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Nearly everyone loves pie, so when you hear about having pie during the holidays, it turns some heads. While beloved pies like apple and pumpkin are served during the holidays, mince pies are the true holiday crowd pleaser. Mince pies have been around since the 1600s and believe it or not, they were originally filled with actual meat! Love them or hate them, it’s not Christmas to many without a mince pie! In the US, not too many people have heard of mince pies or even know that they are a major part of the holidays but in the UK, it’s not Christmas without them. The mince (or mincemeat) is made of dried fruits, peels, bits of apple, along with distilled spirits like brandy, and spices.
In the UK, mince pies come in bite size and usually in packs of 6, 9 or 12. Sometimes the pies are decorated beautifully in pastry, with shapes like stars or holly cut into them. In the US, some markets sell what are dubbed as “mini” pies, because mincemeat pies are sold as a whole entire pie to cut and share. Suet, which is a type of animal fat, is also commonly used in many made-from-scratch mincemeat recipes.
When it comes to getting a mince pie fix, some simply go to the grocery store to pick up their mince pies. Others like to make their own by using either homemade or jarred mincemeat, and using either store bought pastry or pastry made from scratch. To make mini pies, some use muffin tins and for a large pie, others use a whole pie plate. Add just a dusting of powdered sugar and you’ve got yourself a nice holiday treat!
However, when it comes to popularity, mince pies are not too common in the United States. You won’t find them as easily as you would in the UK. It’s not a common part of the holiday tradition here as it is on the other side of the pond but you can always keep it going or even start it if you have not had them before!
At my house on Thanksgiving, there is always dessert: the standard pumpkin pie and an apple pie. Apple pies are at our Thanksgiving dessert menu because some of my family members are not too keen on pumpkin pie, and that is understandable. The idea of pumpkins in a pie do not sound too appealing for some
You may have heard the old saying, “As American as apple pie”. It turns out that apple pies were actually in the UK before they were in the US. They were only brought to America from Britain where they became very popular and associated with American culture. Many Americans enjoy apple pie a la mode, which is vanilla ice cream on the side while the pie is still warm but it’s an entirely different thing in the UK. Go there and they enjoy their apple pie with a bit of custard, cream, or some cheddar cheese!
The types of apples are also very different. In the US, the most popular type of apple used is Granny Smith, a bright green, very tart apple that is used in nearly anything culinary that requires apples. The same goes for the British Bramley apple, the American counterpart to the Granny Smith. As a born and raised American who has never been to the other side of the Atlantic, I have never tasted a Bramley, but it is on my bucket list. I wish I could describe the taste of a Bramley (but someday!). I do know that they are green with just a blush of red and very stout in their appearance. It’s the most popular cooking apple in the UK.
Both kinds of pies are prepared using a flaky pastry crust (or shortcrust) along with the apples and some sugar. The spices make all the difference. In the American apple pie, cinnamon is most commonly used, sometimes a bit of nutmeg or other choice spices. The British apple pie will sometimes use little to no spices. Sometimes mixed spice (more on that later) or a little cinnamon. It depends on the palate of the consumer.
American apple pies are usually plain apple but are sometimes made with cherries or made half and half (apple-cherry) to please the apple pie vs. cherry pie lovers. British apple pies take a walk on the wild side by adding dried fruits like sultanas (a type of raisin), figs, or even cheese!
Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays but apple pies are enjoyed year round. They can be enjoyed with a nice cup of tea in the afternoon or in the evening with a cool glass of milk!
There aren’t that many opportunities in the year to have a large meal and just go all out. For Americans, there is Thanksgiving, which is held on the last Thursday of November each year. Relatives from far and wide typically come to visit so they can enjoy the annual dinner with the ones they love. There is also a parade filled with giant balloons of cartoon characters many of us know and love, followed by a football game. Once the dinner concludes, dessert of pumpkin or apple pie is served.
The UK is an entirely different story, however. Each Sunday (yes, every Sunday), many Britons make a dinner consisting of meat (usually beef, pork, chicken, or lamb) that is roasted, potatoes, which are also usually roasted, vegetables, stuffing, Yorkshire puddings, and who can forget, the gravy?
The history of a Sunday Roast (or Sunday Dinner) started very simply: many people did not eat meat on Fridays since they were following their religion so it was usually eaten after church when families would whip up a nice Sunday dinner. This has been a tradition since around the 1700s and is a very hearty one, still going strong today. People always make sure they’re home for Sunday dinner!
If you have never made a Sunday Roast, what goes in one? Of course, the standard roast but it’s your choice of what kind of roast. Fancy beef or chicken? Roast it! And the most popular vegetables used to help make up the Sunday Roast range from carrots, to broccoli, to even parsnips. Potatoes are sometimes boiled but are most commonly roasted to be perfectly crispy. Then there’s the stuffing. Now, this isn’t the Thanksgiving stuffing you’re used to. This is stuffing rolled into balls but sometimes it is also made into a dish like traditional American stuffing. There’s also the Yorkshire puddings, which are baked in a special pan (or in a muffin pan) with hot oil until they just pop up! Don’t forget the gravy!
Just describing this makes me hungry! Now I can see why everyone goes home for Sunday Dinner! Do you have your own Sunday Dinner traditions or ones from Home? Do you plan to start new ones?
Enjoy with a nice hot brew. Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
Come October, most love to say that these last three months of the year are the best. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are some of the best times for celebrating. What better way to celebrate the upcoming holidays than with chocolate and who doesn’t love chocolate? Starting with Halloween, the sweet celebrations begin. As soon as October approaches, stores begin to not only sell Halloween candy but also Christmas decorations and a few sweets. You may say it’s too early but if you live in the UK and are a fan of chocolate, then it is tradition. This is because chocolate boxes and tins go on sale, and they are some of the most anticipated sweets of the holidays.
Now these are no ordinary chocolates. These beautiful sweets are colorfully wrapped and in random shapes and sizes. Much like a box of standard chocolates, each package will tell you what to expect in each chocolate, except you can pick whichever ones you like!
Quality Street is made by Nestle, identifiable by the purple box or tub. Quality Street was created after a man named Harold Mackintosh inherited his father John’s toffee factory after his death in 1936 and Harold revolutionized Christmas chocolates. In the early days, only the wealthy could originally afford Christmas chocolates since they were made with imported ingredients but with Mackintosh’s plan to use local ingredients, it lowered the prices of his chocolate and made Christmas chocolate affordable to everyone. His invention, Quality Street, is made in the original factory from 1936. In 1988, Nestle purchased the brand and has owned it ever since. In previous holiday seasons, Nestle has released entire single serve chocolate bars devoted to favorite flavors of Quality Street (like honeycomb crunch and even chocolate green triangle). There has even been a giant strawberry! Quality Street was named after a play written by Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, who was mostly known for writing Peter Pan.
Cadbury Roses are the Cadbury equivalent of Quality Street, launched in 1938 to compete with the main brand of Christmas chocolate. The Roses name apparently comes from “Rose Brothers”. Cadbury Roses have only 10 varieties of chocolates.
Finally, another hit among chocolate lovers is the Cadbury Heroes. This is a mixture of Cadbury favorites like Dairy Milk, Fudge, Wispa, Dairy Milk Caramel, Twirl, Eclair, and Creme Egg Twisted. The best part of this is that they are all miniatures! These “fun sized” treats come in a range of sizes from small bags, to boxes, to large tubs.
All of these wonderful sweets are delicious and are enjoyed throughout generations. Their popularity is growing throughout the world so it’s no wonder it’s gaining attention here in the States. The tradition of Christmas chocolates have been well-established with British families and now American families can create new traditions with them. Try some today. You will wonder how your holidays ever did without!
There is a huge difference when it comes to baking in the United States versus the rest of the world and that is weight versus volume. Americans measure using the US Standard while everyone else measures using weight. If you have tried to make a recipe straight from a British or European cookbook or baking mixes, you will notice that their recipes are laid out in grams (g) and fluid ounces (oz). In American recipes and baking mixes, it’s completely different. Everything is measured out in cups, both wet and dry. Teaspoons and tablespoons are used in both measuring systems but they are actually completely different when it comes to the actual measurement of the teaspoon or tablespoon.
The British measure their baking ingredients by using a kitchen scale. Many years ago, kitchen scales were standard and had to be manually calibrated. In recent years, people have been converting to digital kitchen scales because they are much easier to work with than standard. The only downside to owning a digital kitchen scale is that the batteries will occasionally run low or die and so you will have to replace the batteries every now and then. The perks of owning a kitchen scale are much better, as you can use one bowl to measure everything instead of having to use cup after cup like we do here in America. It saves a lot of mess.
It also very important to weigh EACH ingredient as you work with a kitchen scale since every ingredient is different. If you were to weigh about 200 grams of all purpose (also known as plain) flour and then need caster sugar afterwards, do not assume that they are the same amount. Every ingredient weighs differently. Get the scale and weigh the caster sugar. It may take a little more or a little less. For the US measures, weight is no difference. Amounts are exactly how they are measured. For one US cup (dry) to be measured, it is best to level off the excess with a butter knife for exact measurements.
Along with measuring ingredients, there is also a different way to measuring temperatures. If you are reading a British recipe and it says to heat the oven to, let’s say, Gas Mark 4, it may baffle you if you are unfamiliar with using a certain type of British oven. Gas marks are how to heat up gas ovens in the UK. Other stoves are marked with temperatures in Celsius, which are also known as Centigrade. Ovens in the US use Fahrenheit, so always look for the C or the F when looking at temperatures. American gas ovens do not have gas marks and can be preheated to Fahrenheit (some ovens may even have Celsius on the knobs), even if the stove is electric.
While it is good to use the American measurements, it’s even better to know how to measure the British way. It may seem hard at first but it really is easy to master once you get it working! Plus, you won’t need to convert any recipes!
If you miss custard creams or just crave them, then you can make them yourself with a few simple ingredients from your pantry and a little custard powder. This recipe for custard cream cookies is from Good Housekeeping UK. I first made this recipe before I had a kitchen scale (more on this later).
- For the cookie:
- 2 cups All Purpose (plain) flour, plus extra to dust
- 6 dry tablespoons Bird’s custard powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/8 cup or 7 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
- 1/3 cup (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup icing/powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp Bird’s custard powder
- 200 g (7oz) All purpose (plain) flour, plus extra to dust
- 50 g (2oz) Bird’s custard powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 75 g (3oz) caster sugar
- 125 g (4oz) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into cubes
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp milk
- For the Filling
- 75 g (3oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 125 g (4oz) icing sugar
- 2 tbsp Bird’s custard powder
- For the biscuits, put the flour, custard powder, baking powder, sugar and butter into a food processor, or use a fork and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Alternatively, rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingertips.
- Add the egg and milk and mix until the mixture just comes together. Tip onto a work surface, bring together with your hands, then wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 mins or up to 1 day.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out dough until 3mm (⅛in) thick. Cut it into an even number of 3cm x 4.5cm (1¼in x 1¾in) rectangles, re-rolling trimmings as needed. If you like, mark the rectangles with a diamond and a dot in each corner.
- Put rectangles on prepared sheets and bake for 13-15 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on the sheet for 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, put the softened butter into a large bowl and sift over icing sugar and custard powder. Mix to combine (don’t add water as it needs to be fairly thick). Set aside.
- When the biscuits are cool, sandwich together with some of the filling, using a knife, spatula, or a piping bag if you want a less messy finish.
I admit that summer is not my favorite season of the year. It’s too hot, too bright, and nearly everyone I know goes away on vacation. While I am stuck at home, there isn’t much to watch on TV, either. I’m stuck watching a bunch of reruns until they come back with new episodes…until late September or early October.
But for some, August is the best time of the year for television! Why? Because it’s The Great British Bake Off! Viewed by millions in the UK, it’s one of the most anticipated TV events of the year! In the US, the show is known as The Great British Baking Show. The premise of the show is to find the best amateur baker in all of Great Britain. At the beginning of each season, there are ten bakers who are to bake a Signature Challenge, a Technical Challenge, and a Showstopper Challenge. These are each judged on appearance and taste. The show is run for ten weeks, ten episodes, and each episode has a theme, like pastry, bread, or even gluten free. The bake-off takes place in a tent, most recently in Berkshire.
Watching this show inspires me to unleash my inner baker. Many of the recipes the competitors make all look so delicious and easy, but looks can be deceiving! I have tried for several years to make a perfect Victoria Sponge and it has been so difficult! It has taken a lot of training and patience! So, for the next few posts, I will explain how baking products are a bit different in the UK, baking temperatures, measuring, and more about the Great British Bake Off.
Put on the kettle, it’s going to be fun!
Every year and everywhere there are always events that are always talked about. In the US, while there are events like the Kentucky Derby or the Academy Awards, where there will always be talk about what who was wearing. In the UK, things are different. At the Chelsea Flower Show, not too much of that goes on! The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, it’s all about the flowers!
Every May, the Royal Horticultural Society holds an annual flower show that is attended by many each year. While it is not the largest like it once was, it is still the most prestigious. The show is held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea in London nearly every year (with the exception of the two World Wars) since 1913. This flower show is the biggest flower show where gardening enthusiasts can see modern flower designs and even get new ideas and inspiration for their own gardens.
For five days (originally four until several years ago), the Chelsea Flower Show is held with great interest and it hasgrown in popularity in recent years, attracting over one hundred thousand visitors each year, including celebrities and the British Royal Family. It is televised exclusively on the BBC but if you are one of the lucky few, you can purchase a ticket in advance to see it in person. However, they may be sold out! Once tickets go on sale, they go very quickly since they are in limited supply due to small space. There are some days and times exclusively for RHS members, but there are tickets for the general public but it is always best to enquire with the RHS for ticket sales.
If you are able to acquire a ticket, it is well worth the price you pay. The flowers are viewed in such beautifully designed gardens and awards are given out to the best gardens and to the best florist (Florist of the Year). Along with the awards, new flowers are introduced at the Chelsea Flower Show. For 2016, the Princess Charlotte Chrysanthemum (Rossano Charlotte) was unveiled for all to see (and smell)!
The Chelsea Flower Show is a sight to see and scent to smell. It is something one must put on their bucket list! You will not regret it!
Once Halloween is over, the holiday season begins to quickly creep faster and faster upon us! With Thanksgiving being nearly forgotten about thanks to the anticipation leading up to “Black Friday” and people’s impatience go shopping for Christmas gifts so early, it adds more excitement to the holidays. While new traditions are born as the years go by, some will stay the same for generations to come.
Advent is a Christian tradition, which begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and begins the church’s year. It is closest to the Feast Day of St. Andrew the Apostle. It is believed the word Advent is derived from Latin, which means “the coming”. Advent Calendars generally do not follow the Advent waiting period but instead begin on December 1st and ending on Christmas Eve.
Before the Advent Calendars, people would count down to Christmas by lighting candles or crossing days off their own calendars. The calendars everyone knows with the chocolate originally started in Germany back in the 1800s, when one opened a small door and revealed a picture which were based from the Hebrew Bible, from December 1-24 (sometimes til December 31st, for New Year’s). This tradition soon spread throughout Europe and North America and now there are different kinds of Advent Calendars. While they still conceal a picture, there is usually a small surprise inside, like a piece of chocolate or other sweet.
Advent Calendars are still popular gifts to give to loved ones, big or small and teaches children to be patient when it comes to waiting for the big day when Santa Claus (or Father Christmas in the UK) makes his stop!