Bunty and I were busy feeding the toaster with an assortment of bakery goods - crumpets, pikelets, tea-cakes and so on - when George tramps in from the garden, leaving mud everywhere and says, 'I've been having a chat with Clive - what do you think about going to holiday with the Ropers this summer?' and quick as a wink, Bunty sticks her smile on and says, 'The Ropers?' as a tea-cake flings itself with dramatic timing out of the toaster.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson
This has been the most extraordinary year of literary discoveries: Sarah Perry's The Essex Serpent, the joy of Barbara Pym, and now Kate Atkinson. I accept that I am late to the party with this one - but I now have a stack of her books on my shelves, to be devoured in haste over the next weeks. Behind the Scenes at the Museum is exactly the type of story I love, full of complex relationships, secrets and extraordinary events peppering the everyday: a gradually unfolding story about multiple generations in an English family. Our knowing narrator, youngest child Ruby Lennox, tells her family's story in post-war Britain, chapters of which are interspersed with moments in her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother's young lives.
And, like all my new favourites, every second page of my copy of the book is now dog-eared, noting references to food. My recipe this week could have been for scones, for fish and chips (which the characters eat in almost every chapter), for sherry-laced Christmas trifle or for a Sunday roast. But I came across these tea-cakes, making a bid for freedom from the toaster. I was halfway through a cup of Yorkshire tea at the time, and had spent the weekend working on a sweetened dough recipe for the book. Still not bored with slow-rising dough and dried fruit, I fancied a batch of these.
Tea-cakes are, of course, readily accessible in supermarkets, but they're also a breeze to make. Though you'll need to dedicate a couple of hours to rising time, this isn't 'work' as such - the cakes did their first rise while I was doing the nanny-run to school, and the second while the kids' dinner was in the oven. Apart from the initial knead (which you can do with a dough hook if you prefer), they need very little attention; this soft, buttery dough is happy to get on with a rise while you get on with other things. And, fresh from the toaster, spread generously with butter, they are more than worth the time.
1 cinnamon stick
2 strong black tea bags (Yorkshire tea is ideal)
350g strong white bread flour
7g flaky sea salt
40g caster sugar
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
10g dried active yeast
225ml body temperature water
35g unsalted butter
Egg, to glaze
1. Put the sultanas, water and cinnamon stick in the saucepan, and bring to the boil. Add the tea bags and simmer on a low heat for ten minutes. Take them off the heat and allow them to infuse while you get on with the dough.
2. Put the yeast, water and sugar in the jug, stir it and set aside until you can see bubbles on top of the water. Meanwhile, put the flour, sea salt and cinnamon in the bowl, and mix together by hand. Slowly pour in the yeasty water, mixing with your hand to bring the dough together. Start kneading on a clean bench. Once the dough has come together completely, add the butter to it. Continue to knead for around ten minutes, until the dough is soft, very smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover and allow to double in size (this will take an hour or so, depending on how warm your kitchen is).
3. Strain the sultanas and dry on a paper towel. Knead the sultanas into the dough, ensuring they are relatively evenly distributed. Split the dough into eight even pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. Flatten the balls to around 1cm thick, and place on a lined baking tray to rise again. Repeat with the other balls. Ensure the tea-cakes have space between them to spread a little. Cover them again, and allow them to double in size (again, this will take about an hour).
4. After around half an hour of this final rise, heat your oven to 200C (fan). Once the dough has risen, brush the top of each with a little beaten egg, and transfer the tray to the oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the tea-cakes are browned. Eat them immediately or, even better, the next day, toasted and spread with plenty of butter.