Monthly Archives: December 2009

Gingerbread

I love making a gingerbread house at Christmas time.  However, I’m never any good at eating it.  When you’ve worked so hard to assemble this work of edible art it’s heartbreaking to have to destroy it.  Therefore I thought what about a gingerbread village?  Little houses so you could eat them one at a time and not feel bad for destroying your entire creation!  So that’s what I did. 

These have been a labour of love I tell you!  I actually made the gingerbread weeks ago but never quite had the time to sit down and get on with putting them together.  As a result I ate a bunch of the sweets I had been going to use and there were more than a few breakages and someone, I’m looking at you dad, ate a roof tile.  In theory this recipe makes 6 little gingerbread cottages.  I got 3.  But such is life. 

This gingerbread dough isn’t perhaps the ideal one you’re looking for to make houses but it does make an excellent biscuit.  It spreads a little inconsistently while baking so I got some wonky bits and the dough is easiest to work with while still warm, after that it starts to crack a little while you’re handling it.  For that reason I haven’t given you the pattern I used for my houses, but they were about 3″x4″.  Next year I’ll be trying a different recipe for my houses but for biscuits to eat or hang on the tree I think this could be a winner. 

  Makes 6 3″x4″ houses or, in theory, 1 large house.  Make 1/2 if for biscuits unless you need dozens. 

250g unsalted butter
200g dark muscovado sugar
7 tbsp golden syrup
600g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ground ginger

– Heat the oven to gas mark 6 and find every baking tray in the house. 
– Melt together the butter, sugar and syrup in a large pan. 
– Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger in a large mixing bowl and mix them together. 
– Pour the melted butter mixture into the flour and mix well with a spoon until a dough is formed. 
– Roll out the dough to a thickness of 5mm.  (You will have to do this in batches unless you’re very good and have a large work surface.)
– Cut out your shapes and place on lined baking trays. 
– Bake for 10-12 minutes watching carefully because it is very easy to burn these.  Try to get the houses each on one tray so they’re a consistent colour. 
– Allow to cool on the trays for 5 minutes until hard then cool completely on a wire rack. 
– Repeat for the rest of the batches. 

To assemble the houses I use a ‘glue’ made from 200g icing sugar and 2-3 tbsp boiling water.  You can use royal icing if you want it to be stronger but this tastes much better.  I pipe strips of icing down the edges of the ‘sides’ then carefully press all 4 walls together, you may need an extra pair of hands for this part.  Then I allow that stage to dry.  Once dried I put on the roof tiles again by piping strips of icing all around the top of the house then very gently pressing down the tiles.  Then I pipe a line along the apex.  The chimneys, if making, are done in almost exactly the same way.  I leave the houses to dry, preferably for an hour, then get on with decorating with sweets using the same kind of ‘glue’ to stick everything on. 

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Filed under Christmas, Cookies and Biscuits, Moderately easy

Arancello

This is my new favourite drink.  I made up a batch of it to give as Christmas gifts and I had some left over for myself.  I will certainly be making this again and again all year round.  It’s absolutely delicious!  It’s theoretically related to Limocello the Italian lemon flavoured drink but with oranges instead. 

I’m currently drinking it mixed with cranberry and raspberry juice over crushed ice, or snow as available, and with a sprinkle of edible gold glitter.  I think I’m calling it ‘The Northern Lights’ as the colours go deliciously swirly.  I may change the name when I get a newer carton of cranberry juice as this one’s kind of a funny colour but still delicious! 

Makes 2.5 litres

1 l vodka, doesn’t have to be good
peel of 4 oranges plus 1 orange for later
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod, split length ways
4 cardamon seeds
600g granulated sugar
500ml boiling water

– First you will need to find 2 large bottles or jars to take 2.5l liquid by the end of this process and give them a good clean.  I used 2 glass Italian milk bottles but obviously those are hard to come by. 
– Split the vodka between each bottle. 
– Peel the oranges using a vegetable peeler and be careful not to get any of the white pith along with the peel as it is very bitter. Cut into short strips and divide equally between the bottles. 
– Break the cinnamon stick in half and add that. 
– Put half the vanilla pod and 2 cardamon seeds in each bottle. 
– The bottles should now be about half full.  Put the lids on and keep them in a dark place, shaking every day. 
– After a week mix together the boiling water and sugar in a large jug and stir until the sugar is dissolved. 
– Divide this between the two bottles. 
– Put the lids back on and return to the cool dark place for another week, again shaking every day. 
– After this week is up decant into fancy bottles, straining out the bits and pieces.  Add a strip of peel from the remaining orange and a cinnamon stick to these bottles then either store and keep for yourself or give as gifts.  You can be sure the recipients will be very greatful! 

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Bagels Update

The first time I made bagels they didn’t go so well.  They were delicious but… not right.  I’m happy to report that that was simply down to my human error and, if done correctly, they make a lovely bagel.  So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bagels With Holes:

Alright, so you can’t see the holes so well in that shot but I thought I’d give you the prettier one first! 

The key to getting the holes is to poke the spoon into the ball and then twirl it round the pole so that centrifugal force, or something physics like, pulls the hole bigger.  Also the second rise seems to be a little unnecessary.  Give it 20 minutes if you must while you get your water going but certainly don’t leave it too long.  You can, in fact, start dropping them in as soon as you’ve shaped them but I’d start with the ones you’ve shaped first to give the dough a little rest.  I made 12 bagels but I’d stick with the recipe and go for 10 because some of these were a little on the small side.  Don’t worry about getting them all round either, that just comes with practice unfortunately but the wonky ones are just as yummy!

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Christmas Pie

Christmas is tradtionally a time of leftovers.  We’ve got just about all of the sandwich suitable turkey off it now so now it is time to think of other things to make with the bits and pieces left over.  There are lots of options available but few I’d actually enjoy.  Pie seemed the way to go.  Not only can you use the turkey but there’s nothing stopping you from using up some stuffing or leftover vegetables or even a few dollops of cranberry sauce.  Got a ham? Pop it in too!  Whatever is left or takes your fancy, within reason, then in it goes!  I usually keep things simple.  I might do turkey, stuffing and cranberry but I’d leave out the vegetables.  Ham, turkey and vegetables go well together too.  If you’ve got a lot of mash then why not skip the pastry and use that?  It really does depend entirely upon what you have and what you like.  If you’ve only got turkey to play with then a simple turkey and mushroom pie is great too. 

Makes 1 average pie dish serving 4 people. 

For the pastry:
225g plain flour
pinch of salt
50g butter, chilled and diced
50g Trex (white vegetable fat), chilled and diced
3-4 tbsp chilled water

– Mix together the flour and salt.
– Add the butter and Trex and rub into the flour with your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs. 
– Add 3 -4 tbsp cold water by sprinkling it evenly over the surface fo the mixture.  (I used 3 tbsp and a bit.)
– Using a flat bladed knife mix it together until it forms a dough. 
– Gather it together with your hands and lightly knead for a few seconds to bring it together. 
– Form the dough into a ball and wrap it in clingfilm.  Place it in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

For the filling:
1 onion, chopped
Turkey/ham/vegetables/stuffing/etc.
a good splash of olive oil
2 tbsp cornflour
1/2 pint chicken stock

– First saute your onion with a pinch of salt in a little oil in a frying pan.  Add whatever leftovers you’re using and stir gently to combine. 
– In a separate small pan add a good splash of oil, at least enough to cover the base of the pan. 
– Gently heat this until it just starts to shimmer a bit then add the corn flour.  Whisk rapidly to combine. 
– Pour in your chicken stock, still whisking and keep stiring until it is a smooth sauce. 
– Pour this sauce into the other pan and stir well to mix. 

To make pie:

– Lightly flour the worksurface and the rolling pin, not the pastry. 
– Turn out the chilled dough onto the worksurface and roll it out in one direction, turning it as you go until it reaches about 3 mm thick. 
– Place your pie dish upsidedown on top of the pastry and cut a line around the dish about 1 cm out to leave room for shrinkage. 
– Cut a second line around this about 1.5 cm thick.
– Fill the pie dish with the filling.
– Moisten the edge of your dish with a finger dipped in water then press the 1.5 cm thick strip round the outside of the dish trimming the length to fit.   
– Moisten this pastry with water again then lay the rest of the pastry over the top using the rolling pin to help lift it across. 
– I fluted the edges of this pie.  It’s very simple.  You basically place the thumb and index finger of one hand on the ‘inside’ of the pie and with the index finger of the other hand press the edge of the crust inwards between the two fingers of the other hand.  Move round the pie and keep going until the whole edge is fluted. 

– With any spare pastry I like to make decorations for the top of the pie.*  I went for a Christmassy snowman and Christmas trees.  Again just dampen any pastry you’re pressing together to make it stick. 
– Once you’re done brush the top of the pie with beaten egg and cook in an oven preheated to gas mark 7 for 40 minutes until the pastry is a golden brown and the contents heated through.  If it starts to look too brown then cover with foil or butter papers** for the remaining cooking time. 

* And any spare spare pastry I stamp out shapes with cutters, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with grated parmesan to make cheesy biscuits. 

** I keep the butter papers when I’ve used a block for covering things like this.  It saves on foil and is a great little recycling tip!

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Filed under Easy, Mains

Christmas Round Up

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope that if you celebrate you had a great day and that Santa brought you everything you wished for!  I got loads of kitchen stuff  including a brilliantly coloured set of Laguiole cutlery, some silicone bakeware and the cutest mini ramekins.  Now I just want to get in the kitchen and use some of it.  Alas for that plan we are on the traditional post-Christmas turkey sandwich diet.  It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it.  One year my mum tried buying a smaller turkey so as not to have so much left over and we very nearly had a riot!  Since for me a huge part of Christmas is the food I thought I’d do a little round up of what Christmas eating entails in our household. 

Let’s start with the main event:  The Turkey.  We do our turkey very differently from everyone else I’ve met.  We barbecue it.  We have a big kettle barbecue and you put a really big roasting pan in the bottom  to catch the drips and arrange the charcoal either side of that.  Then you pop in the barbecue rack and once it’s up to temperature (Something about ash on the coals, who knows?  That’s my dad’s job!) you pop in the turkey (ours is usually 15lbs) for 2 1/2 hours.  Not only is this brilliantly fast but it keeps the oven free for veg and other things.  That and my dad can escape outside when the relatives arrive! 

My mother does obscene things with bacon and stuffing the night before and although putting the bacon between the skin and the breast is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen it is delicious!  The stuffing this year was made with chestnuts grown by our friend in Italy so sort of homegrown there!  Along with the turkey we serve the usual veg: carrots, brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, peas, sweetcorn and parsnips etc.  As well as bread sauce, gravy, cranberry sauce and mayo for us kids. 

For the starter mum usually does something fancy with salmon and other seafood but for us kids it’s the traditional prawn cocktail or nothing!  Simple but always a pleasure.  My sister doesn’t eat green things except spinach so she has hers on spinach and I have mine on lettuce.  Other than that it’s prawns and seafood sauce.  This year it was garnished with a home grown lemon slice as the lemon tree we’ve had in the conservatory for 20 years is finally producing fruit!

Pudding is always Christmas Pudding with cream and mum works very carefully to make sure there’s a 5p in each portion.  We’d never think to deviate from the traditional Christmas meal as it’s Tradition.  There’s something very comforting knowing that every year without fail this will be what you eat on December 25th.  And since I’ve now gathered the recipes together here if mum gets struck by lightning or something then I can now step in and continue in her footsteps and there’s something extremely reassuring about that.

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Christmas Pudding

As with the Last Minute Christmas Cake I don’t get to participate with this more than the traditional stir and wish.  However it’s another recipe that doesn’t need to mature or need constant feeding.  You can make it up on Christmas Eve if you want to or in September, it’ll still be great.  In fact I think we’ve been known to make up the 3 puddings and then eat one the next year! I can’t even claim the words for the recipe as my own here so think of it as a guest post from my mum.

Makes 3 average pudding basins

225 g dark brown sugar
400g white breadcrumbs
225g suet
half tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
1 kg mixed dried fruit
50g chopped blanched almonds
2 large cooking apples peeled, cored and grated
zest and juice of half a lemon
2 beaten eggs
300ml Guiness/milk stout/dark beer
150ml approx milk

 – Mix all dry ingredients together.  
– Mix in apple and lemon, eggs, beer and anything else in the list and enough milk to make soft dropping consistency.
– Put into pudding bowls with a circle of baking parchment in the bottom of each.
– Cover with greaseproof with a pleat in the centre. 
– Steam for 4-5 hours.
– Leave to go cold and store in a cool place. (I make up the full quantity and freeze the spares.)
– To reheat thaw, if frozen, and microwave for 6 minutes, with a pyrex lid to keep in moisture, or if you are a traditionalist steam again for 2 hours.

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Filed under Christmas, Desserts, Easy

Last Minute Christmas Cake

I have to say I’m cheating a little here with my own rules as I haven’t ever cooked this on my own.  In fact my participation has only ever advanced to weighing ingredients and helping fill cake tins.  Christmas is my mum’s domain.  She’s been doing it for years and she’s on a roll, my interference is not needed!  However, I had to share this cake recipe with you as it really is a last minute cake.  It doesn’t need to mature and if you’re forgotten to buy a cake and you’re totally desperate, well, start now! 

Makes 1×8″ (20cm) cake

125g butter
500g mixed dried fruits
125g dates, stoned and chopped (or apricots or prunes, big fruits are what you’re after.)
175g brown sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200ml water
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon

90g glace cherries, chopped
60g chopped mixed nuts
45ml brandy
250g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder

– In a large pan melt the butter and then add the dried mixed fruits, dates (or other fruits), sugar, bicarbonate of soda, water, mixed spice and cinnamon. 
– Bring this to the boil and cover.  Simmer for 15 minutes. 
– Leave the pan, covered, overnight. 
– The next day put it in a mixing bowl, or use a machine like a kitchen aid or kenwood chef to do the hard work!
– Add the cherries, nuts and brandy.  Mix a little. 
– Add the flour and salt and mix in. 
– Add the eggs and the baking powder and then mix thoroughly making sire everything is well combined. 
– Line an 8″ cake tin with foil, shiny side down, and 2 layers of greaseproof paper. 
– Brush lightly with oil. 
– Tip in the cake mix and level out the top.  Create a small dip in the middle with the back of a spoon to prevent doming. 
– Place a small ovenproof dish or tin of water in the bottom of an oven heated to gas mark 2. 
– Place the cake in the oven on the middle shelf and cook for 2 1/2 – 3 hours covering the top with foil after 1 hour. 
– Test with a skewer to see if it’s done.
– Cool in the tin then turn out and pour on a little more brandy before either wrapping and storing or covering with marzipan and icing.

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Filed under Cakes, Christmas, Easy

Condensed Milk Cookies

I’ve posted this recipe before calling it American Cookies but I’m British so all my cookie recipes are ‘American’ or I call them biscuits.  When people ask me to make these they ask for “the condensed milk ones” and so I have renamed them.  I’ve also discovered since I first made them just how versatile the basic cookie dough can be.  Today I made the final addition to everyone’s christmas hamper:  Individually flavoured cookies. 

My sister has become obsessed with peanut butter and chocolate and so I made her peanut butter and chocolate cookies.  Dad loves ginger and chilli and so that’s what he got.  Mum was harder as she’s a mum and so says she likes whatever I make her but I know she loves marzipan so she got a sort of bakewell cookie… a fakewell if you will.  I also made myself a batch of chocolate and hazelnut cookies for immediate snacking.  There are no photos of that flavour as my family immediately snacked on them!  The joy of this is I made one batch of dough and then simply divided it into 4 and carried on to do all the different flavours I wanted. 

Makes ~36 cookies

255g unsalted butter, softened
225g golden caster sugar
170g condensed milk
350g self raising flour

For the toppings: (no amounts as it depends how many you make of each flavour)
natural coloured glace cherries
marzipan
flaked almonds
stem ginger in syrup, chopped into eighths
ginger and chilli sauce (I used Tesco’s Finest ice cream sauce but it’s totallyoptional.) 
cocoa powder
peanut butter
chocolate chips
chopped hazelnuts

– First line 5 baking sheets with baking paper and heat the oven to gas mark 4.  (If you don’t have 5 then just prep the paper and then reuse trays as they come free.)
– Cream together the butter and the sugar until soft and fluffy. 
– Mix in the condensed milk. 
– Add the flour and mix until it is all combined in a soft dough. 
– Divide the dough into 4 if making 4 flavours. 

For Chocolate and Peanut Cookies:
– Take 1/4 of the dough and put it into a smaller bowl. 
– Add a few spoons of cocoa powder and knead in until it forms a nice even chocolate colour. 
– Pinch off a walnut sized (and I really mean walnut sized, it’s smaller than you’d think!) bit of dough and roll it into a ball. 
– Flatten into a disc between your hands.
– Add a spoon of peanut butter to the centre. 
– Fold and pinch over the edges so that the peanut butter is completely enclosed in the dough. 
– Place on the baking tray leaving at least 1″ between cookies and flatten slightly and tidy up any really wonky ones. 
– Repeat with the rest of that dough. 

For Ginger Chilli Cookies:
– With the next 1/4 pinch off walnut sized bits and make into balls. 
– Flatten into a disc between your hands.
– Place 4 chunks of ginger in the centre of the disc and fold up the edges of the dough to make a sort of bowl around it. 
– Place on the baking tray leaving at least 1″ between cookies and then pour over a little of the syrup from the jar or some of the chilli ginger sauce. 

For the ‘Bakewell’ Cookies:
– With the next 1/4 pinch off walnut sized bits and make into balls. 
– Flatten into a disc between your hands.
– Pinch off a ball of marzipan about the size of a Malteaser and flatten into a disc. 
– Place the disc in the centre of the dough and fold over the very edges. 
– Place a glace cherry in the centre and then flaked almonds aroung that. 
– Place on the baking tray leaving at least 1″ between cookies. 

For the Chocolate and Hazelnut Cookies:
– With the final 1/4 flatten the dough out and sprinkle with chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts. 
– Knead these in until well distributed throughout the dough. 
– Pinch off walnut sized bits and make into balls. 
– Flatten into a disc between your hands.
– Place on the baking tray leaving at least 1″ between cookies. 

– Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  (I switch over the top and bottom trays after 10 minutes then give them both 5 minutes more.)
– Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray for 5-10 minutes. 
– Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 NB. These cookies do spread a lot, almost double, so be very careful not to place them too closely together:

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Filed under Cookies and Biscuits, Easy

Cranberry Loaf

I found this recipe over on Joy of Baking and knew it was just perfect for what I wanted.  It was very simple to prepare as it’s essentially a muffin mixture and it would keep very well for a week, in fact getting better over the week, so perfect for posting for Christmas presents.  It also looks so very Christmassy! 

I wanted to use rectangular foil ‘takeout’ containers so as to ship and transport it easily and these were smaller than the 9″x5″x3″ tin the recipe called for so I doubled the recipe thinking may be I’d get 3 out of it, nope, got 4!  Yum, one spare!  It’s a really interesting flavour too, you have the sharpness of the cranberries with hints of fruity and nuttiness.  The crust also forms this delicious sugary crunch.  A surefire winner this one.  My test subjects of my mum’s office were begging for the recipe!

 

Makes 2 8″ x4″x3″ ‘loaf tins’

460g plain flour
700g golden caster sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
zest of 1 orange
1 large egg
56g butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla essence
360ml milk
100g fresh cranberries (Dried if fresh not available)
90g mixed peel (I used whole preserved orange peels chopped up)
60g chopped mixed nuts

– Heat your oven to gas mark 4 and grease your tins. 
– In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. 
– In a large jug mix together the butter, vanilla and milk. 
– Mix the two together and stir well to combine.  (Doesn’t matter if there are some lumps in there.)
– Add the fruits and nuts and stir through. 
– Pour into the tins and bake at the top of the oven for 1 hour.  Cover the top with foil if it gets too brown. 
– Test with a skewer to see if it’s done then remove from the oven and cool completely. 
– Wrap in foil to store for up to a week.

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Filed under Cakes, Christmas, Easy

Fudge

I’ve been putting off making fudge for a while now but it’s only a few days until christmas and it could wait no longer.  I made 2 types, White Chocolate and Bailey’s Fudge and regular Chocolate Fudge The basic recipe is the same you just add different stuff at the end.  The possibilities are endless! 

I didn’t think I liked fudge for some reason but this stuff is delicious!  Especially warm scraps out of the pan at the very end.  The Bailey’s flavour develops really well as it cools and the regular chocolate is very very tempting.  So tempting in fact that when I went out leaving the very last slice I’d kept back for myself on the table the dog jumped up and ate it!  So I had a sugar high puppy and no fudge.  😦

I admit I burnt the first batch (White Chocolate and Baileys, below) I made as I didn’t know what I was doing.  Well, it wasn’t actually burnt, that’s the odd thing.  It just developed brown caramel pieces in it as I had it on too high a temperature.  It tasted absolutely fine, in fact I rather liked the texture, and the pan had nothing stuck to it at all so I’m not quite sure what happened.  So “caramel bits” they shall be!

Makes 1 8x8x8 cake tin

405g tin condensed milk
150ml milk
450g demerara sugar
115g unsalted butter
Flavourings of your choice:
200g white/plain/milk chocolate (break into small chunks first)
50ml alcohol (Bailey’s, Cointreau, etc.)
dried fruits
etc.

– Line your cake tin with foil. 
– Put everything in a large, deep pan and gently heat until the sugar is dissolved.  (It will no longer feel grainy on the bottom.)
– Raise the heat and bring to a boil. 
– Lower the heat again and very gently simmer for 10-15 minutes stirring constantly.  The liquid will bubble up (watch it doesn’t boil over) and then die back down again.  Keep stirring constantly and briskly.  Once it starts to thicken, or if you see any hint of brown flecks forming, remove from the heat. 
– To test the fudge drop a small spoonful into a jug of cold water.  It should form a soft ball, not ribbons.  (I was using a sugar thermometer but my fudge didn’t get to soft ball on the thermometer but still formed a soft ball in practice so best to do it the old-fashioned way here.)
– Here is where you add any flavourings and stir until thoroughly melted/combined. 
– Pour the hot fudge into the prepared tin, smooth down a little if necessary, and then leave to cool completely. 
– Turn out and lightly score where you want to cut then cut the fudge into chunks.

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Filed under Moderately easy, Sweets