and serve with good jam and clotted cream. Makes 8-12 scones.

* With a 60% fat content, clotted cream is too thick to pour, but it’s not as thick as butter. You can find it at Lunds/Byerly’s in the Twin Cities or you can purchase it online. Certainly you could make it yourself but golly if I do not want to spend 8 hours tending to cream while it clots. At a pinch, you could substitute heavy whipping cream, whipped until thick and spreadable, or use crème fraîche. The real stuff costs a pretty penny but my god, it’s worth it.