A Better Bit Of Batter

2nd February 2008

Pamela Shields sings the praises of Yorkshire Pudding

Dictionary definition of Yorkshire Pudding: Light baked batter pudding usually eaten with roast meat.

For goodness’ sake… just how many ways can there be of making a basic Yorkshire Pud? More than you can shake a celebrity chef at, that's for sure. If you’re looking for recipes you can take your pick from Delia, Keith Floyd, The Hairy Bikers, Rick Stein, Nigel ‘Toast’ Slater, Gary Rhodes, AWT, Ainsley, Gordon ‘F-Word’ Ramsay, even Jean-Christophe Novelli.

Novelli says that he can't understand why Yorkshire Pudding never caught on in France. Perhaps for the same reason that snails (and double-barrelled Christian names) didn't here. If you want to tease the recipe out of Jean-Christophe you can always fork out £495 for a demo at Novelli Academy, located in 14th-century Crouchmore Farm in Tea Green, Hertfordshire (just a stone’s throw from Luton Airport) or £60 for supper in his gastro pub The White Horse, at Hatching Green, Harpenden. Mind you… that does include a free calendar.

If Optima-reading foodies are aghast at my omitting Heston (snail porridge; sardine sorbet; egg-and-bacon ice cream) Blumenthal from this list of potential Yorkshire Pudding recipe maestros, it's because he does not cook Sunday lunch. His wife does. After seeing him on television blow-torching beef before cooking it for twenty-four hours, who could blame her? Besides, he’d probably insist on making his Pud with milk from a reindeer he’d milked himself, and keep bunging in strange implements to test the batter.

Why this sudden interest in the culinary arts? Brace yourself. Because Sunday 3 February has been declared British Yorkshire Pudding Day. True.

Why that particular day? Perhaps because, at least this year, for some very well behaved Christians the 3rd could be their last roast beef and Yorkshire Pud for 40 days. In olden times the eating of luxuries during Lent earned an unsaintly ASBO, which is why eggs and milk morphed into pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. But come on… denying oneself a slab of Fruit and Nut for Lent is one thing; eschewing roast beef and Yorkshire is surely a step too far. (Or a mouthful too few.)

Some people wouldn't miss it though. Some people never cook a Sunday roast. A quarter of Brits don't own a table, let alone a dining room. The meal that could be a highlight of the week is, like all the others, eaten off a tray on the lap in front of the television, with the Sunday treat being that it's lunchtime after a lie in and not the evening.

No one knows where the pudding originated. It doesn’t seem to have been Yorkshire. Batter pudding, cooked in a tin beneath spit-roasted meat to catch the dripping, was eaten all over Britain when Adam was a lad. It filled up the hoi polloi when meat was a special treat. When there wasn't enough meat to go round the children simply had batter pudding filled with meat juice. Left-overs were eaten cold, spread with sugar, jam or dried fruit. What did originate in Yorkshire, however, was the tradition of filling the pudding with onion gravy.

So. What's your bag? Home-made with proper flour? Packet of batter mix? Deep tin, praying the middle gets cooked? Patty tins (quicker)? Or Aunt Bessie's totally tasteless frozens, which resemble nothing defined in the Oxford dictionary? The one thing on which chefs agree is that is the recipe must use plain flour. Self-raising flour, or the addition of baking powder, will result in a grey, flat, soggy cow pat. Oh, and it’s diligent beating of the eggs that makes the pud rise.

Mrs Blumenthal's brood prefers that she serves the Yorkshire with roast chicken and cauliflower cheese and Mr B says (shock, horror) that his drink of choice with Sunday lunch is sherry. Sherry! (Aunt Gracie will be delighted. No more battling to wrest the decanter from her, insisting she goes on to red with the rest of the guests. If sherry’s good enough for the best chef in the world, then it’s good enough for us.)

The British Yorkshire Pudding Day website comes riddled with disclaimers: This is not a medical site… food allergies… consult qualified doctor…check labels. I swear that I can hear my crone of a mother-in-law cackling in her scullery in the sky. Vi, hands all-a-tremble from her Famous Grouse supper the night before, made the best Yorkshire in the land but guarded her secret the way a witch does her brew. As a very young bride I asked her how to make it. She snarled: “Learn.” I had to. Catherine Tate's Gran has nothing on Vi.

I can thank royalty for the recipe I use. When I earned a crust as a press officer for the Prince's Trust, my boss decided her young unemployed tyros would train as caterers (twenty years before Jamie thought of it) so ordered in a stock of Practical Cookery by Victor Ceserani of the Ritz and Ronald Kinton of Claridges and gave me a copy. Known as the Chefs Bible it knocks other recipe books into a cocked hat. My boss, fantasising over her charges in checked trousers and silly hats, decided against consommé and cuisse de poulet in favour of roast beef and Yorkshire, and we road-tested the recipes together. Were the little dears grateful? They were not. “Cooks!” they sneered, “Us?” they laughed. “No thanks, we'd rather wash cars at a fiver a go.” It was their loss; that recipe has seen me through many a stressful Sunday since.

Fashions come and go but roast beef and Yorkshire pudding remains one of life's greatest treats. I bet ‘Our Barbara’ of The Royle Family and Nellie Boswell from Bread made a mean Yorkshire. Just how veggies can face life without the Sunday roast is one of life's mysteries.

Enjoy!

Yorkshire Pudding

courtesy of British Yorkshire Pudding Day

This amount is enough to make: 1 large (serves 4-6) or 8 individual (serves 4-8) or 12 popovers (serves 4-6) or 24 mini Yorkshires (suitable for parties)

2 eggs • approx 180ml milk • 100g plain flour • 1/2 level tsp salt • vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 220C, 425F, Gas mark 7. Put enough vegetable oil in a shallow baking tin (approx 20cm x 25cm) or a 4-hole Yorkshire pudding tin or a 12-hole muffin tin to cover the base to a depth of approx 3mm and place in the oven until very hot. If roasting beef, you can use the fat from the roasting tin, made up with extra oil if necessary. If making mini Yorkshires, use a 24-hole mini muffin tin or 2 small 12-hole patty (bun) tins and place a scant teaspoon of oil in each hole before placing in the oven to get very hot.

2. Meanwhile, break the eggs into measuring jug, add enough milk to make it up to 300ml and whisk together.

3. Add the salt and flour and whisk until very smooth with no lumps.

4. Carefully remove tin(s) from the oven, making sure the fat is very hot and fill:
Large Yorkshire – pour the batter into the centre of the tin, filling to 2/3rds
4 hole tin – pour the batter into the centre of the holes, filling to 2/3rds
Popovers – pour the batter into the centre of the holes, filling to half
Mini – pour the batter into the centre of the holes, filling to half

5. Return to the oven straight away and bake until well risen and golden:
Large Yorkshire – 30-40 minutes
4-hole – 20-25 minutes
Popovers – 15-20 minutes
Mini Yorkshires – 9-12 minutes

6. Serve hot, traditionally with Roast Beef or any Sunday Roast Dinner.

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