Monday, March 26, 2012

Back to the East Midlands and Beyond: Chatsworth House and My Favorite Recipe for Bakewell Pudding


When I was about 5 months preggers with my son, my husband was contacted by a former boss and asked if we would be interested in moving to England.  Since at that time his career was going nowhere and there was a new baby on the way, he agreed that we would come and take a look and see what we thought.

Before we headed over, we made a detour and took our daughter on a quick vacation to Disneyworld.  Little did we know at the time but Florida is a favorite holiday destination for the British.  The first time I got a chance I asked a couple with British accents if they had ever heard of Nottingham, and if they had, what they thought. 

The first couple had heard of it, but was sad to tell me that it was located in the East Midlands and not much there but coal mining and football hooligans.  Refusing to be deterred by one naysayer, we found a second couple and asked them.  They were happy to report that they had once driven through this area and felt the urge to push the accelerator to the floorboard and make a hasty escape. 

We were totally deflated having our dreams of a thatched cottage next to a warm neighborhood pub replaced with visions of black lung and constant rain, but we decided to take a free vacation and go have a look anyway.

Fortunately for my husband’s perspective employers, the day our train pulled into the Nottingham station for the first time was fair and bright. We had been wined and dined at the Savoy in London for 2 days prior, so to say we were in a good mood would be an understatement. 

While my husband looked at the office, I was chauffeured around the countryside with my husband’s boss’s wife and their daughter.  We discovered the beautiful Vale of Belvoir (pronounced, "beaver"), Sherwood Forest, Rutland Water and parts of the picturesque Peak District.  We thought those Disneyworld Brits must have been crazy and agreed to move over immediately.

We lived in our English home for almost five happy years making some great friends along the way and changing our outlook on the world forever.  Oh sure, there were many challenges and not all the times were good, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Now that we have been back in America for years, my heart sometimes aches for the English countryside and those friends that I made that remain there.  Thankfully I often get the chance to return and reconnect with the things I love about England and the East Midlands in particular.

I often tell Americans that are planning a trip to the UK that if you only see London, you have not seen England.  Although it is by far my favorite city in the world, just staying there you miss seeing some of the most beautiful villages, stately homes and scenery in the country.

A few days ago I once again boarded a train in London to ride north to the East Midlands.  The day was bright and warm, albeit not as warm as that summer day when I first took this trip, but it was a blessed day for England in March.

My friend Karen, who is a “lifer” since she married a Brit many years ago, met me at the station.  Through many excited telephone conversations we had decided that we would bop around Nottingham and the surrounding villages for a couple of days and then would drive the hour or so to Bakewell and ultimately on to Chatsworth on the following Monday.

Monday worked out to be the perfect day for a drive.  It was beautiful and fairly warm so the Monday market in Bakewell was alive with every OAP (old age pensioner) in the Peak District.  I have to say that this market was a bit of a disappointment since it consisted mainly of cut rate beauty supplies in old boxes, unflattering cotton underwear and a few tables of tropical fruit.  Being professional shoppers from way back, we were in no way deterred by this lack of attractive merchandise, so we persevered until Karen bought a miracle mop and a couple of pots of eye glass cleaner.

By this time we were hungry and on the clock since the pay and display receipt in the car had only an hour or so left on it.  We moseyed over to the main area of this pretty little village in search of the ultimate Bakewell Tart, and we were in no way disappointed since every bakery and coffee shop in town claim to have invented this local specialty.





I guess I’ve always thought that the Bakewell tart and Bakewell pudding were the same dessert since the word “pudding” in England is synonymous for dessert.  The story goes that the tart was invented during Victorian times when a novice baker misunderstood the directions for a pie she was to make and the resulting dessert was so good that it became legend.  When researching the history of the pudding for this post, I was amused to find that the exact same story is told for its invention.


After much exhaustive research, I am here to report that the Bakewell pudding is definitely my favorite of the two. My best description of this dessert would be a puff pastry crust topped with a thin layer of jam and an egg custard topping very reminiscent of a chess pie.  The tart is a short crust base topped with a thin layer of jam and topped with more of a cake like filling than a custard.  Both of them are very good but the pudding definitely gets my vote.
Bakewell Tart (left) vs. Bakewell Pudding (right)


Full to the brim with tarts, puddings, Cornish pasties and coffee, we waddled back to the car and headed over to Chatsworth.  Chatsworth is in my opinion, the most magnificent stately home in all of England.  Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, this gorgeous house and grounds have been the ancestral home of the Cavendish family since the 16th century.  For more history and information about Chatsworth, please click on the links.



Since it was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at Chatsworth, and we had both toured the house on several occasions, we were happy to just walk around the grounds and visit the shops located in the old stables.  The only sounds breaking the silence on this day were those of bleating sheep and the laughter of playing children.    The peace and serenity of this special place is one of its main attractions for me.




After a cup of coffee in the cafe (as you can tell, lots and lots of coffee drinking and biscuit eating goes on in England), and a stop by the most gorgeous public toilets in the world, we sadly left the grounds of the main house and headed over to the farm shop.





The farm shop has the best in produce from the estate, tenant farmers and local suppliers.


The Chatsworth Farm Shop is known far and wide for the quality of its produce and estate reared meat.  I don’t even think that the food halls at Harrod’s or Selfridge’s could out do the beauty of the products found here.   We showed great restraint managing to leave with only a kilo of pork belly for a cassoulet Karen planned on making.  

Now in between visits when I get homesick for this part of the country, I’m going to make a Bakewell pudding to fill the void.  It took me a couple of tries but I finally made one that tastes very much like the ones they make at The Old Bakery.  It is custardy, gooey and a little bit flaky and tender from the puff pastry.  I love it served like the English like it, with a bit of heavy cream poured over, and of course, with a nice cup of coffee.

Bakewell Pudding

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 stick butter
1 – 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely ground almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large eggs
6 heaping tablespoons jam (strawberry, raspberry, cherry or a combination)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place puff pastry on a floured surface.  Dust top of pastry with a tablespoon or so of flour.  Roll pastry out so it is big enough to line a deep dish pie pan.  Lay the pastry inside of the pie pan, pressing it into the corners.  Trim the dough that hangs over the edge; set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Add almonds, flour and salt and mix well to combine.  Add half and half and extracts and mix once again.
Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition; set mixture aside.
Remove pastry from the refrigerator and spoon the jam into the bottom spreading in evenly with the back of a large spoon.  Pour the egg mixture carefully over the jam.
Place the pudding on the center rack of the preheated oven.  Bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes or until it is golden brown and set in the middle.  Remove and cool to room temperature before serving. 
Dust with powdered sugar or serve with heavy cream poured over.
Serves 8











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