Bockings

The story of English Breads and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David (under review by the blogging cookbook club, The Cookbook Guru, this month) begins nearly twenty years before it appeared in print. In 1956, when Elizabeth David was writing cookery articles for The Sunday Times, her editor “strongly encouraged” her to do a book review on a little book called Home Baked by husband and wife team, George and Cecilia Scurfield. Recounting this in a book of her collected articles, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, Elizabeth David wryly explained that at the time she knew nothing about bread making (let alone book reviewing), but when your editor asks, you jump.

Well, when she jumped, Elizabeth David really jumped! That review appeared in The Sunday Times on 25 March 1956, but the Scurfield’s book, she said “opened up a whole new field of study and of cookery.” According to her official biography, Writing at the Kitchen Table by Artemis Cooper, Elizabeth David delved enthusiastically into the research for her bread book – in the library, the kitchen and on the road collecting information. In fact, the book is so well researched, that many refer to it as Elizabeth David’s scholarly book – unlike her books on Mediterranean, French Provincial or Italian food that were based more on personal experiences.

As a testament to her vast research, in her search for English bread traditions, Elizabeth David delved into numerous old cookbooks – some dating back centuries and written in archaic English. English Bread and Yeast Cookery contains many historical recipes and variations from these sources. Some, but not all of the recipes she converted to metric quantities and modified for the modern kitchen. One of those cookbooks was the 1817 Modern Domestic Cookery and Useful Receipt Book by Elizabeth Hammond. Here, Elizabeth David spotted the recipe for Bockings – an old English buckwheat griddle cake.

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Bockings (Buckwheat Griddle Cakes)
I was intrigued by this recipe, not least because Elizabeth David said most buckwheat pancakes found in contemporary (mid-20th century) cookbooks were derived from American pancakes leavened with baking powder, but there were older buckwheat traditions to be found in England, at least as far back as the 18th century if not earlier.

Makes approximately 3 dozen small griddle cakes

  • 3 oz. (85g) buckwheat flour
  • 3 oz. (85g) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 teaspoons active dried yeast
  • 10 fluid oz. milk
  • 4 eggs

In a large bowl mix the flours, salt and yeast. Warm the milk to body temperature and mix this in with the fours, whisking to form a smooth batter.

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Cover with clingfilm and let it sit in a warm place for about 1 hour until bubbles form.

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Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Cover again and let sit for another hour or hour and a half. Elizabeth David suggests at this stage adding a little more milk, but also indicates that the batter should not be too thin. I ignored this as the batter was already thin enough, possibly due to the large eggs I used.

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When ready to cook, heat your griddle or heavy bottomed frying pan, lightly oiled using wadded paper towels. Spoon out a small amount of batter, sufficient to make small cakes – approximately 3 inches diameter.

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Flip when the holes formed at the top remain open and the edges appear dry and have started to brown – the same procedure as cooking pancakes. Serve warm with melted butter. Elizabeth David also recommends a sprinkling of brown sugar.

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Notes & Evaluation:
These were incredibly easy to do and very more-ish. The yeast and the first “rise” of the dough produced a really light griddle cake – more than I expected. I suspect this lightness would also transfer to a 100% buckwheat flour version (as Hammond’s original recipe). Perhaps worth a try for the next batch. They’re also a little spongy like a good crumpet, although not as thick. But, E.D. was absolutely right – they do taste wonderful with butter and brown sugar, but I suspect would be equally good with honey or even maple syrup. Perfect for tea time, or for a late weekend breakfast (given the 2 hour prep time). Elizabeth David also indicated that these yeast types of buckwheat cakes crop up periodically as a traditional Shropshire recipe. They are said to resemble the wheat flour Welsh crumpets – not surprisingly, from a neighbouring territory to Shropshire. The Welsh crumpets are sometimes called crempog, which Elizabeth David indicates is (linguistically) the equivalent to krampoch, the buckwheat pancakes of Brittany, which makes me wonder if the Welsh crumpets were once made from buckwheat. The word bockings comes from bock, according to Elizabeth David, a derivative of buck or buckwheat. Although there does not appear to be a linguistic connection, I suspect there is some sort of culinary connection between crempog and bockings – and possibly even with the Brittany buckwheat tradition. A working hypothesis, at least!

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26 comments

  1. Will have to try a 100% bockwheat… He he, version of these! I do make pikelets with buckwheat but not with yeast. They look very tasty and I wish I had one or two on hand for me supper. 🙂

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    • Next time I make these it will be 100% buckwheat. I was really surprised at how light they were, but with all that yeast they had to be! I had been thinking that larger versions of them might make good crêpes with savoury fillings like (but better than) French buckwheat galletes. Pikelets, according to Elizabeth David are a northern English word for crumpets, so they have yeast. Although, I think pikelets are also a term for small pancakes in Australia and NZ? Amazing that though we speak the same language there are still terminology pitfalls!

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      • Yes, in Australia and in NZ we call small pancakes pikelets. I think they call them drop scones in Scotland? Just to confuse us all! A buckwheat crepe version of these with savoury fillings would be delicious. There is a buckwheat galette recipe in Rachel Khoo’s My Little French Kitchen recipe book that I have been wanting to try.

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  2. My favorite pancakes are buckwheat, whole wheat, and all-purpose flour with blueberries and banana slices (SO flavorful!!)- no yeast though. Your recipe sounds great 🙂

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    • I had never heard of them either until I read about them in English Breads and Yeast Cookery. If you ever get a chance to read this book, it is filled with all sorts of different regional breads, rolls, scones, batter cakes, etc. The “bockings” were delicious, but next time I’m going to try making them with 100% buckwheat.

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  3. Do you think there’s a connection with blinis? Buckwheat pancakes are a favourite here, but I’ve never leavened them with yeast. There is always too little time when you want pancakes for breakfast!

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    • I think there is a connection, at least in ingredients, with blinis – ED puts the recipe for bockings directly after that for blinis, but does not make a cultural or historical link between the two. So, who knows? Although we may associate these with breakfast, pancakes or “drop scones” (the Scots term) are often an afternoon teatime treat. I may try to tweak this recipe for a savoury crêpe-like meal. I like the lightness of the yeast-based pancake better than the simple flat French galette.

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  4. Reblogged this on The Cookbook Guru and commented:
    Another fabulous post from Debi at My Kitchen Witch, sharing her tale of discovering Bockings (which are a little like crumpets/pancakes for the uninitiated).
    Enjoy, Leah

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  5. Wow, what a cool post. I love the exploration you did with this one and the end result that you created. Like you, I can’t imagine taking 2 hours to make breakfast which is why I haven’t attempted the crumpets again yet.. I’m far too impatient. 🙂

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  6. Hi Debi, I bet you could make them the night before and leave them in the fridge or cold place overnight to ferment slowly. Breakfast would not have to be so late that way.

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    • I expect you are right. This is exactly what I do with the oatcakes and barley pancakes (also listed in the same chapter of English Breads and Yeast Cookery). However, I think that they were intended for tea time, not breakfast. My Scottish mother-in-law would often serve small pancakes (what you would call pikelets) for tea as well as crumpets and scones.

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  7. Recently I’m using buckwheat flour in many ways, from shortcrust pastry and also to make some crespelle, thin crepe which i used in a savoury dish, I should post them soon! I save also this recipe cos it inspired me!

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  8. I really like the sound of these. I’ve been experimenting with different types of flours in baked goods, so buckwheat flour is currently on my radar. I’m keen to try them!

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