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Recreating century-old recipes with pastry chef Nelleke Gorton

Jimmy Parker
May 24 2024 - 9:19am

Pastry chef Nelleke Gorton was animated with joy as she stood in her charming country kitchen with 100-year-old recipes on her counter top.

Hours prior, 'Queen of Tarts' Nelleke had been doing her homework, sifting through the handwritten notes, some stained by previous cooks, and examined century-old methods.

Recreating and baking century-old recipes with pastry chef Nelleke Gorton.

"Why the steaming of cake mixture instead of baking?" she queried, excited for the opportunity to recreate the 'Honey Steamed Sponge with Fluffy honey custard'.

Glass, stainless steel, and ceramic bowls held organised ingredients, timber spoons, antique measuring devices, and a hand-cranked egg beater nestled themselves awaiting use.

Upon creaming butter and sugar, adding an egg and beating it well, adding honey, milk and sifted flour, Nelleke poured the mixture into a greased mould and dropped the pudding steamer into bubbling water.

The Queen of Tarts and pastry chef Nelleke Gorton with her homemade high tea. Picture by James Parker
The Queen of Tarts and pastry chef Nelleke Gorton with her homemade high tea. Picture by James Parker

"It's a tiny minute little recipe, it must have been like war times, we don't know what it's going to become like, we're just doing what it says," she said with a laugh.

As the sponge cake steamed for an hour, Nelleke looked at another one of the recipes she had been sent, each captured from a cookbook recently donated to Bega Pioneers' Museum.

"She's given an interesting bit of advice that she uses one cup of pumpkin to each cup of flour," Nelleke said.

Nelleke in the kitchen recreating a recipe close to 100 years old. Picture by James Parker
Nelleke in the kitchen recreating a recipe close to 100 years old. Picture by James Parker

"Most recipes I've read use about half of that, so I've got to try to see if perhaps here is the secret to the best pumpkin scones ever," she exclaimed.

Using an antique dessert spoon her friend had let her borrow, Nelleke scooped a single helping of butter into an orange mixing bowl followed by a tablespoon of sugar.

"I tell all my students to weigh an egg so they know the weight, and it'll say extra large on the packet and it's still 55 grams, you want it above 60," she said, adding it to the mixture.

Looking over the hand-written recipe for pumpkin scones. Picture by James Parker
Looking over the hand-written recipe for pumpkin scones. Picture by James Parker

After sifting a cup of self raising flour, she added one teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt and one cup full of mashed dry pumpkin.

"We don't want to mix it, we want scones to be lightly done, so you're going to cut through the middle, fold it over, no need to mush, we want lightness," she said.

Using a glass pizza cheese shaker now utilised for flour, Nelleke dusted flour on the top of her stainless steel island bench before placing the dough ready for rolling.

A spoonful of honey for a final flourish. Picture by James Parker
A spoonful of honey for a final flourish. Picture by James Parker

"We want to start off with a high scone," she said as she pressed the scone cutter into the dough, "That looks good...we hope it's good," and she placed the eight scones into the oven to bake.

The buzzer sounded to alert the pastry chef the steamed pudding was ready, so she carefully removed the mould from the water, opened the lid and flipped the creation on to a plate.

"Oooo, well," she chuckled with a pause, before she poured over an aerated and fluffy honey custard she had made which oozed down the sides of the pudding.

High tea to taste-test the recipes. Picture by James Parker
High tea to taste-test the recipes. Picture by James Parker

Her dining table had been prepared for a high tea, delicate vintage plates waited patiently with dessert forks, cakes and puddings had been cut.

Nelleke taste-tested her creation.

"I'm really surprised," she said.

"They were tasty, not necessarily to our taste when we're used to more spice, and spices might have been very expensive."

Even though the ingredients were sparse and the author of the recipes had been frugal in quantities, Nelleke said it captured the time period and what baking was like during the early 20th Century.

"We need to make another!"

Jimmy Parker

Jimmy Parker

Journalist

I am a regional daily news journalist on the Far South Coast of NSW aiming to immortalise the stories of everyday people through narratives. Have you got a story? Contact me on 0437 166 441 or at james.parker@austcommunitymedia.com.au