Dumpling-Flavored Sausage Rolls

Dumpling-style Sausage Rolls
Dumpling-style Sausage Rolls

Here’s the story behind these dumpling-flavored sausage rolls. We had friends over at Christmas, and while serving up a plate of pigs-in-a-blanket, my friend pointed to them and said “Hey, what do you British call those? Isn’t there a crazy, funny name you have for those?” I was momentarily nonplussed as, a) we usually DO have a crazy, funny name for things, but b) I had no idea what else we might call them, having been out of the country, and therefore the loop, for about twenty years. (“Her Majesty’s Tiniest Corgis”? “Cheeky Blinders”? Answers on a postcard, please.)

A brief research session reminded me that Brits traditionally reserve the term “pigs in blankets” for small, un-cased sausages (which we call chipolatas) wrapped in bacon, not puff pastry, and that they’re a Christmas staple. (I then asked both my siblings to confirm this and they went straight for the sausage-in-pastry option instead, which, honestly, helps NOBODY.)

But while this post is about sausages in puff pastry, we’re not making pigs in blankets. We’re making sausage rolls. And we’re making them dumpling-flavored – seasoned with ginger, garlic, scallions and chili. Buckle up! 

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Ultimate English Toffee

We couldn’t let Christmas come and go without reposting this. It’s one of our earliest posts, but one of our very favorite recipes and something we make every single year for family parties. It just may be the toffee of your (my) dreams and while I may be indulging in a tiny bit of hyperbole, once you try it, you’ll know that I might be dramatic, but I am not a liar. In the past, I proclaimed this Salted Caramel Sauce the best thing ever and I stand by that. It’s just that there’s room on the pedestal for that sauce’s cousin from across the pond, real English toffee.  

FACT: This toffee is so good, it caused this face from Loki, this one from Arya, and best of all, this one from Matt. Okay, nerd business done.

While other toffee types are available, this toffee is hard and brittle, and thin enough that you won’t need a tiny hammer to break it up.

Why This Toffee Works

I’ve made a lot of toffee recipes over the years and this one is by far the tastiest and the easiest. It not only has a really nice balance of sweet and salty but a clever secret. The addition of a very small amount of corn syrup pretty much eliminates the danger of the sugar crystallizing (this has happened to us a few times, and can be a real bummer). This problem is caused when the sugar crystals start a chain reaction of crystallization (the process of sugar particles clinging together) which makes the mixture grainy. Once it happens there’s not much you can do about it, but there are a few things that will help prevent it from starting.

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British Bourbon Chocolate Biscuits with Three Buttercream Fillings

Bourbon chocolate biscuits

Call it winter blues, call it having a massive sweet tooth, or call it being homesick for my mother country’s dessert items, but over the last few weeks I’ve had a big old hankering for biscuits. Brits (and Commonwealth-based readers) will know exactly what I’m talking about, but just to make the point clear: I don’t mean American-style “biscuits”, the savory (sometimes cheesy) risen doughy product with a soft interior that you might slather with butter and eat for brunch. Neither are they exactly “cookies”, in the strictest sense.

What IS a biscuit?

If I was the dedicated type, this is where I might insert a Venn diagram of dessert snacks with a big circle in the middle representing the set of “cookies”, and another circle representing the set of “biscuits”. Depending on who you ask, “biscuits” might totally be a subset of “cookies” (i.e., all biscuits are cookies), or it may have a significant overlap (many biscuits are cookies, but not all), but it’s hard to make the argument that the two are completely separate. As for the “all biscuits are cookies” camp, while that may be technically true, if you asked me for a cookie and I gave you a Rich Tea biscuit you’d be pretty miffed. So here’s the best definition of “biscuit” that I can come up with:

A small, lightly sweetened, unrisen baked item, that will break with a snap (it should definitely not bend), and is typically eaten as a light snack with a drink (tea, coffee, milk). Some are a single layer (digestive or Rich Tea), and some comprise two layers sandwiched with a thin cream filling (custard creams, Bourbons). 

If it helps you to think of them as “tea biscuits” or even “sweet crackers”, feel free. Of course, living in Britain, few people would go to the trouble of making a variety of a store-bought biscuit, since it’s a matter of minutes to pop into the nearest shop and pick some up. Here in the US, though, we’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves. And we’re going to start with the classic sandwich chocolate biscuit, the Bourbon.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding (warm date cake)

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding is a hallowed British dessert which translates to American as “warm date cake drizzled with toffee sauce”. Either way you say it, it’s a deliciously rich and comforting treat, perfect for a chilly evening. 

This is a line that (I will pretend) gets thrown at me on a regular basis by drive-by shouters at Nerds Farm: “Oy, mate! You, nerd with knife! I thought you were British! Where’s the sticky toffee pudding, eh? Call yourself a food blog?” Well, firstly, no, I don’t call myself a food blog, and secondly, ha, joke’s on you, fella, because I’ve been making sticky toffee pudding on a weekly basis, and damn good pudding it’s been, too, I just haven’t blogged any of it. I’ve been told this kind of churlish behavior is unnecessarily cruel to our readers, so at last, here is the proof of the pudding, be it both sticky and toffee-flavored.

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Classic British Pork Pies

A pork pie sliced on a plate with grapes and apples

British pork pies

Almost from the beginning of this blog, there have been a number of recipes that we’ve wanted to make, but have lacked the time, ingredients, or frankly, the willingness to tackle. Pork pies are one of those recipes. For any of our readers who are unfamiliar, the traditional British pork pie is a hearty, venerated and highly portable vittle served cold and protected from the elements with a robust pastry shell. Between the layer of meat and pastry is a set aspic jelly. At this point, our carnivorous Brit readership (alright, Nathan?) will be slavering and ready for the recipe. More trepidatious American sensibilities might be juggling with the concepts of “cold pork”, “robust pastry” and “aspic jelly”. Fear not, Brad, buddy, all will be explained. Oh? You’re not? Well, you kind of look like a Brad. You just do. Sorry.

Traditional British Pork Pies

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An American-British Fish Pie

A bowl of fish pie with fork and spoon

Fish Pie

It’s a funny thing, food writing. Cooking has so much potential to bring people together, but recipes can also create rifts of disagreement that can simmer for years (OK, rifts don’t simmer, but, you know what we mean). As a case in point, a while back we posted a basic recipe for pasta, minced beef and tomato sauce that in Emily’s family had gone by the name of “gamush” since time immemorial. We hadn’t exactly imagined it would lead to a kum-ba-yah reunion, but we got two swift pieces of feedback from opposite ends of the family, both claiming that they had invented it, and both mentioning that we had gotten the recipe quite wrong (but in different ways).

Posting a variation on a favorite recipe can be like tackling a religion: you’re going to get diehard believers who have A Correct Way to make something and no deviation will be tolerated. Then, there are more casual members of the church who don’t really mind what you do with the recipe so long as you don’t put raisins in it.

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