A few months ago I picked up a bargain book in a bazaar that was being held in the hotel where we were staying in England. It only cost a pound and looked mildly interesting: Royal Chef, Forty Years with Royal Households by Gabriel Tschumi (as told to Joan Powe). What I like about books such as this is the window they give on how food used to be seen, how it was made, what people thought was really the best of the best.
The book starts out with young Gabriel's arrival in London from Switzerland after his cousin - Queen Victoria's dresser - recommends him for a position of cook's apprentice. It then takes us through the height of Edwardian decadence into the war years, jazz and rationing and all seen through the eyes of the changing taste of the royal family. After finishing it, I was reminded of the old saying "Youth is wasted on the young", except that I mentally inserted the words "wealth" and "rich" instead. Sweet Gabriel Tschumi is very loyal and devoted to his royal patrons and doesn't reveal any spicy details about their lives. (The worst story he has is about how Queen Mary - horrors - requested a night tray of sandwiches and consommé and staff were convinced it was so that she could spoil her dogs, against the vet's orders.) But the lack of spice in their dinners is extraordinary. Never have so many toiled for so long for so little taste is all I can say in looking at the recipes. Chicken which is poached, then shredded then reconstructed and set in jelly. Rod Grod, which seems to be a slightly more sophisticated kind of Jell-O. Meat or potatoes danoise which simply seems to mean "with a milk sauce over it". So many courses, so little flavour.
However, I did find one little gem: Queen Mary's Cheese Biscuits. Of all the royals, according to Tschumi, she is the one who had the most respect for good cooking and most interest in what was served. (Her husband George, apparently was a big fan of the most boring curry concocted by man and otherwise favored the kind of food you get in an average boarding school.) She liked these biscuits and so do I. They are not low calorie. They practically melt in your mouth with the butter and cheese making up two-thirds of the weight. But at the same time, they have a kind of flakiness that is very satisfying. I served them with a cream of asparagus soup and they added a nice elegant touch.
One other thing I appreciated about these biscuits is how easily they were put together. I suddenly remembered I meant to make them about halfway through the dinner preparation and it took me literally minutes to mix them, roll them and put them on baking sheets (not counting the 15 minutes the dough spent in the fridge because I was using very soft butter). I wasn't timing the baking time exactly, but it was about fifteen minutes until they were just slightly golden and set.
Here is Gabriel Tshumi's Recipe as included in the book (my notes follow):
"Take four oz. of grated parmesan cheese, 4 oz. of butter and 4 oz. of flour and mix into a paste on a board. Roll out thin, cut into shapes and bake on a greased tray in a medium oven for about 20 minutes. They should not be allowed to brown too greatly. At Marlborough House they were always stamped out with a round or oblong biscuit-cutter."
I did not mix the paste on a board; I dumped all three ingredients in my KitchenAid and mixed on low for a minute or two until it all came together. Because the butter I was using was very soft, I decided not to try rolling the dough until it had chilled a bit. If you use soft but not REALLY soft butter you shouldn't need this step. In fact, I got it a bit too cold and so it took a few minutes before the dough warmed sufficiently to roll out. When I did, though, I found to my surprise that it's a very robust dough, keeping together quite well even when rolled to half a centimeter or less. They were fairly easy to lift intact with a spatula and place on a sheet of baking parchment, which is what I used instead of greasing the pan. I baked them on the lower tray of the oven under the lamb, which was roasting at 180C/350F.
As you can see in the photo, they look like ordinary biscuits on the top, but when you flip them over you can see the crisp delectable cheese. Parmesan worked very well, but I think that next time I might jazz them up by using a sharp cheddar instead. Alternatively, some rings of green olives pressed into the Parmesan version would be very tasty too.
If you are interested in reading this book, I am sorry to say that I have been unable to find a reference to it on Powells.com or Amazon.com. It was published by William Kimber and Co. Limited of London in 1954 and mine is the 1974 reprint edition. The ISBN is 07183 0433 0. You could try ebay...or drop me an email and if you are nice and promise to return it I'll lend it to you!