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  • Writer's pictureThe Wild Foodie

The Penny Bun, Cep or Porcini – The Cooks Mushroom

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

Porcini or cep (Boletus edulis) is a type of edible mushroom that is highly prized for its flavour and culinary uses. It is also known by various other names, including king bolete, penny bun, and porcino mushroom. The term "cep" is more commonly used in the UK and other European countries, while "porcini" is the Italian name for the mushroom.

Boletus Edulis is one of the best eating mushrooms available from the wild. This mushroom even looks edible its perfect domed and brown cap looking like a Victorian bread bun that at the time cost a penny - hence its British name "penny bun". In France this beloved mushroom is called the "cep or cepe", whilst in Italy they call it the "porcini or porcino" literally translating to "little pig" again a clue that points to its gastronomic uses in leaner times.

Cep, Porcini or Penny Bun Mushrooms
Cep, Porcini or Penny Bun Mushrooms

Penny bun mushrooms have a distinctive appearance with a thick, creamy-white stem and a large, round cap that can reach up to 30 centimetres in diameter. The cap is typically brown and has a firm sponge texture on the underside with small pores instead of gills. These mushrooms grow naturally in certain types of forests, particularly in Europe and North America, but they can also be cultivated.

Porcini mushrooms are highly regarded for their rich, earthy flavour, which is often described as nutty and slightly meaty. They have a firm texture and hold up well when cooked, making them a popular ingredient in various dishes, particularly in Italian cuisine. Porcini mushrooms are often used in risottos, pasta sauces, soups, and stews.

In the UK, penny bun mushrooms are particularly sought after and enjoyed for their culinary qualities. They are foraged in forests during the autumn season when they are in abundance. Cep mushrooms are highly valued by chefs and mushroom enthusiasts for their exceptional taste and versatility in cooking.

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A proud looking Cep, Porcini, Penny Bun
A proud looking Cep Mushroom

A brief history of eating Ceps or Penny Buns in the UK

Ceps have been enjoyed in the UK for centuries. Mushroom foraging has been a popular activity, and ceps have been incorporated into traditional British dishes such as stews, soups, and pies. Although wild mushrooms fell out of favour, particularly the skills in identifying them, in more recent years there has been a renewed interest in foraging and local ingredients, leading to a resurgence in the popularity of the cep mushroom in British cuisine.

You can try to grow your own Penny Buns. Buy spores and plugs and grow your own Wild Ceps.

Cep or Penny Bun Mushroom Identification

Aside from looking like a perfect baked bun, this great tasting mushroom can be identified by its domed brown cap and short bulging stem that looks as if it is buckling under the weight of its giant cap. Underneath the cap, that can grow to be as much as 30cm, instead of gills are a system of small holes called pores. The pores are in effect tubes that run through the cap and eventually provide a route for the spores to leave the mushroom, the spongy pores are white in young mushrooms, turning yellow and then to olive in fully mature ceps (spores are olive brown in colour). The bulbous stem is white, browning as it gets closer to the cap, in young porcini the cap hugs the stem closely only opening fully as the mushroom matures.

Here are some key features to look for when trying to identify them:

Cap: Ceps have a large, round cap that can range in colour from light brown to dark brown. The cap surface is usually smooth and slightly sticky when wet. It can grow up to 30cm in diameter.

Pores: Instead of gills, ceps have a spongy layer of pores on the underside of the cap. The pores are small, round, and initially white or yellowish but turn greenish-yellow with age.

Cep or Penny Bun Pores
Cep or Penny Bun Pores

Stem: The stem of a cep is relatively thick and sturdy. It is often white, sometimes with a slight brownish tinge, and has a fibrous texture. The stem is usually wider at the base and narrower towards the top.

Spore Print: Taking a spore print can also help with identification. To obtain a spore print, place the cap of the mushroom, pore side down, on a piece of paper or foil overnight. The spores will drop and leave a pattern that can range from olive to brownish in colour.

Smell and Taste: Ceps have a distinctive and pleasant aroma, often described as nutty or earthy. Some people compare the scent to a mix of fresh mushrooms and apricots. The taste is also highly regarded for its rich and savoury flavour.

You might also like our post on Cep or Penny Bun Mushroom Look alikes.

When are Ceps or Porcini in Season?

The Penny Bun or Cep can grow quite quickly, sometimes to maturity in several days, the same mycelium could fruit every three or four days (given the right weather conditions) for up to 5 weeks or until the first frosts, so it pays to revisit your cep spots regularly during their growing season. As the mushrooms develop, especially when the weather is quite warm, they are loved by more than the gourmet mushroom hunter and are prone to infestation by insects. It’s best to check the cep in the field, so if you do have an infested or useless mushroom you can break it up and spread a few spores around for the following years crop.

A bowl of ceps
A bowl of culinary joy

Ceps or penny bun mushrooms typically have a seasonal window for their growth and availability in the UK. In the UK, the prime season for ceps usually falls between late summer and early autumn. The exact timing can vary depending on weather conditions, but typically, the period from August to October is considered the peak season for ceps.

During this time, the combination of warm temperatures and moist conditions is favourable for the growth of all mushrooms, including ceps. They are often found in woodland areas, particularly where there are coniferous or deciduous trees.

It's important to note that mushroom fruiting patterns can be influenced by various factors, including weather variations and regional differences.

Where do you find Ceps or Penny Buns?

Ceps or penny bun mushrooms can be found in various habitats, primarily in forests and woodlands. Here are some general guidelines on where to search for them:

Woodlands: Look for ceps in mixed woodlands that have a combination of deciduous and coniferous trees. They often grow near oak, beech, birch, pine, and spruce trees. Pay attention to areas with a good amount of leaf litter and organic matter on the forest floor.

Moist Areas: Cep mushrooms prefer damp and moist environments, so focus your search in areas where moisture is present. Look around streams, wet areas, and slopes where water drainage is sufficient.

Elevation: Ceps can be found at various elevations, but they are more commonly encountered in lowland and upland areas rather than very high altitudes.

Local Knowledge: Gathering local knowledge from experienced foragers, mycological societies, or mushroom enthusiasts in your area can be invaluable. They can provide insights on specific locations or forests known to yield ceps and share tips on foraging safely and responsibly.

Foraging Laws and Permissions: Before foraging for mushrooms, be sure to familiarise yourself with local regulations and any permissions or permits required for collecting wild mushrooms on public or private land.

To find the cep or porcini you need to look for their favourite companion tree’s. The type of tree that cep mushrooms prefer varies from place to place but can include oak, birch and pine.

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Cep or Porcini distribution and sightings in the UK

The geographic distribution of boletus edulis or penny bun mushrooms across the UK is relatively widespread, with suitable habitats found in various regions. Here's a general overview of the geographic distribution (map courtesy of nbn atlas):

England: Ceps can be found in different parts of England, including the southern regions such as the New Forest, South Downs, and Sussex woodlands. They are also known to occur in woodlands across central and northern England, including areas like the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Lake District, and Northumberland.

Cep or Boletus Edulis Distribution UK
Boletus Edulis Distribution UK

Scotland: Ceps are found in the woodlands and forests of Scotland, including regions like the Scottish Highlands, the Cairngorms National Park, and other mountainous areas. The extensive forests and diverse landscapes provide favourable conditions for cep growth.

Wales: Ceps can be found in woodland areas throughout Wales, including regions like Snowdonia National Park, Brecon Beacons National Park, and other wooded areas across the country.

Northern Ireland: Ceps are less commonly reported in Northern Ireland compared to other parts of the UK, but they have been found in suitable habitats such as forests and woodlands.

It's important to note that cep mushroom distribution can vary within these regions due to factors such as local microclimates, soil conditions, and tree associations. Mushroom fruiting patterns are also be influenced by weather variations from year to year.

Check out my post on the wild foods of Sicily to learn more about Italian wild food (including another very special mushroom!!). 

Harvesting Ceps or Porcini

If you are lucky enough to find a patch of ceps, sometimes they grow in groups of two to three, be careful not to damage the mycelium when picking. The best way to do this is to twist the mushroom gently pulling until it breaks away. Cutting the mushroom can leave a small amount of fruiting body on the mycelium to rot, sometimes damaging that part of this complex organism and preventing any future mushrooms growing in the same spot.

Note: If you find a patch of penny mushrooms that have gone over. Pick them anyway, then break them up and distribute them over a wider area. Who knows, that patch of yours might expand and grow in the coming seasons.

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Can you eat Cep Mushrooms?

Yes, cep mushrooms, also known as porcini or penny bun mushrooms, are edible and highly regarded for their culinary qualities. They are considered one of the most sought-after and delicious wild mushrooms. Ceps have a rich, nutty flavour and a firm texture that holds up well when cooked. They are commonly used in various dishes, including risottos, pasta sauces, soups, and stews. Ceps can also be dried and rehydrated for later use. However, it is important to properly identify ceps and ensure they are in good condition before consuming them. If you are uncertain about the identification of any mushroom, it is recommended to consult with an experienced mycologist or rely on reliable resources to ensure safe foraging and consumption practices.

So what’s all of the fuss about.. Well, as I have previously hinted at, this is one of the best eating mushrooms around. The cep or porcini (I prefer to call it by its Italian name when relating it directly to food) has a deep and earthy flavour somewhere between mild meatiness and a fragrant musty nut.

Love cooking wild food? Check out our selection of wild food cookbooks here.

Cep or Porcini Recipes

The flesh is firm, especially in the younger mushrooms and is a rich source of umami hence why mushroom hunters can become so addicted to these gourmet wild treats. They eat well on their own or paired with other flavours. I once saw porcini in an Italian restaurant being simply prepared by studding a large cap with thin shards of garlic, brushed with butter, seasoned, and grilled. This simple dish was served with bread (and a glass of white wine) and was eaten with gusto by the Italian who had ordered it.

Fresh porcini are hard to beat and when you have them should be enjoyed this way. They pair well with thyme and lemon as well as garlic and parsley and can be prepared in a myriad of ways. Raw young porcini can be shaved (or sliced thinly) into salads. Sliced they can be used in risotto or pasta, or they can be grilled whole. If you have a bumper crop, you can literally use them as a replacement for normal mushrooms (in Italy they don’t eat farmed mushrooms, preferring to eat frozen porcini that seem to be available in every supermarket).

The mushrooms really do freeze well, or they can be dried quickly with the use of a dehydrator or more slowly by slicing them and threading them onto lines where the can be hung above warm radiators until completely dehydrated (I like to take some porcini and grind them into a powder, this powder can then be used as a seasoning).

Here are a few popular recipes featuring cep or porcini mushrooms:

Porcini Risotto: A classic dish that highlights the rich flavour of porcini mushrooms. Fry chopped porcini mushrooms with onion and garlic, then add Arborio rice and gradually incorporate vegetable or chicken broth while stirring until the rice is cooked and creamy. Finish with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs like parsley or thyme.

Porcini or Penny Bun Mushroom Pasta Sauce: Fry sliced porcini mushrooms with shallots and garlic in olive oil. Add a splash of white wine and let it reduce. Stir in cream, season with salt, pepper, and herbs like rosemary or sage. Toss the sauce with cooked pasta, and garnish with grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Cep Soup: Make a delicious porcini mushroom soup by simmering porcini mushrooms, onions, and garlic in vegetable or chicken broth until the mushrooms are tender. Blend the soup until smooth, then stir in some cream and season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil, some fried slices of porcini and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Grilled Porcini Mushrooms: Brush small whole porcini mushrooms with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and herbs like thyme or rosemary. Grill them over medium heat until they are cooked through and have grill marks. Serve as a side dish or on top of a salad.

Porcini Mushroom Sauce for Steak: Fry sliced porcini mushrooms with shallots and garlic in butter until they release their moisture and become tender. Add beef broth and a splash of red wine, and let it simmer until the sauce thickens slightly. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Pour the sauce over grilled or pan-seared steaks.

How to dry Cep Mushrooms

To dry penny bun or cep mushrooms:

Clean them: Remove any dirt or debris by brushing them with a soft brush or wiping with a dry cloth.

Slice them: Cut the mushrooms into thin, even slices.

Arrange them: Place the slices in a single layer on a drying rack or baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Dried ceps
Dried ceps

Dry them: Choose a well-ventilated area and air-dry them or use a food dehydrator or oven set to a low temperature around 55°c.

Flip them: Turn the slices over halfway through drying for even airflow.

Test for dryness: Break a slice to check if it is dry and brittle throughout.

Store them: Transfer the fully dried mushrooms to airtight containers and store in a cool, dark place.

Dried ceps or porcini mushrooms can last for several months to a year when stored properly.

Click the link to see the full guide on how to dry mushrooms.

To rehydrate ceps simply put your ceps in a large cup or bowl and cover with warm water. In about 5 to 10 minutes your mushrooms will be rehydrated and ready for use. Squeeze out any remaining water and you are ready to go. However, do not throw away that water. The water used in rehydrating penny bun mushrooms is rich with flavour, a quick and delicious mushroom stock. So use it in your stock, sauce or recipe (leaving the last 5-10% which typically is just sediment).

Choose from a great range of Mushroom Dehydrators here.

Summing up

Porcini or cep mushrooms (Boletus edulis) are highly regarded for their rich flavour and versatile culinary uses. With their earthy, nutty taste and firm texture, they add depth and complexity to a wide range of dishes. Whether enjoyed fresh or dried, porcini mushrooms are a prized ingredient that brings a touch of gourmet delight to soups, sauces, risottos, pasta dishes, and more.

Whatever you want to call the penny bun, cep or porcini this mushroom has got to be rated as one of the finest wild foods available to the hungry forager, it’s great flavour enriching recipes across the world, the inability of UK shops to sell it one of the main reasons I took up foraging in the first place!

However you eat it, the porcini simply a great mushroom and a joy to hunt for in the shortening days of Autumn.

Remember, not all Boletus are safe to eat. In fact some mushrooms are deadly so only eat mushrooms that have been positively identified as 100% safe to eat by an expert. 

Click the link to get the very best foraging kit and equipment.


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