While Kent is famed for its produce (think orchard fruits, soft fruits, hops, seafood), it is probably fair to say that our county isn’t readily associated with a great number of dishes. We don’t have something like, for example, Lancashire hotpot, which is well known throughout the country.
Perhaps Kent folk have kept the best Kentish recipes close to their chests, rather like the Italians don’t export their best Frascati. I would happily argue that Kentish Well pudding and Lenten pie, for instance, are as good as any puddings and pies you’ll find anywhere.
And then there’s the huffkin, a barely sweetened yeasted bread roll of sorts, enriched with lard (or butter, though I favour lard), with a soft ‘crust’ and texture and open crumb. Its shape (oval-ish) and thumbprint in the middle makes it visually distinctive. It’s a real trencherman’s bread, hearty and filling, and definitely not for the timorous of appetite.
There’s no consensus as to how the huffkin should be eaten, although some would say that its central hole lends itself to a generous spoonful of jam. I prefer to eat them split and filled with something savoury, preferably something simple and robust. For me, ham and cheese does the trick.
You’ll find numerous versions of huffkin recipes, but this is the one I use, by the venerable Jane Grigson:
15g fresh yeast/1.5 tsp dried and mixed with a pinch of sugar
225ml warm fresh milk mixed with water
450g plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas mark 7.
1. Blend the fresh yeast with the milk and water, or, if using dried yeast, sprinkle into the milk and water with the sugar and leave for 15 minutes and/or until frothy.
2. Put the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl and rub in the lard. Make a well in the centre, then pour in the yeast liquid. Beat well together to form a dough that leaves the sides of the bowl clean.
3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for about 10 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Place in a clean bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave to rise for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Divide the dough in 12, then roll into oval ‘cakes’ about 1cm thick. Place on 2 greased baking sheets, cover and leave for about half an hour until doubled in size.
5. Just before putting in the oven, make a deep thumbprint in each ‘cake’. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Wrap in a warm clean tea towel (this helps keep the crust soft) and leave to cool.