My favourite activities tend to rotate around eating. No surprises there, but let me digress. Over the last two weeks I have managed to repeat a particular structure which, inevitably, results in eating, and I’m not sure how I can get away with repeating it again next week. You’ve no doubt listened (read?) to me waffle on about the joys of fresh winter walks culminating in a pub lunch, but dear reader, I honestly love it. Maybe it’s something to do with the British countryside, maybe it’s the desire to escape the Roundabout of Death, or maybe it’s the sight of the pub over the crest of the hill and I know the reward for that thigh-burning climb is within reach.
Last weekend my family, Calum and I strolled across misty, drizzly hillsides in Lydgate, admiring the incredible snow-dusted hilltops like cakes sprinkled with icing sugar, before descending on The White Hart, a cosy hotel and pub complete with wood-burning stoves, tartan carpets and cushions, snug booths, and a drool-worthy menu. A walk in winter is the perfect excuse to demolish a chunk of pork chop, caramelised apples and a steaming dish of cauliflower cheese, followed by a wedge of caramel tart resplendent with chocolate sorbet and popping candy. It was my birthday after all. When else can you cradle a food-baby not give a damn.
And then, by the whims of fate, a couple of days later I drove to the Peak District to spend the weekend with friends. Apart from guzzling wine, munching pizza and gossiping like old ladies, what else was on the agenda other than a walk and pub lunch?! (I’m sighing with content just remembering this… should I be worried?) Dressed completely inappropriately for the time of year and, well, Britain, I went out without a raincoat, hat or anything waterproof, carrying a bagful of bananas, and simply hoped. The walk to the pub was mild, albeit grey and we clambered up steep hills, each one of us panting and deciding to forego the gym for the rest of the week. At the summit, out came the selfie-stick and we perched close to a perilous drop to capture our achievement. And, glory be, there was the pub and we marched with quickening pace to this converted old stable, booths crammed into the original stalls, horse shoes and muzzles decorating the varnished wood walls. The ten of us squeezed around a large table and tucked into sandwiches made with thick country bread, fish, chips and garden peas, and bean cassoulet. (The walk back to the cottage was not as pleasant – the heavens opened and my scarf became my make-shift hood as we trekked along a muddy riverside in the growing twilight. Take note, dear reader, if you walk in the Peaks take a raincoat and torch… and not eight bananas.)
Naturally, I baked for the excursion. When returning from the cold and wet all one needs is a hot cup of tea and a crumbly morsel of cake. A traybake seemed the logical choice; easy to transport in plastic tubs plus a little rough and rustic unlike the sheen of a layered sandwich cake. Traybakes are for the hardy bakers. These little squares of sponge were filled with diced apple, clotted cream and topped with a healthy dose of cinnamon crumble. After scrambling up a slippery slope covered in rocks and various stumbling blocks, a cake filled with clotted cream doesn’t bat an eyelid.
This venture into traybakes inspired me so before long I found myself by the safety of the warm oven, fingers sticky with orange frangipane and rhubarb jam. After I left the girls a day early to the summons of work, they descended on the town of Bakewell, famous for the almond jammy pudding. The dessert eventually morphed into our beloved Bakewell tarts, eternally epitomised by the Mr Kipling foil-cased tartlets coated in the thick snowy icing and a pert glace cherry. Sweet, soft and squidgy the tart contents is easily transferred to the traybake – plus a showering of flaked almonds for that classic rustic traybake look.
Bakewells offer layers – layers of flavour, texture, and more excitement on every level. The base is crisp pastry which is thickly coated in rhubarb jam and slivers of pink poached rhubarb. On top of this is the frangipane, rich with almond extract and orange zest, then finally finished with strips of more rhubarb and almonds. Each bite is soft with sponge, crunchy from the almonds, and juicy from the syrupy rhubarb. This is the beauty of the traybake – anything goes. And, after a winter walk, cosy pub lunch, you can simply skip dinner, brew a cup of tea and tuck into a well-deserved treat.
Rhubarb Bakewell slice
Adapted from BBC Good Food
3 sticks of forced rhubarb
200g caster sugar
150g plain flour
75g unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
100g butter, very soft
100g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
50g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp almond extract
Zest of half an orange
2 eggs, beaten
- First poach your rhubarb – chop the sticks into short strips, preferably half the width of your baking dish for the tray bake. Combine the water and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil along with any spices you fancy – cinnamon, cardamom and star anise would work well. Once at a rolling boil, add the rhubarb and immediately remove the pan from the heat. As the syrup cools the rhubarb will gently soften.
- To make the pastry rub the flour and butter together to make fine breadcrumbs. Make sure there are no small lumps of butter left. Stir in the icing sugar and add the egg yolk. Mix together with a palette or cutlery knife and drizzle in a tablespoon of cold water to bind the pastry. Use your hands to bring the pastry together and quickly shape into a ball, flatten and wrap in cling film. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Grease a 14cm x 22cm baking tray or similar with a little butter and line with baking parchment, leaving a little overhanging. Remove the pastry from the fridge and dust the work surface with some flour. Roll out the pastry, turning it 90° after every roll to stop it sticking to the surface.
- Once it is the height of a £1 coin it is thin enough. Cut out the shape of your baking tray – you will have slightly more than you need. Line the base and snugly tuck it into the corners. Prick the base then return it to the fridge for another half an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Slide the chilled pastry into the oven and bake for 10 – 12 minutes until the pastry no longer appears raw and grey. Leave to cool slightly and reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/320°F.
- Meanwhile, mix together all the ingredients for the Bakewell, except the rhubarb jam and flaked almonds, with an electric whisk. Spread the jam on the pastry base – no need to be precise, just blob it all over. Lay half of your poached rhubarb batons on top. Dollop the frangipane over the rhubarb and gently spread to the corners. Line the rest of the rhubarb on top in strips and scatter with a handful of flaked almonds.
- Bake for 40 minutes then check with a skewer to ensure the frangipane is cooked throughout. If not return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Leave to cool completely in the baking tray before easing a sharp knife around the edge. Gently pull it out with the baking parchment and slice into squares.