The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: The Big Festive Breakfast

I have always been a great supporter of the ‘Full English Breakfast’. It is one of the few meals that can be almost entirely locally sourced, at any time of the year. A legacy of the great Country House breakfasts which were at their height in the 19th and early 20th century, these were full meals, sustaining enough to take family and guests though a full days hunting with only a picnic type luncheon. The emphasis on breakfast was hearty English food, whilst dinner followed the more fashionable French style of cuisine.

Breakfast was a buffet style meal, buffets laden with everything from Devilled Kidneys, Kippers and Kedgeree through to game, meat and of course breads and cheeses. It was served between 9 am and 11 am, sound familiar? The American Brunch follows this pattern quite neatly, more substantial food than mere toast and cereal, and served later in the morning. So, could you say that the Victorians invented Brunch? Perhaps, but with a little controversy.

The festive period is a great time to go all-out for Breakfast, many of us are out and about during the day, nibbling a mince pie or sausage roll here and there, not really having time for a sit-down lunch so a decent breakfast hits the spot perfectly, also there is a wonderful ritual to Breakfast, a time to chat, sit around the table, light some candles and enjoy the present. Many people are off work between Christmas and New Year and these precious holidays, unlike others in the year, are almost always spent at home, surrounded by friends and family –  and with time on your hands.

Breakfast is also a good meal to get the children to help with, laying the table, easy recipes…perhaps Christmas muffins or homemade bread. Aside from the usual ‘Bacon and Eggs’ there are thousands of recipes suitable for a substantial breakfast, how about waffles with lots of different toppings, pancakes or Spanish Tortilla, baked ham and egg cups, roasted avocado with a little chilli on toasted sourdough, Turkish Shakshouka (spicy baked eggs often served with Merguez sausages) or Mexican Huervos Rancheros  (ranch style eggs) served with soft tortillas?  Or what about designating a different country to each breakfast and tour the world?

I have written about the classic British breakfast before, I have extolled the virtues of locally produced bacon and sausages, decent bread and free-range eggs, personally this combination never bores me, but with a little baking and a few festive touches any breakfast can be made an extra special and memorable experience.


Spicing up the Welsh Cake for the Autumn

Welsh Cakes have always been my go-to standby for surprise guests; they are so simple to make and are best eaten hot, bounced from hand-to-hand almost straight from the pan. My grandmother, who at the age of twelve took over her family’s weekly baking told me how Welsh Cakes scarcely made it out of the pan before being demolished by one or other of her brothers.

I enjoy the ritual of the Welsh Cake; I always feel as if I am at the end of long, ancient line of ‘planc’ bakers, even the cakes reputedly burnt by King Alfred were Griddle Cakes. There’s something so comforting about the pliable, slightly sticky dough and the griddle warming on the stove. I own three; one standard, plate-sized and Welsh made; an enormous (almost too big to carry) very old planc pitted through years of use and delightfully burnished with age. My latest acquisition, mostly due to my burning myself frequently, is a cast iron enamelled Staub crepe pan with a proper handle. As long as I remember that handles get hot, this seems to work extremely well, and it is also perfect for cooking breakfast and steaks on, and pancakes (which is its true purpose)

Welsh cakes, traditionally, are dotted with currants and liberally scattered with caster sugar, but in this recipe I have removed the currents and replaced them with a generous teaspoon of cinnamon which gives an autumnal feel to the cakes. I always find Easter biscuits and traditional Welsh Cakes very similar in taste so perhaps I associate currants with spring, but in the colder months cinnamon is wonderful for warding off colds and it has anti-inflammatory properties to ease those cold-weather aches.

We like to serve them topped with clotted cream and jam, or (and I don’t advocate this too often) clotted cream and golden syrup.

Welsh Cakes are also extremely family friendly and children love to help cut out the dough in a variety of shapes, we’ve even made pumpkin shaped, Halloween ones.

A good Welsh Cake should have a soft, light scone-like texture; they cannot be cut too deep nor too shallow. They keep well in a tin and there are very few people who’ll refuse one when offered!

Autumn Cinnamon Welsh Cakes 

Makes 12-18, depending on size but as long as they are generally the same thickness it’ll be fine

250g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

130g unsalted butter

90g caster sugar (I use unrefined because it gives a lovely toffee-like undertone)

1 large egg, beaten

1 heaped tsp of cinnamon

splash of milk

2tbls sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Method

Add a pinch of salt to the flour and rub in the butter

When the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and combine well

Pour in the egg – a little at a time until you have a sticky, light dough. You can add a splash of milk or a little more flour if the dough appears too soft or too dry

On a floured board, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 8mm and cut into shapes as desired

Heat your bake-stone or a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat

Cook the Welsh Cakes until golden brown and then turn over

Reduce the heat to low and keep turning them until they are evenly coloured and cooked through (you may need to ‘test’ one at this stage)

They usually take about 12 minutes in total but it will vary depending upon thickness of pan and thickness of cake

Remove and place on a cooling rack

combine the sugar and cinnamon and dust over the Welsh Cakes