Monday, 4 March 2013

Breakfast with Malcolm Eggs and recipe for Portuguese custard tarts

One of the oldest (virtually prehistoric in blog terms, 2005!) and best written blogs is The London Review of Breakfasts. The suitably pseudonymed Malcolm Eggs (or his doppelganger Seb Emina)  after a particularly bad breakfast, started crisis meetings over a monthly Full English, a secret breakfast club if you like, with hand-picked co-conspirators, whose entrance exam consisted of coming up with a similarly punning breakfasty pen name. These breakfast 'agents' then spread all over. Mission: review the best breakfasts, be they amongst the posh movers and shakers at The Wolseley, or elbow-deep in grease and condiments at working mens caffs. 
Breakfast is a neglected meal in terms of cookery books, until the twin-headed Seb/Malcolm wrote the recently released and rather brilliant 'The Breakfast Bible'. Written in customary witty style, with great research into the origins of breakfast food stuffs, musings on the philosophy of the first meal, this book reminds me of Schotts Miscellaney, lots of fun facts but with recipes. 
The cover of The Breakfast Bible: it took me a couple of days to notice that the cover depicted rashers of bacon.

I met Seb/Malcolm for a MsMarmite/Malcolm Eggs breakfast summit at Caravan in Kings Cross, a cavernous warehouse with open kitchen, right next to Saint Martin's art school. I ordered toast and marmite ("I'd never order that, so much cheaper and better at home" said Seb). Seb/Malcolm went for eggs, naturellement. 
Within the book is an essay about class at breakfast time, by Blake Pudding, the writer suggests that Marmite is a working class condiment whereas marmalade is upper class. If Marmite is working class then it is probably white working class. At a recent event I was speaking to several ethnic minority Britons (Caribbean, African, Indian) who said they would never eat Marmite at home, that only white people ate Marmite. One mum even said that she would feel 'pretentious' if she had it in her cupboard. 
Full English ingredients are underpinned by breakfast biblical commandments known as 'the magic 9':  eggs, bacon, black or white pudding, sausages, beans, potatoes, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes: in that order of importance. (I disagree, how can black or white pudding be more essential for breakfast than toast? )
Another chapter tackles why cake is never acceptable for breakfast but Seb/Malcolm delves into the pancake pantheon (waffles, Staffordshire oat cakes, crumpets), judging it to be a version of cake.
A breakfast sweet food is represented by a recipe for 'pasteis de belem', the light custard tart from Portugal, ideally served with a 'gallao' milky coffee. I've wanted to try this recipe for a long time. I was delighted with them, the custardy additions of lemon and cinnamon only increased the pleasure. As soon as I made them however, a visiting expert sniffed at the lack of spirally pastry and caramelised top as specified in this post. Must try harder. 

Pasteis de Belem/ Portuguese Custard Tart recipe from The Breakfast Bible. 
Makes 12 tarts:

250g of all butter puff pastry
Unsalted butter, for greasing

2 tablespoons of whole milk
2 tablespoons of plain flour
340ml of whole milk
50ml of double cream (I used creme fraiche)
4 large egg yolks
150g caster sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
3 strips lemon peel
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the custard ingredients together, gradually, in the order suggested, a little milk, flour, the rest of the milk, the cream, egg yolks, sugar, until they are smooth. Heat slowly, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, adding the rest of the ingredients; cinnamon, lemon peel, vanilla extract. When you can draw a distinct line upon your wooden spoon, the custard is thick enough. Remove from heat.
Butter your muffin tray and roll out the puff pastry, 3mm thick. 
Now the proper way is to then roll your puff pastry and cut horizontal slices from your role. This forms the basis of your spirally custard tart. Tuck each one into a muffin indent. The slice should be large enough to go up the sides of the indent.
I haven't tried this yet myself though. I've got some spare puff pastry so I'll have another go this week and update this blog.
Or, just roll it out, take a saucer slightly larger than the muffin indent, and cut around the saucer on the pastry, push it into the muffin 'hole'. 
Pour the custard, now cooled, into each muffin hole.
Put the tray into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Gas mark 7 or 220º.
Aga instructions: I baked these for 20 minutes on the bottom shelf of my baking oven. 
Check that the custard has set.
Then for the authentic caramelised tops, place the muffin tray under the grill for 5-10 minutes until brown. 
Aga instructions: place the muffin tray on the top shelf of the roasting oven for 5-10 minutes.
Eat immediately or that day with a large milky coffee.

Do you think Marmite is working class? Or a 'white' condiment? What is your 'Magic 9'? Is toast more important than 'black or white pudding'? Do you eat cake for breakfast? 


  1. Funnily enough, I rather like eating cake for breakfast, which is weird because I don't really eat it in general. Then again, I'll eat anything for breakfast, just as long as it isn't a breakfast item. cold pasta is my favourite. or cold pizza. Or curry. Or anything I should have eaten the night before. Man, I want cold pasta now.

    Also I just realised I missed this unintentionally when LROB has been one of my favourite blogs for years. Someone started a sandwich blog with a very similar name. Fucking cheek!

  2. I LOVE cold spaghetti for breakfast. And Aubergine parmigiana. The tomato mellows beautifully.
    Do you mean this blog?
    I've heard the writer is writing a book on the same subject! Can't wait.

  3. How fascinating about the Marmite. I suppose I think of it as a middle class condiment, but can't comment on the black/white question, just have no idea. My magic 9 in order would be sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, fried bread,toast,(either/or!) black pudding, a properly cooked piece of tomato, not half raw as usually served, and then tomato sauce/Tewkesbury mustard. Ideal breakfast? Loads of sausages, mushrooms and mustard. Actual breakfast? 2 slices home made granary bread, toasted, butter, marmalade. Sigh.

  4. So, you're going to be on the Good Food programme then? (Saw a trailer last night). Hope it is/was good, and showed you up in a good light, so to speak, rather than portraying you as a quirky eccentric, as TV progs are apt to do!!

  5. hrminx: no it never occurred to me that well, not everyone in the UK ate Marmite. I must keep asking people. I did ask on Twitter and a few people from Indian backgrounds said they ate it. But India does have Marmite.
    Marmite isn't served in many restaurants so if your parents had emigrated to the UK and didn't have it at home, you probably wouldn't have much opportunity to have it.
    The Breakfast Bible thinks Marmite is working class. My family has half working class (my dad, hard-working half Italian orphan made good) and half lower middle class (my mum from similar stock to Margaret Thatcher, her parents owned a greengrocers). God everything is still about class in this country which is both fascinating and depressing.
    In terms of your Magic 9, it seems that meat items are the front runners!

  6. Mark: yeah that stereotyping is really boring. Of course I cringe at myself, but you soon get used to seeing oneself on camera.
    I saw a TV agent last week who came the whole 'aren't you quirky?' crap. Yawnarama. Everybody is quirky. In fact the quirkiest people are the normals who hide it.
    Maybe it's the way I look.
    My hair is pink right now, a slightly over enthusiastic hair dresser, I said to him: I want to look a bit cartoony with a clear 'look' but not Sue Pollardish. It's a fine line.

  7. I was thinking about the marmite thing again on the way to work (!) and also wondered whether it's lack of popularity amongst West Indian/Caribbean communities has anything to do with the general flavours of West Indian/Caribbean food. I don't know much about it, but what I do know is about spicy, herby, sweet (fruity) - specifically not salty. And, let's face it, salty is pretty much what Marmite is about. Was v excited to see you on TV the other night (as, obviously, whatever in UK isn't about class is about 'S'lebrity' LOL)

  8. hrminx: talking to my upstairs neighbour Karen, who is first generation British born Jamaican. She doesn't eat Marmite, too salty. She had it at a friends house, at around 7 years old, once she started school but that's too late really. 'Give me a child until the age of 7 and I'll give you the man' said the Jesuits. Marmite inculcation needs to start early I think.
    Her son, born here, eats Marmite however.
    Her great granny was first to come to Britain, her mother lives here but was born in Jamaica. So maybe it takes 4 generations before you start eating Marmite.
    God I'm actually obsessed with Marmite. Why the hell won't Unilever give me some money? Tight bastards. They wouldn't even send me a free jar of gold marmite. I'm like their free sodding ambassador. But the whole subject of Marmite is fascinating.

  9. hrminx: yeah and slebrity is the new class. Why do you think Pippa Middleton and lots of posh people want to be famous? It's not enough to be super connected and well off I guess.

  10. I remember having a long chat with the Portugese pastry chef at Hawksmoor, she said that they made the pastry with butter and lard, then spread it with lard and rolled it up, sort of like a fatty swiss roll. Then cut slices which they pressed into the tart moulds.
    If memory serves she said the custard was made with some flour too. (I should point out it was breakfast when I was there and I was on my 3rd cocktail...)

  11. oops just re read your recipe and the custard sounds quite similar to the one she described..

  12. Didn't know much about Marmite until I came to live here at age 17. A friend used to give me buttered granary bread, toasted, with Bovril spread on it, which I really liked, and I then moved onto Marmite. I like it on toast, and then with grilled tomatoes on top.

    I would eat certainly cake for breakfast, especially the American coffe cake types, with the streusal toppings. Americans go a bundle on sweet things for brekkie, but I don't see Staffordshire oat cakes as a type of cake at all. I have them grilled with melted cheese on top.

  13. I have literally just eaten the most amazing Nata then I read this... Have to make some!

  14. Hi! I grew up in S'affrica. We ate a lot of Bovril on sandwiches (shudder) at home until I graduated onto the strong stuff (Marmite) in my early teens. I haven't looked back. Marmite (spread thinly, on hot buttered toast) is probably the best cure for travel and morning sickness around.


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)