Robert loves his Percy the Park Keeper books. We have three of these, by Nick Butterworth, and there are more in the library. In each one, Percy potters around doing his gardening work while simultaneously solving the problems of a host of friendly woodland creatures. Our collection comprises One Warm Fox, The Secret Path, and The Hedgehog’s Balloon (in which Percy turns to the reader and says earnestly, “I think everyone should be able to play with balloons. And that includes hedgehogs.” Good luck with that, mate.).
Robert’s current favorite is The Secret Path, which finds Percy doing some hedge trimming and topiary work before playing a gentle practical joke on some furry friends. In the end, he invites them all back to his house for toasted teacakes.
So Robert was all afire to eat toasted teacakes. I’ve never made teacakes before, but although it takes a while, the recipe turns out to be fairly simple. Teacakes aren’t really cakes, by the way – they’re fruity, yeasty buns with a hint of sweetness and a little bit of spice.
230 grams strong white bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
75 grams dried raisins, currants and/or sultanas
40 grams butter
120 ml milk (you can use whole, but I was happy with 2% or semi-skim)
Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together until well combined. Stir in the dried fruit. Put the butter in a saucepan and melt over low heat, then remove from heat, pour in the milk and whisk together before pouring the milk-and-butter mixture into the flour mixture. Stir together with a fork to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for around 5 minutes, until you get a smooth and elastic dough. (What my recipe didn’t tell me was that, every time I folded the dough, I’d have currants popping out and skittering across the kitchen counter, so I’d have to run after them and stuff them back into the middle of the mixture. But it’s a very forgiving dough and easier to knead than bread dough, owing to the warm milk. Dough made with warm milk has a nice plasticine sort of texture.) Anyway, shape it into a ball and put it into a lightly oiled or buttered bowl. Cover and leave it to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. (Or if you’re me, leave it in a cold kitchen then go off to church and forget about it for a couple of hours. Did I mention it’s a forgiving dough?)
Put the dough back onto your lightly floured surface, punch it down and divide into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, flatten slightly and arrange on a nonstick cookie sheet. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise about 45 minutes, until doubled in size again.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Brush the tops of the tea cakes with milk and bake 15 minutes until risen and golden brown. Cool on a rack.
These are very nice just warm from the oven with butter, but they really come into their own when they’re left to cool, then split in half and toasted on the cut sides (leave the other side untoasted). Spread with a generous amount of butter and serve immediately.