As a volunteer I often get asked the question how the Town House’s basement managed to stay untouched for so long. An Elderly Lady Living in Squalor I tell people who asked the true story of an elderly lady living in squalor. It’s also a […]
Author: Paul Couchman
Devoted to Hannah I have been devoted to Hannah Glasse. She’s helped me through all the fundraising events Dine Like A Servant and Lunch with the Curator at the Regency Town House. I owe her a great deal. But this week I decided I had […]
It’s another way to experience The Regency Town House. It’s a tour with a lunch. Not just any tour, it’s a tour of the Upstairs and Downstairs life in an 1830s house. Not just any lunch, it’s a lunch held in the basement kitchen of the Town House, with dishes based on authentic recipes of the time.
What is the Regency Town House project?
The Regency Town House project started in 1984 and it is a labour of love for the curator, Nick Tyson. Together with Phil Blume they are the only two paid members of staff. Everyone else on the project gives their time for free. Upstairs there are teams of researchers busy with the project My House My Street. This is a project which enables people to search multiple historical records about one address, online with one website. With them, working in the old bedrooms which are now the offices, are students on placements from the UK and abroad. Downstairs there are teams of volunteers busy with painting & decorating, construction, cooking, sewing and event management. The Town House is a hive of working volunteers who join in with the project due to their love of history and the community that goes with the Town House.
The tour is given by curator Nick Tyson. He has given tours since the beginning and is a remarkable source of knowledge about every aspect of the house. He gives instruction on how the house was built, how Brighton and Hove developed and the sort of people that lived there. He is knowledgeable about both the upstairs gentry and the downstairs servants. Often visitors enjoy the stories about the servants, in the downstairs offices, the best.
The Basement Annexe
The basement annexe is the highlight of the tour. Pat Nixon lived there from the 1920s to the late 1990s, that is when the Trust bought the basement. She was an elderly woman when Nick, still a young man, came and did her shopping for her. He saw the beauty of the basement she was living in. She couldn’t see it herself. She was, in fact, living in a time capsule. The basement hadn’t been modernised like much of the basement in the Square. It retains its meat safe, the flagstone floor, the rooms are in the original positions and even the well in the courtyard still has water in it.
The lunch, after the tour, gives house visitors a chance to put questions to Nick directly but also to speak to each other. The food menu is created by volunteer Paul Couchman who is beginning his own food business, giving cooking courses and catering for the many artists’ openings that take place in the Town House. The menu is based on historic recipes, all of the food that he creates would have been made in the very kitchen the visitors are eating in. The menu consists of two courses.
A sample menu.
Chicken or artichoke pie with leek, mace and white sauce (Hannah Glasse’s recipe)
Pickled fennel, pickled grapes and piccalilli.
Garden things (cabbage and carrots)
Braised Pippin (a small apple cooked in the oven)
A lemon syllabub
There is a restoration project in Hove, UK where guests are invited to a fundraising dinner where they will Dine Like Servants. In February 2018 we were even featured in the local newspaper, the Argus. It’s at the Regency Town House in Brunswick Square, Hove. […]
Imagine a pastry case filled with almond and lemon custard, topped with meringue. That’s what these delicious tarts are. They were made famous by the first celebrity chef Antonin Carême, who, cooked for the royalty of Europe in the early nineteenth century. He even cooked […]
The first thing visitor notice, as they enter the housekeeper’s room at 10 Brunswick Square are the cupboards. Cupboards everywhere and all of them have locks. Locked away in the housekeeper’s room were many things that servants could steal and sell. Porcelain, the finest table napkins, china and candles. And there were pickles. Hannah Glasse, the eighteenth-century cook I often turn to, had these wise words to say about pickles.
“Always use stone-jars for all sorts of pickles that require hot pickle to them. The first charge is the least; for these not only last longer , but keep the pickle better: for vinegar and salt will penetrate through all earthen vessels; stone and glass are the only things to keep pickle in. Be sure never to put your hands in to take pickles out, it will spoil it. The best method is, to every pot tie a wooden spoon, full of little holes, to take the pickles out with.”
I went for glass, stone jars are the next thing to find for the kitchen. I decided also to go for pickled grapes and pickled fennel. There would also be pickled cucumber. Cucumber with onion and ginger. The recipes appear almost modern.
400g black grapes
400g granulated sugar
350ml riesling white wine
I was unsure about the fennel. But I knew that it would be one of many pickles on a plate, so I thought I could get away with it. I also adore fennel, I love the taste. In the recipe there are also fennel seeds and pepper.
The guests for Lunch with the Curator loved it. I will cook the fennel slightly longer this time and I have added additional spices, more pepper. The recipe will follow below. Please adapt it as you will. Hannah Glasse, at the end of many a recipe has these last words of wisdom.
“but that you may do as you like”
Are you fascinated by food and history? But the combination is so quirky. Where can you do both? It’s fun practising at home, by yourself, but you want to try out recipes with other people. You want the challenge of cooking for a large group […]
Hot Cross Bun Course (25th, 26th and 28th March)
We could have gone out to the shops and bought them. But where is the fun in that?
I think something I found online might help to explain.
“Bought, they taste so dull. Modern commerce has taken them over, and, in the interests of cheapness, reduced the delicious ingredients to a minimum – no butter, little egg, too much yellow food colouring, not enough spice, too few currants and bits of peel, a stodgy texture instead of a rich, light softness. In other words, buns are now doughy filler for children.” Jane Grigson in 1974
True in 1974 and true now. Below is the research I carried out to give the Hot Cross Bun course!
I started with Jane Grigson’s recipe in “English Food”, they were delicious. Indeed so delicious that I photographed them to promote the course.
Ingredients for Jane Grigson’s Hot Cross buns
First the basic dough:
500g strong plain flour
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 level teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon ground mace
¼ teaspoon salt
30g (1oz) fresh yeast
60g (2oz) caster sugar
150ml (¼ pint) milk
150ml (¼ pint) boiling water
1 egg lightly beaten
90g (3oz) raisins
60g (2oz) candied chopped peel
60g (2oz) sugar
5 tablespoons water
Put flour and salt into a large warmed mixing bowl. Crumble the yeast into a pudding basin, add 1 heaped spoonful of the sugar and 125g (4oz) of flour from the bowl. Pour the milk into a measuring jug, and make up the 250ml (8oz) of liquid with boiling water straight from the kettle. With a wooden spoon mix this hot liquid into the yeast, flour and sugar – go slowly so as to make as smooth a batter as possible: leave it in a warm place to rise and froth up – this takes about 15 minutes, or a little longer. Meanwhile mix the rest of the sugar with the flour, and rub in the butter. Form a well in the centre, put in the egg and the frothy yeast mixture. Mix to a dough with a wooden spoon. Turn it out onto a floury surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as required, until the dough is a coherent, slightly rubbery ball, with a moderately tacky, but not sticky texture. Any dough on your fingers should rub off easily.
Wash, dry and grease the large mixing bowl with a piece of butter paper. Place the dough in it. Cover with a damp cloth, or put the whole thing inside an oiled polythene bag. Leave to rise to double its quantity. This can take anything from 1 to 12 hours dependent on the temperature.
Break down the risen dough, knead in the fruit and the peel. Roll the dough into a long sausage shape on a floured surface, and cut it down into 18 discs. Shape them into round buns, and then place them on baking sheets lined with Bakewell paper – leave them plenty of room to rise and spread in the baking. Roll out the almond paste or shortcrust pastry and cut into thin strips. Brush the buns with beaten egg and lay 2 strips on each bun to form a cross. Leave the buns to prove about 30 minutes; then bake them for 10-15 minutes at mark 8, 230 degrees (450 F).
Boil bun wash sugar and water together until syrupy. Brush this over the hot cross buns as they come out of the oven. Leave to cool.
But this wasn’t enough. I wanted to go authentic. I had been chatting on the Regency Town House’s Facebook page and there was a real demand for a proper authentic recipe. I was, after all, holding the course in an historic kitchen. I decided to go online and find a recipe from a time that the Regency Town House was in its prime as a prestigious family residence.
There is a wonderful resource called the Wellcome Library. I found reference to it in Mary-Anne Boerman’s book “Great British Bakes”.
The Wellcome Library allows online access to historic cookbooks and here you can discover recipes in their original form. I strongly recommend it.
I discovered this recipe, mentioning Hot Cross Buns, from 1831.
I worked out that wet sugar was dark brown sugar, moist sugar was light brown sugar.
I made the recipe in total 3 times. It had to be done, from start to finish in 3,5 hours, the length of the course. Every time I made it the buns didn’t rise enough. I suspected the butter made the dough too dense. I think they needed to be proved for longer, longer than I had calculated for the course.
They were delicious. I knew that the large quantity of spice was a winner. Jane Grigson is not as bold as the cook in this earlier recipe. If you want to make them please try. I think that the proving times just need to be a lot longer. My suspicion is that the relatively large amount of butter slows down the yeast. If you succeed with this recipe I’d love to know.
The next place I looked was back to Mary-Anne Boermans. In her book “Great British Bakes” she had a wonderful recipe for Hot Cross Buns. She argued that bakers would often simply adapt a bun recipe to make it into a Hot Cross Bun recipe. After all buns were not available all year round, as they are now, and it would make sense to adapt a bun that was already being baked.
Here is the final recipe. This is the recipe that I tested and tested.
250g strong white flour
1/2 sachet fast action yeast (7g in a whole packet)
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice powder
30g caster sugar
a pinch of pepper (ground)
pinch of salt
35g of butter
75ml boiling water
75ml whole milk
30g of candied peel (lemon or orange)
pastry for making the crosses
1 egg (beaten) for the eggwash
4 tbsp water
4 tbsp sugar
Warm your mixing bowl by swirling with hot water then drying it. Add the flour, yeast, spices, pepper and salt.
Cut butter into tiny cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Rub with your fingers until the butter is incorporated and the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg.
Put 75ml boiling water into a measuring jug and add milk to make 150ml of liquid. Add this lukewarm liquid to the bowl.
Using a spoon mix until the mixture comes together. Sprinkle flour onto your work surface and tip the soft dough out. Knead for 10 minutes.
Cover the dough with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave for an hour somewhere warm for an hour, it should have doubled in size, if it hasn’t leave until it does.
Turn out the dough onto your work surface. Add the fruit and the peel. As you knead in the fruit, the dough will reduce down in size, this is normal.
Return to the bowl and let the dough prove again for another hour.
Line your tin with baking paper.
Divide your dough into pieces of about 50-60g. I tend to do this with scales. If you don’t mind different shapes and are inpatient a quick way is to simply divide the dough into roughly equal pieces.
Put the buns into your tin, leaving space between to allow them to expand.
Make a simple pastry. Roll out the pastry and cut into thin strips. Beat up an egg and brush onto the buns with a pastry bush. This will help the pastry stick to the buns and give a dark brown colour when baked. Form pastry crosses on the buns.
These buns will now have a third rise. This time for 30 minutes.
This is a good time, if you are doing the course at the Town House, to explore the basement and see the small, dark pastry room. Just imagine having to make your buns there!
After 30 minutes the buns can be baked. 18-20 minutes 180oc/gas 4. When ready lift one of the bun and tap it’s bottom, close to your ear, it should sound hollow. If not give it a minute or so longer and test again until ready.
While the buns are baking put the sugar into the water and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
Using a pastry brush cover the buns (while still hot) with the bun glaze.
Let the buns rest for 10 minutes then you can eat.
The volunteers upstairs got used to the smell of baking hot cross buns that whafted round the Town House.
We made biscuits on the course while we were waiting for the dough to rise. In addition I gave guided tours of the Town House so the participants could see round the Town House, for many it was the first time that they had visited.
But there is more. There are biscuits. The biscuit recipe is coming soon…