We tested Toad in the Hole from James Martin and Jamie Oliver to see who has the most reliable recipe and we found an ultimate winner. You have to try it yourself!
Our chefs' challenge is back, and this time, we've chosen to test an all-time English classic, Toad in the Hole.
According to Wikipedia, this type of pudding became widespread in the 18th century as it was an ideal way to stretch dinner with a minimum amount of meat (often offcuts) and still be able to feed a large family.
Nowadays, Toad in the hole is typically made with sausages, but there are some exciting veggie options available too.
After a bit of research, I discovered that the two most searched chefs for Toad in the Hole in Google UK are Jamie Oliver and James Martin, so I decided to put their recipes to the test to see if they deserve all the attention.
Jamie Oliver has three recipes on his website, but only one is the traditional Toad in the Hole.
James Martin also has more recipe variations that differ slightly from each other. In the end, I settled with his Toad in the hole with onion gravy published on the itv.com website as they have a video too, and the size of the dish once cooked looked very impressive.
- First impressions on the two recipes
- How do the batter ingredients compare?
- Preparing the batter
- How I made James Martin's Toad in the Hole
- How I made Jamie Oliver's Toad in the Hole
- James' onion gravy
- Jamie's onion gravy
- James Martin vs Jamie Oliver - The Verdict
When choosing a recipe I've never cooked before, I usually check the ingredients first. Then I skim through the instructions to see how clear they are and what steps they include. That helps me to get an idea about the recipe and I decide whether or not to search for another one.
At first glimpse, I could tell that the simple formatting on the itv.com website is easier to read. This is helpful when you need to come back and re-read the steps to make sure you follow them precisely.
Even so, I felt that both recipes' directions were reasonably clear to understand, and most of the steps were adequately explained, I found a few details that need to be called out.
The first thing that caught my eye was the number of servings versus the number of sausages. Both recipes ask for eight sausages, but Jamie's recipe states it serves four while James' serves six.
It makes more sense to account for two sausages per adult, therefore, Jamie's eight sausages for four people seems more logical.
Also, in Jamie Oliver's instructions, I'm missing the approximate dimensions for the oven dish. He simply recommends "an appropriately-sized baking tin – the thinner, the better". James Martin is more specific and calls for "a roasting tin about 30cm x 20cm x 5cm deep". I found having measurements more helpful, especially when cooking the recipe for the first time.
Being able to watch a video with James Martin making the dish was a bonus too. I rewatched the itv.com video a few times. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video for Jamie Oliver's recipe, so I had to make it with just his instructions.
How do the batter ingredients compare?
Looking at images for Toad in the Hole, I quickly learnt that the crucial part of the dish is the batter. It either makes the meal awe-inspiring, well risen and crisp or it's the reason for a disappointment.
Apparently, the batter is pretty much like the one for Yorkshire pudding. This realisation made me a little bit nervous as I always found it challenging to make well risen Yorkshire puddings.
James Martin uses more eggs, milk and flour for his batter, so his recipe makes a much bigger meal. To be able to see how the batter in the recipes differ, I wanted to know, how much flour and milk is needed per egg in each recipe.
|Ingredients||Jamie Oliver||James Martin|
|Flour||38 g||28 g|
|Milk||95 ml||75 ml|
Preparing the batter
When preparing the batter, I prefer to combine the ingredients with a hand whisk as opposed to an electric mixer. It might create more work, but it makes less foam and bubbles on the top. Which is especially handy for Jamie Oliver's recipe as his batter doesn't have much time to rest and the foam to go down.
When using hand whisk, there will be some lumps in the batter first but after more mixing they will completly disapear, leaving only smooth mix in the bowl.
James Martin advises resting the batter for a minimum of 4 hours and preferably overnight in the fridge. I considered the overnight option but, I eventually chose to make the batter in the morning around 10ish and left it in the fridge for 7 hours. This way the mixture had still enough time to rest and I could cook it for dinner in the evening.
The resting factor meant that I needed to plan the meal beforehand and couldn't make it in the last minute. It's not a big deal, but some might find it less convenient.
How I made James Martin's Toad in the Hole
To make James Martin's recipe, the only suitable dish I found with similar dimensions was our round cast iron pan. It has thick metal walls, so I wasn't sure if that was going to cause a problem.
I browned the sausages on the hob while the cast iron pan with lard was preheating in the oven until smoking hot. Then, I added the sausages into the pan and quickly poured the egg mixture over them and returned the dish to the oven.
Warning! Everything is scorching hot at this point, so you don't want to have kids around. My sons were helping to prepare the batter, but I asked them to stay away from the kitchen when I was working with hot oil.
James' Toad in the Hole is much bigger than Jamie's and it took the whole 1 hour to bake on 200C (as suggested in the instructions). Any longer and the meal would be too dark for my liking.
How I baked Jamie Oliver's Toad in the Hole
For Jamie's recipe, I picked a thin-walled white baking tin (that's what the picture showed on his website - I wondered if the colour of the baking tin mattered).
I left the tin with oil heat up first. Then I added the sausages and let them get some colour in the oven. After that, I quickly poured the batter over them and returned the dish back to the hot oven.
Following Jamie Oliver's instructions, I had the oven on 240 C. Still, after 13 minutes, the top of the food started to darken way too quickly. To save it from burning, I had to remove the meal from the oven before recommended 20 minutes ran out.
Cooking James' onion gravy
Both recipes didn't forget to include directions on how to prepare an onion gravy. Yet, I feel like ingredients for James Martin's onion gravy aren't as convenient. Except for onion, he asks for yeast extract, beef extract, Bisto gravy and sherry vinegar.
It's not that the ingredients are tricky to buy. I found them less convenient because I don't use them regularly and I had to buy them specifically for this recipe. They will most likely stay forgotten at the back of my pantry afterwards.
James Martin's gravy turned out fine, yet the choice of ingredients gave it a sort of processed food taste, in my opinion.
Making Jamie's onion gravy
In comparison, Jamie calls for more everyday items like - onion, garlic, balsamic vinegar and vegetable stock cube, which I thought was better, as I had pretty much all of it in my pantry.
Jamie's gravy was simple to make and thicken nicely without using any thickener, but holy moly, after adding all six tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, the gravy became too sour. It wouldn’t be pleasant to eat without adding some sugar to it.
To my excitement, James Martin's Toad in the Hole grew into gigantic proportions, and it was well baked from top to bottom - not soggy or dense at all. I was impressed, not only with the dish's size but also with the fact that it didn't lose its volume once out of the oven - certainly a spectacular result!
On the other hand, Jamie Oliver's Toad in the Hole didn't do too well. It started raising, but then it stopped. So instead of going up and increasing in size, it was getting dark all over the top. Once out of the oven the batter visibly deflated.
In the end, Jamie's Toad in the Hole didn't look bad, but after we cut into it, we realised that the dough didn't rise properly and the inside resembled a set custard dessert.
I'm not sure what went wrong with Jamie Oliver's recipe. I did my best to follow each step. It makes me think that the directions are missing an important detail, or maybe the ratios of the ingredients need some tweaking. Well, what else to say other than - what a disappointment!
James Martin vs Jamie Oliver - The Verdict
As you can see, choosing the winning recipe wasn't hard. The clear winner of this challenge is
The instructions were easy to understand, and the steps were simple to follow. The final result looked as impressive as the Toad in the Hole in the ITV video.
This English old school meal doesn't have complicated flavours but is warming and satisfying. Its strength lies in its simplicity. The combination of sausages and well-risen crisp batter, accompanied by sweet and sour onion gravy makes a filling and comforting dish that can certainly feed a crowd.
James Martin's recipe was fun to make, and the result was stunning. The batter mix is fantastic, and I wouldn't change one thing.
I believe that the batter has risen better as it had a higher ratio of eggs in the mix oppose to the other recipe (see the little table at the top). Another reason for a successful result might be a better oven temperature and a more suitable type of oven dish.
Regarding the servings, if you want to serve to 6 people, I'd recommend adding at least two more sausages (all depends on how many adults and children you need to feed). The amount of batter is sufficient for 6 people, there is no need to increase it.
Note: I have mixed feelings about James Martin's onion gravy, and I will most likely look for a different onion gravy recipe next time.